When I Didn’t Consent. Why I reported. Why I didn’t.

When I Didn’t Consent. Why I reported. Why I didn’t.

I was raped. I reported it. I was raped. I didn’t report it. I was raped. I reported it but I didn’t press charges. I was raped. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do so I told myself that I wasn’t raped.

 

But I was. I was raped.

 

We have these conversations about rape, conversations that always include a question of “Was the rape reported to the police?” Women are taught that when they get raped, it is our duty to report it. We are obligated to press charges. We must crusade for justice. If the rapist is a real rapist, and he raped someone, it the victim’s duty to stop him.

 

And we think we know what rape looks like. We know there’s bushes or drinks involved. There’s kicking and screaming… or unconsciousness… and the word “NO!” can be heard from the next room or by passersby. And there’s crying. Crying during. Crying after. So. much. crying. And there’s blood. At least SOME blood.

 

And we know what to do when you know you’re being raped. If there’s a weapon, you don’t fight. If there’s no weapon, you do. And you make sure you scratch him to get his DNA under your nails. And you don’t shower. And you don’t change. And you go to the hospital. Right away. You’d be irresponsible to wash away evidence.

 

Even though women put a lot of effort into not getting themselves raped, we already have the script written. We have a plan. We know how we’ll handle it when someone finally thwarts our attempts to get through the night un-raped.

 

Funny thing about rape, though, is that sometimes your rapist doesn’t match what you thought your rapist would look like. Sometimes central casting sends in dudes that don’t match the type you were already planning to get raped by. And sometimes these guys go off script, ad libbing lines and their timing is off and sometimes it’s the script is edited so much, you didn’t even recognize that this was Your Rape because NONE of the shit that just went down was part of the original plan.

 

This is a discussion of the times it does and the times being raped doesn’t go according to plan. They’re not in chronological order. They’re in the order in which I feel like discussing them.

 

And at this point, I’m offering up some trigger warnings for rape and if you’re my parent, you should probably stop reading…

 

The time I went straight to the police.

 

I probably shouldn’t call this the time I went “straight to the police.” I didn’t do that. But this was the rape that fit the script. At least in a “maybe we could consider this as an alternate ending” way. It wasn’t a Plan A rape by any means. This was a rape I was sure I was smart enough to avoid. I knew better than to get raped like this.

 

(By the way, we also have rapes that we know can’t happen to us. We do know better than to get raped in that way. This was one of those.)

 

But it was a pretty obvious rape-rape.

 

I was at a party. It was time to go. A friend of mine expressed concern for my safety walking back to my dorm, alone, super drunk, with a vagina, at night. And since he had brought a ferret with him to the party (because why not?), and needed to get it back home anyway (because ferrets have a curfew, I guess), he offered to walk back with me. And since I had a mad crush on this friend, I accepted his very considerate offer.

 

As we approached my building, he told me he had to first go to his dorm real quick to drop off the ferret and said I should come with him and then he’d walk me back… it didn’t make much sense because going to his dorm required walking past mine… but I was drunk and didn’t think much of it.

roofies

So we got to his room and the details start to get fuzzy. I wasn’t feeling so well. There’s a vague memory of being handed pills to help me. And there was kissing and me saying that this was a bad time because I was going to be sick. I may have thrown up before passing out… I don’t know.

 

I woke up the next morning, alone, in a room I didn’t recognize, not sure how I got there. I didn’t know what the hell was happening. I scanned the room and saw the ferret in a cage. Then the friend and another guy walked in, grabbed the ferret, nodded hello to me (in a weird bro-y “‘sup slut” kind of way) and left the room.

 

That was when I realized I didn’t have pants on. Or underwear. And my shirt was on but my bra was unhooked. It was all very confusing. And I was hungover as hell. I found my pants, checked the garbage can for used condoms or other clues about what may have happened. Then shame-walked back to my room.

 

I was incredibly angry and grossed out that this dude I had a crush on was obviously into some weird shit… like fooling around with chicks while they’re passed out. I went straight to my friends to report on this “gossip” about Ferret Dude’s fucked up idea of cool sex. And it started to occur to me that this might have been rape. I mean, I wasn’t conscious and something got did to my lady parts. I spent the day running errands with my friends. But I had to let this “was that rape?” thing settle in for a bit… and since I knew better than to shower or wash my underwear, I changed my clothes, put them in a safe place and didn’t wash anything… except my hands…. and my teeth.

 

Later that night, I finally came to terms with the realization that I was, in fact, sexually assaulted. So I went to the hospital. Because that’s part of the script. You got raped, you go to the hospital. I brought my clothes with me. Because you bring ALL THE EVIDENCE. It’s right there. In the script.

 

They called the police and collected a bunch of evidence from my vagina. And photographed my raped-parts. And while they were documenting the state of my pelvic region as a crime scene, and while sort of forgetting that my vagina was actually attached to a human being who was still in the room and could fucking hear them, I got highlights about what was happening “softball sized bruise on left inner thigh” “blonde pubic hair”… and then later I’d be asked things like if I knew where a giant inner thigh bruise came from or if I had consentually rubbed pubes with any blondes.

 

And I let them do all that. And I was honest with them. I told them everything. Because my job as a rape victim is to do everything I can to help police stop my rapist from hurting other women.

 

A victim advocate showed up with a change of clothes and an offer of support, but I already brought my own clothes because I knew they’d need mine for evidence and she kept telling me it wasn’t my fault, but I was all like fuck that; I know it’s not. I was PASSED THE FUCK OUT. Why would I be ashamed? I felt quite empowered. Aside from the hiccup in the morning where I thought I might not have been raped but wasn’t sure and waited a few hours to go to the hospital, I was doing EVERYTHING right.

 

As the days went on, my 24-hour full-time job was rape-victim/witness. My mom drove down to my school. I had to answer calls from the school’s administration… who were a little unhappy with me going to the hospital and police before university security, but security was closed on Sunday night… and security doesn’t have antibiotics to make sure I don’t get syphilis or offer morning after pills, and that was shit I really wanted because infections and babies of dudes who fuck passed-out girls are things I didn’t want to have, ever.

 

The school promised to do something about my classes that I had with the dude who raped me… then didn’t.

 

The police interrogated me in front of my mom, asking me if it was true what my attacker’s frat bros said: that I was “quite promiscuous.”

 

When I walked out onto campus, I could hear the whispers… because they weren’t quiet. The rapist’s girlfriend would call me, threatening me, and telling me that she knew I was lying because he was with her, studying, in her dorm all night and he never even went to the party… which I thought was kind of fucked up. It was more important to her to get me out of their relationship than it was to get him out of their relationship.

 

The girlfriend’s friends would talk loudly as I walked by, so I could just happen to overhear them talking about rape dude getting arrested in some humiliating way… and it was always a lie. (I guess I was supposed to feel bad for reporting a great guy to the police for something petty like leaving a softball sized bruise on my crotch while I slept.) The dude was never arrested.

 

After a few weeks, I dropped out. There was no reason for me to hang out in a dorm room at a school I wasn’t using for school anymore.

 

A few weeks after that, the police called me at home.

 

“Miss Wojnowski?”

“Yes?”

“This is ____ from the Decatur Police Department. Your rape kit came back. No semen was found. Evidently nothing happened. Please let your parents know.”

[click]

“But….”

 

And that was that. No semen meant no rape.

 

The next few months, years, really, my mental health became completely unmanageable. I lost all my friends. I tried to go back to school, but couldn’t keep my anxiety in check well enough to leave the house. I dated this amazing saint of a man, but he had to leave me to destroy myself alone or I would have taken us both down with me.

 

I can safely point to that one incident as the thing that fucked up my life for a long long time. And the fallout from that still affects me today.

