“I was asking for it”: Another Way to Look at Rape.

Via Brentan Schellenbach
on Sep 13, 2013
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When I was 17, I was raped.

I’m hesitant to even use that word because that word is culturally loaded and it brings up such specific attachments for each of us; but, if I’m going to use a word to define a particular event in my life, I would say that word is accurate.

I’m not here to throw myself a pity party; I’m not here to engage in anger about how much the world sucks and what it inflicts on all of us; and I’m not really here to make anyone believe in my perspective on the issue.

I’m here to express—there is no other agenda.

Often, when I engage people in this conversation, there are one of two responses:

1) “You were asking for it.”

2) “You most certainly were not asking for it, and don’t let anyone let you believe you were (you warrior queen, you!). “

What I’m finding is that there is a place in-between those two talking points.

(Oh, buddy, I’ve just said some stuff.)

Rape is not something that I would wish upon any living thing.

And what rape really means to me is a lack of personal autonomy: something else is making a decision for me, without my consent.

Everyone has been raped.

And I am here to say that I have definitely had a hand in what went down that night.

In the way the phrase is meant, no, I was not asking for it. I did not look someone in the face and tell them, “please violate me now in a sexual manner, that would be awesome.”

But I did throw a party at an abandoned house without the consent of adults. I did get frustrated trying to figure out which people were invited and which people were definitely not supposed to come. I did get almost immediately overwhelmed and pour myself a wine glass full of green apple vodka and down the sucker without any second thought.

And this whole time, I remember thinking how utterly cool I was—this party-throwing, rule-breaking, hot-shot badass of a high school senior.

And I don’t think any of this was wrong of me to do.

But I also don’t think that the ensuing 15 minutes spent in a walk-in closet with someone I barely knew was necessarily the wrong thing to have happened, either.

This is all simply the way it unfolded that night.

And I can have no bad thoughts about that night because that night has gotten me to this night—the night I get to write about how all of this has played out inside of me.

I’m transitioning my thoughts (not just on this issue, but on a lot of issues), so that my thinking isn’t, “what is right and what is wrong?”

Rather, my thinking is, “does this contribute to happiness in the world?”

Because let me tell you: the person who showed up to that party that night—dressed in my skin and my voice and my hair-do—was not a happy person. That person was riddled with self-esteem issues so huge and so vast they could consume the volume of three of the world’s oceans.

I was so completely disconnected from myself during that time in my life that sexual violation felt almost…appropriate. It felt like, “well, this makes sense that this would happen.”

So, I’m not here to look at the mechanics of what happens when one person says “no” and the other says “yes.” I’m here to look at the mechanics of the feelings of the people underlying those words.

Because, ultimately, my issue isn’t that I was raped. My issue is that I led a life that was disempowered to the point of me even deciding—against my better judgment—to host a party that night.

My disempowerment didn’t start when I said “no.” My disempowerment started years before, when I decided to believe that the quality of my life was not important.

The belief that I was not valuable created situations in my life that re-enforced that way of thinking.

I have absolutely no idea what belief system created a situation for someone to disregard the word “no.” And I think that’s an equally valid thing to talk about.

This is what I think: two people suffered in that closet. And I’m not talking about momentary suffering—I’m talking about two souls who had suffered and were in the middle of their suffering who happened to be in a closet together.

Life happened.

Life happens.

Life will continue to happen.

These are only my circumstances. These are only the ways I view my circumstances. And you are more than entitled to view mine, or anyone else’s circumstances, exactly the way you want to.

The way I view it is that if I’m lucky, I get to look at all of life’s shit and get excited about it and ask, “how did that get created and how am I continuing to create life in this moment?”

For me, that means getting out of the mindset that there are certain things that are wrong and certain things that are right in life.

All Life is doing is unfolding itself adjacent moment to adjacent moment. And sometimes that means shitty fucking things happen. But we get to decide how we look at all of that.

My life would not be my life without that closet.

And if that closet has contributed to the life I have now, then: yes, I was most definitely asking for it.

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Ed: Sara Crolick




About Brentan Schellenbach

Brentan Schellenbach is a yoga teacher, writer and spiritual truth seeker. She teaches and writes for Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week in person and online. She is dedicated to the study of herself and the world around her and offers knowledgeable insight from these observations. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram and keep up with the different studio writers online. Take a class when you’re in town!


23 Responses to ““I was asking for it”: Another Way to Look at Rape.”

  1. Mecki says:

    A courageous share. Thank you for sharing your experience and allowing me to look at my own with new eyes.

