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What it’s Like Being Told That “Nothing Happened” After a Sexual Assault

By Olivia Widalski

Nothing happened. The door slammed and tears pooled in my eyes. I should have spoken up, I thought. Thank god, nothing happened, I thoughtbut my skin crawled as I got into bed.

I’m really happy that nothing happened, I wrote in my journal that day, but I felt otherwise. I recounted the night as I tried to put it into words. That night I refused his advances. I quietly asked him to leave my apartment. At the door, I meekly said goodbye, but I wasn't loud enough. The door slammed back and he grabbed my body, leaving his wet lips on my pursed mouth. I wasn’t loud enough. It took another woman to make him leave my home — two against one. Nothing happened, I thought again. It could have been worse. And yet I could feel it, my body coming back to me after the incident. It was in someone else’s arms, someone who wouldn’t let me shut the door on his entitlement, someone who never asked me for permission. My body wasn’t my own and I had to bring it back to me. I felt its new strangeness, even though it was taken away from me for a split second.

It was a warm night. I went to a bar with my friend, but I was tired. I needed to go home, but I was naturally afraid to walk home alone so late, and not entirely sober. I needed a walk home from the bar. I should have known better than to go out on a Friday night. My friend wanted to stay and I wanted to leave. I saw him standing outside and my face lit up. He was my ticket home through the streets of the night. I was worried about walking home alone at 3:00 am, a few tequila shots in by that point. He smiled and we hugged; I was glad to see a friend. He was a friend of a friend, someone I had hung out with, someone I had sober discussions with, someone I knew on social media.

“Could you walk me home?” I asked.

He walked me up to my door, and entered the room without asking. I was quiet and subdued, ready to go to sleep. We sat on my couch, and I was thinking about all of the greasy food I wanted to eat, when he reached over to my leg.

I said, “You should go.” The hushed feminine voice I had encultured in myself over the years wasn’t heard. It wasn’t made for this situation. It was made for dainty tea parties, quiet libraries, rooms lined with sleeping babies. My voice wasn’t prepped to protect itself or make its demands known.

I stood up in order to facilitate a social cue for him to leave. He stood up and came closer. I walked over to the door, opening it and attempting to politely help him understand that the night was over and I was ready to sleep. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

As he stood on other side of the door, he reached over to grab my waist. I moved over, avoiding him, and apologized.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

I’m sorry, she said. I’m sorry, she said. I’m sorry, she said. I’m sorry, she said. I’m sorry, she said.

I didn’t want to cause a scene. I began closing the door once more before it flew at my face. At this moment I heard a bang as I realized that he had slammed the door at my face in order to be let in. In a moment of surprise, he grabbed me, leaving his wet lips on my closed mouth. My “no” was not loud enough. My voice wasn't heard. My roommate came out to help me make him leave. It took another woman to make him leave our home — two against one. Nothing happened, I thought again. It could have been worse. My body was still mine.

I went to sleep, reminding myself that I was lucky. Reminding myself that this wasn’t out of the ordinary. It was...understandable. Normal. Commonplace. To be expected.

My friend approached me the next day and said, “I don’t think it’s going to work between the two of you.” She was both my friend and his, and it was because of her that we knew each other. I looked at her quizzically, wondering what she was insinuating. This diction implied that something was beginning in our relationship, that we both consented to advancing our friendship, that we wanted something more and it unfortunately went wrong. I couldn’t remember these feelings in me. I couldn’t recall ever having thought this way. I could only remember the door bouncing back towards my face, and my clammy hands that gripped onto one another thinking about what may have been.

She told me, “He doesn’t think anything is going to work between you two.” He said he thought that he didn’t want to start anything with me.

Start anything? I thought. I had no agency in this discussion. I didn’t even have agency in ending a budding relationship that I didn't even know was beginning. I was never interested. I felt rebuked for dismissing his advances, because he was interested and despite my best efforts, his feelings were hurt.

“I’m sorry,” I told my friend. “I didn’t mean to make anything of it.” I explained the night to her in the best words I could find without creating a Lifetime movie in my head. I mean, nothing happened, I reminded her with nervous laughter and a quiet, lying smile.

She nodded and said, “That’s how he is sometimes. Just ignore it. It probably won’t happen again.”

“Of course,” I said. “I’ll think nothing of it.”

And I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about when, a year later, I talked to women about their situations and they cried to me about unwanted advances, or how they were afraid to use the word rape. I didn’t think about it that night when my mouth gaped open upon hearing of Brock Turner’s diminutive and insulting six-month sentence for rape.

I didn’t want to think about it because it could have been me. It could've been – and still could be – any of us. And that thought scares me, and makes me want to cower in the dark corners of our society so I won’t be targeted, so I won’t be hurt. But the dark can’t help us either. It’s one of the ingredients for these situations, a recipe that calls for alcohol, short skirts, late nights and dark rooms. I didn’t want to think about my own small, child-like incident in comparison to these court cases, these girls’ tears and these women’s screams. Nothing happened to me.

I might be making this up for attention. I might be too dramatic. I might be overthinking the entire night because nothing really happened. It’s really not a big deal. I should just pay more attention next time, be better, be more aware, be less drunk, be less trusting, be more vigilant.

Because, I mean, nothing happened.

But something did, didn’t it?

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