 

And that was the time I did it “right.” I did what I was supposed to do.

 

And despite the incident not following my script for how my rape would go down, it follows a pretty standard template. Drunk -> assaulted -> reported -> not believed -> no investigation -> dismissed.

 

Of all the “hard topics” of my past, The Time I Was Raped and Reported It is probably one of the easiest to talk about. Because it’s familiar. It’s not surprising. Everyone already knows this story, maybe with different characters. A different party. A different building. Probably without a ferret. But it’s not hard to discuss because I feel safe knowing that I did nothing wrong. They did. They all did. They all did in a system where they’re expected to.

 

But it’s also the one that hurt me the most. I did what I was supposed to do and the repercussions were vast and permanent.

 

Which leads me to:

 

The Time I Didn’t Press Charges

Years later, I was out partying with a group of “friends.” And I was raped.

 

I know, I know… “But Elyse, if you get raped at parties, shouldn’t you know better than to go?”

The answer is fuck you, no. Because I’ve been to hundreds of parties. Very few of them have ended in rape. And the ones where I don’t end up raped are generally pretty fun. And I like doing fun things. So I go to parties. Deal with it––preferably in a way that doesn’t involve raping anyone.

 

But you know, that was exactly the reaction I expected after I was raped by a trusted long-time friend and dumped on a corner by my boyfriend’s apartment in the early morning with my dress mostly ripped off. —Why would a woman who knows better be raped like this AGAIN?

 

After I sobered up and pieced together the parts of the night I could remember, I realized what had happened and I went to the hospital (again). I got my antibiotics and my morning after pills (again). And even though I didn’t want to press charges, I still had to talk to the cops because I said the word “rape” and I still had to once again, offer up my vagina (and this time also my ass) as evidence.

Rape-Statistics

I didn’t know the exact address of the house where it happened, so I had to call my rapist friend on the phone, from the hospital, and come up with some cover story for asking him what it was.

 

The police called me a bunch of times.

 

They had me meet them at the mall to talk about what happened.

 

I told them. I told them it was also pretty hazy. I told them I’d been through this before. I told them how I was treated. I told them I knew how these cases go. I told them I knew what kind of victim I was. I told them I wasn’t pressing charges.

 

They promised me things would be different this time. They promised me they wanted to get him. They promised me this man would rape more women if I didn’t do what was right.

 

I refused. I was still a mess of a human. I wasn’t going to go on trial for being a drunk slut who conveniently gets herself raped at parties as some kind of hobby.

 

To those who weren’t extremely close to me, this rape never happened. I didn’t talk about it. It’s bad enough to be the kind of girl who gets raped once while drunk at a party. But even your sympathizers start questioning your honor as a decent woman when it happens again.

 

My boyfriend broke up with me. For cheating on him.

 

This time my life didn’t slowly fall apart. This time my life quickly imploded. Within months, I’d hit bottom. It was brutal. But it was swift. Getting myself back together took years. But those are years I might not have even had if I were facing a trial, or even enduring another investigation.

 


If I had the option of going back and choosing to press charges in this case, I still wouldn’t. You could send me back in time a million times. I would choose no every single one of those times. Not pressing charges saved me from myself. And probably saved me from further abuse by my attacker. And it saved me from staying in a relationship with the world’s shittiest boyfriend.

 

If I had pressed charges, I would have had to deal with all my problems plus all the cops’ problems. I didn’t have time or energy for all that. I made the right decision for me.

 

One time I convinced myself I had a choice

 

I’ll be honest. I never really fully convinced myself I consented. But I somehow convinced myself, or let him convince me, that I was indebted and sex was what I owed. And because I let him have it, I was a good and decent person. And if I hadn’t, I would have deserved punishment.

 

After I left college, I decided I was going to start a new life. And part of that new life meant beginning a career as a model.

 

I spent an embarrassing amount of time getting shitty photos taken by shitty photographers before I finally found the right people to mentor me and help me build the portfolio and connections I needed.

 

I built a network of local and non-local professionals that I learned to trust. And I didn’t trust anyone outside of my network unless someone inside my network deeply trusted them.

 

One of the men in my network lived out of state. But he was a fantastic photographer. And even though he was retired and living in Montana, still had some of the best connections in the business.

 

He and his wife would, from time to time, take a promising young model, have her stay with them for a week or so, shoot every night, and they’d offer her guidance and help her get to the next level in her early career.

 

Flying out of state to meet with photographers I admired was something I did fairly often. Call it naive. Call it adventurous. Call it ambitious. Whatever. It was what I thought I should be doing. And I enjoyed it. So when this couple offered me the opportunity to stay with them for a month, I jumped on it.

 

The first few days I was in Montana were spent talking shop, critiquing my body, pointing out that I was kinda fat in the thighs, a little short, but that with the right strategy, if I’m extraordinarily talented (and lucky), I could get around these things. We went through several rolls of film every night.

 

Things were going exactly how they were supposed to be going.

 

One day, while his wife was at her office job, the photographer and I were in the dark room, like we’d done every day. And suddenly, he was behind me, hand down my pants, finger in my vulva. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. So I stood there. I didn’t want to get hurt, so I didn’t fight. But I didn’t want to give the impression that this was enjoyable. I shut down.

 

Later that night, he had a talk with me about how my behavior in the dark room was unacceptable. He was giving me a pleasurable experience and I was refusing it.

 

I explained to the man over three times my age that I was not really comfortable with such surprises and that I need time to warm up to intimate encounters since I’d been raped in the past.

 

rapeHe told me that wasn’t fair. He wasn’t a rapist. And I needed to learn to live in the now. “How long are you going to let this keep you down? If you can’t get over this, you’re never going to have a successful career.”

 

As the days went on, the attempts continued. And all the stories of all the models who fucked photographers and who they fucked and how that helped their careers. And the feigned concern for my mental health continued. Finally, I was told straight out that if I didn’t start fucking him, he couldn’t help me. He reminded me that it was a thing models do. All models. I needed to figure my shit out or he was going to have me dropped off at the airport and I could find my way home on my own.

 

Fortunately right then I got my period, for three days, which kept him away. And since it deterred him, I kept a tampon in for a few extra days. I had to accept, though, that I couldn’t fake menstruate forever, and I had to face my fate. I gave in. He’d insist on fucking me several times during the day.

 

I refused to act like I enjoyed it. But then he was insulted. And he was mad at me for keeping this stupid rape hangup in the way of really appreciating what he was doing to me. For me. And he wasn’t going to be able to bring his wife into it if I was going to be a huge bitch about it.

 

So I started faking it. I started to believe him. I started hoping that maybe his wife would put this into perspective. But she was so enthusiastic about it, I was sure I was the one who was wrong. Maybe I was just puritanical like he said. Maybe I just didn’t get things about grownup sex. He told me that I was naive and sheltered to believe that he couldn’t have sex with me because he was married. His wife was obviously fine with it. It didn’t matter if I was or not. He was. She was. I was being a baby. And I didn’t know what was good for me. If I wasn’t going to fuck my way to the top, I was never going to get there. And I here I was, still at subbasement 12, metaphorically speaking, not even willing to fuck my way out of Billings, Montana.

At this point, I knew this was the definition of sexual harassment in the workplace. You can’t just threaten someone’s career if they don’t fuck you––but this wasn’t really a normal workplace and for some reason I had a hard time admitting that sucking on someone’s crotch who asked you specifically, clearly and indisputably not to was beyond “harassment” and was actually assault.

