I was never raped, but when I was 11, the son of a family friend copped a feel whenever we were playing video games or watching tv.
I was never raped, but when I was 12, the same kid spent his birthday party making me sit on his lap while he touched me in front of his friends.
I was never raped, but when I was 14 the aforementioned kid threw me on a bed while our parents were downstairs having coffee. I remember the look in his eyes, and was grateful that his mom called us down for dessert before anything happened.
I was never raped, but when I was 15 a random car of guys yelled “Nice tits!” at me while I was going for a walk dressed in a baggy Nine Inch Nails t-shirt and ripped jeans.
I was never raped, but at my first job, a man old enough to be my father grabbed my ass while I was hostessing. Every. Week.
I was never raped, but when I was 17 I found a bathing suit that I loved, and swore I’d never wear one again when I saw one of my uncle’s friends staring at me as I got out of the pool at my family’s July 4th picnic.
I was never raped, but I still check under my car and in the back seat at night before I go anywhere.
I was never raped, but I still carry my keys like spiked brass knuckles when I’m walking alone.
I was never raped, but I’ve sat with friends and partners and clients while they explained how certain words or sounds or touches, however innocent or loving or therapeutic, were hurtful or terrifying.
I was never raped, but there are things I don’t wear and places that I don’t go and things that I don’t allow myself to do because I don’t want the attention. I don’t want the consequences.
I was never raped, but I’ve seen enough news and read enough stories to know that if I am, I will have to defend every decision I’ve ever made about what I wear, how much I drink, where I go, and who my friends are. And that the burden of proof will be on me. And that my word will not be enough.
I was never raped, but there have been so many ‘nice guys’ who tried to help a little too much, and lingered a little too long, and forced too many hugs, and became deeply, deeply offended when I tried to stop it. So I stopped trying, because hey…they were just being helpful, right?
I was never raped, but I’m always, always thinking about consequences. Not the consequences of my own actions or decisions, but the consequences of someone else’s. The consequences that might arise because someone else might decide that what I’m wearing or how drunk I am or who I’m with will somehow serve as permission or opportunity.
I am painfully aware of how lucky I’ve been. And how sick it makes me to write that.
This is the reality of rape culture. It is not that all men are terrible, oppressive predators — it is simply that too many of us grow up knowing that if we let our guard down, any man could become someone to be afraid of. We have learnt this because friends and uncles and strangers have crossed the line, and every time that happens, we learn to be a little more guarded. Sometimes we don’t even realize it — I don’t remember the exact moment when I stopped speaking up for myself, but I do remember being completely unable to tell the boy who molested me to stop. I couldn’t find my voice. It wasn’t until after the birthday party, after I told my mother, whose anger I borrowed to finally tell him to stop.
Rape culture systematically shrinks your world. Through movies and music videos and friendships and strangers, you learn that your comfort and safety simply comes second. If at all. I learned all of this, and I was never raped.
Today, as I read the sentence for a man who was convicted of rape, who was caught in the act, I am…disgusted, disheartened…and not at all surprised. Because the flip side of this kind of culture is that men like Judge Persky, Brock Turner — and his father, based on his letter defending his son’s “20 minutes of action” — are honestly unable to recognize what was taken that night, and what was lost. To blame it on alcohol. To ask, at least, for shared responsibility — with an unconscious woman.
I felt silenced by the decision that a young man’s loss of appetite was more important than a young woman’s loss of personal safety. I can’t imagine what other women are going through.
I want to end this by saying that hopefully, this case will spark a much needed cultural shift. I want to say that I hope the outrage about the leniency of Turner’s sentence will instigate conversations between fathers and sons — instead of just being another message to women about being responsible and cautious, always. I want to say that hopefully Judge Persky will be removed, sending a clear message that as a society, we demand harsher penalties for convicted rapists.
Right now, ending with “I hope” feels empty. I know too many people who don’t have that luxury. Not anymore.