I didn’t say no. He was lying beside me on the queen bed, above the white sheets and under the itchy, polyester covers. When he went to kiss me, I turned my face. When he put his hand under my shirt, I shoved it down. When he put his hand under the elastic band of my panties, I used both hands to keep his index finger from entering inside me. He resisted and both my hands trembled like in an arm wrestling contest when it becomes clear who’s going to lose.
There were three other girls sleeping in the hotel room that night, one was even on the same bed (to my left). They were friends from school, but it was the 16-year-old with the hard-on (to my right) who I considered my best friend. His room was two doors down the hall. It was a class trip to San Francisco and we wedged shoes in the doorway so we could easily slip in and out of each other’s room without a key. I had just said goodnight to him and I was surprised when he followed me to my room.
I didn’t say no that night, but I mouthed the words “Stop” and “Please stop.” I didn’t ask, I told. I demanded. Eventually, I pleaded. The three other girls in the room couldn’t hear me, but he did. He whispered the words “Please” and “Come on.” He didn’t know what he was doing –consummating a close friendship he confused for love. It was dark except for the sliver of hallway light peeking under the door. I tell myself he couldn’t see the tears in my eyes when he pushed my hand onto himself so aggressively I couldn’t yank it back.
Years later, I would hear from a friend of a friend that he referred to that night as “an awkward hook-up.” Years later, I admitted to myself it was rape.
On June 6 The Washington Post published George Will’s opinion “Colleges become the victims of progressivism.” Will claims too many female co-eds cry rape –or “sexual assault” in quotation marks as Will prefers– because “victimhood [has become] a coveted status that confers privileges,” he writes.
In the six and a half years since I was (quote, unquote) sexually assaulted I have conferred consequences. I had to admit to an embarrassing lie (that I had gotten my period that night to explain the blood on the sheets). I had to look my best friend in the eye the next day, talk to him like nothing happened, and sit next to him in silence for the five-hour flight back to Miami. I was notified on Facebook every time someone tagged me in a photo from that trip where I was grinning beside him.
When I couldn’t bear to go along with the small talk at school anymore, I had to answer questions about our friendship and lie about the reasons for it ending. When I shrugged my shoulders and said we had grown apart, I had to listen to everyone in my year explain he was actually in love with me. It was obvious, they all said.
I had to become friends with a new group in high school because I lost my appetite seeing him in the same area at lunch. Even after I befriended some girls on the bus route home, I still couldn’t eat much. I lived off canned green beans.
A few months later I began innocently dating a boy from my Algebra 2 class. Everything happened the way your parents would approve of: We went on dates, we talked on the phone, he held my books when we walked to class. I thought I had put that night in the hotel room behind me. I was making out with him under a bridge when I realized I hadn’t.
I was more handsy than he was that afternoon, but I cringed when he went to reciprocate the deed. I kept remembering my hands trembling as I tried to keep an unwanted index finger from entering inside me. Then other images from that night flooded in. I was also embarrassed that I wouldn’t bleed since I knew from the amount of blood left on the sheets that my hymen was no longer intact. It made me feel disfigured, like an amputee.
Around the same time I started chatting with a girl who has become my closest friend. She called me one night and we talked on the phone for six hours. I can’t remember the context, only that her voice was earnest. I blurted the whole story about the “awkward hook up.” She was the first person I ever told. She didn’t apologize or get upset. She listened. And after I said it, I let it become real.
I eventually told my boyfriend what had happened. He insisted we tell my dad, our teacher, the police. His fists were clenched. I begged him to act normal when he saw him at school.
In 10th grade, coming forward and filing a report about rape was something that never crossed my mind. It wasn’t until college orientation, two and half years later, when the logistics of rape was outlined in all its gore and infinite possibilities, was I able to admit I was raped. The university urged that we come forward with these incidents (even if we weren’t sure) because we wouldn’t want another girl to suffer the same fate.
I knew he had gone out of state for college and started dating a girl. I assumed they had consensual sex and that I was the only person he had done that to. Later I heard he forced himself on another one of his close friends. While a little part of me felt validated, that I wasn’t crazy and he was the kind of person to commit these types of acts, it was also the first time I ever felt guilt for not doing anything. To this day I still fear he hasn’t accepted what he did was wrong. That it was rape. That he’ll do it again.