 

Then there was the weird gaslighting. They insisted I needed to cut out all the jealousy. I needed to understand that I had to share this man. He wasn’t mine. I didn’t get to keep him all to myself. They lectured me and scolded me for days about how I kept trying to tear them apart. They were willing to let me be a part of their relationship, but I needed to respect theirs. I kept insisting I wasn’t jealous. They told me I was lying. I knew I just wanted to get out. I desperately wanted to not have to have sex with them. They drilled it into me that I didn’t want to leave and I was overstaying my welcome and overstepping bounds. And I was sentenced to extra house chores.

 

I convinced a trusted male photographer mutual friend to make a last minute trip from Chicago to come see me (his “favorite model”) and his hero together, in person, in the studio. And he agreed. While I’d hoped it would be a confessional, eye opening, life saving trip, it wasn’t exactly that.

 

It was the end of my visit. We wrapped things up business-wise, but by that point I’d already bought into the whole idea that I had to/it was for my career/I consented/they did me a favor/I was leaving enlightened. The Billings photographer insisted that I never tell the Chicago photographer what was up because “he [wasn’t] ready” for it. He suggested I try to seduce him, and did a 60-year-old-man version of 7 minutes/1 hour in the closet with us and cast us off to the dark living room. And I couldn’t ask for help. I couldn’t bring myself to even attempt to seduce the Chicago photographer. So we chatted. And I told him everything was great. And he offered to pay for me to come back again.

 

I flew home with the Chicago photographer, and things seemed promising. But things unraveled as my family figured out bits and pieces of what went down in Billings and intervened, and my mental health, cognitive dissonance and career spiraled out of control. By the time I got home, I believed I’d done the right thing. I believed I wasn’t coerced. I believed I did what was best for me—emotionally, spiritually, sexually, professionally. I was convinced that normal plebes, like my parents, didn’t understand what The Beautiful People go through. What We do. How We live. We, you see, do things differently. WE have different rules. WE fuck men who want to fuck us for our own good. WE understand that it’s how you make a living.

 

But that’s not really how things work.

 

Eventually I convinced myself that this wasn’t really a consensual thing.

 

And much later I realized this was imprisonment and rape.

 

The Billings photographer is dead now. Despite his framed Mensa certificate on the wall, used to convince me that I wasn’t smart enough to understand the world like he did, he believed that his homeopath would cure him––of lung cancer, which he smoked through. Because sharks were going to save him. In fact, he told me he came up with the theory of shark cartilage as a cure for cancer while at the University of Chicago, from which he dropped out, or something. He convinced me that I needed to get off my bullshit fiber supplement for IBS and instead use an “all natural” stimulant laxative diet tea, which I quickly became physically dependant on.

 

He and his wife also told me that to get over my rape I needed to take a homeopathic solution of sulphur. They could tell it was working because I looked “so angry” in this photo:

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Maybe I was just really angry. Because I was a goddamn sex slave in Billings. Which isn’t even a glamorous place to get to be a sex slave.

RIP, Photog. Montana is a better place.

 

(His wife’s “Mensa certificate” was also on the wall. Her IQ was conveniently 5 points lower than his. I’m sure this was legit.)

 

I never went to the police because I was brainwashed into believing nothing bad was happening to me. But even if I did, this is how rape is handled in Billings, Mo.

 

(Callback fun fact: my ex from the previous story kept my entire portfolio and every single one of the photographs I had taken during my entire career because I owed those to him for being a cheating whore.)

 

The time I said no but then said yes

I was in high school. It wasn’t like “no means no” hadn’t been drilled into my head for years. I knew what rape was. I knew it was awful. I knew it was never the woman’s fault and skirts don’t matter. I knew the talking points. I read Sassy. I was kind of a feminist, even if I didn’t know that I was.

 

So when I look back at this thing, it’s a little heartbreaking for me. I was well educated on the subject. And I didn’t get what happened. What happens to girls who don’t grow up in affluent progressive schools that promote feminist ideals and encourage girls to find their feminist bearings? Girls who have sex ed every year? Girls who are taught that consent matters? I didn’t call it rape for over 15 years. Even though, immediately, I knew it was, but convinced myself it wasn’t. At worst, I decided, there were some blurred lines.

 

I was on a date with a guy I met at a coffee shop. I don’t remember where we went or what we did or what is name was.

 

But at the end of the date, we went back to his house to watch TV. And things progressed.

 

Once we started fooling around, he got weird. Silent. Not just silent, but non-responsive to anything I said or wanted. If I said no to something, he kept going. I said no repeatedly, but he kept going. I was having trouble processing what was happening. I kept telling him no, but why wasn’t he getting that? I was confused more than scared. I didn’t know what to do.

 

A situation like this seems so much like the script, you think you know what you would do. You know you said no. So you have to try to leave. But that didn’t happen. I don’t know if I even knew I could leave. Or should leave. I think I thought he would stop eventually.

 

But “eventually” never happened. Eventually I ended up naked. Eventually I ended up begging him to please stop. “Please, no.” I whispered. But he was putting on a condom.rape

 

At that point, I knew there was nothing I could say or do to stop him. So I stopped stopping him and I said yes.

 

And that’s where I convinced myself I consented. As I drove home, I asked myself, “What happened? Was I just raped? No… I said yes. I did say yes. I said yes. I said yes.”

 

Then later “But maybe it was kind of rape? No… I said yes.”

“Maybe? No. I said yes.”

 

And for years the story I told myself was that it was uncomfortable and I regretted it because I didn’t want to but I SAID YES. And I had to live with my mistake.

 

I understood rape and “no means no”, I knew that any yes, at any time meant everything was okay to go. And I knew that yes could be revoked. But I never revoked that yes. I revoked my no. But I didn’t revoke my yes.

 

And I thought I hadn’t been actually threatened. So my yes stood.

 

But it wasn’t a legit yes. It was a yes that happened after at least a dozen nos. I said no. He kept going. I said no. He kept going.

 

 

By the time he was coming at me with a condom on his cock, what would another “no” have done?

 

And he didn’t have to threaten me out loud or with a weapon. It doesn’t have to be “If you don’t consent, I’m going to kill you.” He was going to rape me if I didn’t consent. “I’m going to rape you,” whether those words are spoken or implied, is a threat. He didn’t need a gun. He just had to show me he was going to fuck me whether I liked it or not. And he did. And I didn’t.

 

But his calm, detached, measured actions convinced me that I didn’t revoke consent early. He convinced me that those refusals didn’t matter.

 

So I didn’t go to the police. What was I going to report? That I just consented to having sex with some guy? I couldn’t even convince myself I’d been raped.

 

And life went on. Like nothing happened.

 

So when people say “Why didn’t you go to the police?” there are so many reasons. There are as many reasons as there are rapes. Not all those reasons are obvious. But we have this idea that rape happens and you know it happened because duh, you were raped. You know if your car is stolen. You know if someone broke into your house. How could you not know that someone just broke into your vagina (or any other orifice)? Someone shoves a dick in you that you don’t want there, you know it.

 

But rape doesn’t always follow the script. And we live in a culture that apologizes for rapey behaviors. If a woman says no, she sometimes means yes. You should never give up trying to get a woman to give you her affection. Women have internalized these messages. We often can’t recognize these attacks for what they are. And when any crime happens, the victim routinely goes back to figure out what happened and how they affected that crime. “Did I leave my doors unlocked?” “Did I give anyone my PIN number?”

 

I said no

 

Women are taught that it’s not their fault if they get raped. But they’re not really taught what “not your fault” looks like. We think of fault-questioning as lying somewhere in drunkenness and clothing choices and saying no to a dude with a boner. So when we’re forced to say yes, even though we’re clearly saying no, that doesn’t fit what’s in the script for things that aren’t your fault. And when it’s not forceful and it’s not threatening, and it’s calm and dismissive and insists that you know you want it, that doesn’t fit the script either.

