** Content warning: sexual assault, rape **
9/24 — 2am
As I walk home, I text two people. My feelings are generally positive—“look at me, getting out there”—and I sleep fairly peacefully, proud of myself for embracing my body because it is not something I am good at embracing.
9/24 — 8am
I wake up early with an uncomfortable feeling that something isn’t right, so I call the one person I know will be awake at 8am. I tell her the story of the evening, from start to end: my continuous "no" from before we started kissing to after it all ended, his questioning of my “no”s, his rebuttals, his classic “sometimes bad ideas feel good.” She is loving and comforting and labels the experience for me. “That’s sexual assault,” she tells me.
I spend the rest of the day watching Mamma Mia, making cookies, and hoping the gross feeling would somehow dissipate. I take three showers and tell my friends, hoping that one of them will tell me that what happened wasn’t problematic. None of them do. My discomfort grows into anger.
I see him in the local coffee shop and decide that I need to talk to him to tell him that what happened was not okay. I text him and he agrees to meet later in the day.
He tells me that men have no control of their penises, that I should know that because there must be research about it, and that the solution to sexual assault is to not trust men, to not trust him. I don’t use the terms “consent,” “sexual assault,” or “rape” because I don’t want to be labeled as over-reactive or hysterical. I tell him that I want him to commit to never acting this way again. He tells me that “malicious rape” occurs all the time and that we should be focusing on addressing that issue instead. “Fuckin’ men,” he tells me. “Men suck.”
I tell my mother over the phone in the morning and she’s here by 5pm. She makes me call the doctor. The receptionist at the doctor’s office tells me that they “don’t do rape” at the gyno and that they’d prefer I just went to the ER. I tell him that it happened 10 days ago and that all I want is to make sure I don’t have STIs.
He asks if I’ve called the police. I say no.
He asks if I know who did it. I say yes.
He asks me why on earth I wouldn’t call the police if I know who did it. I tell him I don’t want to talk about it.
He tells me he doesn’t understand.
I say that all I want is an appointment with the doctor.
These types of conversations become common—did you call the police? Did you report it? Really, you should report it, you know that, right? Why not? Why? I never have a very good answer for anyone, except that I don’t want to keep telling the story for a year, to keep reliving the moment. I just want to move forward, to forget it ever happened, to ignore my newfound lack of desire for intimacy and relationships.
He wants to talk, even though he’s “sorry to bring it up again”, because he wants to make sure we’re on the same page. This time, I’m not afraid to tell him that what happened was sexual assault, that most people I’ve told have called it rape, and that, by law, that’s what it was. He asks if I see him differently now than I did before and seems shocked when I tell him I’ve lost respect for and trust in him. He tells me that this rumor will follow him for the rest of his life, that it will keep him from doing good things, that it will keep him from making positive change in the world. I tell him that what he did will follow me for the rest of my life, that I honestly don’t think that this will impact the rest of his life much at all.
He says he doesn’t want to keep explaining the story to people who hear the rumor, because he doesn’t want it to become a “he said, she said,” because he thinks my story and my voice carry more weight than his. I ask him what story exactly he is telling. He says, “that I should have listened to you and I didn’t,” and so I say that I think we’re telling the same story. He asks me what I need from him. He says that I’ve “scared the living daylights out of him” about seven times. I feel strong.
It’s been two months. I have a breakdown in the bathroom after seeing a graphic about survivors and what survivors look like, how they act, how they feel. This is the first time I’ve cried uncontrollably about the incident and I don’t know why I am crying. It is one of those full-body cries that keeps you from breathing and gives you the hiccups.
I am doubting my memory. I know this happens to people, that they start to doubt their realities, the facts, but it feels like the facts are more gaseous than solid. I hold onto comments he made about the inside of my body to validate my experiences. I am angry that I am doubting the truth and allowing his narrative, his concern with his reputation without a concern for his actions or for my well being, to rule my mind. Where did my strength go? I want it back.
The purpose of the above narrative is to demonstrate that there is not one path or narrative of healing–it’s different for each and every person–and that healing is not linear. Ways of coping and moving forward look different for everyone. Traumatic impact can take weeks, months, years to hit and to process. The presence or absence of sadness, anger, withdrawal, anxiety, or paranoia does not validate some experiences over others.
We need to believe in a better world, one in which we hold everyone to higher standards of respect. Men cannot be written off as impulsive and uncontrolled; when men themselves subscribe to this rhetoric, we limit our ability as a community to change, grow, and be better. When people are concerned more with their reputation than with the hurt they have inflicted, we lose our footing in the fight to address trauma and pain.