Above image: rape is not caused by drinking, or walking home late at night. It’s caused by someone deciding to violate someone else. Prevent rape: don’t rape.
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I remember much of that night very well.
I was 17 years old, a college freshman, and there was a party in my apartment.
We lived in one of those student apartments where they do roommate matching in the front office and pair you with people “based on personality type” (aka: find the five least compatible people you can and put them together under one roof), and my roommates were having people over.
I was surrounded, in every way, by strangers.
This was the first time away from home for most of us, but I quickly learned that I had the most conservative upbringing by far. Most of my pre-college socializing had come from church.
My parents were youth ministers; my dad was a leader on the church worship team; my mom was a counselor for the church and often involved in women’s outreach and Bible study programs.
When I wasn’t in school, most of my childhood and teenage years were spent almost daily in our church or at some church function, and my house was a refuge with a swinging door for young adults who had “gone astray” and wanted to get their lives back on track.
Surrounded by the Gospel and a house full of “wayward youths,” the message about sex was very clear. People had only two kinds of sex: God-sanctioned relations inside the bonds of loving and holy matrimony, or sin.
Sex in the marriage bed was holy, so it was automatically fun and rewarding and intimate. Outside of marriage it was sinful and would bring only unwanted pregnancy, disease and heartbreak. Nobody talked about condoms or birth control or “safe sex”, because that would be seen as somehow permitting the act of premarital intercourse.
Since the only safe sex was sex between a man and his wife, better that we close all those doors and give only two options: holy and perfect or shameful and dangerous.
All or nothing.
Even masturbation was a pretty big “no-no,” because it would just stir up desires and fantasies that were not God-given, a gateway drug to more elicit sexual behavior.
The dialogue and the education around sex were geared toward heterosexual, monogamous, married couples or non-negotiable abstinence. There was no discussion about any alternative sexuality (except to say that it would be sinful), or what to do if, regardless of my best intentions, I ended up in a sexual situation (except to say that the answer is always “no” unless it was my spouse, and then the answer is always “yes”).
My body and my sexuality wasn’t mine it was a sacred gift to be held onto and given only to my future spouse on my wedding night.
Would I want to explain to my future mate that I gave his gift away?
Don’t hear me wrong. I truly believe that the adults in my life (and others like them all over the world) truly loved us and had our best intentions at heart.
I think many of them were doing the best they could with the information they had.
Looking back, however, I think that another, broader message might have been healthier.
One of my mentors, Annalisa Adams, said to me recently,
“There’s no such thing as all or nothing. Nothing can exist in that kind of extreme polarization.”
The night of the rape started out with a conversation about this very thing.
My roommates had a bunch of people over. Everyone was drinking and we were sitting around the living room half-watching “Sex and the City.” The question was raised about whether or not Samantha was a slut, and this started a conversation about everyone’s sexual history.
Stories of lost virginities were told and compared.
I laughed along with the group and said very little. I didn’t know these people and had no idea how to talk about sex (outside of a sermon) without dying of embarrassment.
Eventually, though, they turned to me.
Someone asked, “How many people have you been with?”
I swallowed hard and said, with some conviction, “I’m a virgin.”
Someone else laughed, just a little, and said, “Didn’t you ever have a boyfriend?”
I said, “I’m waiting for marriage.”
It got very quiet for a few breaths, and I tried hard to keep a straight face, look everyone in the eye and stand up for what I believed in. I knew going off to college that there would be peer pressure like this, and I was prepared to hold fast.
The questions kept coming, and I kept trying to explain what I knew to be the truth about sex and why I was waiting. The other people there had heard this abstinence message, but none of them had taken it quite as seriously as I had, apparently.
“Well, do you kiss people?”
“Did you go down on any of your boyfriends?”
“You’re drinking right now, how is that different?”
I did my best to answer and prayed they would just stop. I was relieved when, finally, my roommates decided to leave to see if any of the neighbors had more beer.
Everyone left with them except three people none of us knew (two guys and a girl), that had come with a friend of a friend. The girl was throwing up in the bathroom while her boyfriend held her hair back and their friend, L, just stayed on the couch waiting for them.
L had been flirting with me all night.
Saying wonderful things about how hot he thought I was. The more I drank the cuter he looked. Now that we were alone, he was on me. Touching me, kissing me, playing with my hair.
I felt a little guilty because I knew this was not “good girl “behavior, so I tried to be coy and bat him away. I’ll admit, though, the attention was kind of nice, and I honestly trusted him to respect what I’d said about being a virgin.
After a few minutes of awkward flirting, I said I just wanted to go to bed. We walked back to where his friends were in the bathroom, and while he checked on them, I went into my room.
I heard the apartment door open and shut, and I was so glad they were gone.
My head hurt and I wanted to sleep.
I stood up from my computer to go lock the door and there was L, standing in the doorway.
He wouldn’t let me leave my room; he just kept kissing me and tugging at my clothes.
