It took me months to put a word to what had happened: rape.
The first time I was raped (it makes me sick to even write “the first time,” as if being raped is a casual experience), there had been screaming, crying, pleading, and fear. I knew what was happening as it occurred. I had said “no”’ a thousand times, but between a locked door, a very athletic man, and his three roommates sitting in the living room pretending they didn’t hear me, there didn’t seem to be any hope. After it was over, I begged him to drop me off at home, and, after angrily scolding me for not “sharing in the intimacy and romance” of our encounter by staying the night and letting him hold me, he grudgingly obliged. I tried to scramble out of the car the minute it came to a stop, but he grabbed my arm so hard it left a bruise and asked, “Aren’t you going to kiss me goodbye?” I let his lips brush mine and ran, puking several times in the next few minutes. His “good guy” façade wasn’t powerful enough to overcome memories of screaming no, of being pinned down, of crying when he entered me. That’s enough for now, but I will say that he will never lay his hands on me or another woman again.
But the second time, it took months for me to realize that the self-disgust I was feeling was the result of total violation. I was 18, I went to a girlfriend’s house for a party, got very drunk and passed out on the couch. My girlfriend’s next door neighbor was a good friend, one of the gang, and at the party, too. I thought he was stunning. He’s about 10 years older than me, extremely well-educated, European, and very, very dashing. It was fun being able to speak my native language with him, and we bonded right away when we first met months before the party. He seemed aloof, too. I never heard of him sleeping with any of the girls in our group, and never did anything more than flirt, with twinkling eyes, when he spoke to you.
My girlfriend’s roommates asked her to get everyone out around 4 AM, and she obliged. Normally, she would’ve let me sleep on the couch, but other friends had already claimed the couches and spare beds, so she asked him if I could crash at his place and he obliged. She thought nothing of it — we all trusted him and felt we knew him well.
I don’t remember much because I was very drunk, but I remember him putting me down in what I recognized as his bed. I started to fall asleep, but he was suddenly on top of me. I didn’t know what was happening to me, I was drunk and didn’t say a word or even move a muscle. He finished and rolled off. Not once did he speak to me, or me to him and not once did I participate in intercourse.
The next morning, I woke up with only a groggy memory of the night before, but realized that he and I must’ve had sex judging by my clothes on the ground. He didn’t say a word, we got up, and he made me some toast. I ate it quickly and bolted.
He never spoke to me again. We’d see each other out all of the time, and he’d look at me with this wide-eyed, terrified expression and then ignore me. I tried to speak to him casually, as we had as friends before, but he never spoke more than a word to me. I was very, very confused. I thought that what we had was a casual sexual encounter, regardless of how uncomfortable I felt about the circumstances, so why would he not just be nice to me? I’m the type of girl who gets along with her exes, still talks to her high school sweetheart’s mom, and doesn’t repress or deny her sexuality, so this was really off for me.
The one day, I was telling my girlfriend, the one who had sent me over to his place, that it annoyed me that he never spoke to me after we’d slept together. She tilted her head, then asked me to tell her the whole story from start to finish. She asked if I’d ever given consent and how drunk I’d been. As I spoke, describing how blackout drunk I was to the point of not being able to speak or participate in sex, it hit me. I had been raped.
Now, I’ve paid attention to lots of rape discussions in the two years since it happened. What qualifies as consent? What about implied consent? How drunk is too drunk? Was it my fault for being drunk in the first place? Do my alcohol-addled memories serve as enough evidence of rape? No matter how many scenarios I have considered, the evidence is all too clear to me and was verified by his reaction. I had been so drunk I had to be carried to the apartment next door. I was unable to give consent, and anyone would’ve agreed. Furthermore, I knew we’d had sex because of my sober, albeit hungover, memories of the morning.
The media talks about rape in such a way that has almost stripped the term of its meaning. We use it casually, comfortably, and as if we know exactly what is rape. We talk about rape as if it’s an obvious thing, and blame victims and perpetrators alike for any fuzziness in their stories. We criticize alcohol, drug use, and promiscuity, rather than address the situation directly for what it is.
I made a mistake that night, drinking far too much. My second rape wasn’t as clear-cut and media-friendly as the first case, but it was rape, regardless of whether I made a mistake by drinking too much or whether or not my rapist felt remorse, prompting his fear of me. There’s no way around it, and our society, our media, needs to stop ignoring and discrediting cases of rape just because the situation was difficult or poses other challenging questions. I am capable of making a mistake like getting drunk, trusting him, and misjudging his character while also being a victim or rape.
Leave it to the victims to regret their bad decisions — like wearing the wrong thing or taking part in substance abuse. They’ll take care of that part, I can assure you from experience. What society and the media need to get better at is expressing disgust with and condemning rape regardless of mitigating circumstances. We need to get better at supporting our victims, protecting them, caring for them. Maybe if we all got better at that, I would’ve said something about him instead of being swayed by my own shame for my past drinking problems and my regard for his social standing. Maybe if we all got better at showing support rather than talking shit about things that aren’t really our business, the 12+ women who have reportedly been assaulted by Bill Cosby wouldn’t have waited for each other to speak up, wouldn’t have waited 10, 20, 30 years to say something just because the perpetrator had credibility and resources. If you think that it isn’t hard for someone to speak up about incidents of rape, read the hateful comments I can almost guarantee will show up in the comments sections on this piece telling me it was my fault for being a drunk slut, that I probably implied consent by having a crush on my rapist, that I’m stupid or gross for not realizing earlier what happened to me. Then, you’ll see what rape victims have to look forward to when they speak up.
He is home now in Europe. He’s got his Master’s, his hobbies include boating and cooking, he has a wonderful fiancée he just proposed to, and he runs a successful business. He’s rich, handsome, amiable, and no one knows what he did to me. That’s on me. I’ll take the blame for that one; I know I fucked up there. The best I can do know is hope that no one else experiences what I have, by speaking up as an advocate for all victims of rape.