This week’s interview is special because it is not, sadly, incredibly unique. I’m sure you know the statistics: every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Sixty percent of sexual assaults go unreported. Many, many of the women I know have experienced aggressive, unwanted sexual attention. This is ‘Elizabeth’s’ story.
Before this happened, what were your feelings about sexual assault?
I consider myself to be an independent, modern, and educated woman. I was and am a strong advocate of women’s rights and equality. I believed in speaking up for yourself, voting, and fighting against injustice. I was also a Sociology major in college with an interest in women’s studies and sexuality.
My definition of sexual assault was any unwanted sexual advances in the form including penetration, inappropriate touching, and/or verbal abuse. I was also a strong advocate of the phrase, “No means no!” and was a black belt in karate.
I liked to think I was invincible and could bench-pressed cars and wrestled bears in my free time. That being said, I thought rape and sexual assault were awful things that shouldn’t happen to anyone, but I didn’t think that anything would happen to me. Rape just seemed like something that happened in the back alleys of sketchy neighborhoods that I didn’t frequent. If I did go into those areas, I would be ever-vigilant and made sure that I was either with someone, or prepared to drop an attacker with a well-placed kick to the groin.
Can you tell us about your relationship with the man that attacked you?
We met in college. We both belonged to the same club on campus. We had been dating for about two months before we mutually agreed to split up. He was a tall, energetic guy – the life of the party. I liked his spirit and we had gotten along alright, but it wasn’t meant to be. My friends didn’t really like him much, but who really listens to their friends when you’re dating someone new that you really like?
What exactly happened that night?
After our split, we remained friends. When school let out for summer break, we decided to drive 500 miles to my hometown for a week, where he could visit his cousin. One night, we decided to hang out at his cousin’s place. He had bought a case of beer earlier in the day, and the two of them wanted to drink. Since I had to drive home after, I stayed sober.
The two of them drank their way through the entire case of beer (one of the big cases that have like 24 beers in them) while I hung out and watched TV. I eventually fell asleep on the floor.
When I woke up, the cousin was gone, and the ex had just come back in the room after smoking. He came over and started kissing me. Out of habit, I kissed him back, although I wasn’t feeling it. He started taking my clothes off. I stopped kissing him. He mumbled something about “wanting one last time together, for old time’s sake.” I stiffened and remembered a time when we had sex when I wasn’t physically ready. It had hurt. A lot. Also, we weren’t together anymore! Why did he want to be together if we weren’t an item anymore in the first place?? I told him no.
He tried fondling me under my shirt. I squirmed away and told him to stop, but he took off my pants and shoved his hand down them. I tried rolling away, but he was on top of me. I considered using some of my martial arts, but this was a man that I considered my friend. How can you hurt someone you care about? I kept resisting for what seemed like forever until the vast amount of alcohol he drank caused him to pass out. Then I pulled on my clothes and left, angry.
How did he react when you told him “no”?
He seemed to think that I was kidding. He had told me before that I introduced him to “passionate and angry sex” because none of his other partners liked it “rough”. And by rough, I mean I liked a little wrestling sometimes, maybe an ass slap here and there. Nothing major. Rape play wasn’t something I was really into (although if you are, safe words are key!). Let me get this straight: liking it a little rough and saying “no” are *two different things*. He apparently thought I was just playing hard to get when in fact, I wanted nothing to do with him.
When did it occur to you that what you had experienced had been an attempted rape?
It occurred to me as I left his cousin’s house that he had violated the terms of our friendship, but I didn’t identify it as “attempted rape”. I blamed myself for it because I felt I had “led him on” by kissing him back in the beginning. For half an hour, I sat in my room thinking that it was my fault and that I could have prevented it by not going over there in the first place, not staying as long as I did, and not kissing him.
Then I mentally slapped myself for thinking such things. I didn’t ask him to force himself on me. Just because we had a relationship before doesn’t mean he can have me whenever he wanted. It was perfectly natural to fall into old habits with an ex because it’s comfortable and familiar, but that doesn’t mean that I owe him anything or that he could continue touching me after I said no.
I felt violated and angry, but I didn’t classify myself as a “victim”, nor did it occur to me that I had just survived an attempted rape. Rape was something that happened to other people, not me.
Could you tell us about the aftermath of this attack?
After a long and silent car ride back to the university, I didn’t really talk to him too much afterwards. I was mad at him. I had confronted him the morning after the attack online about the incident and he didn’t even know it had happened! When I told him how it made me feel, he signed off. I never got an apology. We hung out a few times after that with some mutual friends of ours, but he never apologized and never acknowledged that anything bad had happened between us. It was frustrating, and I stopped talking to him.
