A lot of blog posts address men who believe rape is, at least in part, the responsibility of the victim—rather than the rapist. Or they address men open to hearing about this experience in the hope of educating them and building allies.
This post is going to be a little different. I’m writing just for the women—the ones who have been wounded by rape, assault, or even harassment.
Because I want to say what not enough posts are about and maybe should be:
It wasn’t your fault.
First, I want to acknowledge that each of these experiences is different. And that each woman experiences these traumas differently, grieves differently for the basic trust that has been lost, and heals differently (“woman” because although men can be the victims of these crimes and I welcome such men as part of the group I’m writing to, it is a comparatively rare occurrence). I cannot speak to nor for the uniqueness of your pain, outrage, or sorrow.
But no matter how you experienced it, the fact still remains:
It wasn’t your fault.
Three years ago, within the same month, two young men assaulted me. I felt lucky to have not been raped in one of the situations. I felt lucky. If you have been raped, you were stupendously unlucky. Chance is not your fault. Bad luck is not your fault.
I was 31 years old. It was my first college party. Ever. I wasn’t drunk. I was wearing the same T-shirt as everyone else and my brother’s shorts. I was attending because it was my brother’s graduation party, and he had asked me to come. I’m saying all this because I want you—other women who’ve been through the same and worse—to know once and for all that it really has nothing to do with age, alcohol, clothing, or anything else people may assume you “did” to “ask for it.” I had known most of the guys there since they were freshmen. I worked at a college, which they all knew.
The one who attacked me was my brother’s friend and still is. He’s Christian. He’s highly intelligent. And he was drunker than fuck. I was chatting up some of my brother’s friends, when he started running his hands over my back. I stepped away. He continued. I shrugged him off. When the other friends wandered back to the food, this guy folded an elbow around my throat. Then, he started dragging me off the grassy field and towards some thick shadows. It took me a minute to realize what was happening. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t even breathe. White dots popped against the black sky. I realized I didn’t have long before I passed out. And I didn’t know what his plan was once he got me off the field.
So I elbowed him in the ribs, delivered a side kick to the same place, broke free long enough to call to another friend whom I’d heard was a bit free with his punches when he was drunk, and then the elbow closed over my throat again. Again, I couldn’t breathe.
The other guy came and punched him in the face, and I made a run for it. I avoided the boys all of the next day, except when I saw a few of them at breakfast and started shaking, and then I left the day after.
It wasn’t my fault. The dumb fuck had gotten horny and wanted something to play with. It didn’t matter if I was willing or not. I was simply there.
And the only reason I pulled out some Tae Kwon Do was because something similar had happened less than a month before.
And that is not how women should have to “learn” about assault. This shouldn’t be something we go through so often that we start to perfect our response to it. So if you didn’t take Tae Kwon Do at 17 or if you didn’t give a good, solid elbow into your attacker’s ribs, that is also not your fault.
Neither did I the first time it happened. Because the first time around, I didn’t do anything but say “No” and “Stop it” and “Let go,” which did me about as much good as if I’d been stuffing ten-dollar bills into his bra. In other words, my resistance seemed to egg him on. And there’s a Catch-22 for you.
My best friend had been asking me to come try square dancing for years. Now that he’d been accepted to grad school and was going to be leaving town in a couple months, I thought, “You know, he’s been a good friend to me. I can do some things I’m not keen on just to make sure I get in social time with him while he’s still here.”
There was a fairly large floor packed with Seattleites in T-shirts and flannels, and so I danced. It was kind of okay. I hadn’t had a single beer and neither had my friend. People were nice. The room was warm. But then my friend grabbed me and pulled me into him. I told him to let go. He pressed me against him tighter. I started to struggle. He pinned my arms. I told him to stop it. He laughed. Then he started running his hands over me. I tried to shove him away. I couldn’t. He had me pinned, so I couldn’t move, and I just had to take it. Him touching my however, wherever he wanted.
It was disgusting.
And it wasn’t my fault.
I was very confused afterwards. I tried to act like everything was fine after that. But I couldn’t. I tried to buy him ice cream afterwards, but I started to get a migraine. Everything was wrong. I went home and never saw him again.
We had been friends for ten years.
Most rapists and assailants are people we know, care about, even love. That’s not our fault, either. Some people will say that we should be a better judge of character. But what young person is an impeccable judge of character? Isn’t that something we all learn along the way?
We deserve the opportunity and the time to learn that safely, without being shoved off a cliff into traumas that leave us with dramatically increased chances for depression, anxiety disorders, suicide, and other mental health problems.
Out of the two men who assaulted me, one apologized. The college boy. It wasn’t my ex-best friend who came back to say he was sorry. And that still hurts.
I told the college kid that he was young and maybe didn’t know better yet, but now that he does know he gets grabby and violent when he’s drunk, he should watch himself at parties now.
I’ve heard he doesn’t.
Of course he doesn’t.
Society tells him that it’s my fault I was there. That if I was there, on a grassy field with a bunch of college boys and girls having some beers, I should have known. But should I? I mean, think about that for a minute. Should I have never flown out to the east coast to celebrate my brother’s graduation just because they’re all young and crazy and shit might go down? Is this the kind of world we live in?
So many men can assault and even rape women without realizing they are assaulting or raping them. This is because they’ve been told by society, by porn, by friends, and by male authority figures—from fathers to church leaders—that if a woman is in public, she is sexually available. That if a woman is wearing a bikini, that if she is drunk, that if she looks at you, that if she has a body at all, she is sexually available. And “sexually available” means to a lot of men that she’s there for the taking.
Until men start to be told that “sexually available” means that the woman gets to say yes. The woman gets to decide whether she sleeps with you or not. But that’s not what men teach other men.
And that isn’t our fault, either.
Our one and only responsibility right now is healing.
And on that count, I’m sending you all my best wishes and warmest hopes. May you awaken from the nightmare with less hatred and more hope, with less concern for politeness and male egos and more compassion for yourself. Above all, may you become a woman still able to say “yes” without fear.