CONTENT WARNING: SEXUAL VIOLENCE/ DATE RAPE
The next post discusses the context of my assault but doesn’t go into explicit details. Some readers may find this content disturbing or upsetting, but I believe it is important to open up these discussions and I believe that truly amazing things can be achieved through my vulnerability, so I’m sharing my experience with you all in hopes that my words resonate with and help at least one person.
Here is a link to sexual violence resources and information(COMING SOON). The United States suicide prevention hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. If you want to openly discuss your experience head to the bottom of the page to comment. As always, if you want to confidentially talk about your experiences or talk to me more about mine, please message me on Instagram @hersafe.space
“I never should have been there,” I thought to myself as I waited outside of the dark apartment for my ride. “Why did I ever give him my phone number, it gave him the wrong idea about me.” My head swirled with questions and explanations. My body, felt as though it wasn’t my own, it felt foreign, like I didn’t recognize the sensation of my own heartbeat. The street lights buzzed above the parking lot, and I pushed the possibility of even thinking the “R” word from my mind.
As I took a deep breath and checked the time on my phone, I realized that although it felt like I had been standing there for an eternity, it had only been five earth shatteringly silent minutes of standing alone contemplating the series of events that had just unfolded. I questioned my own recollection of what happened but the words “I’m not having sex with you” echoed through my head like the firing of a gun at point blank range.
As I stood there, emotionless, numb, and confused I continued to justify his actions to myself, blame my own behaviors for his inability to take no for an answer. As my ride approached, I swallowed every ounce of blame, and securely pursed my lips together, agreeing with the nod of my head that I in fact had a great time, while simultaneously eliminating from my head that what happened that night was the fault of anyone but myself.
That night I, like many survivors of sexual violence, understood that what happened was a violation to my personhood but could not recognize that the assault fit the legal definition of sexual rape in the state of California. I could identify that something was very wrong, but I had never been taught to name what had happened to me.
In addition to not recognizing my assault, my social conditioning also prevented me from placing blame on the person who assaulted me. I had been taught to fault myself: for the way I aggressively pursued him, placing that slip of paper in his hand after class; for the way I allowed him to kiss me; for not leaving or screaming or running away or doing something, ANYTHING in that fateful moment or any of the other painfully long moments that followed.
A Social Phenomenon
As someone who has always been an “overachiever”, I tend to work through my trauma by doing. Through hours of therapeutic intervention, I’ve come to understand this trait in myself and as I look at the work I’m doing and the academic and professional path I’ve taken I see that this experience was no exception to this tendency. Looking back, I can see that my drive to understand the nuances surrounding sexual violence was a direct result of my experiences. However, it took many hours of working through my trauma and a great amount of research to understand the level of socialization and conditioning that surrounds sex and sexual violence, and which influenced my inability to recognize the assault for what it was and to understand that it wasn’t my fault.
In fact, unacknowledged rape is a common phenomenon affecting survivors of sexual trauma. Women who experience sexual trauma often don’t acknowledge that what has happened to them fits the legal definition of sexual violence. This is a huge factor in the discrepancy between the number of occurrences and the number of reports of sexual violence. If survivors fail to recognize their assault, the chance that they are going to report the assault is slim.
This phenomenon is a result of what researchers refer to as “rape culture”(Buchwald, Fletcher, & Roth, 2005). Rape culture is the societal rhetoric that is formed around sexual violence. Rape myths are an extension of this culture and serve to delegitimize the experiences of survivors by trivializing and reducing their experiences. Victim blaming is therefore an extension of rape culture and a direct result of one’s acceptance of rape myths (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010).
Victim blaming can take multiple forms. It can sound like, “She knew what she was doing.” Or, “she shouldn’t have been so drunk”. Victim blaming can also be in the form of questions such as, “what were you wearing?”. Victim blaming is often unintentional but is nonetheless harmful and trivializes, reduces and delegitimizes the experiences of survivors (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010).
The Company I Keep
Research suggests that the peer support theory may offer details into the role of social groups in rape myth acceptance (Ricciardelli, Connor, Williams, & Young, 2001). These findings indicate that for men, social groups that participate in drinking culture have a higher level of rape myth acceptance.
In high school, I spent time with a group of guys that were known as the party crowd. I didn’t find myself at their parties often because I grew up in a strict house and wasn’t allowed to go to parties, but I remember several instances of casual sexual harassment that I experienced. Looking back now and reliving these events, they seem extremely troublesome, but at the time I remember shrugging them off as normal and even laughing and joking about them.
I believe that these events helped to socialize me into the lack of understanding of sexual violence that I took with me into college and the experiences that I had. I was unable to name what happened to me because I was conditioned to believe that casual sexual harassment was normal and therefore, coercion and sexual aggression were normal elements of sex.
Call to Action: Recognizing Victim Blaming Around You
Learning about the problems in society can be draining and can often feel like a daunting, never ending task. It helps to focus on the things that we can do to help. One major thing that we can do is to spread awareness of the harmful rhetoric and its effects on culture and society. Ways to do this include:
• Train yourself to recognize the questions, statements and ideas that perpetuate rape culture. By doing this you are learning to be consciously aware of the bias around you.
• Call out your friends and family when you hear or see them talking about survivors and assault
• Attend and participate in events like “Take Back The Night” at your organization
• BELIEVE WOMEN—Due to the underreporting of sexual violence it is estimated that only 0.005% are false allegations (Belknap, 2010)