Sexual Assault and Rape Aren't What You Think They Are

Patriarchy. Just a single word, four syllables, and yet it affects every aspect of life regardless of one’s gender identity or expression. There have been many critiques of the modern structure of oppression that exists in the United States (and globally), and yet many harmful aspects still remain unchanged, festering in our society and causing suffering globally. One such characteristic is that of sexual assault and rape.

For years, we have been provided a singular image of what these two horrible occurrences are. A picture is painted of a young woman struggling fiercely against a man who winds up getting the upper hand and inflicting immeasurable harm. And while this is something that happens frequently, it is important that we educate ourselves and the next generation on the intricacies of what sexual assault and rape really are. We must spread awareness that they are more than simply one experience and that there are, in fact, many more valid experiences that are sexual assault. The way that we depict these events affects the way future generations act. Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend wherein she mentioned that many men do not even realize when they are committing sexual assault. To an outsider, this may seem ludicrous, but she is correct.

We have created a society where sexual assault and rape are violent, loud, easily identifiable events. This is why many men don’t realize that what they are doing in the bedroom is sexual assault. They are not nuanced in understanding body language or social cues that a woman has sent, and so they assume they are entitled to her body since she seemingly “consented.” However, this is not the case at all.

So what is and isn’t sexual assault? Many critics of the MeToo movement have complained that the lines between consensual sex and assault are far too blurry now. Once more, this is not the case. Sexual assault is whenever a partner does not explicitly consent to something, and their partner takes advantage of them. The justification that things were going “naturally” does not hold anymore, nor should it have ever. Consent is an absolute must before any aspect of sex. Just because one’s partner consented to one activity does not mean there is consent for the next.

This is something that seems to be difficult for the patriarchy to grasp. So, I will provide a few examples of sexual assault that are not often discussed in the mainstream. If a partner does not use protection (without asking) after you have established a routine of always using it, that is sexual assault. If a partner will not stop repeatedly asking for sex until you finally give in, that is sexual assault. If a partner doesn’t ask before doing anything, that is sexual assault. Communication is necessary for every aspect of sex. It doesn’t matter if the partner has consented to an activity in the past or if it is just assumed that they would be fine with it now. One must always ask.

Somehow, however, communication itself has been stigmatized in the United States. We have made sex such a taboo topic that people don’t even want to discuss sex with the person they are having it with. This is obviously incredibly dangerous. Women don’t feel comfortable discussing their boundaries with the person they are supposed to be intimate with. The cognitive dissonance is deafening.

This leads to another question many women find themselves facing: why didn’t I realize it was sexual assault sooner? There is no concrete answer, and yet every woman finds herself searching for one. However, there is a distinguishable pattern that many women have gone through. Oftentimes, women want to protect the good parts of their relationships, so they sacrifice coming to terms with what happened to them in order to continue in their relationship. They ignore what happened and bury it deep within themselves until the relationship ends. This only leads to more guilt, especially if they continue on as if everything was fine afterward. They blame themselves and turn inwards. Eventually, however, they lose feelings for the person who caused their trauma and realize that they were assaulted. It can take weeks, months, or even years before many women come to terms with what happened to them. Then, they must go through the grueling process of putting themselves back together again while the man who assaulted them doesn’t even realize his own wrongdoing.

This is all due to the fact that we have created a culture around sex that is inherently misogynistic and toxic. We don’t depict boundaries being respected in the media as the bare minimum, but rather as the gold standard. We tell our young that there is only one valid experience of sexual assault and rape, and then leave them confused and in pain when their experience does not fit it. This is not sustainable. We must end this phenomenon that does nothing more than creating suffering because in letting it continue, we form a never-ending cycle of abuse. The solution is simple: we need to educate ourselves and our children. We must learn about respect and communication so that nobody else has to endure this disgusting structure that casts an overbearing shadow upon our society. We must create a new culture of thoughtfulness and basic human decency.