If a loved one tells you that she/he has been raped or sexually assaulted, here’s how to respond adequately.
This year, I realized the power of blogs. It connects like-minded people from near and far and it allows anyone to express themselves and have an audience. For as long as I can remember, I loved writing. It allowed me to feel; to fully feel because when I put it down on paper, it made vaporous feelings transform into hard, tangible, stained ink. As I grew older, my interests grew. I wrote about things other than love and heartbreak. I started writing about international development as an advocate, I wrote about personal life struggles and I wrote about experiences.
This particular topic breaks my heart. I hate speaking about it, I hate hearing about it. Rape. Women are raped everyday. How did I survive the horrifying statistics? I am a woman and it terrifies me, saddens me and angers me. Why are our bodies weak, only bending to meet a man’s needs?
A friend disclosed to me that she was raped. “Maybe”, she then added weakly. After a few conversations about it, I asked her if it would be okay if I wrote about it. She agreed and I asked her to recount everything that happened and what she felt. It was difficult, it was slow. It was difficult to listen to and I’m sure it was a million times more difficult for her to talk about. I got the information I needed to write this and here it is. I wont pretend to know everything about how to talk to someone who has gone through this. I know how to be a friend, I know to to listen and I know how to blog. And if this helps get the word out and helps contribute to the conversation about this issue, we will be glad.
My request: Do not rape. If she was “asking for it”, why couldn’t you?
For privacy reasons, names have been changed. She is one of the bravest women I know and choosing not to share her name does nothing to deter that.
Eve recounted a cold winter morning when she woke up and hurriedly gathered her things. She was at the door where she stumbled and fell into the wall, still intoxicated from last night. Into freezing winter winds, she ran. Walking down the road she could see furthest down, she tried calling every cab company she knew. She stayed on hold for half hour and describes the wait as paralyzing. She was near enough to the place she desperately wanted to forget and there was no escape. Rattling her cage, she grew increasingly frantic. Standing in a bus shelter she called her best friend, “get me the fuck out of here.” 2 minutes later, her best friend called back and had sent a car to pick her up and she fled.
She got home and showered. Washed away the smell of the bar, washed away the blurry memories and let herself breathe under water. She put on makeup, put on a smile and went to work on time. Her friends asked her what she did the night before and she laughed and said that she got way too drunk and she shouldn’t have. She shouldn’t have because she was hung over at work but she couldn’t shake the feeling that if she wasn’t drunk, maybe she wouldn’t have been crying, feeling the weight of a man and his actions on her.
Only the best friend she called for help knew. A few weeks later, she confided in an other best friend. She was a volunteer crisis counsellor so it was easier to talk about it. She asked Eve all the right questions, said the right things. Later, she even slipped her pamphlets on where to get help if she ever needed it. She asked Eve if she wanted help reporting it, Eve said she didn’t want to report it.
She didn’t report it because she didnt know if she would be believed. She didn’t report it because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself, she didn’t want to be the girl who “ruined a boy’s life”. He was his ex-boyfriends friend. She didnt want to come off as a crazy bitch to her ex or to anyone. She doubted whether she was actually right to believe she was raped.
She regretted drinking too much. She regretted that she almost felt a tinge of joy at the attention she received from him. She regretted not driving to the bar. She regretted so much and she always imagined how different she would have been had this night unfolded differently. Maybe it was a one-night stand? Maybe I can shrug it off like that. Everyone has one night stands, don’t they? He’s a friend of my ex-boyfriend. I’m sure he just wanted a one-night stand. (Eve)
I asked Eve to recount the night as clearly as she remembered it.
“Well, I was working late into the night and he texted me asking to get post-work drinks with him and his friends. I said yes, smiling to myself that a boy was taking an interest in me. See, I had just gotten out of a relationship and was almost looking for validation. He picked me up and promised me that he would drive me home after. We went to a low lit bar (that I hate now) and he bought me drinks. A vodka lime and then another. And then more beers. When I was ready to go home, he changed his mind and said that it was too late and he didn’t want to drive me all the way back to my place and that I should stay at his place instead. He had already decided.
We were on the way home from his place and he stopped at a vague gate. I stepped out in a daze and he asked me to get back in the car, saying we weren’t there yet. He jokingly called me a “drunk”. We went up the elevator and he turned around and kissed me. I kissed him back. We went to his apartment and I instantly lay down, ready to sleep.
