People often don’t understand why victims blame themselves for the actions of their assailants. They call it demented and harmful thinking and assume we all need therapists to straighten out our thoughts. And while that might be true for some victims, it’s definitely not true for all of us. I was the victim of sexual assault nearly a decade ago, and blaming myself hasn’t caused self-loathing. It’s been a very helpful coping mechanism.
I was fifteen when it happened. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, I started dabbling in drinking and smoking with my friends. One night in late August, we were all at a close friend’s house while her parents were out of town. It was a small get together – less than 20 kids – and I knew most of them, so I let loose a bit. Well, a lot. A few hours in, I was so drunk and high that the ground below me was no longer solid and the sky seemed to spin like a kaleidoscope. One of my friends put my arm around her shoulders, took me into a spare bedroom in the basement, and helped me to bed. I closed my eyes and passed out.
I have no clue how much time elapsed, minutes or hours, but I awoke to a body hovering over mine standing next to the bed. I looked at him and recognized him from the party, but we’d never met before that night. I was a young, somewhat naive teenager – still a virgin – and I was incredibly confused. I had no clue why this complete stranger could possibly be there, alone, in “my” bedroom. I was still really drunk and everything was spinning, so I just closed my eyes assuming he mistakenly came in looking for a bed and would leave once he realized this one was occupied. I was wrong. The next thing I knew, his hand was over my mouth, and my eyes opened wider than they’ve ever been. It clicked. I knew exactly what was happening, and I had no idea what to do. He must’ve seen the fear in my face, because he started saying nice things to me, like “everything’s okay,” “you’re so beautiful,” and “I’m so lucky.”
By the time my drunk ass realized I should start fighting, he’d somehow taken most of my clothes off. I kicked and squirmed in a feeble attempt to break free, but it was too late. He had complete control. Every drunken movement I made, he countered. I should’ve screamed or yelled, but seeing how much stronger he was than me and realizing the soberness in his determined face, I didn’t. His hand was pressed hard over my mouth and I worried that if I made too much noise, he would push harder and break my jaw or something. Instead, I closed my eyes and pretended to drunkenly lose consciousness until it was over. But I was awake, and although drunk, I felt and heard everything. I’ll skip the details.
Long (aftermath) story short, I convinced everyone the next morning that I was so drunk, I remembered nothing of the previous night. To this day, none of my friends know what happened, and my attacker probably thinks I was just a drunken slut who blacked out. He probably had no clue that I was a virgin. Whatever. No one knew, and that’s exactly how I wanted it. If I could pretend it didn’t happen, maybe it would go away. I didn’t want to go through high school being “that damaged girl” nobody would want to be around, and I feared that my dad would actually literally kill him. Plus, I worried that if the guy who assaulted me knew I remembered, he would hurt me or threaten me, or worse. No – it was easier to keep quiet.
In retrospect, I probably should’ve told someone, if for no reason than to get help. I really should have seen a therapist. I should’ve talked it out. It’s something I’ve still never done, and I’m sure would be beneficial. But I digress. I kept my mouth shut, and blamed myself immediately – at the beginning, for all the wrong reasons. I told myself I was worthless. That I somehow, for some reason, must’ve deserved it. That I was so despicable, I didn’t deserve to be treated kindly or respectfully. This self-blaming is incredibly destructive. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t eat much, and I had no desire to be around anyone for months. But as time went on, I altered my thinking.
It was my fault, yes, but not because I’m garbage. It was my fault for being in that situation. I allowed myself to be too vulnerable around people I didn’t really know. I blindly trusted an empty house full of drunken teenage hormones to leave me alone. I’m a smart, intelligent, worthwhile person, but I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation. I believed that then, and I believe it now, and I don’t think that’s harmful thinking.
It’s comforting to think that it was my fault and that men aren’t crazy, lunatic, sex-crazed monsters who can attack anytime, anywhere. By placing the blame on myself, I don’t feel so scared to leave my apartment at night. Nine years ago, I put myself in a bad situation. I was assaulted because of x, y, and z – and as long as I don’t do those things, it probably won’t happen again. The attack itself made me feel helpless, but seeing it this way gives me control. I can control my state of mind around others. I can control the company I keep. I can control the environment I am in. To this day, I won’t sleep anywhere but in my or my boyfriend’s bed, no matter how much I’ve had to drink. I will always, always have a plan to get home. And if there are too many strangers around, I will not drink beyond a buzz. Period.
If I had placed the blame on him, I’d be terrified of every man I met. I wouldn’t be able to drink at all. Let alone to trust anyone, ever. It’s more comforting to blame myself. It’s like I took this horrible thing that happened (because of my mistakes) and learned lessons from it instead of being a helpless victim. I’m taking responsibility for my part in it, which is the main part. Maybe the only part. In essence, if I wasn’t drunk and high, and passed out in a basement bedroom, I would’ve never been assaulted. Yeah, he was a sick bastard and blah blah blah, but he didn’t feed me drinks and weed until I was out-of-control messed up. I did that. And I can prevent that from happening again.
I haven’t told very many people about what happened to me. I can count them on one hand, with just a few fingers. But everyone who knows has scolded me for blaming myself. I hear it all the time in media, too – victim blaming is harmful and twisted and wrong. But for me, it’s how I get by. It’s how I cope with what happened and can lead a somewhat normal life. It’s how I’m able to wipe my tears, lick my wounds, and (much more cautiously) move on.