When Fall quarter started, I took a fantastic class called the Sociology of Sexuality. There was a guest speaker one day. He was from an organization on campus that educated men on how they could educate themselves about sexual assault on women and how to protect the women around them. He started telling this story:
“One day, a young girl goes to a party with her friends. They’re laughing, drinking, and having a good time. She sees a cute guy and starts flirting with him. They have fun, dance a little, and drink some more. It turns out they have similar tastes in music. He asks her if she’s heard the new CD that their favorite artist has just released. She hasn’t. He asks her if she would like to come listen to it in his room. She agrees and tells her friends that she’ll be back and not to worry about her. Her friends look the guy over and tells her to call them if she runs into any trouble. She laughs and says alright, and walks out the door.
“At the guy’s place, he puts the CD into his computer and turns on the music. They sit on the bed together and drink and talk. He puts his arm on her shoulder and she leans into him. He kisses her. She kisses him back. Things start to get a little heated and he slides his hand under her shirt. She stops him and says, ‘I’m not ready for this.’
“He says, ‘That’s fine, I totally respect your boundaries.’
“They go back to kissing. He slides his hand up her shirt again, and she stops him for a second time. She tells him again, ‘Sorry, I don’t want to go too fast.’ He says it’s fine, and they continue making out on the bed. Then she blacks out from the alcohol.
“She wakes up and he’s on top of her. He has taken off her clothes and is inside her.
“Is this rape? Did she consent because she kissed him? Does it still count because they were drinking?”
When I heard this story, I started crying. I started bawling my eyes out right in the middle of the lecture because the story resonated with something inside me. I felt like the girl in the story because I felt like it had been my fault. That I had let it happen. That because there was alcohol involved, I couldn’t say anything about it because everyone would say that it was my fault. It was at that moment that I knew that there was something wrong and that I needed to seek help as soon as possible. Luckily, there was a fantastic sexual assault resource center on campus that I went to the very next day.
I started therapy and continued it for about a year. One thing that my therapist said to me that really hit home was, “What happened to you was not your fault. You had no way of preventing it from happening. You cannot control the actions of another person. You can only control how you let those actions affect you.”
I think that year was definitely the hardest year I’ve ever had to face, emotionally. On most days I’d be fine and go about my business, when all of a sudden I’d hear a song on the radio, or read a story, or see a picture that reminded me of him. Of the betrayal of trust. Of the violation that happened. Then I’d start crying for no reason at all.
Other times, my boyfriend and I would be getting intimate and I would freeze up because something would remind me of what happened. It was frustrating because I felt like I was healing from my emotional trauma and all of a sudden these emotions would hit me out of nowhere. I kept thinking to myself, “It’s been x number of months already. Why am I still feeling like this? What’s wrong with me?”
Taking baby steps definitely helped me. First I needed to figure out what kind of closure I needed. Once something like this happens, my therapist told me, it’s a violation of trust. It’s a traumatic experience that is different for everyone, and when you’ve been emotionally ripped open like that, you need closure (like a bad break-up). *How* you get that closure is different for each person. For some people, it’s seeking criminal charges. For some people it’s as simple as getting an apology from your attacker. For others, it’s being able to put the past behind them and never speak of it again.
How did the people in your life respond when you told them about this?
I am extremely fortunate to have so many supporting people in my life. My biggest pillar of strength was definitely my current boyfriend (not the ex who attacked me). He is always there to support me, listen to my rants, or simply hold me when I cry or have flashbacks. He was completely understanding, even if he didn’t know what to do. He’s extremely kind, gentle, understanding, and doesn’t demand anything of me that I can’t handle. When I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, I know that I can depend on his support. I definitely couldn’t have done it without him. 🙂
My friends also helped and listened when they could, although they weren’t sure what to do about the situation. They would be understanding, but not know how to react or what to say. Because I minimized the situation, it seemed as though I wasn’t affected by it as much as I was. I think if I had gone to them crying immediately after it happened, they would have gone and tarred, feathered, drawn and quartered the man.
Did you file charges against the man who attacked you?
Sort of. I filed charges against him at my university. The files went on his student record, rather than his criminal record. I did this because at the time, I still wanted to protect him, for some reason. I wasn’t out for vengeance, because I’m not a vengeful type of person. I wanted to *teach* him to be a better person, because I felt like he was a little misguided and needed help to become a better person.
With the school, he had to join Alcoholics Anonymous and take a seminar presented by the person who spoke to my class about sexual assault. I believe they also sent a letter to his parents. I thought that being lenient would help him out and give him a scare, rather than turning him into a criminal and making him register as a sex offender everywhere he went. Of course, it didn’t work and he didn’t learn a thing from it. I’m not too happy about that.
Do you feel that this experience has affected the way you view yourself/men/sex/relationships?
