As if he could not entertain the possibility that I simply did not want him. As if there must be some better reason standing in the way from me pursuing the gift that was him. He kept his charming smile locked onto his charming face, never breaking character, always having a smart line to banter my repeated rejections. He said I was just “prickly”, “guarded”, “controlling”, “getting off on saying ‘no’ ”, “challenging”.
“I am not in the headspace or the mood for that.”
“I want to do it on my own terms, when I want to. If I want to.”
“I said no.”
“I don’t like that.”
“I just don’t want to.”
“I don’t want you to. I shouldn’t need a reason beyond that.”
“That makes me uncomfortable.”
“I did not come here for that.”
“I said no. Respect that.”
“Yes, it makes me feel physical discomfort. And uncomfortable in ways beyond that.”
“If that’s why you thought I came here, you are wrong.”
“I’m not doing that.”
“I’m not into it.”
“Oh, hell no.”
“I don’t want you to do anything to me.”
“I just want to talk. That’s all I wanted this whole time.”
“I’m not interested in anything beyond what has already happened… I’m just not, I never was.”
These are all things I said to him throughout the night, each time my consent was violated. When he grabbed the back of my neck and tried to forcefully bring my face to kiss him even when I turned away, when he rubbed his hands up and down my legs and arms, when he repeatedly reached and jammed his hand between my legs, when he tried to remove my clothes, when he took and shoved my hand onto his crotch, when he grabbed me by my ponytail and tried to force my head down. And for each refusal I had, he had a response that dismissed me. He justified away any validity, defensively attacking each one, demanding an explanation beyond what I provided so he could argue against it. As if he could not entertain the possibility that I simply did not want him. As if there must be some bigger, better reason standing in the way from me pursuing the gift that was him. He kept his charming smile locked onto his charming face, never breaking character, always having a smart line to banter my repeated rejections. He said I was just “prickly”, “guarded”, “controlling”, “getting off on saying ‘no’ ”, “challenging”.
That or he kept pressing that it was only my physical limitations getting in the way, and he thought they shouldn’t. To him, what should it matter that I had just had a serious medical procedure a couple weeks prior and another just that very morning to address the complications I was having? He thought that shouldn’t ruin the mood (what mood that was, I do not know because I certainly was never in the mood). After all, that medical thing only limited one small area of my body (worth noting that it was my female organs and I made it clear that he knew this long beforehand). It seemed to him, after many attempts at accessing that area of my body anyways, why shouldn’t we then do everything else possible besides that one thing? And why should that stop me from making him feel good?
And he seemed to think he should move as quickly as possible to make that happen, before I could even realize what was going on. Why should my being in physical and emotional discomfort even be acknowledged? So quickly, he made to remove my clothes without any discussion, before I was even done talking. Why should it matter that, in addition to health issues, I expressed insecurities and uneasiness about my body being seen or touched? Why should that get in the way of him finding a way to see and touch it anyways? So quick, he made to move his hungry hands over every inch he could reach. I was being such a party pooper. He said I should “let my armor down”. I should “do something interesting” for him. Dance, monkey. He seemed to think I should entertain him or why the fuck had I even come there?
Again and again, he moved forward, moving so fast I could barely take in what was happening or why. My brain could not make sense of the situation. I did all the right things to advocate for myself and my body, I said all the things I was taught to say, all the things I told myself I would say if I ever ended up in that situation again… So why were things still progressing as if I had said nothing at all? I felt like I was living that recurring dream where I scream and nothing comes out, no one can hear it.
I could feel myself slipping out of my body, my mind backing off and watching the scene unfold in front of me. Good ole dissociation to the rescue. I couldn’t feel anything he was doing. I felt no pleasure and no pain, no input to any of my senses; I felt nothing. All the while, I was fighting with everything I had to bring myself back into my body, to tie the me who was watching back into the body that was being violated. I watched the zombie girl, just running on autopilot girl, slamming her eyes shut to escape as he climbed on top of her, as if that turned the station off.
I could see her eyes going between complete unfocused daze, then snap back into intense focus as if she remembered she was really there. The me watching got sucked back into her and inflated her empty shell with substance again. There was life in my limbs again, there was air in my lungs again, my vocal chords came back to life. I turned into my Survivor self and pushed his hands away, turned my body away from him, spoke all the magic ‘no’ words I always wished I had the power to say before… But the magic words, the magic actions, they hit the invisible wall between me and him. I watched as they slowly slid down, crumpling onto the floor, and he kicked them far away.
