Stand Up, Take Action: A Guest Post

Yesterday was International Women's Day, and March is Women's History Month (at least in the States). Women have come a long way in our quest for equality, and some might argue (incorrectly) that we're already there. As much progress as we've made, sexual violence against women, largely by men, is still a problem worldwide. American society has improved in taking rape seriously, but as a whole, we still dismiss sexual assault that falls short of rape. 

Every time I have opened up about my own sexual assaults, another friend confides in me about her own experiences. One of them has asked to share her story, on the condition of anonymity.

Just under two years ago, I was almost raped. I was 21, spending the summer in a foreign country. I was at a party with both Americans and foreigners. I was drunk, so I went upstairs to sleep it off. I’m not sure how long I was asleep, but the next thing I knew, I woke up with one of the Americans with on top of me, with his tongue shoved down my throat, his hands exploring my body. I was drunk and disoriented, but I managed to throw him off of me. I was so shocked that I just went back downstairs. I don’t (can’t) think about what may have happened had I not woken up at that exact moment. I didn’t say anything that night—though I did tell a few of my friends in confidence a few days later (they were sort of in disbelief; they didn’t know really how to think, or react). Not that I can blame them—I didn’t know how to react either. I didn’t report the incident because I didn’t want to start drama (how fucked up is that?) Perhaps what is even more fucked up is the could-have-been repercussions. What if I had been raped, and could not access Plan B (or the country’s equivalent?) I don’t even know if one can access it over the counter there! What if I hadn’t been able to access Plan B and I had gotten pregnant (well, I guess then it wouldn’t have been a legitimate rape, right Todd Akin)? What if I would not have been able to access an abortion? Thankfully, none of these things happened to me, but these are issues that women who are raped face. Every. Single. Day.

When I was 17, I was still a kissing-virgin.  I wanted my first kiss so badly. As a teenage girl you are taught that your worth is determined by your sex appeal (and seriously, what high school student has sex appeal--so disgusting). In addition, I had tons of body insecurities all throughout high school—I was very athletic and was frequently teased to the point of bullying about my “manliness” (and therefore lack of sex appeal). Anyway, as inexperienced as I was, I was desperate for any sort of action. The opportunity came along, and I found myself alone in a hot tub with a guy I had known since freshman year. It was sort of like a movie; we got closer and closer until our lips touched and our tongues intertwined. (And for the record, the kiss sucked—I have never experienced a more awkward, dispassionate form of affection). However, the next thing I knew, he had pulled me onto his lap, he was massaging my clitoris through my swimsuit, and he was feeling me up like I was some sort of stuffed doll. That was my first ever sexual encounter. I have never felt more violated (until I the incident abroad when I was 21), and though it happened six years ago, it still affects me.

I always knew I didn’t like what had happened between that guy and me in the hot tub when I was 17. What is even more sad is that I didn’t even know it was sexual assault until I took a Women’s Studies class my senior year of college (I will forever be grateful for that class). I thought I “deserved what I got” when I was 17. I had kissed him, so therefore I had led him on, so therefore he was allowed to do whatever he wanted to me (because society believes that men should not be held responsible for their sexual urges and actions). Because the kiss was consensual, he was therefore allowed to feel me up and fondle my vagina (again, you can’t hold men accountable). The clitoral stimulation, as badly as I didn’t want it happening, technically “turned me on.” Have you ever heard the question: “If a woman orgasms during rape (or sexual assault), then was it actually rape? She must have wanted it.” (In case you were wondering, I didn’t orgasm during this encounter, and the answer to that question is YES, women [and men] can, in fact, involuntarily orgasm during rape. It is STILL rape or sexual assault). Finally, I was wearing a bikini. You know that men cannot control their dicks (penises have their own brains) so, because I was dressed so “provocatively,” I was clearly “asking for it.” As for almost being raped when I was 21; well, let’s be honest: I was drunk, and therefore put myself in a vulnerable situation. If I didn’t want to be raped or sexually assaulted, I should have stayed home (because women belong in the home). I should not have been drinking (because bad things can happen to women who drink). Finally, I definitely should not have been wearing a dress in 100+ degree weather—I was clearly “asking for it” because I was dressed way too “provocatively.”

