What I’m about to write may seem out of place, wedged between dick jokes and farting dogs and ridiculous Breaking Bad fan art, but it’s the outlet I have, so it’s what I’m using.
The news has been pretty crazy this week, with politicians deciding they need to define what rape is and isn’t, what rape is or isn’t capable of (preventing pregnancy, curing cancer, making Jesus cry). In fact, I’m not even going to go to the trouble of linking to the stories, or the specific men involved, because they are legion, they are omnipresent, and they’ve been saying the same thing for years now. They want to have a conversation about rape, but not one about “how can we prevent more rape?” Ostrich-like, they’ve created a defense dependant on fewer people being “really” raped, because only certain rapes count. “Forcible” rapes. “Legitimate” rapes.
In the face of this onslaught, many brave women (and some men) have shared their stories of sexual assault, trying to show these politicians, and us, what rape looks like. Their stories are shattering, and even the coldest heart would have a hard time arguing they’re not “legitimate.”
So this is what an illegitimate rape looks like.
It looks like a 19 year old girl at a community theater wrap party. The boy she’s flirted with all summer brought his girlfriend, so she’s awkward and frustrated and angry as only a 19 year old girl can be. An older friend bought her a bottle of tequila. In the morning she’ll look at the empty bottle and ask “Who drank all my tequila?” Her friends will laugh and say “YOU did!” She had just three shots before she blacked out. She’s a lightweight.
She only remembers scraps of the rest of the night. Little frozen Polaroid snapshots among the blackness. She has a glimpse of kissing a much older man, some friend of her best friend’s boyfriend. Next she is laying on a bathroom floor, her skirt tangled around her waist, her sweater pulled open while the older man jacks-off onto her tits. Next her best friend’s boyfriend leads her down a hall to his bedroom, past the couch where her friend is fast asleep. The girl is confused, and doesn’t know why she’s letting him get on top of her when her friend is just outside the door. She can only think “I have to ask him to wear a condom, right?” over and over. She asks. He doesn’t.
The next day she sneaks out of the house before anyone else wakes up. She meets with her friend to discuss what happened. “I guess…I guess I didn’t say no. But I wouldn’t have said yes.” Her friend blames the boyfriend, not the girl, a saving mercy.
The girl goes in for her first HIV test, and buys three pregnancy kits. She waits, terrified. Everything comes back negative.
Weeks later, the girl and her friend, and that boy she liked take a gallon of weed killer to the now ex-boyfriend’s house. They write “PRICK” in 2 ft. high letters across his lawn. A juvenile prank to combat their feelings of helplessness and rage.
No one thinks of calling the police.
The next time looks a little grayer.
She’s five years older now, has been married and divorced, even. She’s a radio DJ who hangs out in a tattoo parlor a lot. She’s tried drugs. She’s had sex with a lot of people, a lot of one night stands. This night she’s at yet another bar, a party, doing shots of Jager and trying to drink her 6 ft. tall little brother under the table. She’s laughing as she runs across the street to another bar, where she once again hits a blank wall, impenetrable this time. There’s empty darkness until she wakes up the next morning in her own bed with a guy she sort of knows from the tattoo shop. She shrugs it off as another crazy night.
She doesn’t find out what happened until weeks later.
After she’d run laughing into the other bar, the bouncer (a casual acquaintance) invited her upstairs to his apartment. A guy friend saw the invitation, and almost stopped her. “Are you sure?” But she was laughing, and he was on a date, so he let her go. He would feel guilty about this afterwards. Later, he’d confront the bouncer to find out what exactly happened. The bouncer would hem and haw and say he’d been drunk too, and yeah, he found some used condoms by his bed, but the other guy (the one from the tattoo shop) was the one who took her home.
It turned out there were at least 3 guys in the apartment.
They told my friend I was naked, but wouldn’t tell him what else happened.
I felt sick to my stomach when he told me, but I laughed it off, because I didn’t want him to feel guilty for not stopping me. I tried not to think about it and moved on.
Many people would hesitate to call my experiences rape. I certainly didn’t call it that. It was a “bad situation,” an “unfortunate experience.” It was my fault for being drunk. I barely remembered it, and in one case, didn’t know what happened until after the fact. I hung out with the wrong crowd, I got sloppy around men I didn’t know or didn’t know well enough…I got treated like girls get treated when they don’t watch out.
As if the guys who passed me around like a party favor had nothing to do with it.
I, like most women, felt the burden was mine alone. Values are applied to rape based on what we did to encourage it, or didn’t do to prevent it. Because we’re told the only one responsible for your not getting raped is you.
Men are never told not to get drunk around women because it’s dangerous. “If you’re drinking, she might not say no,” is the incentive, not the warning.
Not all men are rapists. Many would never dream of “taking advantage of the situation.” Some, like my friend, might try to step in. And yes, a very small handful of women have lied about being raped because of regret, or revenge, or for attention. Just like many men and women have lied for revenge, or attention, or political gain.
But ultimately, arguing over what’s “legitimate” distracts us from the recognizing how much we’ve failed to educate perpetrators, because we’re too busy laying the responsibility for safety on the victims.
I was not forced to the ground and violated horrifically by a stranger. I was not physically restrained. I was impaired from giving or withholding consent by my own actions. I did not say “no.”
And now you know what that looks like.