Content note for sexual assault.
Question: I think I might have been raped 10 years ago. I had a good first date w/the guy and on the second when we were kissing, he got handsy. Before the third, I told him the limits of how far I wanted to go (and before I practiced what I was going to say so many times) and he agreed. Half an hour later, he starts doing the things I said I wasn’t ready to do. I kinda froze and became compliant. I partly wanted to just get it over with since it was obvious he wanted it so much. Also, I thought that since I’d gained a lot of weight since the last time I had a boyfriend, I wasn’t going to do any better. I wasn’t scared or threatened, I just felt like I couldn’t say no.
That’s what makes me so unsure, because many years ago when I was 10, my cousin tried to rape me and I fought back and got away. Of course, he was obviously violent in his attempt. But with this other guy I wasn’t frightened so I don’t get why I didn’t just tell him to stop. I’ve thought about this before though I used the terms that he pressured me into sex. But the more I’ve read about consent, the more I wonder if there are stronger words to describe it. The thing is, I don’t really know what he would’ve done if I said no. He might have stopped completely. So I blame myself. I don’t know what to think. On one hand, there were times I could’ve said no and asked him to take me home, but on the other, I felt like I just couldn’t say no. I don’t think I have PTSD from it, per se (I did after the rape attempt when I was 10) but my depression did get dramatically worse right after. But then he dumped me soon after and I was begging him to take my back so maybe I’m doing the scorned woman thing. All I know is that I haven’t dated since then and the idea of me having sex really grosses me out. It’s like I’m tainted everywhere he touched me. I guess I’m just asking would this qualify as rape or what? Sorry for rambling.
Was Not or Was?
Hey, pal. That sounds awful, and you bring up one of the Cardinal Rules of Upholding the Rape Culture: convince victims to not believe themselves.
I want to bring your attention to a few of the things you said:
…he starts doing the things I said I wasn’t ready to do. I kinda froze and became compliant. I partly wanted to just get it over with since it was obvious he wanted it so much.
I just felt like I couldn’t say no
I blame myself.
I could’ve said no.
In the first two, it’s very, very clear that your consent was violated. Rapists don’t always use force or violence or threats. Sometimes they just don’t listen to the words of the person they are hurting. Sometimes they nod and smile, but do what they want anyway. Sometimes they are so insidiously coercive, it takes years to sort out what happened.
You were raped. I am sorry. I am sorry that he didn’t listen to you, and I am sorry that the way it happened filled you with self-doubt, evident in the last two quotes from your letter.
A very important tool of rape culture is gaslighting, which is why you are doubting your own experience of the events.
In the 1944 film Gaslight, Charles Boyer played a man who used abusive tactics to manipulate his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, and make her think she was going insane.
It sounds like this man gaslighted you, by letting you believe that he would respect your boundaries (and that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg). But rape culture also gaslights us by teaching us the mythology that rape must always happen in a certain way to be real. There has to be violence. The victim has to say “no” at least once. The victim must be afraid. No one is drunk. No one knows each other. The victim said “no” loud and clear, right at the beginning. The victim fought back, but was held down. The perpetrator used force. There were witnesses. And on and on.
So, when we are raped, and it doesn’t fit the rape culture narrative of what rape is, we don’t believe it. We get confused, we call it something else.
And many of us, like you, still experience aftereffects that can be classically linked to sexual assault. Depression. Feeling dirty or tainted. Anger. Confusion. These are all reasonable feelings. What that guy did to you was wrong, and being upset about it makes sense to me.
Cardinal Rules: Sexual activity without active, voluntary consent is sexual assault. Yes, and only yes, means yes. Consent is a question, and an answer, with all parties involved able to freely give either “Yes” and “no” as both equal and valid. Consent can be revoked or given at any time. “Giving in” is not consent. Consent is an enthusiastic “YES!”
I am sorry that you are feeling so badly about yourself. I am not a doctor, or a therapist, but I would strongly encourage you to find a counselor to talk to. Rape Crisis Centers often provide both group and individual counseling free of charge, and can even offer some services over the phone if transportation is an issue. You can find out which organization is local to you by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE. Good luck, I really do wish you the best. I believe you.