Read Some More

There’s a part of me that sympathizes with Rep. Todd Akin, who got caught believing out loud that being very upset/scared/terrified can create super cells that roadblock the sperm forced inside a woman–or maybe the cells all circle the egg and hug it, protecting it from the invaders? Either way, the human body is amazing beyond comprehension. So it’s not entirely unbelievable that it could design a way for the reproductive system to work with the brain to prevent pregnancy.

It’s also not unbelievable that doctors paid by right-to-life organizations might write articles that conclude that rape rarely results in pregnancy, or that it never does because a woman will stop ovulating. And if that’s true, then an exception for rape in a law that bans abortion isn’t necessary. And politicians who want to believe said doctors’ conclusions read only those articles. Well, they need to read some more.

I think the following are worth a re-post.

“You Think You Don’t, But You Do.”

She says it was like a bad after-school special, and laughs. But there is sadness in her eyes, and shame. Not much, but it is there, I think. I want to say the right things, but it is hard to find the words when she tells me her story.

Jake* was older than I was, a frat boy. I’d had a crush on him for months and I was newly single, having just broken up with my boyfriend of three years. And now Jake and I were at the same party.

He fed me drinks all night. I laughed and flirted. My friend asked if I was going to hook up with him, but I said no. I was still sad over the break-up. My ex-boyfriend was the only guy I’d ever been with.

I blacked out for a while. I don’t recall walking upstairs. The next thing I remember is standing in a bedroom. Jake locked the door. We kissed on the bed but I was very drunk. I could barely move. He took off my pants and I remember saying, “No, I don’t want to do this.”  Click for more…

Teaching About Rape: 2 Things You Can Do

It’s a testament to its prevalence that I  know three women who have been raped. (Undoubtedly, I know more.)

But what I find particularly striking is that in each of the three cases, the man showed no indication that he thought he did anything illegal.

One waved and smiled at his victim in the days after and even tried to connect on MySpace. Another sent a text the morning after apologizing for being, “too drunk to realize you were saying no.”

If you know you committed a crime–uh, you don’t do that.

What’s with these guys?

Conventional wisdom, for one. Consider the alleged Congress Theater Rape. A young woman, in a drunken stupor, is waiting for her friends at a restaurant across the street from the theater when she is approached by several men. They are seen carrying her out of the restaurant. Thirty minutes later, she is found a half block away, bloody and naked on the sidewalk. She has been raped and beaten so badly she is in a coma.

Click for more.

Meet: E

After my series of posts on rape, which you can read here and here, a woman contacted me. She had her own story, but felt too exposed writing in the comments. I asked her if she would send it to me. I am so glad she did.

She had tried, in a way, to tell people many times that she was raped, but it wasn’t until years after that she was finally heard. Following is E’s story, in her words, written down for the first time. Let’s hear her.

Rob* was the first boy I ever thought I loved. I was 14, and he was 17. He had the kind of dark brown eyes that sucked you into his soul. He had long hair, a feather earring, and a leather jacket. He told me I was beautiful every day in art class, even before I got my contacts and started wearing tight clothes, and one rainy afternoon he convinced me to take a walk with him. I’d only ever kissed before, but he scooped me in his arms and touched me in places I didn’t know I could be touched. I thought it was magical, and I went home sure that he was the one. And two days later, when I told him I wanted to be with him, he told me he had a girlfriend.

For the next year I pined after him while dating other boys. I lost my virginity to someone I dated for a while, a boy who told me he loved me, and who I can honestly say I loved back. Still, always, I watched Rob as he passed, with his dark eyes and rebel hair, whispering to me behind his girlfriend’s back about how much he missed me.

At a party one New Year’s Eve, he approached me.

“What about your girlfriend?”

“We’re done,” he said, his breath all warm and gooey with alcohol.

I had tried a few glasses of boxed wine myself—not enough to fall over, but enough to open up. Enough to be too much for any 15-year-old.

“That makes me happy,” I said. “I’ve always cared so much for you.”

“I know, me too,” he said. He spent the next hour telling me how screwed up his life had been, how I was nothing like his ex-girlfriend, and how he wondered what would have happened had he chosen me—and at midnight, he kissed me.