His perfect, sweet, playful demeanor faltered for just the slightest moment each time I said no. An anger burned behind his eyes and a nonverbal hatred showed itself in the shortest micro expression, like an eyebrow raise, change in tone of voice, or grit of teeth. His eyebrows and muscle tension spoke words his smooth mouth did not. They said “Are you fucking kidding me?!”, “Seriously?”, “We’ll see about that” (though he actually said out loud “No?…Seriously?” the first time I said no). The brief but thick intense silences after each act of noncompliance seemed to function as a period to cycle through his emotions. Disbelief, then anger, then confusion, and then transition to reasoning and convincing within his head. He would then snap back into play with an explanation for what, in his mind, I was really doing and why; an explanation that made sense to him and the continuation of his wants, let him avoid any accountability or insult, and let him maintain control.
To him, it didn’t have anything to do with him. I was being playful, I was being purposefully difficult and coarse to make it more interesting. I was challenging him. Everything I had done throughout that night had been intentional to make him try harder, to please him because I picked up on his love of the game. And he was not used to losing. He acted as though he was on autopilot, that he had never seen anything but a green light and didn’t know what to do if there wasn’t one. I wasn’t special, he made no effort to know me or see me as an individual, he just knew what he wanted out of the situation regardless of who the other body belonged to. He didn’t know or care if I was even remotely interested in him in that way.
When I stopped him, yet again, and said very clearly “I am not interested in doing anything more, I didn’t even want that. Can you not just be content? Why keep pressing?”
He replied as if his statement was pure philosophical gold: “To be content is worse than death”.
Again I repeated I did not want to proceed.
To which, after one of those piercing pauses to interpret things in a way that made sense to him, all he said was “Well, I will see you when you come back in 2 weeks then.”
As if it were fact. Not a question or request. The tone was so full of calculated finality that it was heavy with the expectation that things would meet a completion at that next meeting. Everything in his demeanor said there was absolutely no question about that. He seemed a bit lighter all of the sudden now that he had the finish line in sight, the problem (me) figured out. Like he had decided I wasn’t a loss after all and his track record was still undefeated. He said a few things about how I should tell my current partner that they had their work cut out for them, that they should whip me into proper shape, and he would reap the benefits after they broke me. All I could do was uncomfortably laugh because I did not know what else to do. I kept remembering that dangerous anger lurking behind his hungry, smiling eyes. I was more and more aware of the physical advantage he had over me should he wish to invoke it.
When he finally accepted my repeated desire to leave, he conceded to release his hold. Because to him, it was not because I actually wanted to leave, it was only because I had to; because of the time, because of my growing fatigue and long drive, because of that pesky physical discomfort thing of mine (and other reasons I kept listing). And because to him it seemed, I wanted to wait until it could be even better, at the level I thought he deserved all along. So he listed all the reasons I had to leave now, as if it was his idea in the first place. He drew me in tight and held when I tried to turn away to leave, kissing me anyway when I asked him not to kiss me again, holding onto that delicious power for one moment longer.
I kept a cheery disposition as I walked out the door and began walking away down the hall. I kept telling myself that smiles sometimes kept a girl safe from that bubbling confusion and anger underneath a predator’s smooth exterior. With each step of distance that grew between me and his now closed door, my forced pleasantry started to fade. I felt anxious to get further away, to gain more distance, to be safe in my car on my way back to my house. I felt fear creeping up as I couldn’t find my way through the maze of the building, the elevators, halls, and parking structures. I felt like a trapped little deer. I started panicking at the thought of having to turn back to him for help, to be weak and need him for something, to give him leverage.
I finally found and got inside my car, closed the door to the outside world, pushed away from the waves of realization that were crashing stronger and stronger in on my mind, trying to get inside. I told myself to keep functioning, keep moving, to focus on getting on the road. I just had to get on the road, away, and back to the familiarity of home. The waves of what I was really feeling kept hitting heavier and heavier. I told myself not to open that door. If I did, it would drown me and I wouldn’t be able to function. I was fine. Fine.
The tears that came burning into my eyes, distorting the road in front of me, came without my permission. I battled with myself, fought against the cognitive dissonance. I was angry at myself for being weak enough to let the feelings and the thoughts come. I tried to remind myself that I wasn’t that old version of myself anymore, I wasn’t broken or a victim. I tried to focus on how I had said all the words, I held my ground and stopped him from almost everything he tried, I stood up for myself and my body throughout the night. I refused to believe I was so helpless that there was nothing I could do in a situation like that to protect myself. But with that line of thinking came blame and fault on my end. If there was hope in the tools I was taught to advocate for my autonomy and respect, then I must have messed them up. Anything that happened must have happened because I let it. I put myself in that situation, I stayed in that situation, I gave the signals to set it up and let it continue. I hadn’t been the newer, stronger, improved version of me that night; the me that had tried so hard to learn from my past experiences and educate myself, the me that was looked up to by others for being strong. I must be a fraud- because I failed. And I let that happen.