Now, you may think that all of these reasons I just listed are ridiculous—I agree with you. But unfortunately these are the arguments used against women. Every. Single. Day. This is called slut-shaming or victim-blaming, and it’s an aspect of rape culture. It’s nothing new. If a woman is raped, it’s “her fault” because of the way she was dressed, because she was drunk, because she was walking alone at night, because she danced with someone on the dance floor (she was clearly turning him on and asking for more). God forbid a man would be held responsible for his CHOICE to rape or sexually assault an innocent woman or girl. It sucks that, even after all of this time, I STILL question and doubt everything about myself, because society STILL blames me for the actions men. (Ever heard, “Well, she should have kept her legs closed,” or “She was such a slut because she wore a short skirt,” or “Well, she was asking to get raped in that outfit”).

Guess what readers: I can assure you that I was not, “asking for it.” I didn’t kiss the guy in the hot tub expecting him to violate my body. I didn’t go out in a foreign country with my friends with the intentions of being almost raped. I didn’t put on a swim suit and think, “What will a guy’s penis think if it sees me in this? Will penises be able to control themselves?”  No woman ASKS to be raped or sexually assaulted. Ever.

I never reported either one of my sexual assaults (the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, because many people don’t know much about it, or don’t know how to do it!) However, I shouldn’t have felt like I was “starting drama” or “gossiping” by reporting my sexual assaults or confiding in friends (and family) I thought I could trust. I didn’t deserve to have some of my friends take it light-heartedly; I didn’t deserve to have one of my parents tell me, “Well, that’s what guys do,” and I didn’t deserve condescending judgments from my counselor.  

Most of all, I didn’t deserve to be sexually assaulted. Not because I was drunk. Not because I was wearing a dress. Not because I was wearing a swimsuit. Not because I had voluntarily kissed a guy in a hot tub. No one EVER deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted. And it has taken me over five years to come to these realizations.  Because, “telling men they just can’t help themselves not only drives home the point that women’s sexuality is unnatural, but also sets up a disturbing dynamic in which women are expected to be responsible for men’s sexual behavior,” (Valenti 2009).

For five years, I have questioned my worth as a woman and as a person (though perhaps the two go hand-in-hand) because of these sexual assaults. For five years, I have had an extremely hard time committing to relationships. For five years, I have feared men. And that’s not fair, because most men are not rapists. In fact, only approximately 6% of men are rapists (which is shocking, because approximately 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime.) This means that these men commit multiple rapes or assaults. And like 95% of rape and assault victims, I knew both of my “attackers.” Many people picture rape or sexual assault as something that happens to young, white, chaste, Christian girls who are brutally sodomized or gang-raped. However, sexual assault and rape is so much more common than that (one of feminists’ biggest accomplishments was establishing that spousal rape does in fact, exist).
   
Modern-day feminists strive to deconstruct and eliminate rape culture, as well as de-stigmatize rape and sexual assault. I have always been a feminist, but didn’t become active until my revelations. It’s pretty awful that feminism is now considered by many to be a “dirty word” (because it’s far from that). I hope that as I heal from these traumas, I can help other women and girls in my life. To achieve this, I educate myself more thoroughly on the subjects. I also research and tweet important, key articles. I will advocate that sexual assault & consent be taught in schools, and become a crucial aspect of comprehensive sex education. (As I stated before, it took me five years and a college-level Women’s Studies class to realize that I was sexually assaulted twice, and that what had happened to me was NOT my fault). Not that this is any excuse, but many people simply just do not know what constitutes rape, sexual assault, or consent. By adding this into school curriculum, I know that the number of sexual assaults will drastically drop.

Remember, 1 in 4 or 5 women is sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Think about that next time you are scrolling through your Facebook friends. The next time you hear someone promoting rape culture, speak up. The next time you hear someone call someone else a slut or a whore, tell them to choose another word, and educate them about what they know. If you see that your school district is teaching Abstinence Only Education, go to your school board.

Side note: “Abstinence-only education programs have received more than $1.3 billion in funding since 1996,” (Valenti 2009). The average teenager loses his or her virginity at 17; whether or not they are educated on birth control does not make a difference on when someone starts having sex. Young people (all people, really), “deserve accurate and comprehensive sex education not just because they are going to have sex, but because there is nothing wrong with having sex,” (Valenti 2009).

So, readers, I urge you to Stand Up, Take Action, and help to protect all the women (and men) in your life, so they don’t have to live with the stigma of sexual assault. Because as Americans, living in a country we where women are “supposed to” be seen as “naturally nonsexual and men as innately ravenously sexual sets up a dangerous model that allows for sexual violence. […] Sexuality should be—as Millar says—the presence of a “yes,” and not the absence of a “no,” (Valenti 2009).

Works Cited:

Valenti Jessica. (2009). Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women. Berkley, CA, USA: Seal Press.

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