 

We know what our rape is going to look like. Except that the script we’ve been given isn’t based on any true stories. So our rapes rarely fit. And for that, we blame ourselves. We blame ourselves for not recognizing it. For not stopping it. For not doing more. For not seeing it. For being there. For not knowing better than not to get raped. For not fighting. For freezing. For not being the right kind of rape victim, the kind of victim who gets cast into one of those familiar blockbuster type stories we know so well. The kind of rapes that don’t get prosecuted, but that people care about, at least. That people believe. That we can even convince ourselves of. We don’t just blame ourselves; everyone else blames us, too.

 

I’m tired of answering “Why didn’t you _____”

 

Because. Because I didn’t know I could. Or should. Or even had the right to. Because it wasn’t in the script.

 

Maybe it’s time we wrote more scripts. Better scripts. Ones of true stories. Ones with surprising characters. Ones with flawed protagonists we can relate to. Ones with antagonists we can recognize. Ones with outcomes we can understand. Ones our friends can understand. Our families can empathize with. Ones that humanize the survivors. Ones that recognize all survivors.

 

And maybe a script that goes like this

 

Partner: [not enthusiastic]

You: [moves on to a non-sexual activity]

 

Because if we were more familiar with that script, I’d have 5000 fewer words to say about rape today.

 

Avatar of Elyse
Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

67 Comments

  1. Avatar of Timid Atheist

    Elyse, thank you for sharing this. It’s tearing me up to read because I was in a similar situation as far as the being drunk and being raped goes. No bruises and I spent the night with my assailants. (Man and woman) I didn’t report because I just ignored the fact that I was raped while blacked out. It didn’t even cross my mind that it was wrong, but that I got what was the result of bad decisions on my part. I was truly brain washed by my environment to believe that I had no cause, that I was no victim.

    You sharing these things must have been extremely difficult. So thank you. Many warm fuzzies to you, if you want them.

    This is an important topic that needs to be addressed and not scrutinized with hyper skepticism. I just wish I had the stomach and the patience for it.

  2. Avatar of bcmystery

    I’m sitting here at my desk like I do every morning and checking Skepchick, like I do every morning, and mostly I’m thinking about all the work I have to do today. I saw this post and I thought I would hold off reading because I could tell it would be big and challenging and difficult and enlightening and upsetting, and … well, then I started reading anyway. My To Do list is a mile long, but once I started reading I couldn’t stop. I read all the way to the end, and it both surprised me and didn’t surprise me, and shocked me and didn’t shock, and told me things I didn’t know and things I knew but didn’t realize I knew, and more than anything it told me things I wish more of us knew. I’m sitting here at my desk with my long To Do list and I’m crying, and I’m thinking I’m not going to get anything done for a while.

    But to hell with my To Do list. Because thank you. Thank you for this. Thank you.

  3. Avatar of Sunil

    I too read till the end. This is so horrible. I don’t know what to say. I just wanted to say something, anything, to show my support.

  4. Avatar of courtneycaldwell

    Thank you for writing this and giving a voice to those of us who haven’t been able to talk about this kind of thing. It means more than you might know.

  5. Avatar of Felicity

    My heart goes out to you. Thank you for having the courage to share your experiences. No one has the right to tell anyone else how they “should” have reacted. No one knows how they themselves will react until it happens to them.

  6. Avatar of Handbasketexpress

    I’m so sorry, Elyse.

  7. Avatar of thaismcrc

    I guess anyone who has read the post has seen the trigger warning, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to repeat it. I’ve been calling myself a feminist since I was a kid and even then, when something happened to me, I failed to recognize it for what it was. I don’t know what to call it to this day. Much as I tell other people that any non-consensual sex act should be viewed as rape, when I think of what happened to me, I think “There was no penetration, so I can’t say it was rape. It doesn’t compare.” I was drunk and alone with a guy at a friend’s place. The friend was interested in the guy’s friend. I stayed, I had to stay, to “help her out”. I started making out with the guy. He kept pushing for more. I told him I was virgin, in the hopes that it would stop him. It didn’t. He left to find a condom, I put my clothes back on and headed for the door. He came back and pulled me back to the couch. Pulled my dress off again. I had hoped that the absence of a condom would make him stop. He said “there’s no reason we can’t still have fun”. He had his “fun”. I went home feeling disgusted with myself. And you know what? I thought I was being prudish. Ridiculous. I had a picture of the party, in which the guy appeared, on my wall for a long time. Because nothing wrong had happened. It was fine. It took me over a year to think that maybe something was wrong. That I was in a vulnerable position, that I was headed for the door, for fuck’s sake, and he chose to ignore that. And I still, still think I didn’t really say no, I didn’t really fight back. I have only told two people this story, in part because I’m sure most wouldn’t think anything had happened. Your post made me want to share it. Thank you, Elyse.

    • Avatar of Melanie

      This is so disconcerting to read because I had a very similar experience, staying at this house because my friend was hooking up, being stuck with this guy, telling him I was a virgin and getting almost exactly the same response. I was later ostracized by friends because the guy who did this was the object of a friend’s crush, so I was apparently a slut traitor. And I’ve never shared this story or even thought of it as anything but a source of shame. Yet I can read your story and unequivocally say you were assaulted. Thank you for sharing it.

  8. Avatar of Carl

    Thank you Elyse <3

  9. Avatar of spokesgay

    There’s nothing I know to say. I love you, Elyse, and I hurt so damn bad for you.

  10. Avatar of Smashley

    Words fail me. Thank you for sharing this — your always sharp wit and incredible ability to find the larger lesson and bigger meaning in even something as horrendous as this makes me especially thankful that you had the strength to write about your experiences. *Hugs*

  11. Avatar of weatherwax

    I can’t add anything to what’s already been said. Thank you.

  12. Avatar of Jacob Schmidt

    I’m so sorry, Elyse. Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Avatar of onamission5

    When I was raped I was 13 and it took me four years to understand what happened. The fallout between then was so much worse for me than the rape itself. People are absolutely horrible to rape victims.

    I believe you. I understand. I’m sorry.

  14. Avatar of pieterb

    This was hard to read. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to write. Thank you for being strong and brave enough to do it. I am so, so sorry.

    Before my current career I was a professional photographer, and I hated those exploitative motherfuckers with a passion. When I was approached for a portfolio shoot those bastards were part of the talk I used to give to beginners that I called “Why You Don’t Want To Be A Model.” I had more than one parent thank me.

  15. Avatar of Anthropologist Underground

    What a gripping narrative. You described the complexities and all the bullshit we believe about the script beautifully. And painfully.
    Thank you. Hugs.

  16. Avatar of scribe999

    My heart lies heavy, but it’s also more resolved. Furthermore, it goes out to you, Elyse.

  17. Avatar of spurll

    It’s so very upsetting that this happens to people, but these sorts of stories will help motivate us to build a better world. I’m very sorry for what happened to you, and to those who aren’t able to tell their stories.

  18. Avatar of Ginger

    Thank you, Elyse. And thank you to everyone else who shares their stories.

  19. Avatar of Nick Gotts

    Nothing useful to say, except, thanks for your courage: the more of these accounts come out, the harder it is for the rape apologists to pretend there is no serious problem with our culture.

  20. Avatar of delphi_ote

    Rape is a crime.

    People don’t report crimes all the time. My bike was stolen last week, but I didn’t bother to report it. Because it’s a hassle. Because the police are rarely helpful. Because the criminals know how to cover their tracks. Because catching them doesn’t really help me. Because I blame myself a bit for letting it happen. Because I’d rather just move on.

    Anyone judging me for that? No. Of course not. But my reasons are exactly the same as a rape victim’s. We should all be able to empathize with the rape victim’s reasons for not reporting. But for some reason, we treat rape differently.

