Trigger warning: rape.
Thank you, Mr. Will. Your opinion piece in the Washington Post, a heinously misogynistic and condescending treatment of sexual assault on college campuses, finally forced me to confront and label my own rape. That young woman whose story you derided, whose “coveted status” as a surivior you called into question? She was raped. And you know what? So was I.
After more than two years of bargaining, of trying to find a gray area where none exists, I finally said it. I am a victim of rape. My first thought after that wasn’t that I was traumatized or that I should tell someone what I had finally come to terms with. It was that I am a statistic. I am the one in five women who will be raped during her time in college. I know too many women who fit that statistic, but I had never counted myself as one of them. I was one of the other four, the lucky 80% whose bodies were never violated.
It was the second semester of my senior year of college, and my then-boyfriend and I were staying at a hotel off campus, our Valentine’s Day present to ourselves. We had talked the night before about a morning roll in the hay, but I woke up feeling differently. I just wasn’t in the mood. He climbed on top of me, and I just thought to myself, “okay, I guess we’re doing this.” I knew something wasn’t right. He didn’t wait for or ask for consent, and I never gave it. I never said no, but I never said yes. If I confided to anyone afterward, it was that he “kind of raped me.”
It has taken me two years to admit what I knew then. Maybe it’s because I never thought it could happen to me. Yes, the dreaded “it” that no one wants to talk about. I am wary and alert when I’m alone at night, I never drink too much, I never dress in a provocative fashion unless I’m surrounded by people I trust. All of that was even truer two years ago. I wasn’t attacked, I wasn’t “assaulted,” it wasn’t a stranger or a frat boy. It was a young man whom I loved and trusted. He betrayed that trust without ever knowing it.
That’s part of why I didn’t want to admit it, I guess. How could this great guy who was in love with me really be a perpetrator of rape? See, even now I can’t bring myself to call him a rapist. A rapist is an evil man, maybe with a curly moustache, a man who deliberately preys on us at parties or in a dark parking garage. He isn’t a skinny, attractive, goofy 21-year-old spending the night at a hotel with his girlfriend. But he was. He violated my body. He had never done so before, but that day he did. Any man (or woman, for that matter) can rape if he (or she) fails to acquire consent.
My very understanding of rape and the politics surrounding it also kept me from coming to terms with what had really happened to me. I am an advocate and an activist in the arena of reproductive rights. I am a feminist who believes that every person has a right to control what happens to their body. If such a woman is to be a victim of rape, she should be kicking and screaming, right? She should be yelling “NO!” like the self-defense instructors taught her, and shoving her would-be rapist away. She would never submit silently to nonconsensual sex. She can’t; she has to be loud for the women who have no voice, strong for those who can’t stand up for themselves. She is not complicit in a violation of her body.
But I was. I lay there in silence that morning, and when he broke up with me I begged him not to go. I am ashamed of my silence. I am ashamed of my weakness. It wasn’t a healthy relationship, and I should have been glad to see it end.
Is this a “coveted status,” Mr. Will? I am afraid to tell my friends what happened because I don’t know how they will respond. I will never report it to any authority because they would not take me seriously, especially two years after the fact. How do I tell any future significant other that physical intimacy could cause a panic attack? Or tell my parents that the worst thing they could imagine actually happened? No woman should have to think about these things.
There is something you should know about the 20%. We are not weak, and we should not be ashamed. It is you: the slut-shamer, the questioner of the validity of our stories, who should be ashamed. Maybe someday you will be.