He cooed in my ear, moved closer to me. He lifted my hand and put my hand on his penis and asked, “don’t you want that?”. I laughed uncomfortably, not wanting to be rude. I retracted my hand and closed my eyes. He moved closer. He had a condom in his hand. I took the condom from his hand and threw it on the bed and said “no, lets not”. He said, “no, I need it” and picked it back up again. He moved on top of me and I was paralyzed. I repeated uncomfortably, “just..no”.
He was suffocating me as his head was near my ear and he breathed heavily as he entered me. It hurt so much. Sharp, piercing pain. I was in so much pain. I started to silently cry. I let the tears fall and I lay motionless. I reached over, with him still on top of me, and I called my ex-boyfriend. He didn’t pick up and in that moment, I felt crushingly alone. Alone and unloved. I felt every piece of my life disappear and I lay, only as an object making a man heave.
He finished, planted a kiss on my lips, rolled over and fell asleep. I stayed for 3 hours, woke up and fled.”
One year later, Eve called me crying. This is when she told me this story. She was crying because while she was with out for drinks with other friends from university, they coyly asked her about her past. Then to her horror, they laughed and said they knew that she slept with him and said, “oh, he said you’re very professional to everyone but its a facade and you’re feisty in bed.” She cried. Unashamedly, without holding back, she cried for the first time since it happened.
Let me point out some things in this story:
She said No — NO means NO
She was drunk — Consent cannot be received from a person who is intoxicated.
She kissed him back in the elevator but didn’t want sex — Consent should be continuous. One can change the mind at any time and as soon as that happens, everything becomes consensual.
She didn’t fight back and didn’t suffer bruises — not all assault victims suffer physical bruising and isn’t the only
She tried to brush it off as a one-night stand — Different victims have differing coping mechanisms. But the most common is to blame themselves and justify it.
She went to work the next day as usual — Again, different victims, different coping mechanisms.
Last year, a boy, my girl friend and I were lying on our backs on the floor of our student council office and talking about the world. We talked love and life and the topic of rape/sexual assault/consensual sex came up. Lets call the boy “Ryan”. Ryan became defensive immediately. As if it was inconvenient to be a man in this world. He said that a lot of women wake up the next day and regret it and accuse the man of rape and subsequently ruin his life. He said there were stats that said women reported false rapes all the time. He told us the story of how his friend was falsely accused and now he can barely get a job though he wasnt ever convicted. He talked about how his girlfriend playfully says no but expected him to convince her. He justified that that wasn’t rape so obviously other women maybe also might have meant it in the same way. He was adamant, his mind was narrow and stained with masculinity.
I stayed silently seething because I didnt see a point in getting into an argument about this. I looked over at my girlfriend and she was laying still, staring at the ceiling, eyes filled with tears. Not speaking in case her voice breaks and gives everything away. She later told me that she didn’t lose her virginity consensually. And now, years later she doesnt think sex is an intimate relationship with a partner, its just a dark dance among shadows. She has never orgasmed. She moves from one body to another as if looking for a home.
How many rape victims eyes have you looked into today? How many of you have held a friend as she cried, unable to comprehend where life would take her now? How many victims have stayed silent in agony when someone made a rape joke? Or when a man so adamantly said “rape is when a woman is forced to have sex. If she was forced, she will have bruises and she will suffer from trauma. If she doesn't, she wasnt raped. And if she was actually raped, any woman would report it because they have a legitimate case. Those women who dont report it, dont do so because they dont have actual reason. Yeah, maybe they woke up and regretted the previous night.” Every time I hear someone speak their mind about rape, Eve’s face flashes in my mind. I see the white office ceiling and a pair of teary eyes staring at it. For every woman, I feel the pain.
See, rape victims are ashamed that they ever got themselves into that situation. THERE ISN’T SHAME IN GETTING RAPED. THERE IS SHAME IN RAPING. Victims dont report it because they are rarely believed. It is traumatizing to ask someone to recount their experience, for them to then have to live in a world where everyone is a jury with their own opinion and verdict.
Please be aware of what you say and what you joke about. There are people you might be cutting into without knowing. And if someone you love tells you that they’ve been raped and you’re not sure how to handle it, please read this wonderful article. Its worth it.
My last point is this:
Stay kind. Stay aware.