    Thanks for making this post, Elyse.

  21. Avatar of Briarking

    You were my hero long before this post, Elyse. Now my respect and love for you is raised exponentially. I only wish I could hurt the men who hurt you.

  22. Avatar of apfergus

    I feel like there’s nothing I can say that could possibly matter given the gravity of these stories. Anyone who has the conceit to say a survivor has done something wrong to deserve this kind of thing is an awful, terrible human being and I want nothing to do with them.

  23. Avatar of freemage

    Elyse: I… Just thank you, for having the strength to put this out here.

    I’ve heard too many stories like this. And none of them followed the damned ‘scripts’ that were out there at the time, or are out there now, because there’s never a match, even between the real stories–they often share a few elements, but the differences are always there, and the only thing that remains every time is the violation of consent.

  24. Avatar of SteveT

    I wish I knew more words, since none of the ones I know are adequate in response to such a profoundly troubling essay.

    RESPECT, HONOR, and LOVE to you, Elyse.

    Thank you for surviving. Thank you for sharing.

  25. Avatar of Kaloikagathoi

    Thank you for posting this. It’s so upsetting, yet so well written, and so necessary for people to read. I’ve re-typed this comment multiple times to try to avoid the stammering curse words that don’t help but they’re all that come into my rage-filled brain.

  26. Avatar of pascale68

    Thank you for sharing this.

  27. Avatar of ernesto

    Thank you so much.

  28. Avatar of mrmisconception

    I don’t have words…
    Elyse I apologize for humanity, we suck.

  29. Avatar of juliagulia

    Thank you, Elyse.

  30. Avatar of GeekGirlsRule

    Hugs if you want them. My rapes didn’t really look like the narrative either.

    We neither teach boys well enough to respect the sexual autonomy of others, nor do we teach girls, women and children that that HAVE sexual autonomy, and get to say no.

    And people are awful to rape survivors. I have, no shit, had people tell me I didn’t have a reason to be upset because as a woman I was built for that: “It’s not like he had to CUT a hole or anything.” Also, the constant refrain of “Why aren’t you over it? You have to forgive to heal. (BULLSHIT!!!!!) You can’t hold this against X forever.”
    Yes, yes, actually I can. And I should. And so should you, other female friend, or at least if you’re smart.

    Sorry. Um, that’s a button. I saw your tweet, I’m glad you feel able to speak up. Those of us who are comfortable about it, need to talk about it, so people know it isn’t some rare, “struck by lightening, what’re the odds?” event. This is more like a “It’s raining in Seattle, who knew?” sort of event. It happens all the fucking time. Not everyone can do it, and there is no judging here on that count. The only people I’m judging are the people trying to silence us about it.

    • Avatar of delphi_ote

      “You can’t hold this against X forever.” This attitude makes me furious. People like this are so afraid of conflict, they’ll blame victims for social awkwardness caused by the victimizer rather than supporting the victim.

  31. Avatar of Musca Domestica

    I’m so sorry all this happened to you, Elyse. I am sickened, and even though I’m aware this happens all the time, it seems to make a difference to hear this kind of first hand experiense. Can’t quite explain how, but thank you for writing this, and… I’m so sorry.

    (Now I’m wondering how many of my friends might have been raped or assaulted… For me it hasn’t gone past harassment, thankfully.)

  32. Avatar of Danarra

    Filled with compassion and respect.

  33. Avatar of bibliotequetress

    Elyse, I wish we could do something to make this suck less, take the pain away. I am so sorry, and I will always have your back. Your courage writing this blows me away.

    The fury, the violence I want to unleash on these assholes is- almost- overwhelming. That’s futile, I know. However, it does make me want to make the self-absolving predators who somehow think that– what? a college student had a drunk quickie then claimed it was rape? exploiting a rape victim a third his age who is trying to get work is acceptable?– and break down whatever delusions they have that allow them to go about their days, to look in mirrors, to pretend they are good husbands, boyfriends, good people, even good feminists, and feel guilt and shame for what they’ve done.

  34. Avatar of Trichster

    When I was 16, I was raped.
    It was a similar experience to the last one you described; I didn’t call it by the R-word for years. What I remember most about it is the way he smirked at me whenever I told him to stop, or hit him across the face (this amused him)…. I gave up, eventually. I was confused and ashamed and I didn’t know what to do except lie back, cover my face with my hands and imagine I was anywhere else.
    Generally, even among rape victims, I avoid bringing it up, because in a way it still doesn’t feel legitimate. Looking back on it now I know I could have screamed for my parents, or stood up and left, or made it clearer that my laughter came from panic instead of amusement, or SOMETHING. Anything. I could have done more. I didn’t know I could have, but I could have.
    The people I have talked to about it are few, and don’t have many of the details. It’s exhausting to describe, too, and not just because of the obvious emotional damage. Describing my rape to someone means I have to swiftly correct their mental image of a stranger in a dark alley with a knife pressed against my throat, or some guy at a party drugging me for a good time. It means I have to go into more detail up front than I’d like about what happened, so my explainee can give me an appropriate reaction in return. Maybe I partly feel like I have to do this compensating because of that illegitimacy feeling- I’m not sure. What I do know is that I don’t talk about it, because I assume the people around me won’t understand.
    And hearing someone else describe going through almost exactly what I went through, despite bringing up all that old pain, helps. It helps a lot. I needed to hear it.
    Thank you so much.

  35. Avatar of Kammy

    I love you.

  36. Avatar of DrJen

    Sadly, yep. To everything.

  37. Avatar of Nathan

    God damnit. I’m crying. It has been so frickin’ hard to read my normal blogs the last few weeks, and I have nothing but love and respect and solidarity and support for all of you and I believe all of you.

    And reading these just makes me even more pissed off at all the “BUT WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST REPORT IT??!?!?” assholes, especially the trolls who’ve been out in force since the Grenade… and Maryam Namazie. Why her?

    I don’t even…

    Elyse, you are loved. You will always be loved. I don’t know how to apologize for shitty humanity, but I will anyways. You are an inspiration. Forever.

  38. Avatar of FledgelingSkeptic

    You are SO strong Elyse and I admire you SO much. I can’t begin to imagine how hard this was for you to write. After all this time, I still can’t talk much about the two times I was raped.

    The first time, I was anally raped by my first husband the night before I moved out. He knew I was divorcing him and that I was moving into my own place the next day. After it was over, I just laid there because, what was I supposed to do? He was my husband. And was I supposed to go in the next room and tell his mother that her son just raped me? Seventeen years later, I still can’t really talk about the second time when I was raped by a guy who had been a friend for a long time. I was so shocked that I told myself afterwards that it didn’t happen.

    As i type this, I’m in tears for us both.

    I never reported either rape or pressed charges. I just tried to pretend like neither event ever happened. It took me a decade before I could completely trust my current husband. Even now, he’ll playfully grab my ass and I’ll cringe. It’s just not fair that these two events still have so much control over my life.

    Thank you again for your strength Elyse. You are my hero.

  39. Avatar of nayohmee

    I also want to thank you for writing this. Just… Thank you.

  40. Avatar of Giliell

    I am really sorry. You are brave and couragous to share this, at this point, in this climate. You’re not alone and we’re here and we have your back.

  41. Avatar of blorf

    I’m so sorry. I’m sitting here in tears and I couldn’t even finish reading it. It makes me want to rage quit my gender. The infuriating part is that there is so little I can do. I speak up when I see things and my son understands the concept of enthusiastic consent because that is the core of my birds and bees speech, but it feels inadequate compared to what so many women go through.

  42. Avatar of shawnnn

    To Elyse and the other people who have shared here in the comments and elsewhere like Pharyngula I wish I knew what to say. I’ve been feeling sick and have crying over and over reading your stories. I can’t even imagine…I just wanted to make sure I add another voice of support.

