Trigger Warning: This piece contains a discussion about rape, sexual violence, trauma, and mental health. If these subjects are difficult for you to read, please do not feel obliged to continue reading.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be sexually assaulted in their lives; yet no one talks about dating as a victim of rape. It’s a hard discussion, but it’s one that needs to take place. We live in a world that expects immediate bounce-back from the deepest of trauma, yet we also live in a world that neglects the ripple effects trauma has on everyday interactions. How can we heal if we are also ignoring the pain? Unfortunately, most women experience some form of sexual assault at some point in their lives, I am not excluded. I was raped a month ago and want to take my time to outline my experience as a victim in the dating scene, and Tulane’s hookup culture. I want to have the conversation no one else is having: dating after rape.
When I decided I wanted to go to Tulane, no one laid out that I would soon be deeply immersed in an intense hookup culture, at an institution with one of the worst sexual assault reputations in the south. My bad for not doing more research. I quickly adapted though, and sometimes hookup culture was fun. I joined a few dating apps, met people at parties and through mutual friends. It was all satisfying and fed into instant gratification and validation. At the beginning of this year, however, I decided I wanted to look for something more serious and took to Hinge to go on dates with men until I found a good connection. I still want a good quality connection, the instant gratification of hookup culture only got me so far. After a couple of sporadic dates and hookups (I met some really great guys), I ended up in the wrong bed with a violent man. I wanted nothing more than to leave, and all I could think about was deleting Hinge as I dissociated.
I came home sobbing, my friends did not know what to do with me. I did not know what to do with myself. We called all the right people, scheduled all the right appointments, and got all the support the school could offer. The next week was a blur, I slept for most of the time, forgot to eat, and stopped going to classes. After some time, I wanted to try to get back on my feet, I craved human interaction, attention, something. I started back up on Hinge.
This next section is about my personal experience and struggles. I hope that other victims can read this and relate, or at least to some extent, find comfort in knowing they are not alone in this. My experience is best organized into waves.
The First Wave
I started texting some guys here and there. It was flirty and made me feel wanted. I liked the attention I was receiving, probably because it reversed the shame and disgust I felt for myself, but I was too scared to act on anything. I had never run into this kind of anxiety before but found myself extremely hesitant to meet up with guys. I am a very outgoing person, I love meeting new people, never before had I second-guessed whether I should go for it. I’m not sure if it was the actual fear of meeting up with guys or the nervousness that I had suddenly become an introverted scaredy cat that overwhelmed me more. Either way, I was mad at myself for wanting attention but being too scared to go get it. In hindsight, this fear was more logical than beating me up for it. It was probably a week and a half after my attack that I held myself to this standard. Being disengaged from hookup culture for just that one week made me feel unwanted, undesirable, and far too uncomfortable to accept it any longer, which is why I pressured myself to reengage so soon. The reality was rushing myself back into hookup culture hurt me in the long run.
The Second Wave
About two weeks post-attack, I met up with a guy, we will call him Joe. This interaction was really curious, to say the least. After some reflection and therapy, I realized my anxiety surrounding interacting with men could be slightly reduced if I communicated it, instead of internalizing it. I started telling guys what was up, which had multiple effects. I had been flirting with Joe during my first wave, I enjoyed his personality over the phone and genuinely wanted to meet him, but I did not want to give him the wrong impression. My solution was to tell Joe that I was assaulted and that I only wanted to hang out to meet and chat. Joe took this really well, but not every man I told reacted like Joe. Some guys left me on reading, some guys took it personally, some guys laughed and invalidated my communication. It was really strange to see the variety in responses, and after taking a few of them to heart, I soon realized this solution put me at more risk for hurt. My goal was to explain the reason for my distance, and disinterest in physical touch, so that there was no misinterpretation or crossed boundaries when I met up with people. I wanted to meet up with guys, get comfortable with them and then maybe explore the option of hooking up. Unfortunately, it seemed like that turned a lot of guys off, which both weeded out potentially weird men, and made me feel unwanted in a state of insecurity. In reflection, it’s a lot to expect guys to validate the need for some physical space, while simultaneously being on a dating app, but I still wish some men were more understanding. After all, victims deserve to feel wanted and desired, to whatever level they are comfortable with.
The Third Wave
Getting back into sex was admittedly really hard, and still is. For someone who was once on the border of hypersexual, I have some really deep intimacy issues now. The first hookup after my attack was extremely difficult for me. I had given him the good ol’ warning the first few times we hung out, “Please don’t try anything, I’m a victim of assault, I just want to chill for now”. He was cool with it, we took things slow and he was sure to ask before he touched me. I really appreciated his gentility, and there was nothing more he could have done to make me feel any more comfortable, my angst was mine alone. I could not stop thinking about my assault, I dissociated several times during this hookup, struggled to be physically stimulated, and wanted it to be over. I asked if he could drive me home, and again, he was incredibly understanding. I cried in my bed for a little, realizing that overall it wasn’t worth it and didn’t satisfy any of the urges I originally set out to fulfill. It sucks, all I wanted was to feel whole again, normal. But going about normal activities resulted in a terrible feeling that I couldn’t escape.
I tried. I wanted to go back to normal, I wanted to pick up where I left off, and I wanted to forget my rape. I wanted to reimmerse in hookup culture, get my validation, feel desirable and wanted, I wanted to interact with guys, and feel safe. All of these failed. My refusal to take time to myself was based on a deep subconscious need for male validation, a need so profound, I ignored my own healing which ironically resulted in more pain in the long run. No one talks about how we are supposed to get back into the sex scene after being sexually assaulted. I had no guidance on how to engage with men post-rape, I had no understanding of how different I would feel about engaging with men post-rape. No one really talks about that.
After lots of deliberation and reflection, I have come to a conclusion: sex is about trust. When one individual betrays the trust of another, it is difficult for that trust to be rebuilt on the backs of others. I used to meet with people, trusting that all would be fine and safe. Once this trust was broken, I frantically tried to piece it back together, desperately craving the benefits of trusting interactions without recognizing that this process takes time. It is not realistic for me to expect myself to trust others with myself so soon after I have been attacked, and I know that now. Seeking normalcy in this situation is completely counterproductive, and I put myself under way too much pressure.
Moving forward, I aim to listen to myself and my needs. I want to wait until my body is fully ready because clearly, that’s what it needs me to do. Not knowing how to handle dating after my assault put me in a rough position, and the thought that other girls walk around campus with the same burden on their shoulders pains me. We go to a really intense school, with really intense social expectations that can be difficult to meld into when something goes wrong. In order to move forward as the strong women we are, we need to listen to our bodies and our boundaries. When we can’t trust other people, we have to be able to trust ourselves, and that comes from self-awareness and self-love.
- Tulane Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline: (504)-654-9543
- Tulane Case Management and Victim Support Services: (504)-314-2160
- Tulane Crisis Support Hotline: (504)-264-6074
- Tulane Title IX: https://allin.tulane.edu/titleix
- Tulane Counseling: https://campushealth.tulane.edu/counseling-center
- New Orleans Family Justice Center: (504)-592-4005
- New Orleans Family Justice Center Crisis Hotline: (504)-866-9554
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-(800)-656-4673
- RAINN: (800)-656-4673
- RAINN Online Chat Forum: https://hotline.rainn.org/online
- Joyful Heart Foundation for Victim Support: https://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/learn/sexual-assault-and-rape/resources/survivors