I let the 5-year-old molestation Victim part of me and the 16-year-old date rape Victim part of myself down. I let them drown in feelings of violation, self-hatred, guilt, anger, disgust, loneliness, weakness, hopelessness, confusion, and pain they hadn’t felt in a very long time. I could see them in my mind as if they were real people, a silent pleading in their unbroken stare. I subjected them to all of that, after all they had been through. I was even worse than they were, even more pathetic because at least they didn’t pretend to be something they’re not and they didn’t know any better back then. I deserved what had happened, how I was treated.
I felt like it would be silly to say anything to anyone, that it was all in my head, that it was just my old baggage coloring the way I saw what happened, and the feelings of violation would just go away. Surely this super “nice guy” I had known for so long, that so many others liked, wasn’t some typical creep. It must be all the consent workshops and discussions I had been attending lately that made me hypersensitive. I didn’t want to upset any friendships, I didn’t want to make anyone feel like they had to choose sides, I didn’t want to risk someone not believing me. Especially if there was really nothing to be so upset about. I wouldn’t want to explain what happened again and again. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle responses that defended him as such a “good guy” or his actions, reactions that put the blame on me or downplayed my feelings, anyone asking “Well, why did you stay there, then? Why didn’t you just tell him to fuck off right from the get-go and leave?”
That was something I was trying to figure out myself. Not that it should matter because it in no way excuses how he continued to act. My sheer presence there was not an invitation or given rights to my body. Regardless of the possible reasons for why he acted the way he did and why I responded in the way I did, the way he went about it was not okay. It is exactly how violation, assault, and rape happens. Those who assault always think they have justifications for how they acted. I rejected, not in a “try harder” way (whatever the hell that would look like or what that even means), if that is the way he sees women then it wouldn’t have mattered when I left.
I originally went to his place as a group to continue some really stimulating conversations we were having at a bar that was closing. When it seemed like he had other motivations for inviting us back, I kept bringing up that I only came over there to talk, along with the fact that my body was closed for business given my medical predicaments. I became more stand offish, conversationally and physically, the more he seemed to be gravitating toward sexual expectations. When he made the first aggressive move towards me and I said no, when I saw how he reacted, I felt torn. A big part of me was screaming to get myself out, to leave him pouting with my other friend. But the other part of me that was so proud for sticking up for myself, my autonomy and respect, that part wanted to stay and have a productive conversation about why I said no and how that should be okay. I felt so empowered by all my recent research and education on active consent practices that I wanted to get the point across, to use my knowledge to teach and make him understand, to feel like I took a step towards the change I wanted to spread in the culture. I wanted to savor how wonderful it was to just say no because I simply didn’t want to proceed. I had never really done that before, I usually gave into the pressure to please, the expectations of the purpose of my gender. I felt a type of responsibility to be a better advocate against rape culture.
However, I had not spent much time with him one-on-one before then and I didn’t know enough about him to know he would only get more and more frustrated the longer things weren’t happening how he wanted, and that trend would continue with growing intensity. When my friend left shortly after that first unsettling infraction, I kept reminding myself what a good guy everyone knew him to be, so it must have been a misunderstanding that we could have another stimulating conversation about. I also felt the pressure to patch things up and leave them on a pleasant note because I knew he was partners with close friends of mine, I wanted my friendships with him and them to stay unchanged, and I knew I would keep seeing him around at future events and didn’t want it to be awkward.
The way he responded to my initial denial left me confused and disillusioned. He stripped my proud moment and associated empowerment from me and I wanted to be reassured of my faith and enthusiasm in ethical consent practices. But as the night progressed, the more I rebuffed his advances and the more he continued anyway, the more dumbfounded I was that he wasn’t hearing me and that the tools I learned let me down. I was disappointed that the things given to protect us, keep us safe, were so ineffectual. Granted, had I not felt as empowered as I did through my past experiences, workshops, friend and professional support, educating myself, etc., I don’t know what would have happened that night. Even with all of that at my disposal, I still had a hard time advocating for myself and I was still left feeling violated and traumatized. And I don’t think someone would have had to have been through what I’ve been through for it to be traumatizing.
