[TW: this article discusses and includes graphic descriptions of sexual assault, r*pe, and trauma.]
Given the recent cases the UW has seen in the past couple of weeks, where a fired professor and a popular basketball player were accused of sexual assault, it las led to reflection on my own personal experience with the topic. Unfortunately, sexual assault is a common occurrence that can happen to anyone. In a 2015 study, the CDC reported that about 1 in 5 women has experienced completed or attempted rape in their lifetime. Men can also be a victim of sexual violence, as the same study concluded that approximately 1 in 10 men has experienced completed or attempted rape in their lifetime. These numbers should be zero.
In March 2020, I was raped. I had just come back from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic and had decided to go on Tinder. I had been talking to a guy for a little while on the app, and we ended up hanging out together late one night. I wasn’t really expecting anything to happen, maybe a nice little make-out session in my truck. I had driven to where he lived in gig harbor, and he suggested we drive to a dock nearby where we could just talk and listen to music. It was pretty late at night, so it was pitch black while we were just having a conversation and getting to know each other more. Things escalated after a bit, and while we were making out, he said, “Let’s fuck.”
As I still lived at home and had a curfew, I said no and that I needed to leave soon. He kept insisting, saying, “I want to fuck you so badly” and, “Come on, we’ll be quick,” while I repeatedly stated that I needed to leave and didn’t want to have sex. He had removed his sweatshirt at one point claiming he was hot, but his actions afterward felt like he was hinting that he wasn’t going to drop it. I felt trapped. I was in my car with a stranger, in a place pretty unfamiliar to me, and I was too scared to kick him out in fear that it might turn violent. So, I gave in. I didn’t want to have sex with him, but I felt that if I didn’t oblige to it, the situation was only going to be worse.
Afterward, I felt disgusting. I had to drive him back to his place, and the car ride was absolutely silent except for when he gave me directions. It felt so awkward that I kept trying to make small talk, anything that I could use to distract myself. After dropping him off, I pulled off on the side road, putting my belt and shoes back on. As he had dressed quickly after, it was so awkward getting dressed in silence when I just wanted to go back home; I had ended up only putting on my sweater and pants back on as fast as I could. The ride home was weird. In my head, I was trying to make sense of what just happened: I knew that I hadn’t wanted to have sex with him, but I ended up giving in anyway. So, while I did go along with it, everything felt weird and just wrong, because it was something I didn’t want to happen.
A week after the incident occurred, I was talking to someone about the situation as we were recalling awkward first times hanging out with someone. After I told him what happened, he looked at me and said, “I am so sorry that happened to you.” I said, “Oh no, it’s fine lol. Just a really weird and uncomfy experience.” To which he said, “Marina, that guy raped you.” I was in disbelief and in denial. For as long as I can remember, whenever anyone asked me what my biggest fear was, my answer was always “rape.” The idea of someone forcing themselves onto me and taking away any autonomy I have over myself and my body, is absolutely terrifying.
I wasn’t really sure how to feel. I talked to my therapist about it, but I had such a hard time wrapping my head around the subject that I avoided talking about it altogether. I was in denial, blaming myself and making excuses. I kept telling myself that it was my fault for hanging out with a stranger late at night, that I should have kicked him out of my truck, or that I should’ve stayed firm in my “no.” Slowly I came to repress that experience more and more, still not thinking my experience was valid as sexual assault.
I continued with my life, going through what people refer to as a “hoe phase” and casually sleeping with people during the summer. Not the smartest idea amidst a global pandemic of course, and I now realize that my actions during that time were indeed selfish and unsafe. Unfortunately, I can’t take it back. I never got exposed to anything, nor did I expose anyone close to me, but it still wasn’t a good idea. But, I’m human and make mistakes that I have to learn from.
While going about my life, I would stumble upon social media posts regarding sexual assault, and there were two in particular that made a big impact on me. I remember a tweet that said something along the lines of: “I just want you to know that if you coerce someone into having sex with you, that is STILL RAPE.” This was about 5-6 months after it had occurred, and it was then that I actually felt like my experience was indeed valid, it was rape. It took months for me to finally call it what it is, and it was then that it finally dawned on me, my biggest fear had come true.
I talked to my therapist about how I was feeling given my newfound “discovery,” that I had indeed been sexually assaulted. But, I had no idea why I wasn’t more upset. I was still continuing to have sex with people, and for the most part seemed pretty fine. I don’t think I actually ever cried about what had happened to me, and I thought that made my experience even less valid. But, something my therapist told me was, “People react differently. There’s really no right or wrong way to deal with the trauma afterward. Just because you’re functional, not crying and it wasn’t such a physically violent experience, it does not make it any less valid.”