“Just come here, baby—Doesn’t this feel good?”
I didn’t know how to say no–not really.
I wanted him to leave, but I was so scared of looking like a foolish child. I thought if I played a long a bit, he might just go.
I kissed him back, and then asked him to leave. He walked over, turned the light back on and pushed me down on the bed.
I remember the rest of the night in garish snapshots like overexposed film.
His hands were on me and our shirts were off.
I pushed against his chest and he pushed my hands over my head.
I tried to get up and he pulled me back.
He shoved himself into my mouth, and I tried to resist.
I said, “No,” and he wouldn’t listen.
I was on my back and he was on top of me, trying to force himself inside me.
He was rough and aggressive.
Everything hurt all over.
I was crying and saying no, and my body was dry and unforgiving.
He laughed at me.
He forced his hands into me, violently, and whispered into my ear, “Oh, baby, just give in! You know it feels good. Do you think your God cares whether or not you have sex with me? You’re already ruined because you had my cock in your mouth. You know that’s still sex, don’t you?”
As soon as he heard I was a virgin, he saw me as a challenge.
I was sobbing, scared and ashamed.
I just wanted it to be over.
When he was finished he rolled off my bed, got dressed, grabbed a cigarette off the kitchen counter and walked away.
In the weeks that followed, I tried to reconcile what had happened.
I told my roommates and not one of them either believed me or took me seriously. I went to a doctor on campus that checked me out, suggested offhandedly that I report it, and then offered me birth control. I told my family, and they were sad and worried, but honestly they had no idea how to talk about it with me.
I later had a boyfriend bring a friend to break up with me because he thought I made up the story for attention, and he was scared I’d make up one about him, too. Really, very few people took it seriously at all, including me.
And those who did had no idea how to help or what to do.
I had a handful of friends who were upset for me, wanted me to press charges—but honestly I wasn’t totally sure that I was blameless.
At the time I thought of all the ways I should’ve been more forceful—should’ve said no before we even kissed. I knew the situation had gotten out of hand, and I convinced myself that it was my fault. I also felt so much shame and guilt because I wasn’t “holy” anymore.
I had waited all that time and for what?
I could hear his words in my head and, in my quietest moments, they felt so true.
And, I didn’t care as much—if I wanted to have sex, I did. Why bother resisting? It wouldn’t matter.
One of my loved ones later confronted me about my sex life saying, “Just because you got raped doesn’t mean you can have sex with whoever you want.”
The whole thing was a mess.
I was full of self-judgment and feeling judged by those closest to me. I tried hard to forget it, to speak of it only in monotone. To move on like it was no big deal.
Much of the rest of my sexual and romantic life was dramatically affected by mindset leading up to the rape and the destruction it left in its wake. After all these years, I’m only recently starting to realize how traumatic that event was, and how important it is to acknowledge it, and everything it meant to me, so I can properly heal.
I said all that to say this:
No, means no.
Not hearing a “yes” is also a no.
1. the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse. 2. any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.
If someone is bullied or forced to have any type of sexual contact without consent, that’s rape.
1. to agree to do or allow something 2. to give permission for something to happen or be done.
Plain and simple.
If someone has sex with you without permission, it’s rape.
I don’t care if one is male or female, drunk or stoned, if it’s a stranger off the street or a partner of 15 years. In fact, most rapes are committed by someone the victim already knows.
We shouldn’t leave our sexual health education up to only schools, parents, pastors, or the Internet.
Those are not bad resources—we should all have trusted role models that we can talk to and be open with. But, we shouldn’t wait for resources to come to us.
We should ask questions, talk to our doctor, be empowered.
Find non-biased, trusted, reliable resources and take control of how we learn about our body, our fantasy life, being safe and about how to express our sexuality in a liberating, healthy way.
My sexuality is just that:
We shouldn’t let anyone else dictate who we are.
I gave my power away long before that night, by allowing my sexual identity to be determined by religious guilt and the opinions of those around me.
That was 14 years ago, and it has only been in the last two or three years of my life that I have started to drop self-judgment and see my sexuality not as shameful or guilt-ridden…
…But as a beautiful thing—a powerful part of my identity.
I’m learning how to have a healthy dialogue about sex and sexuality—how to honor my body, my spirit and my desires in a healthy and safe way.
Most of all, I’m finally learning to explore who I am and what I want—and to acknowledge that whatever that means, it’s beautiful because that’s who I am.
Sexuality is a beautiful, spiritual, mental, physical, part of every human existence, and it deserves to be nourished in an open, healthy, safe, non-judgmental way.
“What would it be like if your town and everyone in it would receive you with no judgment? Who—and how—could you choose to be then?”
~Dr. Dain Heer
*If you feel that you’ve been a victim of sexual assault or rape, please talk to your doctor, a counselor or pick up the phone and call the National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1.800.656.HOPE.
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