Views on Consent from A Sexual Assault Victim
Before I get into the article about consent which sparked my fury, I feel as though I need to briefly describe my background and unfortunate first-hand experience with sexual assault. This is a part of my life that I have not been brave enough to share with many people, including my own family, until now.
In 2009, I experienced two different sexual assaults within a 10-month time-frame. The first sexual assault I was drugged in a bar by someone I did not know. I was friends with most of the people I went out with, so I felt comfortable enough to leave my drink on the table to go to the restroom or pick a tune on the jukebox. I broke the cardinal rule; never put your drink down. It was busy, and the bartender made frequent rounds to pick up any glasses that looked unclaimed. I had to keep reordering, and in all honesty I’m not sure I even consumed enough of each to make up an entire drink. What surprised me was even though I know I had not consumed very much alcohol, everything started to feel foggy. Shortly after the confusion set in, I began to stumble and slur my words. Everyone around me assumed I had simply had too much to drink. I do not remember what happened between the bar and what was to happen next. I do not even recall leaving the bar that night.
When I woke up my predator was already having sex with me. We were on a couch, in a dimly lit room. I was having a difficult time processing exactly where I was and who I was with. I mumbled no over and over again as I tried to push my assailant off of me, but my body was limp and lifeless. As my mind faded in and out, I desperately tried to move my arms and legs in hopes of finding some way to get him off of me. With tears rolling down my face, my protests faded, and everything went black again. To this day, I still do not know who my attacker is, but his face will haunt me forever.
I became pretty reclusive after that for a few months, admittedly never getting the help I needed. I was ashamed, and blamed myself for being irresponsible. Eventually I just pushed all of my fears and emotions down inside of me; I have always been good at that. I was able to live a somewhat normal life on the outside, even though I was screaming on the inside.
The second sexual assault was when I was violently attacked by someone I thought I could trust. Almost a year later, a friend of mine asked if she could set me up with this guy she knew. Although I was skeptical, he was attractive, charming, and polite. A firefighter in the Air Force; he seemed to have his life together. We talked over the phone and through text for about a week before I let him take me out. We were going to keep it casual, go play some pool and have a couple drinks. It seemed innocent enough, and I liked the idea of going out in a very public place. We had a good time, laughing and talking. He kept buying me drinks, but wasn’t even touching his. I found it a little odd, but he had mentioned he had to work in the morning, so I assumed he was being responsible. Around midnight I decided it was time for me to say goodnight, it was late, and I didn’t want to leave a bad impression by getting drunk on our first date. I said I was going to walk, because it wasn’t very far, but he insisted on driving me so that I didn’t walk alone in the dark
We got into his truck, and started to make our way to my apartment. Much to my surprise, he drove past my street. “Oh you missed my street!” “You aren’t going home,” he laughed. I started to get extremely nervous and quickly asked what he was talking about. He flashed me a smile and said that he wanted to show me his pictures from his time in Alaska. Feeling a slight sense of relief, I said that maybe we could do it another time. He begged me to come by for just a little while, so we could have a chance to talk and get to know each other outside of a crowded bar. Something inside me told me that I needed to go home, but I pushed my fears aside telling myself that I was crazy. After all, he was a friend of a friend, and up until this point he had been a complete gentleman. I agreed to hang out for a half an hour, but then I needed to go home. We arrived at his place and made casual chit chat, me complimenting him on the cleanliness of his bachelor pad, and him showing off his antlers mounted to the wall. After a short time, I told him I had a great time, but it was time for me to go. He moved closer, and leaned in to kiss me, and I moved in and let him. The kiss was sort of up there on the scale of good kisses, and I actually enjoyed it, that was until his kiss became slightly more aggressive. He began to grope me, and that is when I pushed him off. I told him I was sorry, but I was walking home.
He grabbed me forcefully, trying to convince me I wanted it. I knew I absolutely did NOT want it. I tried to push past him at which point he pushed me onto the couch. I yelled at him to stop, as he climbed on me pulling at my skirt. At this point, I shoved him with my knee again trying to leave. I did not make it far off the couch before I felt a rough yank on my hair. The pull was so hard it brought me to my knees. He threw me down on the floor, and placed his hands around my neck. In that instant, my past flashed before my eyes. This couldn’t be happening to me again! This has to be a nightmare! I screamed that I would call the police if he didn’t get off of me. The pure evil in his eyes is something I will never forget, “no one will ever believe you, look at you, you’re trash.” I was not strong enough to overpower him, and he eventually got exactly what he set out for all along.