  2. Rhonda says:

    Wow! A very brave and deep perspective on such a difficult life event. I hope I will able to share this with someone I care about who is continuing to struggle with a similar event… I hope it your words inspire others to shift even slightly in how they hold their own painful memories…

  3. Terri says:

    This is what needs to happen with so many issues – people speaking their own truth, acknowledging the grey that is real life instead of getting polarized into black and white thinking. Your 17 year old self and mine were in the same place, I totally get what you are saying so thanks for saying it…

  4. I was a bit taken aback by the title, but absolutely love this, Brentan. I'm a firm believe that we get to chose how we deal with things…that's part of what it means to be a survivor.

  5. Guestetera says:

    I agree that things aren't always so simple as they seem, and that a larger context surrounds each act of violation. However, this post mostly reminds me of how I rationalized things when I was younger, in my teens and twenties. It's much more empowering to imagine that you're the cause of your own rape than to feel like a "victim." Over time, I changed my mind about what happened during my rape, which also happened under the influence. Plain, horrid fact is, I'm a rape victim just like any other rape victim, despite having made the decision to be in a certain place at a certain time, under the influence of certain substances.

  6. Great article, courageous and insightful. Very touchy subject and you've managed to delicately open up the discussion in a wise and careful manner. Nice work.

  7. Right.View says:

    Brentan, thank you for this article. I, too, was raped at 18, and at 40 years of age have had many years to contemplate the events of that night. I know, today, that there are things I could have done differently, but then again, I am no longer that scared, insecure little girl who thought her life wasn't worth much. That event, along with many others, have shaped me into the woman I am today, and I have a hand in every one of them. Accepting the responsibility for my part in the things that have happened in my life has empowered me and helped me to realize that within every painful situation, is opportunity to learn and to grow. I love who I am today, and I wouldn't change one second of the past experiences that have brought me to this place. You are a brave girl, and I love you.

  8. Shreya says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this and opening up about such a sensitive subject. I was raped at 5, totally understand your pain. Thank you for being the beautiful Person that u are. Love and light.

  9. answerswillcome says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I was raped at 15 by a boyfriend under circumstances so gray that I still struggle to define it. "Well, this makes sense that this would happen," was my reaction, too. Eighteen years after the fact I acknowledge that memories are not exact. I cannot be sure what happened, except that I most certainly had a part in it. What a relief I got when I saw that as a teen I was willing to accept almost anything in order to maintain a persona that I thought would make me feel better. I expect that he was doing the same. Forgiveness for those kids.

  10. Michelle says:

    Dear Brentan,

    There is too much for me to say, as a medical advocate for a rape crisis center here in Chicago I ask that you visit us. I've written this open letter to you, please read it.

  11. Lisa says:


    You are a courageous woman. I am here in Italy teaching Yoga at the moment and this eve we did a meditation and Nidra which culminated in me reading an extract of ‘Women who run with wolcves’. We discussed afterwards a number of women of different ages how the myth, fables and stories were a real way of accessing the deep rooted psychic of our lives like the story of Blue Beard. We agreed that when fairy tales were told Toni’s as Children that somewhere the real lessons about instinct and trust were not passed to us; it seems we produce clones who spend their lives looking for their identity through situations like yours. How can parents love their babies another way and how can education slow down the factory production line of well educated but socially and non self aware teenagers.

  12. C. Devlin says:

    I'd encourage folks to read Michelle's letter noted above. I mean absolutely no disrespect to the author of this essay recounting her rape, but I was disturbed by it. I thought of the recent series of gang rapes world-wide that have gotten so much media attention, and the corresponding responses from a number of folks who have suggested those women had somehow participated in their own victimization because they had travelled to parts of the world that were either unfamiliar or the situations were volatile. This essay reminded me of those responses. This is distressing.

  13. kim says:

    With your choice of title (to gain interest and popularity) you have single-handedly unraveled decades of struggle by the women’s movement, who has suffered tirelessly to make this world one in which a girl with low self-esteem is not prey. Congradulations, NOW you’re asking for it. But you won’t be the one to suffer. It will be the rest of us as the title is brought up in courts across america and the article’s contents never once read.

  14. Amber says:

    I've said the same thing myself! YAY YOU! Thank you for sharing the gift of your experience. I love the part you are playing in waking the world up!