“Come on. I’ll drive you home,” he said, and like we’d never separated on that rainy day, we ended up in the back of his car in an Abbey Carpet parking lot.

He was aggressive, impatient, and cold. I ached to feel what we’d had—but I was also tipsy. So as he yanked off my clothes, I think I wanted it, at first.

“Turn over,” he said. He pushed my head against the door and tried again, but I wasn’t ready. “We just need to try something else,” he said. He flipped me over and I pushed back on his shoulders, uncomfortable. When I looked into his eyes, I couldn’t see anything, and I realized Rob wasn’t really there with me.

I’d already had sex. I’d already felt love. Our moment together wasn’t supposed to be like this.

“Rob, I don’t think I want to,” I said. “I think we should stop.”

He buried his face in my neck, panting and pushing ahead.

“Wait,” I said. My voice was calm. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “This doesn’t feel right. I want to stop.”

He kept going, kissing me to quiet me, but I turned my head.

“I want to stop,” I said. I pushed at his waist, pushed at his shoulders, all the while still not sure how to stop him without upsetting him—because this was supposed to mean something. I whimpered a few times, but he still didn’t hear me. “Rob, no, please stop.” He didn’t.

I remember staring at the ceiling. I remember thinking that the boy that day in the woods would never have done this. He would never have ignored me when I said I didn’t want to. He would never have shushed me as I said stop, and I don’t want to, and no, interchangeably, exactly twenty-three more times, only coming to when I punched him in the shoulder.

“Rob,” I said. I wiped at the tears in my eyes and he looked at me, like he finally realized who I was and what I was doing beneath him. “I want to stop. Please stop!”

So he climbed off of me and put on his clothes, and stared at me as I hunched in the backseat and put mine back on too. We didn’t speak as he drove me home, and when I got out of the car, he said, “I’m glad we got to spend some time together.”

I shut the door and walked into the house, numbly brushing my teeth and washing my face. Then I curled under the covers in the middle of my bed and called my best friend.

“Honey,” she said. “How many times did you say ‘no’?”

“Over twenty,” I whispered. “But I don’t think it was rape. I don’t think he meant it. I think he was confused.”

And I believed that. I’m not sure why I did, but I convinced myself it was true.

The next day, I told some friends. I also told them I didn’t think it was rape because he didn’t know any better. The word spread around campus, and his sister cornered me after school.

“Don’t you dare tell anyone he raped you,” she said. “He would go to jail. He’s 18.”

“I know,” I said, terrified. She held up her fist.

“Besides, it’s not like you’re a virgin. You started it.”

And that’s what I heard for several days.

“You’re not a virgin. And you started it.”

So that’s what I believed.

“I’m not a virgin. And I started it.”

A few weeks later, he started calling me all the time. He told me how much he cared about me. We even talked about being friends. He said, “I didn’t know that you felt I took advantage of you.”

“Rob, I said no. I said no so many times.”

“But you started it,” he said, “and you wanted it. I didn’t realize you were telling me to stop.”

Somehow I kept talking to him for several more weeks, until something in my gut told me it wasn’t right. Then I stopped answering his calls.

When I was eighteen, I finally shared the story with my boyfriend. I remember he rubbed my back as I told it, but when I got to the end he sighed and wrinkled up his face.

“Honey,” he said, “I’m really sorry, but you started it. I just don’t understand how you can blame him. You wanted to, at first, and then you changed your mind? That wasn’t his fault.”

So I convinced myself that maybe it really was my fault. Maybe, because I wasn’t a virgin, and I started it, I was supposed to just lie there and let it happen.

One night in college, I told a friend. She clutched a pillow to her chest as I told her in the most monotone of voices, and then I laughed off what had happened with one little sentence: “It wasn’t rape, because I started it.” That’s when she grabbed me by both shoulders and shook me.

“Listen to me,” she said. “Don’t you ever, ever say that again. It was rape. It was rape the first time you said no. And then it was rape twenty something more times. Don’t you ever tell yourself you weren’t raped again.”

“But I wasn’t—“

You were raped,” she said. And I remember crying in her arms.

It’s been fourteen years since my friend shook me and forced me to say the words. To repeat out loud that what happened was indeed rape. To repeat out loud that it didn’t matter that I wasn’t a virgin, and it didn’t matter that I started it. Even writing this I have to repeat it again and again to myself, because I was 15 and impressionable, and all I heard then was that it was my fault, so it stuck.

