The Majority Of Women’s First Sexual Experience Was Nonconsensual. What Are We Going To Do About It?
by: Mercedes Molina
Trigger Warning: Rape
The following Op-Ed is written by Mercedes Molina, a fellow with the Movement Mujeres Program, a joint initiative of Deeds Not Words and Jolt to dedicated to organizing and developing the leadership of young women through an intersectional framework. In this op-ed, Mercedes talks about the silent war people fight with after their first sexual experience and how actions like providing more comprehensive sexual education and funding programs that serve victims of sexual assault can help fight this alarming issue.
Recently, National Public Radio published a story titled “Tip Of The Iceberg’ — 1 In16 Women Reports First Sexual Encounter As Rape”. I read the headline to myself while scrolling through news stories before bed and felt a sinking feeling in my stomach, as if someone had just uncovered a secret of mine, hidden away for a large portion of my adult life. How did they know?
You see, I, along with more than 3 million women, femmes, and LGBTQ individuals whose first sexual encounters were nonconsensual have carried the guilt and damages of that experience for so long — a deeply personal guilt that we have been told to carry alone. Questions of our own moral character and strength have played an endless loop in our head and the thought of hearing these questions echoed by those closest to us is unbearable. So we hold onto our stories and feelings, not fully understanding the repercussions that could stem from unresolved personal conflict surrounding an act of violence that was never our burden to bear in the first place.
As I scrolled the article, I was nervous that some piece of it would have a detail that would reveal my personal story. I wanted so deeply to share this article to my social media pages, reminding the women in my life that they were not alone and their feelings of “that didn’t seem right” were valid. I wanted to make the perpetrators reflect on their actions and read about the damages their excessive handsy-ness has caused. These damages they commit have left so many people, like me, still reeling from the trauma that they inflicted upon me. But then I paused. “What if I share this and they know?”
What’s worse is that they knew and did nothing about it.
While it’s no secret that sexual education in this country has failed in areas of contraceptive variety and use, extreme lack of inclusivity to LGBTQ and disabled communities, STI prevention and knowledge, one of America’s largest shortcomings has been education on sexual violence and assault. Almost completely lacking as a requirement for high schools, some colleges have tried to supplement by providing simplistic “Defining Consent” programs into freshman orientations. But how effective are these programs in practice? And what kind of comfort does it provide to individuals who have already experienced assault — especially if that assault was their first sexual experience? In a society that is constantly sugarcoating assault through hushed tones and the perpetuation of phrases like “boys will be boys”, when will something tangible be done to combat sexual assault?
When 1 in 16 — a number we know is “just the tip of the iceberg” — of women are reporting their first sexual experience was nonconsensual, we must demand more of sexual education programs in our public schools than tutorials on how to put a condom on. We need to teach young women whose first sexual experience was nonconsensual to be aware of the health risks, both mental and physical, that they face due to their trauma and provide them with support. We need to teach our children what a healthy relationship looks like and support legislation such as House Bill 366 filed by Texas State Representative Mary Gonzalez of El Paso to incorporate these lessons in our schools. We need to fund programs that can increase and incentivize Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner certification programs to deal with the current shortage of specially trained nurses who serve victims of sexual assault. Most importantly, we need to offer victims of assault the opportunity to heal.
It shouldn’t take me saying the word “rape” to make you listen. It shouldn’t take me spilling the details of my past to make a point. It is the responsibility of everyone to advocate for better than what we have allowed to happen to more than 3 million women.