Some time in the ‘90s during the hype of Stranger Danger and the JonBenet Ramsey murder my generation was taught that bad men wear all black and attack you from behind in alleys. Occasionally you were told to be weary of reclusive neighbors, weird uncles, and aggressive stepfathers. The Disney Channel never warned you about your twiggy 16-year-old best friend with raging hormones, a collection of dirty playing cards stashed under his mattress, and the same iTunes playlist as you.
Until freshman year of college I imagined rape as a strange hefty man kidnapping you and putting a gun to your head as he violated you in some abandoned shed in a sketchy part of town. I imagined screaming and black panty hose pulled over his face.
When I told my story that first time (in 10th grade to my best friend over the phone) she asked me why I didn’t scream. It was a good question. There were three other girls in the room. Our teacher was down the hall.
At the time, I didn’t think I was being raped. I didn’t know screaming was an option. I was more concerned about what the girls in the room would think if they saw him in bed with me. The rumors they would spread. I didn’t want to embarrass a kid who before that exact moment was my best friend. I didn’t want to ruin his life. I didn’t want him labeled as a sex offender. He had good grades, ambition, and I wanted him to go to college. I remembered how much his little sister admired him and how strict his parents were.
In his piece, George Will outlined a scenario at Swarthmore when a friend came on to another friend who declined advances but the friend had sex with her anyways. It occurred a few minutes after she said no and it’s unclear from Will’s opinion piece if she fought back. Will is trying to suggest that she cried rape. That it was an overreaction that stems from this age of what George Will calls progressivism, when we are told to just say no and that good-looking frat boys can rape you.
For obvious reasons I relate to the Swarthmore story. And Will’s opinion reminded me of the moment I tried hardest to forget, the moment I gave up and I let my trembling hands relax. The moment I let him enter inside me. I know that wasn’t consent. I know I still mouthed “Stop” and “Please stop.” I know he heard me and kept going and that is not OK. Everything that happened after that also was not OK. The fact that I didn’t scream or that I didn’t report it didn’t make it OK, either. I know these things. Most people in society know these things. George Will is not one of those people.
George Will is 73 years old and graduated from Trinity College in 1962. I understand that was a different time. I understand he is a celebrated conservative columnist. I can’t understand how The Washington Post, a publication that as an aspiring journalist I read and value, could publish this. To me, it was like allowing a racist to rant about the good ol’ days of segregation. It was offensive and on the wrong side of history.
When I hear a story about rape, sexual assault, or even unwanted advances, I am reminded of what happened to me. The awkwardness, shame, and raw emotion sweeps over me suddenly and, depending on my menstrual cycle or inebriation, can bring me to tears. Rape is uncomfortable to talk about, still, even in this age of George Will’s so-called progressivism.
When you tell your story, people become angry or feel sorry for you. They start to stare at you a little bit closer trying to find the hurt in your eyes or an inflection in your voice. You stop being a co-worker, a friend of a friend, that girl from the gym, and you let the one moment you have tried hardest to overcome define you. You become a victim. You become vulnerable all over again.
My best friend raped me nearly six and a half years ago. The only “privilege” that I’ve experienced since then is the authority I have when I speak about it. And yet my New Year’s resolution this year was to stop mumbling and using euphemisms to describe what happened.
I’m not there yet. I still mutter it quickly and under my breath. I still tell people I lost my virginity when I was 10 and pretended the fence in my backyard was a balance beam and I fell. It’s a funny story that I’ve told it so many times I sometimes believe it.
One day though I’ll be able to tell a group of people my best friend raped me without flinching from the shock factor of using the R-word. That’s the day I’ll believe I’m in George Will’s age of progressivism. That’s the day I won’t let an opinion piece get under my skin. Until then I’m the girl who sobs in the bathroom when she runs into her rapist at a bar six and half years later. But the privilege of talking about my rape, that authority in my voice, that’ll come one day. Just you wait, George Will.