Tales of Rape Culture: My story, 37 and just realized I was raped nearly two decades ago
I have long since believed that Donald Trump is a waste of a human being- a narcissistic hate mongering orange fool. I find myself eating my words. Not because I misjudged Trump’s character but because for once, his bullying has led to something productive. All around the world, women are being triggered by this election. Women are speaking out. And most importantly, women will vote and show the world what we think about his version of locker room banter.
First a little about me. I’m a 37 year old professional woman. I hold a Masters degree in Mathematics and run my own consulting business. I grew up in a fabulous family, two loving parents and 3 siblings who would never lay a finger on me. I also grew up in Toronto, Canada. This is relevant for a couple reasons. First, the toxic rape culture that is so prevalent in the US is something us Canadians would like to pretend is not nearly as extreme in our home and native land. Second, we have comprehensive sex education. I was extremely well educated on STD’s, consent and unwanted pregnancy years before I ever had sex. I am also white. I mention this only because I am hyper aware of the privilege this affords me. For every shitty thing that’s happened to me, I never grew up thinking I would not be believed. I did not grow up with a fear of law enforcement. I simply grew up, like the majority of women, in a culture so toxic even smart, educated outspoken women are conditioned to just accept that “boys will be boys”.
It’s with that lens I want you to read this with. I want you to understand that I am inherently lucky, privileged and free. A reality few women live in. Yet, that was not enough to protect me. Because, #YesAllWomen.
My trigger started slowly. A woman named Kelly Oxford started a twitter conversation asking women to share their first sexual assault. Seems easy enough right? Wrong. What is sexual assault? Sexual assault is defined as sexual contact with another person without their consent. That’s a pretty vague definition. What makes contact sexual? The first thought that comes to mind is the time I passed out in the bed of a family friend only to wake up with him groping me and rubbing his penis on my backside. That definitely feels like assault, let’s go with that. But was that my first assault? I had to look further back. I read through other women’s posts. Groped on a bus, at a club or even in school? Check, check and check. Determining the timeline for that would be impossible, it’s such a frequent occurrence.
Look further back. I think about the time a co-worker at the hockey pro-shop I worked at as a teen used a price gun to price my breasts at $39.99. Inappropriate on so many levels. I respond by laughing it off, saying that they would be worth a lot more than that. I was 17.
Think further back, standing at the front of class waiting to speak to a teacher and having boys on the rugby team throw their ball at my butt to judge how it jiggles. Hilarious, it totally jiggles! Good one. I was 16.
Look further back. Now I’m in junior high, I’m wearing the 90’s fashion of ripped jeans with boxer shorts underneath as not to expose the skin beneath the rips. Apparently I should have known the thin material of boxer shorts was not sufficient cover up. At 13 I learnt I could not wear those jeans, even with boxers, without a neighbourhood boy shoving his hands in the holes to grab my ass. In fact, when I called him out I was told by him that it was my fault for wearing jeans with holes. I decide this must be my first assault because the thought of going back even further is too upsetting and post it on twitter.
I go back to my normal day to day. With extreme trepidation I continue to read stories of women lashing out against Trump’s dismissal of bragging about sexual assault as locker room talk. I read a FB post by a woman named Jenn Mattern entitled “Welcome to the women’s locker room”. I read her story from the outside looking in until I get to this line: “I was 16 when a boy laughed in my face, “Oops, I guess I slipped” after penetrating me without my consent.”
I read Jenn’s brave words and immediately recognize that sentence as rape. It’s clear as day when you read it happening to someone else from the lens of an adult woman. But what if you are looking at it from a different lens? What if you are 20 and not 37? What if you have been so conditioned to learn that you alone must protect your chastity that you never considered what happened to you as rape?
That’s what happened to me. I was 20 and home from university for the summer working at a startup. I met a cute boy a little older than me and was smitten immediately. We made out a few times but I was still a virgin at the time and absolutely determined to wait until I was in a serious relationship to have sex. He knew this. I’d vocalized it many times. We fool around a little more. His fingers move down to my nether regions and I’m immediately on edge. This is where some of that good old Canadian sex-ed comes in handy. I am absolutely terrified of STDs and even the thought of his penis being within inches of my vagina scares me. He has his boxers on. I tell him he needs to keep them on to make sure things don’t go any further. He obliges and continues. The finger starts to feel a bit larger and again I check in, look down and make sure he is still clothed and it’s just his finger. I ask him why it feels bigger, he is using his thumb he replies. Again I remind him to be very careful not to let his penis get anywhere near me. He tells me to relax and enjoy it. I make the mistake to try and do that. I notice the thumb is getting even bigger and deeper and with panic I quickly look down and find him on top of me, penis poking out of his boxer shorts, inside of me. I yell and tell him to stop before he penetrates all the way. He stops. I ask him why he would do that when he knew I was a virgin and not ready to have sex. He replies that he really didn’t see the difference between a penis and a thumb and was sure that by the time I noticed I would be enjoying it so much I would not want it to stop.
Not true, I noticed immediately and wanted it to stop. I never wanted it to happen. I’d told him this at least a half dozen times including at least 3 times in the minutes leading up to it. He very intentionally tried to slip it in without me noticing. Here’s where I am one of the lucky ones. When I demanded he stop, he did. So in my 20 year old brain, the idea of labelling this as rape was never even thought of. Rapists were bad people who pinned women down and violently forced themselves on you. They were not cute guys you were dating who “just got carried away” in the moment. This was my fault. I should have been guarding my prized virginity more closely. I should never have looked away, not even for a split second. I should have known that opened me up to risk. I felt violated and stupid at the same time. There was nothing to be done but try to laugh it off and to learn from this mistake and never take my eyes off the prize again.
I make the decision not to count this as sex. After all, I was able to stop him before he fully penetrated and my hymen was still intact. No one wants to think that was the way they lost their virginity. And if you didn’t have sex and you still consider yourself a virgin, you could not have possibly been raped. Thus I went about my business, told a couple of friends and we all had a good laugh about how I was still a virgin because it was “just the tip” (it wasn’t). Over the course of the next 3 years, until I definitely, absolutely lost my virginity, I always had an asterisk beside it. My friends and I used to joke that I was a slutty virgin, unless you counted just the tip, in which case I’m just a slut. Hilarious! We laugh and laugh and laugh. What choice do we have? We are not nearly self aware enough to realize this was in fact rape. I believed it’s at least partially my fault and shudder at any mention of the incident. Laughing is the only way I can express any emotion at all about what happened to me. Laughter is safe and fun and meant I was not a victim.
And now here I sit, nearly two decades later and for the first time in my life, I realize what happened to me was rape- and only because another woman was brave enough to share her story. I ask a dear friend, now what? She replies, “You write. You write then all the ladies start writing.” So here I am, writing. Writing about how it’s possible to live in a culture so toxic that the woman sitting beside you in the office, seemingly happy and fine, is a rape victim and doesn’t even know it. This is rape culture. This is why it is not ok to dismiss bragging about sexual assault as locker room talk. I want to say it normalizes rape culture but the truth is that ship has long sailed. Rape culture is normalized. Even for those of us living privileged lives. So what it actually does is perpetuate a status quo of rape culture. We are better than this. We can say no. We can find our collective voices and say we refuse to live in a society where women and girls are taught to own their own assaults. So I write. I write and I hope you will too. And most importantly, I hope you will vote this November and produce a landslide so big that men everywhere know it is #NeverOk.