So you think you might have assaulted or raped someone?
You’re not alone.
“To heal the cultural wound of sexual assault, we have to change the way we define both power and gender. True power is not the capacity for violence, but the capacity to create social justice.”
If you google ‘what to do if you think you might have raped someone’, there is almost nothing there. No advice for people who have come to their own conclusion that perhaps at some point earlier in their life, in their moral development, their understanding of empathy and sexual pleasure, they dominated someone. Perhaps with intention, perhaps not.
Rape is most often committed by people we know. Sometimes conversations are had between the victim/survivor and the perpetrator, but most often not. The most common thing that happens when someone is raped, is nothing. And when the time comes for each of us to realise our part, what support is there? Almost none. This is my attempt to make a start. If you are reading this, thank you for caring enough to consider deeply what led us to this place.
This is not an exhaustive list, just some ideas. Please share other ideas if you have them.
This is not an article for those seeking help in the acute circumstance. . If you are amidst an acute event:
- Please seek out emergency services for the survivor and medical care, if necessary.
- Call a rape hotline.
- Make sure that everyone is safe — if you know the survivor, check that they are ok, they likely need someone that isn’t you to be there for them.
This is an article for anyone who, on reflection, feels they may have violated someone’s consent.
You are not alone. Likely all of us, at some point, have pursued a physical interaction without clear evidence of consent. Many of us have done this and continue to do this unintentionally, without thinking.
If you are not sure whether you have partaken in consent violation, take a look at examples from the #metoo campaign, and the #itwasme follow ups. Do the stories in these campaign make you worry about your own prior physical interactions? Do they make you question whether some of your prior physical interactions entirely welcome?
If the answer is yes, this article is for you.
If you have come to the realisation that you’d like to do better, this is for you.
Exercises to work through
If you have been accused of rape, sexual assault, or harassment, please take a minute and answer the following questions to yourself, honestly. I encourage you to write down your answers or do a voice recording. Some also find it helpful to identify a “consent buddy” or join a support group and work through the following questions together.
Think about a situation in which you believe you may have violated someone’s consent:
- What steps led you to this situation?
- Are there beliefs or attitudes, that you carry, that contributed to this? For example, might you hold the belief that if a person goes into the bedroom with you, it means that they probably want to have sex with you? Dig deep here, these beliefs are not obvious.
- Are you interested in changing or challenging any of those beliefs? Do you want to act differently or do you want to want to act differently?
- Do you feel like your needs for intimacy are unmet? Social isolation is an objective measure of how many people you have in your life to meet your social needs. Loneliness is a perceptual sensation that your needs are not met. You can be not isolated but still feel lonely. Do either of these apply to you? Which of your social needs are not met?
- Are there thought patterns or behaviors in your life that feel unmanageable?
- Do you think there may be other people in your life who have left interactions with you feeling that their desires were ignored or overruled, or their consent violated?
- Do the people around you suggest that you may have you receive feedback from a general inability to empathize or tell when others are uncomfortable? (If you are struggling thinking of specific situations, I recommend looking to the #itwasme hashtag on twitter, you may find that you have partaken in similar situations as the consent violators spoken about in this campaign
- Have you enabled damaging gender power dynamics in your home, friend group or workplace? How do you feel about that? What do you wish you could have done differently?
- Have you remained silent in moments where you might have spoken up for others?
- Have you doubted the stories of others who have. claimed to have experienced consent violations (physical, sexual or social)? Have you ever ignored another person’s physical boundaries (in the context of a romantic/sexual relationship or otherwise)?
Now let’s look at some concrete examples of consent violations that occur in our everyday life. For example, we often force children to sit on people’s laps or persuade people to come to social events when perhaps they don’t want to. Although these situations may seem trivial, at their core, they are violations of consent.
Take a moment to list similar situations in your everyday life — both your own boundaries being crossed and examples of instances when you have not upheld the desires/intentions/boundaries of others.
- Take some time to examine an instance when you have not respected another person’s boundaries.
- What were the underlying intention behind your actions?
- Was it that you didn’t believe what that person vocalized what they wanted or you thought that you knew better?
- Was it that you wanted to do what you wanted more than you wanted to do what they wanted?
- What harms or trauma do you think maybe by the victim of your consent violation (diminished self esteem and trust in others, , decreased perception of personal control…).