I work with teenagers now, and sometimes, when I overhear them talking about their love lives and their boyfriends, all I can hope is that they know how to say no, and that they know how to hear no. And then comes the heaviest thought of all: that, should something this awful ever happen to them, they never doubt and hurt themselves as badly as I did when I listened to the people around me and took the blame, convincing myself that all twenty-seven times I said no didn’t matter, and that because I wasn’t a virgin and I started it, I wasn’t raped.

Because I was.

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1.800.656.HOPE

*Name changed.

Teaching About Rape: 2 Things You Can Do

It’s a testament to its prevalence that I  know three women who have been raped. (Undoubtedly, I know more.)

But what I find particularly striking is that in each of the three cases, the man showed no indication that he thought he did anything illegal.

One waved and smiled at his victim in the days after and even tried to connect on MySpace. Another sent a text the morning after apologizing for being, “too drunk to realize you were saying no.”

If you know you committed a crime–uh, you don’t do that.

What’s with these guys? Oh, so many things.

Conventional wisdom, for one. Consider thealleged Congress Theater Rape. A young woman, in a drunken stupor, is waiting for her friends at a restaurant across the street from the theater when she is approached by several men. They are seen carrying her out of the restaurant. Thirty minutes later, she is found a half block away, bloody and naked on the sidewalk. She has been raped and beaten so badly she is in a coma.

The story is horrible, violent, violating, everything we are taught rape is. It is also what happens about 16% of the time*. Mostly, rape is committed by someone the victim knows and many times, in comparison, it is almost subtle.

Subtle in terms of conventional wisdom only. Not subtle in truth. Certainly not subtle in pain. The insertion of a man into the body of a woman who does not want him there is violent. No blood or bruises necessary. No gang rapes, chains, foreign objects, strangulation, punches, or slit throats.

But my, we love the gore, don’t we?

I wonder how the Congress Theater story would have played had the woman been that drunk, but had been merely raped on a bed in a dorm room.

It wouldn’t have played. At all.

The victim of that horrible crime deserves every ounce of attention she has received, and more. But why are we too often on the side of the victim only when she is beaten to a pulp?

There are even apologists of the “subtle” rapes, men and women who argue, essentially, that because a woman says yes to some sexual acts she is saying yes to all; or that a woman should know better than to get too drunk; or that (shrug) things happen when people drink, a guy’s life should not be ruined because of one mistake. (Love the euphemism–did he mean to wash the dishes?)

It doesn’t matter what happened before, during, or after intercourse. If someone is violated without consent, that is rape. THAT. IS. ILLEGAL.

So what can we do?

I have a whole list of things, not-even-close-to-least of which is shaming our justice system into finding the courage to try cases they have a chance of losing (ie. cases in which the victim is NOT found naked in a coma on the street). But blog posts are supposed to be short, so today I’ve whittled my list down to two simple things:

1. Teach boys and men that a lack of consent is not only indicated by saying, “No.” That old slogan “No means no” gets us only so far. Lack of consent can also be indicated by NOT SAYING YES. This means, fellas, being too drunk or drugged or ASLEEP. And if you’re too drunk to know whether she’s too drunk, see #2.

2. Women are warned, as if the responsibility rests solely on their shoulders, that if they drink too much, bad things might happen to them.

Let’s warn the men, too. As in, “If you drink too much, you might think it’s okay to stick your penis inside the girl sleeping next to you. And guess what? If you do that, it’s a felony.”

Let me add that this knowledge is useful for women, too. Give yourself permission to cry, “Rape,” when you see it.

To sum it up: TALK ABOUT RAPE. What it is, what it isn’t only, what it looks like, what it doesn’t always.

I’ll leave you with a story that I think portrays this issue quite well.

My friend, whose wife had just had a daughter, was told by his friend, whose wife had just had a son, “I pity you. Thank God I won’t have to deal with worrying after a girl.”

To which my friend replied, “You know, as the father of a girl, I sure would appreciate it if you help me out and teach your son how to treat her well.” 

* 84% of women who are raped know their assailant, according to “Rape in America: A Report to the Nation.”  Source: http://www.rvap.org