Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault and emotional, mental abuse.
In the last few weeks, we have heard a lot about the “97%” and “not all men, but too many” on our various social media platforms. In the situation that we are in currently, it can be easy to look at all of these cases as black and white. We can assume that sexual assult and sexual harassment cases all look the same and the victims look like victims and the abusers look like abusers. The point of me writing this article, however, is to give just one example of how different all of those cases in the 97% can be. On first glance, my story probably would not be seen as a sexual assault story at all, and that is the point. Despite this, however, my sexual assault is still very real and shared by more women than you or I can even imagine.
The man who assaulted me was my long term boyfriend at the time. At that point, we had been dating for almost a year, and we were in love. We had also previously engaged in consensual sexual activities. This time, however, it was different. It was January of 2020, we were still in high school together and were happily dating. I had told my boyfriend a month earlier that I did not want to have sex until we were past our one year point and that I wanted to hold off on getting too intimate. The month before this he agreed but he also said, “I give it a month,” referring to the fact that I would change my mind a month later. I did not think anything of this at the time, but looking back on it, I realize how naive I was for not noticing it. I wanted to believe so badly that it was a misplaced comment, that he did not even realize he said it, that I was willing to ignore the bright red flag right in front of my face. Unfortunately, it is one of those moments that I still regret and that I am still struggling to move past.
The man who assaulted me was extremely manipulative. It never failed to come off as charismatic or charming, though. He always knew just what to say and just what not to say. Every situation he was in, he seemingly had control over. That did not change with our relationship. He knew exactly how to get what he wanted out of me every single time. When we were sitting on my couch in January, my parents at the grocery store, he already knew how the scenario was going to play out. When I told him I did not want to go further than kissing, he already knew that he was going to take more from me, whether I wanted to give it to him or not. He leapt at the opportunity to close off to make me feel guilty when I said no. When I asked him what was wrong he simply said, “I feel like you put something [my body] on the table and you took it away. I don’t like the new you, Caitlin.” He knew that those words stabbed me like a knife and stuck with me like a weight. He knew exactly the pain he inflicted on me, how those words shook my resolve and cracked my foundation. He knew to wait until I agreed to his demands to give me comfort and empty apologies. And he knew that afterwards he could always keep that in his belt as yet another trick to suck me into something I did not want to do.
The man who assaulted me was gentle, for the most part. He did not grab or push me or hold me down. He was an opportunistic hunter. He waited until I was fragile and weak, and “guided” me into doing what he wanted me to do. When I muttered things like “I am tired” or “let’s not go there” or “I don’t want to today”, he simply pretended like he did not hear me and continued. When I tried to get up to leave, he would simply hold my hands and tell me how good he was feeling and how we “couldn’t stop now” and how it would only be “just a little bit longer.” By the end of it I genuinely thought that it was my choice, that deep down I had wanted this to happen. But I still felt used the next day and when I tried to talk about it with him he said I was overreacting and that “no one will care, so just don’t talk about it.”
The man who assaulted me still thinks that he did nothing wrong. When I made a video about what had happened to me in May of 2020, he came to my house and told me to stop playing the victim. He claimed that I was ruining his life and that I just wanted attention. He had me take the video down out of fear and held the idea of him coming back to my house over my head until I left for St. Louis. He still genuinely thinks that he had a right to my body, and that his feelings are more important than mine could ever be. He believes that he had the right to take my body and my mind in that situation for himself because it made him feel good and because I lived. He believes that because I did not scream or kick or yell, that I did not call the police, that I was not intoxicated, that he is not as bad as “other guys.” My body was just another toy for him to play with, so he cannot even fathom the idea that he was in the wrong.
Despite all of these things, the man who assaulted me still assaulted me. It has taken me over a year to finally accept that, but there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it; he assaulted me. Despite what he wants me to think, how I felt then did matter. How I feel now does matter. Despite what he believes, I matter. And so does every other woman in that 97%. No matter how much society tells you that certain factors water down the validity of your assault, if you feel like it was assault, that is what it was. You are so much more than just a percent; you are an extremely important and valuable and worthy person, even if it does not seem like it now. If you are a part of the 97%, I hear you and I see you. Even if it was your partner, even if it was not rough, even if you do not have physical scars from your experience, you matter, and don’t you dare let anyone tell you otherwise. You are more than just a percent; you matter.