- Do you wish you had acted differently?
- Name the actions that you would now change if you could and write them down or say them out loud.
Doing better, going beyond consent culture:
In the case of physical intimacy, a verbal yes is compulsory, but it’s not enough. In order to arrive at meaningful, consensual physical and social interactions, we must examine the desires of the people we are with. Even more importantly, in the instances of sexual interactions, we must, intentionally, ponder and practice the simple fact that the other ndividual’s desires may differ from our own and we must not try to impose our own desires over those of others. If someone is saying ‘yes’, but you are doubting their full endorsement of this answer, you can choose to help steward their intentions. Make it a point to prioritize the internal states of others and check in on them, frequently.
E.g. if I say to you — ‘hey i really don’t want to drink tonight’. And then later at the bar, you buy me a drink, saying ‘you don’t have to, but it’s there’, and I drink the drink. You haven’t forced me to drink, but you haven’t helped to steward my stated intentions well either!
In general, do you catch yourself hoping that your desires and needs might be met, despite someone stating that theirs do not match yours? Eg. person x, i don’t want to go out for dinner tonight, person y : oh go onnnnn etc etc. These seemingly innocent actions, are in fact small instances of disrespecting another person’s desires.
Do you think that you have ever had sex or sexual interactions with a person who said yes, but in fact did not actually want to?
Think of ways in which you could have helped that person actually verbalize their “no”. Write them down.
How will you handle a similar situation in the future? At what point will you check in with your partner? What words will you use? Write this down.
- Seek feedback from your community, friends & past lovers (for anonymous feedback you can visit www.sayat.me)
- Take an unflinching look at the one person we have power to change: our self. Make a written inventory of our lives, both past and present. Set aside our defenses, and closely examine the patterns in our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Do this not to find fault but to grow toward a change for the better. Begin to see the aspects of our character that have harmed us, harmed others, and stood in the way of healthy choices.“ (quoted from the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step Program to recovery)
- Admit to yourself and to someone else the exact nature of your perceived harms.
- Decide to change your future behaviors and to challenge the attitudes that led you to take those actions in the first place.
- Make a list of all the people that you may have harmed and make a commitment to reach out to them and ask is they would be willing to hear you take account for your actions.
- Start or join a group for others in your community who may be struggling with consent or abiding by boundaries.
- Help organise some of the work being done to heal the damages done. This often falls to the stewards and it is a lot of work.
- Donate to organizations that fight intimate violence or support survivors of sexual violence.
- Find a consent mentor (email@example.com // 747 44 ALTJ)
- Write down a plan of action that outlines the exact steps that you will take to hold yourself accountable for your prior wrongdoings and the beliefs you are committed to change.
- Write down a plan of action for the next time you are in an intimate situation, what will you do to ensure it is consensual?
- Write down a plan of action that outline the systemic issues that have led to your consent violation (look to #Iwill hashtag for examples and inspiration).
- Create a website documenting your experience. Currently there is no web-based materials where others who have harmed can turn to for comradery or a path forward. You can change this fact.
Writing to or contacting the person harmed:
- Only seek to make amends if you think contacting that person won’t cause them further harm.
- Remember that with this step comes some risks — there is a chance that you will be charged for your actions. This has happened and you should be aware of the risks.
- If the time comes that you wish to attempt to make amends with those harmed, you are encouraged to do so but please go gently and seek advice first. You can reach out to a rape helpline for advice, or email firstname.lastname@example.org // 747 44 ALTJ for support and guidance.
- Language matters — do not blame them for what you did to them in an attempt to explain your actions.
- An example of victim blaming language and attitudes might be “You provoked me, we both have issues/ problems to work on”
- Remember that they are not obliged to forgive you. You have to take this step without expectation. Just asking for forgiveness doesn’t mean that you will have it.
- Don’t condition your self forgiveness on others forgiving you. You have to forgive yourself for harms done, as part of your growth and transformation.
Courses and Resources
Schedule or host a workshop run by San Francisco Women against Rape (SFWAR). They run workshops on
• Sexual Assault and Rape Prevention
• Sexual Harassment Prevention
• Healthy Relationships
• Supporting Survivors of Sexual Assault
• Internalized Oppression
• Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault
• Internet Technology Based Violence Prevention
• Rape Culture
• Bystander Intervention