My consent was violated by someone. In multiple ways, multiple times. For some reason I thought now that I was older- better educated on rape culture, more empowered through the support of others, and stronger through lots of professional healing and personal growth since my most traumatic sexual assaults in the past- I thought I would never find myself in these sorts of situations again. I thought I had gone through my fair share of violation. Being my more outspoken, badass, feminist self now, I thought I would know all the ways and tools to avoid the set of circumstances that previously ended in those horrendous situations. Or if it unavoidably/unexpectedly happened upon me, that I would know all the right things to say and do to stand up for myself, put my foot down, and end things before they even had a chance to progress.
I realize now that all those lines of thinking had the same flaw: they all placed the blame on me, they all placed the burden on me to change. Try as we might to avoid wearing the wrong clothing, avoid the wrong spaces/locations, make sure not to give off the wrong signals, there is no way to “fix ourselves” to not be targets of sexual assault and harassment… the ones who are to blame, the ones who need to change, are the ones who are violating us and our boundaries and our consent- the perpetrators, not the victims and not the survivors, are the ones who are not recognizing their role in sexual violence.
These perpetrators don’t always look like a dark shadow down a dark alley in a bad neighborhood- they can look like that “nice guy” friend we’ve known for years, a handsome and charming first date, a boss, a husband/partner, a stranger at a club or party. It doesn’t always happen like the media often makes it out to, from zero to sixty in a minute, with a distinct moment in which a defined line was crossed- sometimes it is hard to distinguish right away, confusing, gradual, on and off. It doesn’t have to be penetrative sex- it can be a touch, a kiss, a grab, removal of clothing, forced hands, forced mouths, something said, something exposed. It can happen sober, it can happen drunk, on drugs, half asleep, when especially vulnerable, when clear headed and strong. What ties them all together is the violation of consent. Pressure, coercion, force, intimidation, manipulation, physical or psychologically. Resulting trauma.
And one of the most haunting things to me about it- is that the perpetrator walks away thinking they did nothing wrong. They can very well keep walking around saying they love women, they are feminists and they are allies on our side, they are one of the nice guys who get a bad rep because of the assholes out there. Never acknowledging to themselves or others that they could be one of them. They may go on doing it to other women because they either don’t take the time to examine their standards and realize that they are doing things wrong or they don’t care that they are. Meanwhile, the survivor has to live with that pain of violation forever and live with all the aspects of their lives that it may affect. And between the danger of retaliation from the perp, social backlash, and a broken legal system, survivors generally have no safe or effective way to speak out about it so that the one that violated them can be informed and/or stopped. The perp’s actions would almost certainly be justified and dismissed and the survivor’s feelings invalidated. So survivors often stay silent, violators keeps violating, and this rape culture breeds even more. And the cycle repeats.
Sometimes we can say all the right things. We can remember everything we are taught and try to follow them exactly. But we are only half of the equation, the other half is an unknown we can do nothing about. We aren’t able to do all the “right things” because they often contradict each other. In the end, there is not just fight or flight responses to survive a threat, there is also freeze. And we have to do whatever we think will protect us best in that moment.
Until we are seen as our own property, not put here for the purpose of serving another, a being completely autonomous and filled with our own wants, goals, and reasons for what we want (or don’t want)- there will continue to be those who cannot fathom why we would simply not want something because it goes against what we do want. That would require acknowledging that we have our own separate wants that are just as worthy of being respected, sought, and fulfilled- that they, and we, hold just as much value. That would require understanding that we are not just a means to an end, a tool to fulfill someone else’s needs- needs of a group that is constantly reinforced as being more important and thus more worthy of sacrifices to achieve their idea of satisfaction and happiness.
I have had people tell me they see me as a model for a strong woman. And I am (I believe we all are). And this so easily happened to me- when I was a child, when I was a teenager, and even now. And it will likely continue to. I am still dealing with my cognitive dissonance regarding the situation but my mind is very clear on one thing: to have any hopes of this happening less to each other and to future women, we all need to practice the ethics of consent, we need to believe and support survivors, we need to hold our community to higher standards. I’m not about to stop talking about it anytime soon so if you’re getting sick of hearing it, get off your ass and put your efforts into the world to end rape culture. Stop encouraging sexism or standing by when it happens. Stop victim blaming. Stop letting assaulters off the hook. Stop supporting politicians that idealize ownership of women’s bodies! Realize consent goes above and beyond just sex. Speak up. Listen. Communicate. Only proceed when given a clear, sober, enthusiastic, not coerced or intimidated- YES. Check in with yourself. Let go of expectations. Redefine consent as an active and ongoing process and accept/respect that it can be revoked at any time. Get over your selfish wants and needs at the expense of others. No one is owed anything. Respect others’ autonomy and existence- in regards to sexual assault and everything beyond.