I am a staunchly-feminist, highly-educated female in my early 20s. I am particularly intrigued by the concept of rape culture, am well-read on the issue, and consider it a topic on which I can speak intelligently. And it took me weeks to even realize and admit that I had been sexually assaulted.
It was a guy, a nice guy by all accounts, with whom I was friends. We had been on one date and I had also spent an evening at his apartment. He was physically aggressive and appeared to make a game of my sexual boundaries—constantly, persistently, relentlessly pushing those boundaries and disparaging me for even having them. I verbally told him dozens of times, do not touch my breasts. And I don’t want to touch your dick. I physically blocked him, many times, from touching my breasts. I pulled my hand away from his dick, several times. Yet he continued with this blatant, flippant disregard for my wishes. I justified to myself, while constantly requesting that he stop, why are you making such a big deal about this, other guys have touched your breasts before. You have touched other guys’ dicks before. Why are you making such a big deal about this.
I tried to leave, many times. He would pull me back and get all sweet, requesting and pleading that I stay. I justified to myself, It’s so late. I don’t want to have to fight for a cab. More importantly, I desperately wanted to believe that he was a good guy. I couldn’t let myself believe that I could have made such a bad decision in dating this guy.
Rape culture is victim blaming, both by friends through their reactions and by own thoughts. My highly educated, staunchly feminist friends who said things like, “Why didn’t you leave?” “Why didn’t you stop him sooner?” “Why did you let yourself get into that situation in the first place?” And I do not blame them, some of whom even half-heartedly encouraged that I get back together with this guy, one bit. Because I asked myself the same questions. Both my verbal—no, stop it, I don’t want this—and physical cues should have been enough. Obviously. But yet I berated myself for weeks: Why didn’t you leave. Why didn’t you try harder to make him stop. This was your fault.
Rape culture is trivializing what happens. Friends did this—“well, he didn’t rape you”—and I even did this to myself. But there is nothing trivial about unwanted sexual contact, even if you have done those things with other people before. After all, no one says rape is okay just because the girl wasn’t a virgin.
Rape culture is choosing to not discuss this with many people—including my parents, with whom I am incredibly close. Not telling for fear that everyone would judge, criticize, and ask the same questions that my friends asked and that I asked myself. Questions that I do not really have the answers for. Questions that turn out to be unnecessary and not in need of answers.
Rape culture is feeling disgusting and guilty and embarrassed because I let this happen. I should know better.
Rape culture is finally, finally, realizing that yes, I have in fact been sexually assaulted.
Rape culture is that it took weeks for me to even make this realization and reaffirm that I did not let anything happen.
Rape culture is still feeling embarrassed not only that this happened to me but that it took me so long to recognize it as sexual assault.
Rape culture is the focus on me, with all of these questions, instead of the focus on him.
In hindsight, I was perfectly justified in my decisions to date this guy, to spend time in his apartment, and to engage physically with him. But the struggle for me to even get to this point of realization? The conflict I still feel, and will likely feel for a long time, about this situation? That is rape culture.