  43. Avatar of rationalista

    Words fail, sadness prevails. Lack of answers infuriates and leaves me powerless. If we had more of this kind of honesty, perhaps things would get better. Not sure. Don’t think those who perpetuate these crimes care. Thank you for being so brave, wish you didn’t have to be so brave, wish things were different. For what it is worth, I too am on your side.

    Much love,
    Les

  44. Avatar of FledgelingSkeptic

    @Rationalista, This type of honesty takes more strength and fortitude than many have. I wanted to tell my story when rape became a topic in the community. But the more I thought about it, the more I hurt and I ended up giving myself what can only be described as a nervous breakdown. I, personally, have dealt with my two rapes by not thinking about them. That might be the case for most others who have been violated.

  45. Avatar of vexorian

    Thank you for writing this. Remembering all of this must have been awful, but it is necessary.

  46. Avatar of Buzz Parsec

    Your courage and honesty are astonishing and make me feel slightly better about my species than the horribleness makes me feel bad about us. (Does that make any sense?) Thank you.

  47. Avatar of Billy Clyde Tuggle

    Thank you for having the courage to share your story, Elyse. I am still trying to sort out my feelings about the recent “grenade toss” over on FTB, so it was really helpful for me to hear your story. I shouldn’t be shocked, but I still am that some people are capable.of such depravity (the photographer in Montana and his enabling wife especially enraged me).

    The author of “Sociopath Next Door” claims that the rate of psychopathy is something like 1 in 25 which makes me wonder if the “ones in every crowd” are largely responsible for this problem or if it spills over into those who do have a conscience (perhaps with attitudes not so much as actions), but may have a blind spot in some area which are reinforced by the actions of the real sickos?

    • Avatar of Jack99

      Billy Clyde, one of our experts made the following telling comment in relation to the Australian Defence Force sex crimes, which was that “Many of these people (perpetrators) have no example of a respectful relationship in their own lives”

      As far as I know, rapists defy all attempts at profiling, and I would have thought that psychopathy would be an obvious part of that profiling Please, anybody, correct me if I am wrong there.

  48. Avatar of Jack99

    Elyse, these stories are bizarre, unbelievable in many ways, and yet, tragically, all too familiar to me.
    That dreamlike, nightmare sense of inevitability and loss of control over ones own autonomy seems to be one common thread.
    Also, the reframing of reality to make the perpetrator into the victim is another.

    Damn, that would have been hard for you to write. I would have been in tears of hot incoherent rage and anger. Even for me to write this little comment about the subject is quite hard, how much more so for you..

    These are not isolated instances, perhaps your story will encourage others to come forward if they feel able. I hope that one day you may have some kind of justice, albeit belated.

  49. Avatar of becca

    I used to be one of the lucky ones who it hadn’t happened to. I was a good support to my friends who had been raped, I was a good feminist who knew about rape culture, and I was never ever a victim-blamer.

    Until I had a thing. that first I thought was sex-i-regret, then I called it a not-rape, except the more I think about it (which I’d rather not do), i think it was really actually a rape-rape. regardless, it was horrible. I was tired and underfed in a foreign country by myself, he got me far drunker than I wanted/planned to be, touched me and kissed me in a nice way at first which I thought was just flirty affection, took me to a secluded room under false pretences, then tried to take my clothes off. After pushing his hands away, saying no a significant number of times and trying to walk away, and him continuing to pull me back and keep going, I eventually gave in and said ‘ok’, closed my eyes, and waited until he was done.

    And afterwards I felt so shitty about it all, why did I go there alone, why did I keep drinking the drinks he bought me without paying more attention, why did I laugh at his jokes, why did I kiss him back at first, why did I follow him into that room, why didn’t I say no more times (as if 5 or 6 wasn’t enough, maybe 10 or 12 would’ve worked), why didn’t I scream or yell or fight harder, why did I eventually give in. Clearly there were things I should have done that would have prevented it.

    And you’re right Elyse, because it didn’t follow the standard rape-script, I couldn’t figure out how to process it. I still can’t, really. I mean, I did technically say yes before sex. that’s consent, right? and even if it’s the sort of thing I would have told my friends was absolutely not their fault, it’s something completely different when it actually happens to you.

  50. Avatar of Danarra

    I’ve written about this before. I’ve never really felt like I got it right. I guess I’ll try again. Will try to keep it short, but it’s a long story.
    When I was 10 years old, mom got a job outside the house and left my 13 (or 14, I really don’t remember, there’s a 6-month overlap in our ages) year old brother to look after me during that summer. My brother, it should be noted was pretty much universally loved and trusted. Particularly, by his kid sister. He’s smart, funny, charming, charismatic. He grew up to be a salesman, if that tells you anything.
    I was playing baseball outside in the street with the rest of the kids, using manhole covers as bases. He called me inside, knocked me down and got on top of me. I do not have a clear memory of the whole thing. I don’t think there was any penetration that time. I do remember him telling me I didn’t want to be a virgin, did I? He said it like it was a bad thing. I had no idea what he was talking about.
    From then on til I was 13 he would randomly assault me, have me jerk him off, penetrate me with his toothbrush, take off my clothes in front of his friends. Most of it was nauseating, a lot of it was very painful. His friends took their cue from him and treated me pretty much like he did.
    I tried to kill him once by pushing him off a ladder in the garage. Didn’t work and Dad was really angry at me for a long time about that one. I instinctively knew not to tell my parents or anyone I thought would tell my parents. My belief was they would think I was lying, and besides, they liked my brother better and would choose to believe whatever he told them.
    I did tell my school counselor. She was his school counselor as well and flat out said she didn’t believe me. She never followed up on it. I told my friends, they just looked at me weirdly. No help or protection was ever offered.
    At 13 years old, somewhere I found the strength to tell him no. Forcefully enough that he got it and left me alone after that. He was 16 or 17 by that time and I think was beginnng to understand what a mess he had made. He apparently became a better person, got therapy, etc. We’ve talked about it since. He seems to feel genuinely bad about it. He says he hopes he didn’t have a negative impact on my life.
    He did.
    To this day, decades later, I get nauseous and my whole body clenches when any relationship in my life turns sexual. Sex with men is way too painful to even contemplate. I can’t get through a gynelogical exam without screaming, so I just don’t go. In a way, I was lucky, my natural orientation seems to be bi-sexual, so I just round it up to lesbian and get on with things.
    Not to mention the trust thing. I trust no one. Decades later, I don’t even know how this trust thing is supposed to work. What I learned from the whole trauma is that the nicest people, the people who claim to love and care about you, the people you should be able to count on won’t be there when you’re hurt and scared, and most likely they’ll be the ones harming you or the clearest present danger.
    So, my poor parents, not knowing any of this was going on, watched their youngest daughter go from kind of happy-go-lucky to withdrawn, depressed, and almost unbelievably angry. I got sent to boarding school. Where I suddenly felt like I could breath. I fell in love, found out what it was like to not walk around scared all the time, made friends who didn’t know my brother and so naturally believed me. Happiest 2 years of my life.
    Then my parents figured out the gay thing and everything went to hell. They pulled me out of school, mom blew her head off in the basement, dad told me flat out that was my fault. All kinds of trauma ensued. I got sent to college almost as a punishment.
    I got a job at a fast-food chain for spending money. They had a small backroom that they used for storage. On my first day I was told to go into that room and prep salads. One of the guys on the fry line followed me in and closed the door. He seemed friendly and chatty. It wasn’t until he had me pinned against the wall I realized I was in trouble. Tried to push him off, didn’t work. Screamed, no one came. Felt around, found a knife and stuck it in his chest. Not enough to cause real damage, but enough to make him bleed and his startle response allowed me to escape. Got back to my dorm room and called my Dad in hysterics. He was supportive and concerned and actually handled it really well.
    Later in my life I had a job at a TV station where they sexually harassed the hell out of me with the manager’s explicit approval. One salesman made a practice of running his hand over my butt, another saleswoman who I considered a friend told me she had a client who was willing to buy a large number of ads if I would have phone sex with him. Eventually, it got so bad I just quit.
    I work in IT now. I’ve accepted a certain amount of sexual harrassment as part of the gig. But I’ve also learned to make myself unappealing, particularly to men, and it doesn’t ever get that bad. One of the funnier moments was at a job where they instituted an anti-sexual harassment policy that involved yearly training. My manager walked back into the office quite pale and couldn’t stop staring at me. I asked what was wrong and he said that every single thing they mentioned in the training, his group had done to me. I laughed and told him not to worry about it, if I was offended I’d tell him. Took him almost a week to calm down.
    Back in my teens, I had gone to one of my older sisters and tried, in a very vague and general way to tell her that I was being assaulted. My family has a way of saying the harshest things, but with sadness and affection that let you know they’re actually trying to help. She told me to get over it. She said she’d been assaulted, most women she knew had been assaulted, and that I shouldn’t dwell on it. It didn’t make me special.
    As harsh as that might seem, it’s one of the things that has let me actually live a life. One friend who knew my history, including the stuff I didn’t write about here, asked me why I wasn’t drooling on myself on a street corner or wearing a tin foil hat. I told him I had no idea. But I think in reality it was that moment with my sister. She normalized the experience for me and gave me a way to reframe it. Did it still have lifelong repercussions? Hell yes, but I’ve got a home, a couple of dogs, a job, and a life I like most of the time. That ain’t bad. Overall, given the kind of physical and emotional damage that was done, I think things turned out mostly ok for me. I’m not in prison or a mental hospital, my addiction to baked goods is entirely legal, and I may be a bit bitchy, but I’ve found a little peace and joy along the way.
    I’m the fat lady at the office, the crazy cat lady down the street, the IT dyke who fixes your computer, and the motherly type who keeps candy at her desk for anyone to take. I’m an absolutely average person that most people don’t even notice. I flirt, I smile, I get snappish and moody, but no one would pick me out of a line-up as a rape survivor. But just like most of the women you’ll ever meet, I am.

