I was gonna do what I usually do and post some image I find on Google Images on the topic of silence about rape. I even Google Image searched “silence about rape” and found some powerful images. But I decided, instead, to post a picture of myself. Because guess what, world: I’ve been raped. And the more I’ve written in drafts of this post, the more I realized how scary it is to talk about it in public and how vulnerable it makes me feel, but… that’s what’s this post is all about. How fucking important it is to talk about it in public. So, here I am:
If you read this blog, chances are you’ve already heard about/read/read about the Reddit rape thread on which not rape victims but rape perpetrators were asked to share their experiences, motivations, and feelings. A discussion that has been met, in my circle of friends, with fascination, revulsion, and cautious optimism. For me, it’s a mixture of the three, but I’m going to try to focus most on the optimism. It ain’t easy. This is complicated stuff that can be equally terrifying and depressing, especially when it brings up flashes of what happened to me, and so many other women I know. But I’m going to stand by the idea that conversations like this are important.
As Mary Elizabeth Williams, who continues to climb my list of favorite writers, puts it: the thread is “an unflinching and incredibly insightful document, a reminder that the persistent notion of sexual assault somehow only counting if it happens to a modestly dressed lady who’s attacked by a stranger in [sic] utter BS. It happens in vague and complicated situations, every day and night. It happens between buddies. It happens between boyfriends and girlfriends. The lines are not always clear-cut.” And that’s really, really, really integral to the idea of most rapes. Sexual situations are rarely cut and dry–there’s always a give-and-take, a constant evolution in every situation, a power play, and an in-the-moment dynamism that makes it exciting. But it can also be difficult to understand the person or people you’re with, through the fog of excitement and uncertainty, and so many situations are walked away from without anyone knowing exactly what happened, if there is blame to be placed, and if so, where.
Many of the situations described on the thread are blurry reminscences of drunken scenes in college or high school, told through a film of tears. It’s hard to know who was at fault sometimes, but someone or everyone walked away forever changed. Sometimes it’s crystal clear where the fault and blame lies. But the point is that the discussion itself, difficult and polarizing and confusing as it is, is so utterly necessary. We may not want to give a voice to the people we find in the wrong–rapists, sex offenders, criminals of every variety–but if we don’t, we risk feeding even more into the incredibly pervasive culture of silence in which even the most clear-cut and insidious violations of human dignity can to be quietly perpetrated and left in the past to fester and rot and ruin. If people don’t talk about boundaries and experiences, other people don’t have the benefit of that conversation and are more likely to keep repeating the untalked-about histories so many of us have lived through.
I have talked to my friends and lovers about what happened to me, but I never reported my rapist to authorities. I never pressed charges. It was a difficult and unclear situation, but looking back through this Reddit thread I find that my experience (thankfully, my only deeply traumatizing one, though almost every sexual act for years after it was a reliving of that trauma) was more clear-cut than many. I realize that yes, I was raped by force. By a man I trusted. Yes, we had both been drinking. And yes, we had had sex before. But my clear desire for him to stop, my verbal communication that I did not want to sleep with him, my physically resisting him… All of those things should have stopped him. He should have respected me enough to stop. But he didn’t.
One man on Reddit wrote: “To be honest, even remembering it now, the squirming always made it better, they didn’t want it to happen, but they couldn’t do anything about it. Most girls don’t say no either. They think you’re a good guy, and should pick up on the hints, they don’t want to have to say ‘no’ and admit to themselves what’s happening.” And it’s this, this right here, as Williams also pointed out, that gets so many of us after the fact. We think, “Well, I didn’t say no before it was too late. It must be my fault.” Maybe that douchebag on the thread wouldn’t have stopped (he doesn’t sound as if he cared or cares now enough to want to do the right thing), but my rapist could have. He should have picked up on my “hints,” but when he didn’t, I was so flabbergasted that he wasn’t being the “good guy” that I couldn’t believe I needed to say no. It’s that breach of trust that left me breathless. The fact that a man I knew and had once thought I loved would put me in a situation where I had to verbalize my fear of him. That’s where the breakdown happened for me. It broke me.
I don’t think he is, at heart, a bad person, but I do think that he knew better. Yet it’s not always so simple–most men know better and yet, maybe because we don’t really discuss the importance of all this enough that those “hints” are easier for people to give and read, or enough that women are less afraid to recognize danger and say “no” when it might be more effective, these things–these murky, confusing areas between consent and non-consent–are still more confusing than they could be. And maybe, maybe, if our we were more willing to talk, and listen, even when it’s uncomfortable, and to share these experiences and ideas in a calmer and more rational manner, maybe somewhere along the line he would have gotten a clearer picture that doing what he did was not at all ok. And maybe if I’d heard that conversation more, I would have believed in my own rights enough to have reported him. And maybe we’d both have understood that he deserved to be reported. And if we’d both understood that, maybe he’d have never done it. Maybe he would have. I don’t know. But I do know that years of dealing with my trauma, mostly alone and much of it blaming myself because I didn’t have a dialogue to join or a person to turn to who might tell me that it wasn’t, I was as depressed as I think I will ever be. I couldn’t have an orgasm if anyone else was in the room. I couldn’t stand to look at myself for very long in the mirror. I cried during sex. Sometimes I still cry. And I like to think that maybe if all this discussion happened more often and in more places, maybe someone someday will be able to recognize warnings and hints or to say “no” at the right time, and to reclaim human decency before it’s forfeit. I really like to think that.