  15. Noele says:

    Thank you for this link. I understand what Brentan is trying to convey here and it is her life and her experience. However, based on decades of reading on this subject matter and witnessing the very slow changes in how our society views rape victims I do think that this is a very dangerous way of looking at things. This is one of the problems with people combining traditions from yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism with New Age concepts like the law of attraction. Many people make poor choices in life. This does not make them responsible for a physical violation of their body by another person. And as to the picture used "forcible rape" – as opposed to what other kind of rape? We can always choose to learn something from our life experiences whether they be pleasant or traumatic but having read this post and even knowing that the editor of Elephant Journal thought it suitable for publication is disturbing. I am a much older woman than Brentan and have a very different perspective on this matter. Perhaps her views will evolve over time. I am routing for her on her journey of healing and self knowledge.

  16. Lorna says:

    I respect your journey and the fact you have tried to see your experience through a lens of spirituality and healing. I am nevertheless in agreement that in choosing both your interpretation and particularly your title that you are in essence minimising the crime that was committed against you. No one ever invites or deserves rape or any other non-consensual act. Reaching an understanding of the circumstances that lead to such an event is very useful and healing. Assuming that any part of those circumstances meant that the rape was okay, or an appropriate event, or that the person who raped you was simply another hurting person and therefore the act was permissible (or even sensible) is not healing. I wish you well on your journey, but I believe this website made a very poor–and triggering–choice in allowing you to share in such a public forum, and with such a violent title. No person should "ask" for rape, or invite it–and if they do, it does not make the rape any less a crime.

  17. catnipkiss says:

    I, too, was victim of a rape that I thought I deserved (at age 17). It took me years -no, decades – to figure out that my presence at the party and over-drinking and smoking did not mean I "asked for" IT. Yes, that simple act does point us in directions that might not have been had we not been victims of rape, and it does not make it better to say maybe I had some part in it….. the absence of violence in these situations is confusing, sometimes. "I knew him from school", etc. – it is still a forced act that we did not want, and blurred lines do not make it any less of a crime. – Alexa Maxwell

  18. lisab says:

    Agreed and I'm grateful to see this. There are enough excuses for rape in the world and the objectification and exploitation of female bodies all around us is no help. Of course the rapist is suffering but not in the same way he's harming. Rape should be as abhorrent as cannibalism to all people. I thought this website was supposed to be about being mindful and aware or at the very least socially responsible. I get that maybe not everyone writing is a Buddhist (perhaps just into yoga or something) but I'm so often confused by what I read here that I have been considering writing articles myself.

  19. lisab says:

    Yes! Completely agree.

  20. lisab says:

    Beautiful. And yes… being able to forgive and have compassion for one's rapist is one thing. It's true that both men and women suffer in this culture and happy men don't rape. But thinking that injustices are deserved acts of karma is a dangerous idea.

  21. lisab says:

    Okay… I'm at a loss for words. All I can think is that we really need to define consent and include that in our kids sex ed – not just what they learn at school but also what we lovingly teach them at home.

  22. Laura Rose says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, and your enlightened perspective. I found myself easily drawn into your writing and wholeheartedly empathizing with both you and your co-victim.

    I'm torn between writing a comment here, or sending you something more private, hoping for an individual response…

    I agree with your assessment; I see a sufferer in all who experience a trauma: whether they are the society's "perpetrator" or "victim", it makes no matter. I could spend hours, perhaps days even, deconstructing the ideas that you presented.

    For me, you summed it up perfectly in these lines:

    "I was so completely disconnected from myself during that time in my life that sexual violation felt almost…appropriate. It felt like, “well, this makes sense that this would happen.” ~ Brentan Schellenbach

    Thank you for a brilliant and brave piece. I salute you and would invite future conversation, if you'd like. 🙂

  23. Ana says:

    Thank you for this. I also think it is a very dangerous way of looking at things… I can respect the writer's journey, and the strength she has found through it, however… No one 'asks for it'.. No one asks to be violated or to be taken advantage of – especially when in vulnerable state.
    For me, as a spiritual person – it is about love and respect – and that also means – self love and self respect. Respect we deserve – even – or especially when we feel like 'less'. When we doubt ourselves, when we feel lost. It is not an invitation for someone to take advantage.
    This article blurrs the lines in an area that is already so gray in our society. As a young girl, I used to blame myslef – that I should have not been there, I should have not drunk that much… But then – it wasn't my choice, it was forced on me. It wasn't my decision so I should not define myself by it. I am so much more. It was a part of my story, it used to be… the grief, the blame, the gossip, the strength. I rationalized it at point. But all that – was a part of healing. Until I arrived at place of self respect. Maybe it 'woke up' the writer – I like to think I would have been better off. Violation is violation, there is no other name for it.