  51. Avatar of Maka Hansen

    You’ve inspired me to write something similar for my victim advocacy blog. (http://youarenotalone.maka.net)

    In the meantime, I thought I’d share something I wrote in my Livejournal shortly after my most recent rape (six years ago). Some of my thinking has changed, and some have pointed me to differing statistics than those I found and posted at the time. But here is what I wrote then:

    I guess I sort of forgot that if I started writing about it here I would have to start explaining the whole police question again. So.

    I’m not writing this because I’m upset with anybody who has asked me these questions, and I’m not intending to criticize anyone. It’s just… I think victims’ voices are not heard nearly enough, so I’m sharing my thoughts on this. They are raw and emotional.

    Incidentally, I know that this post seems to assume female victims and male rapists, and I absolutely, positively KNOW that is not the whole picture. However, it is my own experience. I would encourage other victims/survivors to share their perspectives, too.

    First of all, I want to say that I make harm-reduction for myself (or any victim) the first priority. Because of that, I never ever want to pressure anyone to report if they don’t want to or don’t feel comfortable with it. It’s a huge commitment, and for many victims, it’s re-traumatizing and it’s overwhelming. And since there’s only about a 50% chance that an arrest will be made when a rape is reported, and only a 16% chance that a rapist will go to prison for his crime (for an average of 128 days!), it’s pretty fucking scary to think about reporting someone who you already know is violent and predatory and has no qualms about hurting someone… since there’s an EIGHTY-FOUR PERCENT chance that the guy will be free to come after you immediately (and now, due to a trial, he knows who you are) and an almost certain chance that he can come after you in a few months. (BTW, stats are all over the web, the original site I linked to is now gone.)

    I am actually a little shocked at how very many people, ask as their first question (or one of the first – possibly, but not always, following, “Are you okay?”), “Did you go to the police?” In the first place, I think this sucks because it assumes that there is only one correct course of action, and puts the victim in a position of having to explain and defend her choices to those who should be defending her.

    I’ll bet you can guess (perhaps because it was on your mind to ask it in comments!) that the general response when I say no is, “But what about all those other women they might rape? Don’t you want to stop them? Don’t you want them in prison? Wouldn’t you feel more empowered knowing you had put them behind bars, that they’re not still out there?” My answer to these questions is incredibly complex.

    For starters, I think this is just another version of the “blame the victim game”. The men who raped me committed a crime against me. I was not doing anything wrong. I did not bring it on myself. The next woman they rape (if there is a next, please please let there not be) will not have brought it on herself. And I will not have brought it on her, either, whether I report to the cops or not. I am not at fault for these men’s crimes. I am not responsible for their behavior – before, during, or after they raped me. Of course I want them to stop. Of course i don’t want them to rape anyone else. I always wonder if these people really think anybody would answer, “Oh, no, I was hoping they’d just keep on raping every woman in sight.”

    The question also implies that the rape victim in question will be successful in her pursuit of “justice”. That’s a fuckload of pressure, kids… especially when you recall that stat above that says there’s an 84% chance that she won’t be successful. She’s already likely to be feeling like she failed to take proper precautions to protect herself. She’s probably also feeling like a failure at life itself because she doesn’t understand her reactions and responses, no matter what they are and even if she is very well-versed in “normal” and “common” responses to rape. In rape cases, conviction is very tied up in the victim’s performance in court and what kind of woman she appears to be. Failing to be a successful survivor is incredibly stressful, and don’t even think that we’re not intensely aware that being an unsuccessful survivor (in other words, not putting your attacker in prison) has huge consequences.

    I already had some pretty big anxiety surrounding courtrooms and judges, since that was the scene of the loss of custody of my children. Asking me to go into court for this is something akin to asking a woman to walk up to the spot on the highway where her children died in a fiery crash and then hold herself together enough to perform a task that could very well be life-or-death for her. No, my children didn’t die, and I’m grateful for that, and I don’t mean to suggest that I’m going through the same pain as someone whose children died horribly… but that is the sort of trauma it feels like to me. I knew it would be so much more traumatizing for me to go through that, if I even could bring myself to do it.

    And aside from all of that, I simply don’t believe in, and can’t bring myself to participate in, the so-called “justice” system. I don’t believe anybody really gets justice from that system – not the victims, and not the perps. putting another human being – even one who is so broken by his experience in this fucked-up culture that he would commit this sort of act – in prison is not something that would make me feel empowered. It would make me feel as if I had sunk to their level.

    So, instead of doing that thing that everybody seemed to think I should, I chose to attempt to activate a direct action response from my community. That included telling pretty much everyone I came into contact with that I had been raped, and where. It included spreading the descriptions of my attackers so that folks could be on the lookout for them. It included putting together a network of people who were willing to be called for walks or rides anytime it felt unsafe to be alone. The support I have gotten from my community has been amazing, and has quite literally kept me alive more than once. I feel empowered by these choices. I feel that I have made choices that are in line with the way I want to live my life. I’m unwilling to toss my ideals out the window because somebody thinks I should or because something traumatic happens to me.

    Finally, while I’m open to discussion on this topic, like the majority of rape victims, I am struggling with post-traumatic stress and related mental health issues, and I really don’t feel up to debating the merits of my choices, so if you want to post comments that disagree with me, I’m asking you to respectfully post them in your own journals, letting me know in comments here so I can have the option to read/comment when I feel like I can.