Yes and no. I feel a little more jaded about meeting new people, but I, luckily, am in a long-term, committed relationship with the most wonderful man in the world. However, I am more skeptical of some of the guys my girlfriends meet.
As for me, I feel like I have a scar on my emotional psyche, but it’s an experience in my life that has made me stronger. I can handle anything else that life can throw at me because I know how I react to emotional stress and how I can recover from it.
How did you finally get closure?
Even with the therapy and the great support of my friends, I never really felt like I got the closure I needed. I knew that he was still the same guy that he was before and hadn’t learned from the classes that the university made him attend. I was moving on with my life, but something about that chapter of my life just holding me back, somehow. I wasn’t sure what it was.
I thought that maybe pressing charges against him would help, but I would have to go back to my hometown (500 miles away) to press charges. It would also drag up all the messy details of what happened back into the light, and open all of the old wounds I fought so hard to close.
A few months ago, I found out that he was in an election in the club where we originally met. This would put him in power over many new and unsuspecting freshmen girls in the organization if he won. I made it my mission to go to the election, expose him to the world as the fraud that he was, and ruin his life in the organization forever. But I couldn’t. I went to the elections and confronted him face-to-face, ready to fight… and he told me to get out of his way and to stop bothering him. Then I realized something. I didn’t get the closure I wanted because I needed an apology from him.
All these years, and he’s never once come up to me, e-mailed, texted, called, or IMed me to say he was sorry. Ever. It was like I didn’t even matter to him. He was just the asshole that everybody told me he was. The second chance that I gave him was a waste. Nothing I said or did would ever make him into the kind, mature person that I wanted him to be. And with that, I let it go. I let all the hate, all the frustration, and all the pain go. I was not going to let this one person ruin so much of my life. I had other things to do. I had places to go, people to love, and real friends who cared about me and who weren’t like him.
I still sometimes get flashbacks, but they aren’t nearly as crippling as they once were. I’ve come to terms with what happened and am finally at peace with it. He’s an asshole that isn’t worthy of my thoughts anymore. Do I sometimes wish I had pressed charges against him? Yeah, but it’s not something that I’m going to pursue because, like I said, he isn’t worth my time anymore. I’m not his babysitter, and maybe karma will come back and bite him in the ass for me.
What advice would you give to other women or men who have experienced something similar?
Find someone that you trust and talk about it. Talk to a therapist. Talk to a friend. Educate yourself on what happened to you, how you can fight against it, and the steps that you need to take to heal. Most importantly: DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF.
What happened to you was in no way, shape, or form your fault. It was the fault of your attacker. Your attacker is the one who did this to you. He or she is ultimately the one who made the decision to violate your personal space and trust. There was no way that you could have read their mind and stopped them from doing what they did. Understand that you did not give them consent to violate you. Here’s a great definition of consent:
Consent is based on choice.
It is active, not passive.
Silence and passivity do not equal consent.
Consent is possible only when there is equal power.
Giving in because of fear is NOT consent.
Giving in or going along with someone to gain approval or to avoid being hurt is NOT consent.
Consent means two people (or more) deciding together to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, with each other.
Find out what options are available for you and how far you are willing to go to seek closure. If you wish to press charges, speak to a trusted lawyer and learn what your options are. Be strong and know that unfortunately, some people will work against you and try to make you look bad.
If you are afraid to leave your situation because your attacker is in a position of power over you, talk to someone who specializes in domestic or office abuse. Finally, believe that you *can* make it past this point in your life and that you *will* become a stronger person for it. You will always carry the emotional scars with you, but they do fade in time, trust me. It will take a long time – much longer than you want it to – but it will happen. You’ll have ups and downs and it’ll feel like your life is over and it isn’t worth living, but you *will* get through this.
Some great resources that I’ve found are Women Said and Shrink4men The second link is mostly for men who are in an abusive relationship, but I find it to be one of the best resources out there for someone who is currently in an abusive relationship. I also find the UC Irvine campus assault resource page to be extremely helpful, and there’s a section for friends of a victim as well.
If someone you know is currently going through a situation like this, visit the UC Irvine website. Listen to their story. And most importantly, do not judge them. Don’t accuse them of getting into a bad situation. We all make bad decisions. It doesn’t make it any better if you remind them of it. Encourage your friend to seek help. Seek help from a trusted source yourself, because no matter how good your intentions are, you most likely do not have the training to help your friend get over what happened. Professional help is THE best way to get through this for everyone.
I would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have, and if you would like to remain anonymous, send me an e-mail at dinosrevenge @ gmail . com. Thanks for taking the time to read my story and a big shout out to Sarah Von for hosting this series!
Have any of you experienced sexual assault? Any questions for Elizabeth?