Another tweet that I saw that helped me deal with having been sexually assaulted, was one that talked about hypersexuality among individuals who have been raped. In that tweet, hypersexuality was described as a coping method some people use after the assault, in which they become overly sexual and seek out having multiple partners. It can be seen as someone trying to put themselves in sexual situations in order to regain control they once didn’t have. This can lead to dissociation during sex for some, meaning they feel disconnected from their body during intercourse. Some even show signs of hypersexuality by talking about sex or sexual things excessively or at inappropriate times. The term itself is a bit vague and can mean a full-blown sex addiction, or just an increased interest and desire for sexual activities. It can sometimes lead one to put themselves in dangerous situations if it gets too severe.
I read the thread and realized that I had used sex as a coping mechanism without even knowing it. After the incident, I kind of thought, “Well clearly even if I don’t want to have sex it’s going to happen anyway, so I might as well just sleep with whoever and do it whenever I want.” And I did just that. During the summer, I was hooking up with strangers constantly. I didn’t think of it as that bad of a thing, except for when people slut shame women for sleeping around, yet men are praised for it, but that is beside the point. My friends were encouraging it as well, they didn’t see anything wrong with it as I was being safe and getting tested regularly. Plus, I’m all for female empowerment and supporting women who choose to be sexually liberated.
But by the time I had read the thread about hypersexuality and realized I had experienced a phase of it myself, I had already stopped hooking up with people. Nonetheless, I reflected on my experiences throughout the summer and was kind of in shock. I never thought that my newfound high-sex drive could’ve been a result of being raped. Especially because sexual assault victims tend to be stereotyped as being afraid of intercourse or having no sex drive at all. Knowing the stigma following sexual assault victims, contributed to the denial and repression of my own experience since I was still engaging in sexual activity.
Reading about other people having similar experiences to mine and educating myself on what constitutes as rape has helped me heal. I still haven’t fully dealt with all the trauma that comes with it, and I don’t know when I will, as some of it is still kind of repressed. But, I realized that there’s a lot of women and men out there who are confused about their own experiences, and also feel like they aren’t valid in saying they were assaulted, which can lead to more repression and not allow the individual to heal.
Consent for anything, even non-sexual, is needed. No means no. In my intro to women’s studies class, we learned the definition of consent. It could only be given and counted, IF the option of saying no is also available, and the person should be in the right state of mind, as in not under the influence. Meaning that if you are in a situation where it is not safe for you to say no, or you do not feel like you are able to say no for fear of the situation escalating, that is NOT consent. An enthusiastic yes, obviously doesn’t have to be yelled in an excited manner, but consent is needed at every step. It doesn’t always have to be just verbal communication, as someone can express enthusiasm through positive body language such as smiling and nodding. It’s still important to ask for verbal consent of course, so ask your partner with every step if they are okay or feel comfortable with what’s going on; I promise it’s really not a weird thing at all to ask. You might think it “ruins the mood,” but communication is necessary and healthy. Plus, if someone thinks asking someone if they’re okay is weird, then they really should not be having sex, and should wait until they can actually have a mature conversation.
Just like it’s important to know what a safe sexual situation looks like, it’s important to know what an unsafe sexual situation would look like as well. If a partner doesn’t acknowledge your no, that is NOT okay. If they keep insisting after you repeatedly say no, that is still not acceptable. If someone is under the influence, then they cannot give consent, and therefore you should not engage in sexual activity unless they are conscious and completely aware of what’s going on. Pressuring someone into saying yes to have sex with you, is NOT consent at all.
Unfortunately, sexual assault is something that occurs often, and it can happen to anyone. But, we should educate ourselves on what constitutes as consent and respect others’ wishes. You are not owed anything by anyone, nor do you owe anyone anything. My experience has taught me that although sometimes it can look like there is a grey area in what counts as actual consent, there is not. No means no, and yes means yes. I’ve also learned that there isn’t a right or wrong way to deal with the trauma afterward. Of course, there are healthy ways and unhealthy ways, and you should not be harming yourself or others in your healing process, but ultimately how one decides to act or cope with it afterward is completely up to them.
So, please, believe victims. Do not blame someone who has been sexually assaulted, because it’s not their fault, ever. No one should ever go against someone’s wishes about their own body.