Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Reality of Rape, Eight Years Later

I have been raped. I say this not as I might have before I became the person I am today; not as a declaration, firing up my fighting spirit; not as a confession of my feelings of guilt, wishing I could make it all go away but trying in vain to make the feminist in me "own it"; not as an announcement seeking attention and inviting drama. No, at this point, it is simply a statement of fact of events that transpired when I was a sophomore in college. Naming an evil, calling it what it is, is, I've discovered, a part of the healing process.

It wasn't until recently that I began to call what happened to me rape. I used to refer to that night as a "drunken one night stand" and blew it off. Ed was an upperclass physics tutor that I'd had a crush on. I was drinking in my dorm room with friends after finals were over when I ran into him in the hallway, I proceeded to flirt heavily, he invited me back to his dorm room where we continued drinking and he wooed me with his guitar playing, we started kissing and before I even knew what was happening, he was on top of me and his penis was inside of me. The worst part of all of this is that before this night, I'd never had intercourse before. Although a lot of that night is an alcohol-induced blur, I distinctly remember thinking to myself in a panicked moment of lucidity, "Holy crap, what am I doing? Am I having SEX?!?!?!?" But, at that point, he'd already stolen a part of my innocence, so I just laid there and let him finish. When he was through, I walked my first "walk of shame" back to my room, and proceeded to go on a very long, and sore, run.

Why, before now, had I never thought of this night as rape? Had someone else written the preceeding paragraph I would agree in a moment that the situation described was indeed rape. As Laura Sessions Stepp describes in "Unhooked" so many of these situations fall into what young women have come to perceive as the "gray area", that insidious "if I hadn't gone to that party" place, that "if I hadn't kissed him" place; the mistaken belief that when both partners have been drinking heavily, responsibility for what happened falls to no one, because "it just happens." In gray rape, as Stepps says, "the girl who may have come on like a hunter becomes the hunted." Young women are so eager to own their sexuality, to express themselves and take no shame for enjoying their bodies, that they are also so reluctant to see themselves as powerless. Most college codes of conduct, as well as criminal law, define rape as when a person penetrates the anus or vulva of another person without that person's freely given consent, and that the one giving consent must be coherent, i.e., if she or he is too drunk to make a choice, consent cannot be assumed. Despite this rather clear definition, I think young women, including myself, are reluctant to wear the label of "rape" because so often what follows is "victim", and a victim is the last thing I want to be.

As I said earlier though, I do think there is some value to be found in naming this evil and calling it what it is. I don't want retribution, I am not seeking legal reprocussions, in fact, if Ed never knows he raped me, it wouldn't make much difference to me. I do know this: being able to say out loud "I was raped", being able to recognize that all these years I had been chastizing myself for carelessly throwing away my virginity when in fact it was taken from me, and beginning to understand how all of the shame that I've carried with me since that one night has shaped the relationship I have with my sexuality today, has brought me a peace I have not yet known. And at this moment on my journey, I do hope that this bit of clarity will lead to a more loving and respectful attitude towards my own body, sexual being, and person as a whole.


  1. From Hugo Schwyzer:

    So glad you've come back to writing, and with such a lovely and powerful piece. Not lovely because of the pain, but lovely because of the candor and succinctness with which you describe perfectly the difficulty that comes in naming rape as rape, and how you got through it to the place you are now.

    Have you ever read Lynn Phillipps' "Flirting with Danger"? It's a great study of the reluctance to embrace the term rape out of a distaste for the victim label.

    Anyhow, very excited that you've done this.