I’ve already written about this before. About my own incident, and how I downplayed it for years. How it took the Steubenville Rape case in 2012 and my visceral reaction to it to realize that I was no longer able to shrug my shoulders and label it a dumb, drunken mistake. That I might’ve gone off and still dated and had fun after The Incident, but it had affected me.
Remember that case? Steubenville, Ohio. What frightening parallels to Stanford. A young girl, unconscious and assaulted, and a town that was more concerned about the futures of their precious athletes. Did the newspapers talk about the football players’ touchdowns, or game wins? I can’t remember. To be honest, I don’t want to.
In many ways, my situation was considerably tamer. Tamer than Steubenville or Stanford; tamer than what a lot of my friends had already gone through. It was one of the reasons why I downplayed it when it happened. It was also in 2005, which hosted a completely different cultural mindset than the one we have now. The idea of seeing an unconscious girl and laying on top of her was not seen as that big of a deal. Especially if it wasn’t real sex (cue Whoopi Goldberg’s “rape-rape” line). That’s just how it was. Are you a female who is incapacitated in some way? Better be ready to assaulted – er, I mean, “taken advantage of.”
But the few times I toed away from the narrative that it was just a drunken mistake — that it was no big deal — other things kept me from really doing anything. I could hear the hypothetical defense rip my character to shreds. I could see the hyper-focus on underage drinking (I was 19 at the time). The hyper-focus on the fact that I still talked to him online for a few months after, even as my friends yelled at me for doing that (even as I felt cold and slimy for even the tiniest online interactions). I could see my past and my personality and how I behaved afterwards getting dragged out.
And after I saw the questions that the defense asked the Stanford victim during her trial, it was just that easier to imagine how something on my end would’ve gone.
“Do you have a history of drinking?”
“Do you have a drinking problem?”
“Do you know it’s illegal to drink under the age of 21?”
“Why did you drink, then?”
“How many of your guy friends have you been physically intimate with?”
“How many guys have you been physically intimate with?”
“Were you ever drunk during those interactions?”
“How many guys have you fooled around with in college?”
“Were you dating any of them?”
“Did you sleep with any of them?”
“Are you lying?”
“You’ve known the defendant since junior high. Would you say you were close?”
“Close enough to experiment with being romantic?”
“Is this just a case of buyer’s remorse?”
“Why did you still talk to him after the incident? Clearly you didn’t feel it was a problem at the time if you still talked with him.”
See, my situation was ripe for character assassination. Yes, someone pulled him off me, berating him, telling him that he knew better, but then the party went on. I’d eventually be a little more aware and then spend the night in my friend’s bathroom, puking, crying, bemoaning the situation, but wording it to sound like I had some part of it – like, because I couldn’t push him off me, I must’ve wanted it, I must’ve initiated it, and I was just as much to blame for it. Any friend who cared more for the guy than for me could’ve used those words against me.
I wasn’t behind a dumpster and my assailant didn’t run from two witnesses. I wasn’t being dragged from party to party and had pictures taken. I would still have all my clothes on. And, again, it was 2005, where “kissing and getting frisky” with an unconscious drunk girl was part and parcel of the college experience. Don’t want it? Don’t drink. Too bad on you, lady. This is just the way things are.
And so I woke up the next morning in 2005, labeling the night as a lesson in knowing your limits, went home, cried in the shower, and went about my day. Went about my life. Shrugged my shoulders over The Incident and downplayed it on a conscious and unconscious level.
I’d watch his story change as friends stepped up for me – my friends confronting him, because I certainly wasn’t going to. He first said that I wasn’t drunk. Then he said that we were both drunk. Then he said he could’ve done more. Like: gold star for not “rape-rape”ing. Eventually it would all be dropped – including any interactions with him – and that was seemingly the end of that.
Life would go on. I’d dismiss it, call it “the incident”, date and fool around and drink and still forget my limits from time to time. I’d eventually get married and move to another state and plan out my future. Then 2012 would hit and Steubenville would become a household name and I’d spiral out in anxiety and dread and stress and realize that I was seeing myself in those pixelated pictures – that I was hearing what celebrities and the public were saying as if it were directed towards me.
Then 2016 would hit and I would be reminded why I didn’t say anything 10 years ago. A case that lacked any ambiguity, especially in this day and age, where we’re finally dropping that narrative of girls “asking for it” and guys not being able to help themselves. A case that still found a way to attack the victim’s character, to exalt the perpetrator’s athletic merits, to spin it as a “no big deal” type of situation.
A few months of jail. No big deal. He’s no threat. He’s got a bright future ahead of him. Please, someone think of the guy here, and his happy-go-lucky personality. We can’t ruin his life over something so trivial.
And that’s where I feel the fevered need to drag up my story again. My “incident”. The fact that the judge and the father and a loud minority of people echo that “no big deal” sentiment – echo many of the things I said to myself about my own situation, echoed the things I feared I would hear if I ever wanted to press charges.
Because it is a big deal. All of it.
And the last thing any of us should do is shrug our shoulders and downplay whatever it is we automatically want to downplay. We have to keep the discussion going. We have to distance ourselves as far away from that attitude in 2005 as possible – especially since we’re realizing that it still exists in 2016.