To my surprise, after he was done he simply let me go. He was so confident that I would never report him, that he just let me leave. I ran home in the dark that night, believing every single word he said. I felt that it was my fault. I felt worthless, dirty, and I did feel like trash. He was right about one thing; I didn’t tell a soul. How would they ever believe me, over this guy who was in the Air Force, and seemed so put together. How could I prove that it wasn’t consensual? So I kept it to myself, and suffered in silence for years.
That year of my life left me anxiety ridden, ashamed, and broken. It’s a part of my life that I have pushed down inside of me for so long, that I really had convinced myself I was okay. Sexual assault, especially an attack so violent, can be crippling. It changes you, and it is not something that just goes away. It festers inside of you, eating away, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. Occasionally I will come across an article or post regarding rape and sexual assault, and I will get that feeling in the pit of my stomach. Recently I came across an article that stirred up a lot of emotions, but in a very different and unexpected way.
The article was called “Why Is It So Hard To Ask For Consent?” While some of this woman’s emotions from her experience felt familiar, there were parts of her article that did not sit with well with me. The writer’s story describes a prior sexual relationship she had with a friend back in college. Jump ahead to sometime after college, and she begins talking with this same friend about rekindling their physical relationship at a party she was hosting. She expresses feeling uncertain as the party grows nearer, and begins to have anxiety about being intimate with him again. At the party, she decides she doesn’t really want to go through with their plans, but feels guilty at the idea of changing her mind. After some drinks, they leave the party and have sex as planned. She expresses that during intercourse she cried, and wondered why he continued; why he never asked her for consent in the first place? She admits that she never said no, never told him she changed her mind, did not tell him to stop, but she felt violated afterwards. While she didn’t come out and claim these events as a sexual assault, she implied that it felt that way. She believes that all sexual partners should have to ask for consent first, no matter the type or length of the relationship. All sexual encounters, she believes, should lead with a conversation.
First, I agree that consent is very important, especially when the sexual relationship between a couple is new. If there are boundaries, they should be set beforehand, and each partner should be sure the other is ready. With that being said, as a sexual assault victim, I do not believe that every sexual encounter warrants a conversation. There are a wide variety of situations and relationships, and I believe consent comes in various forms. I would never expect my husband, or anyone that I have been in a sexual relationship with, to verbally ask for my consent whenever we find ourselves in an intimate situation. To expect my husband to ask if I am okay, or if I want it, actually seems quite ludicrous to me, and quite frankly takes the romance right out of the relationship. If I am engaging with him, and reciprocating his physical touch, kissing him, allowing him to remove my clothes etc., that is, in my opinion, a form of consent. Furthermore, I will not let my past experiences define me. I will not let the disgusting behavior of two men affect my sexual experiences for the rest of my life. I will not let them take away trust or my faith in relationships; and I will not let them continue to have power over me.
Here’s where the most important piece of all of this comes in; if for some reason I change my mind, or he is misreading my body language, it is MY job to open my mouth and communicate that. We cannot expect our sexual partners to be mind readers, especially if it’s something we do regularly, or it is something that was planned and discussed in length. They can only respond to what we tell them. At some point, when navigating these tricky encounters and relationships, we have to take accountability for ourselves and our bodies. We have to be our own voice, and effectively communicate our wants, needs, feelings, and insecurities.
We need to take ownership of our bodies, our lives, and the voice we have been given.
Something in society has made us afraid to say no, and that is disheartening. One should never feel guilty for saying no, or changing their mind, even if that decision is made once the act has already started. However, I also feel that our society has become so hyped up on the topic of consent, that the lines are becoming too rigid. Sex should never be forced or coerced. When an individual says “no”, or “stop,” that means NO. However, if an individual is misled into thinking you are consenting, and you never tell them otherwise, further engaging in the situation, never actually telling them no, you cannot fault them, and make them feel as though they are a predator or criminal after the fact. Again, this is coming from someone who has been a victim of two very different and horrific sexual assaults.
I was not there for the encounter this writer experienced. No one will ever know what their conversations consisted of, or what the parties involved were thinking and feeling. I do know that consent comes in multiple forms, sexual relationships can be confusing, and we cannot rely on someone else to read our mind or speak for us. We need to take ownership of our bodies, our lives, and the voice we have been given.
**Victims who are, or have been stuck in an abusive relationship/situation of any kind are not the topic of this article. I acknowledge that there are horrific situations in which individuals are subjected to daily physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. That is a completely different beast. This article is also not for the victims who have been raped or have experienced unwanted sexual contact of any kind. If you or someone you know has or is being sexually abused, I urge you to please seek help from a local or national organization. The number for The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), and The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233. No one deserves to suffer at the hands of an abuser, and there are people who can help you.**