Rape is Not a Culture (Trigger Warning)

I heard the music first; it was always that way. I peaked out my window and there it was, the familiar Dodge Charger, driven by a young hockey goalie with piercing blue eyes and a Canadian flag tattooed on his chest. The Charger suited Joe– a fast car for an even faster seventeen-year-old boy. The car door slammed and I cringed. A moment later, my doorbell chimed.

Oh, hell.

Our brief summer fling had ended with the change of seasons as most are wont to do, and in the month or more since we’d parted, I’d fallen in love for the very first time with someone else. In fact, Dylan and I had just consummated our relationship that afternoon, and I was eagerly awaiting his return for a repeat performance. Ah, young love.

The bell rang again. I sighed, went downstairs, and opened the door with what I hoped was a look of absolute disinterest. “Hey. What’s up?” I yawned for effect.

“Hey, can I come in for a bit?” Joe asked.

“No, I don’t really think that’s a good idea—”

“Aw, come on, lemme in for a minute,” he interrupted, tears forming in his eyes. “I just wanna talk to you for a sec. Please? I miss you, babe.”

I looked over his shoulder, searching for an excuse.

“Come on,” Joe pleaded. “What, you’re too good for me now?”

I met his eyes. Uncomfortable, I watched for a moment, this six-foot-something hockey goalie wiping away his tears on my front porch, and felt a combination of pity, shame and guilt. Damn my Catholic upbringing. I moved aside to let him in. “All right. But just for a minute, okay?”

“You got it.”

Inside, Joe sat on the futon in my attic bedroom, and put his head in his hands. I tried to comfort him. “Listen, I’m sorry, but I don’t really get what you’re so upset about. I thought we were cool. We’re cool, right?

Instead of a reply, he tried to kiss me. I shoved him away.

“Uh-uh,” I insisted. “Not happening. Joe, listen, you gotta go—”

Joe ignored me and kissed my mouth. Hard. He shoved me onto my back and tugged my shorts down with one hand. I struggled against him as much as I could, but the weight of his body crushed mine, and there was nowhere left to go. I pounded on his chest.

“No. Please. Stop. Seriously, I don’t want to—”

“Shut up,” Joe growled, smirking. “You know you love it.”

“No! Stop, I’m not kidding—I don’t want to. Seriously, stop! No—”

No! No. No—oh, god—he’s actually going to—

No—

In an instant, my entire world became a suffocating inferno of searing pain. I couldn’t escape. I wanted to die. Instead, I just left my body—right there, discarded on that bed—and went someplace else. I felt nothing. I was nothing, hollowed out, empty, eviscerated. After he finished, Joe tugged up his jeans, then winked at me from the doorway across the room. “See ya later, beautiful.”

Then he was gone. I heard the front door slam and puked in my mouth. Then I curled up into a tight little ball and rocked back-and-forth for hours. Back-and-forth. Back-and-forth.

Back-and-forth.

           *

I was raped. It took nearly twenty years to be able to say those words out loud, to tell my story, and accept that it wasn’t my fault. Joe was an ex-boyfriend. Somehow, that seemed to make all the difference in my mind, as though the fact that I’d said “yes” in the past meant he couldn’t be blamed for his refusal to accept “no” in the present. I never reported the incident to the authorities. In fact, for a long time, I didn’t tell anyone. I kept my mouth shut and accepted the blame. Guilty and ashamed, I mistakenly believed that what had happened was my fault, that I should have done something differently. If only I’d fought harder, screamed louder, used my teeth. Anything.

But there was nothing I could’ve done, I know that now. In Joe’s eyes, I wasn’t a person, I was just a body. And he was going to take what he wanted, regardless of consent, regardless of me. Something was stolen that night which has taken decades to recover: trust. Trust in myself, trust in men, trust in the world as a place where I could be safe, loved, and respected. I still think about that boy, that night, that one act of spite that destroyed the last vestiges of innocence in me.  Sometimes I fantasize about revenge. Sometimes I imagine I’m brave enough to forgive. Mostly, I sit somewhere in the middle, praying that’s enough.

Rape is not a culture.

Rape is a devastatingly heinous crime that has serious long-term effects, and normalizing it by referring to it as a part of any culture is incredibly dangerous. Statistics show that approximately one in four women will be raped in her lifetime, but private discussions among women reveal those numbers to be significantly distorted. We know this: sexual assaults are highly underreported. Unfortunately, in large part, because we live in a society that continues to promote aggressive sexuality while shaming and blaming victims of assault for the clothes they wear, the paths they take, and their choices: What was she thinking? Didn’t she know better than to dress provocatively, or drink so liberally, or go out at night alone, or… fill-in-the-blank? Did she speak to him, flirt with him, dance too seductively? Did she invite him into her apartment? Well, then, what does she expect?

What does she expect?! She expects to be treated as a human being (with the same rights and freedoms as every other human being) regardless of someone else’s physical ability to overpower her. She expects to be able to wear the modern fashions sold in every department store without fear that she’s revealing too much. She expects to be safe if she’s walking under the stars, or having a few drinks on a night out, and she expects to flirt, speak, and dance when and how she chooses without any obligation to perform later on. Simply put, she expects her consent to matter.

No means no, true. But that puts the onus on her to remove consent, as though it were already presumed to be given in the first place. A body must be given, not taken.

Only yes means yes.

It’s time for us to recognize the power of our words to solidify cultural norms. Rape is not a culture, it’s a weapon of war, a control tactic used in attempt to dominate and force subservience on another human being, and its effects are long-lasting and .life-altering.

(Please feel free to substitute pronouns as required. Rape is not a sex/gender issue, it’s a power/control issue, and many men also experience rape in their lifetimes)

*This post first appeared on Living the Dream blog. Name changed to protect author*

Links to Support in Canada:

(From: http://crcvc.ca/links/ )

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