  52. Avatar of Donna

    Elyse- I can’t imagine how hard it was to write this… and I cannot imagine what it was like to live through and live with all this. It’s so much that I’m sitting here feeling angry and horrified and yet thankful for everything you are and share with us. You are such an extraordinary person and, quite frankly, a constant inspiration in so many ways. Thank you so much.

  53. Avatar of Nicholas Sanders

    Reading this was literally nausea inducing for me. I wish it were shocking that human beings can be this horrible.

  54. Avatar of Hannah Evans

    As someone who has made the mistake of lying to myself after being raped, and telling myself repeatedly that it was not rape, and that, if it was, it was entirely my own fault this article speaks to me a lot. Thank you for having the courage to write this, I have so much respect for you.

  55. Avatar of leishasredqueen

    Thank you Elyse for writing this article.

    I noticed a lot of people in the comments are writing about their own personal experiences, so I thought maybe it was time to share my own. I’ve never written about my own experiences but I try to be very vocal about it with people in my life because I feel this helps normalize what happened to me as well as educate others about what the rape or sexual assault narrative really looks like. Before I start, I want to give a trigger warning. Read past here with caution.

    I grew up thinking my life was pretty normal even though my parents were divorced. At the time, I didn’t know I had an emotionally and physically abusive man as a father. From the time my parents divorced (when I was around 3 years old) and up until my father re-married (when I was around 8 years old), my father sexually abused me. Every bath, he took it upon himself to “thoroughly” clean my body. I remember how painful my baths were, a pain that lasted days. I have really sensitive skin, and my father had me convinced that my pain was just me having an allergic reaction to the soap. It worked. When my mom became concerned, I was very adamant that it was the soap. I loved my dad, I trusted him. He would never hurt me. After he remarried, he would still try to come into the bathroom while I showered. At 13 years old, he still wanted to pick me up, touch me, kiss me. While I loved my father, I also hated him. As a child, every touch repulsed me. I had no idea why or what was going on. I hated myself for it, I thought I was a bad child.

    I struggled with that love and hate until I was 19 years old. It wasn’t until then that I even knew something so terrible had happened to me as a child. I mean, I knew but I didn’t fully understand. I confronted my father, and now I am no longer considered part of that side of my family.

    I felt like damaged goods, like I didn’t deserve to be treated like any other human being. I constantly put myself in “bad” situations. Many of my first sexual experiences were not exactly consensual. If I liked a guy, and we started kissing and touching, I didn’t know how to say no, or that I could even say no, and things would get out of hand and I would go home, sit in the scalding water of a shower and cry. I went through what I could only describe as a happy depression my second year of college. I was happy with my life, with the people in it, with the choices I was making towards a future career. Behind closed doors, I hated myself and was constantly depressed. Twice, I have been intoxicated with someone I considered a friend, someone whom I trusted who turned out to be someone trying to take advantage of me. The first one I still struggle with what happened, I didn’t know what was happening until it was happening and I didn’t know what to do. I completely shut down, my entire body went limp and he thought I fell asleep. That didn’t stop him….which I know, because I didn’t fall asleep but instead mentally hid away until he got too tired to continue. The second friend, well, I knew what was happening. Fortunately, he was too drunk to actually do anything after he stripped me naked. I blamed myself after both of these incidents because I never said no and I never tried to stop them. I blamed myself for trusting them and I blamed myself for putting myself in that situation. It took me a long time to realize that it’s not my fault. These two men didn’t care that my body was completely unresponsive. They didn’t care if I was conscious or not. What’s really sickening, they don’t see anything wrong with it. Something seriously needs to change about how we talk about sex and consent in this society.

    So, that’s my story (in a lengthy nutshell). I’ve found talking about what I have been through helps other victims find the courage to talk about their story as well as help me come to terms with these events. Today, I am in a much better place mentally. Reading articles like this helps, thank you so much for speaking up on such a personal topic.

  56. Avatar of pandonia

    I was raped too. And it took me a LONG time to realize what had happened to me. Part of it is what you describe here, Elyse; it didn’t fit the script of what was supposed to happen. A big part of that I’m just starting to realize is that I didn’t fit the script of what I believed a victim was. Back then, a victim to me was someone who is weak, someone that allows life to happen to them rather than taking responsibility for what your life is. I am a Strong Woman, not a victim. But Strong Women can be victims too. I didn’t physically fight him off, that was part of the reason for not recognizing what happened to me was a rape. But a woman shouldn’t be asked to engage in a physical fight she is most likely to lose when she is naked and with someone that she (believed) she liked. Thank you for sharing, thank you for helping me understand a little more about what happened to me.

  57. Avatar of Steph

    I’m 23 now and was sexually assaulted at 17. It has fucked up my life. Sure with therapy ive stopped dreaming of it, stopped seeing “him” everywhere (while knowing he isn’t likely to be in town), stopped the panic attacks and finally feel able to dress “nicely” again instead of feeling like I needed to completely cover up.

    But to this day I still blame myself. I can’t see a time that I won’t blame myself. My sexuality is so confused because of this and the subconscious fear instilled in me that men are predators.

    This is a long shot… I do have a therapist but as far as I know hasn’t had a similar experience and she is straight so I can talk to her but we’ve never really got anywhere.

    The way you wrote this I feel that if anyone could ever make me believe it wasn’t my fault it could be you. If it’s at all possible could we perhaps talk/email.

    I say this is a long shot and therefore I appreciate that you will most likely not see this comment or just not be willing to give me that time. That’s okay. I will still try and get it ALL out in therapy when she returns from leave and maybe this time we might make more headway.

    Either way thank you. I can’t accept it that it wasn’t my fault because my assault wasn’t at all to plan… if nothing else I do now recognise that because of you.

  58. Avatar of Jules0512

    My husband and I were just talking about how many female friends we had that had been raped (stranger, friend, family) and were we just drawn to those women that needed help. However, after reading your post and other posts from friends and acquaintances, we have come to the realization that just that many women have been raped. That thought terrifies me and I feel so very fortunate to have avoided this horror. I’m so sorry you went through this and you continually amaze me with your bravery. <3 to you!

  59. Avatar of Dale Husband

    I have to wonder how someone who has been raped can enjoy sexual intercourse in the future. Wouldn’t that trigger the memory of the rape?

    • Avatar of marilove

      I would imagine it would depend on the person. My abusive relationship (when I 19 to 21), which included plenty of coerced sexual assault (how many times does one have to say no until she just gives up and lets you fuck her anyway? is that rape? i certainly didn’t enjoy it) and a bit of drugging (of me) mixed in for “fun”, doesn’t really come to my mind much. It’s part of my past, and it was terrible, and it probably has effected a lot of areas of my life, I wouldn’t doubt that.

      But sex? Nah. In fact, I didn’t realize I could enjoy sex a LOT until *after* I finally left him. Then I finally had a really respectful, great sexual partner (a few, in fact).

      Honestly, his attitude and entitled behavior is FAR MORE triggering than intercourse. I have no desire to get into it right now, but yeah, I can smell that sort of manipulative, controlling, gaslighting behavior a mile away, and as soon as lover or friend starts, I’m out. Entitled arrogance skeeves me out.

    • Avatar of Elyse

      It’s not like there aren’t triggers from time to time, but there is a huge difference between what happened in the situations I described above and the times I want and am excited to have sex. I am more triggered by people who touch me or keep asking to move further when I’ve asked them to slow it down.

      • Avatar of marilove

        “I am more triggered by people who touch me or keep asking to move further when I’ve asked them to slow it down.”

        Yep. That sense of entitlement is freakin’ triggering as hell, but I don’t think that’s true for just those of us who have been assaulted or raped.

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