There is more than one kind of independence this Fourth of July (or any time). You can assert your independence by doing something on your own. And you can gain independence — liberation — from something or someone which has power over you. This week, I hope you will join me in promoting both. I ask you to share this and all the stories — part 1, part 2 and part 3 — this week while using the hashtag #HopeLetters.
Today’s post is presented anonymously.
You will still hear his voice echoing in the hotel room even as you are sick for the 4th time.
“Are you throwing up again?” he asks, his bored voice dripping with disgust.
The sound of that disgust seems like a mirror to the pain in your throat and the lurching of your stomach, the acid taste in your mouth as your fragile system purges itself of the alcohol. The headache presses against your senses as you try to control your reflexes as you hazily wonder:
Seriously, what the fuck kind of 100% sober male wants to touch a girl who is so drunk she’s throwing up all night?
You will remember that he didn’t offer to help you, or even seem to care. Only that after each trip, you hurled your body back to the bed – and that he came up behind you and held you. You felt good about that, until his hands kept moving, and then other parts of him, alongside you, against you, inside you. The room is spinning so much and you close your eyes and feel sick again, even as you hang on to him because you’re afraid if you aren’t clutching something, you’ll fall down. You don’t realize you’re already down.
You’ll remember his disgust with you, all the while you feel disgust at him. Normally razor-sharp in debates and verbal confrontations, you’ll understand the phrase “tongue-tied” now as you struggle to form words, but literally can’t.
The next morning you’ll wake up sore – so sore – because you aren’t used to people touching you like that. Because those aren’t experiences you’ve had much of in the past – neither the drinking nor the sex. Which he knows.
You’re in a haze, with that pressing headache now pounding, and you’ll turn your head (warning: even that will hurt). You’ll see him beside you, with no clothes on. He’ll shift his weight.
“God I’m sore. Were you inside me? It hurts.”
And no matter what else you’ll remember or don’t (and there will be little of the former and lots of latter), you’ll remember his laugh.
You’ll remember him asking you, disgusted, if you were sick yet again. And you’ll remember asking him why you were so sore, and the laughter he gave you in response.
The morning, just like the night, will be hazy and fuddled and disjointed in your head. Too many parts of your body don’t remember all too well too many things. But the soreness – all of it – will be enough.
You’ll spend a little time the next day crying to your best friend about how much you don’t remember. About how crass he was. About how self-centered he was. You won’t call it a rape. Because he wasn’t violent. Because you didn’t fight back. Because you can’t think in those terms when your body hurts as much as it does.
Lots of women are raped. Some men, too. But mostly women. You’ll learn that the legal definition of rape in the state you were in includes “a person who has sexual intercourse with any other person and such act is accomplished through the use of the complaining witness’s mental incapacity or physical helplessness.” You’ll wonder whether being so drunk you were throwing up all night and couldn’t see straight for hours on end counts as “physical helplessness.” You’ll know it felt that way in any case.
When you develop much longer-term relationships with your girlfriends over many years, you’ll all start to share your stories. You’ll realize how very different each and every circumstance is, and wonder at so many of you have experienced sex without consent. Sometimes it’ll be a one night stand. Sometimes it’ll be boyfriend or a husband. Sometimes she’ll have said no over and over and he’ll have physically forced her to accept him. Sometimes, you’ll tell your friends, it’s someone you thought could be trusted. And as you look back on your friendship with this person, you’ll retroactively recognize other disturbing patterns of behavior that reflected his lack of respect for you, your space, your opinion, or your equal and enthusiastic participation in shared activities.
The one thing that you will feel consistently as you hear and read and learn about other women’s stories is the one shared thread they all have: disempowerment.
Sometimes pain, sometimes betrayal, sometimes fear. But in all cases, a frightening lack of control. A feeling of being trapped. Of being unable to control oneself or one’s surroundings. Of being unable to mold the world around us in a way that empowers us to have authority over ourselves and our environment. Of being incapable of acting as though we are the subject instead of the object.
And you’ll be a little confused about it all because you’ll know part of it was the alcohol. But the other part of it was someone taking advantage of your lack of control and stealing it for himself.
You’ll learn to recognize that it’s not just an absence of power or a lack of control. Instead, it’s knowing that someone else has power over you. Has control over you. Has taken your power for himself and used it to hurt you.
Each of us will respond to it differently. Some rape survivors will feel traumatized, or triggered, over and over and over again. Some of us will just not think about it as much. Some will “get over it.” Many, many will not.
Some will talk about it with professionals, some with a trusted friend or family. Many will tell no one. A few will file an official report, a very very few will press charges. A very, very, very few will ever see justice.
You’ll be one of the ones who brings it up in the context of a sharing of experiences with close girlfriends. Maybe in the midst of a heated discussion about something different but related, like slut-shaming, you’ll casually start a sentence with “as a rape survivor, I can tell you that …” These conversations will almost always include a few utterly clueless people arguing that the “feminist movement” is hurting itself by not distinguishing between the scary, violent stranger rape and the “grey-not-quite-as-bad-marital/relationship-misunderstanding-about-sex-that-gets-called-rape-and-unfairly-punishes-men.” You’ll definitely want to punch those people in the face, but you never will.
I’m telling you all of this now for three reasons.
The first is so that you’ll understand that this experience isn’t necessarily unique or weird. That many other women experience this, too. That it’ll be several years before you’ll really and fully come to grips with the enormous difference between promoting a culture of Yes Means Yes instead of No Means No.
The second is so that you know that you’re going to be very, very fortunate. Your rape won’t traumatize you, won’t prevent you from having healthy relationships, and won’t ruin your whole life. You’ll come to understand that one night in which a man stole your power with no thought that a girl who was so drunk she was throwing up was in no position to give consent, won’t dictate how you live your life. You’re going to be ok.
And the third is that I’ll be very proud of you. For defending other rape survivors, for learning to be an advocate, for refusing to allow this man back into your life. For knowing that deciding to drink a lot, for giving up the power and control that accompanies such a drunken state, does not in any way imply or grant someone else the power to have sex with you. That giving up control of your body does not in any way imply or grant someone else the right to take control of your body and do things to it that you have not actively chosen for yourself.
That no matter what state you are in, your body is yours and yours alone. And even after this experience, you will still love it. And it will love you.
If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please seek help in your area or get help online from RAINN or by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.