Sexual Assault Should be Absolute. Right?

My Caffeine Free Diet Assault:

Edit: I am in no way implying that all unwanted sex is sexual assault or rape.

(inspired by Elissa Bassist’s My Caffeine Free, Diet Rape.)

I was sexually assaulted by a boyfriend my freshman year of college.  I’ve never confronted him about it, never filed charges, never even made a formal report.  So as far as everyone knows, it didn’t happen.  But I know it did.  I said don’t do x, and he went ahead and did x anyway, even as I tried to negotiate out of it.  I don’t think that it has ever crossed his mind that what he did was sexual assault.

After we broke up, he bought me dinner to apologize for the other things he had done wrong during our brief relationship.  And then wondered if we were getting back together.  I told him no, that we are “never, ever getting back together.”  I never explained why, but I hadn’t labeled it as such at the time.

I’ve heard so many stories of sex in relationships that wasn’t wholesome and wanted.  I’ve heard of duty sex, painful sex, replacement sex, etc.

But the common denominator is that the women don’t say anything, that we sit there silently, taking unwelcome sex, like inflated dolls.  We don’t say anything, or just say yes to appease those that we thought we loved.  We keep going, despite our initial statements of displeasure and cries of pain.  And then, after the boys have rolled off and gone away, we shower, brush our hair and try to hide the shame from our eyes.  We swallow our disgust with ourselves and keep on moving.  Until one day it hits us that, hey, this was assault.  This was coercive.  This was rape.  But by then, we’re too late to report, the evidence has long since washed down the drain.  We have no recourse left, and all we can do is report our experiences to anonymous survey takers.  We are left with anger at ourselves, at those who injured us, and we struggle to make our sexuality healthy again.

Like Elissa Bassist said, sexual assault should be a yes or no box to check, a simple binary.  But the truth is that sexual assault, the experience, isn’t black and white, but comes in infinite shades of gross, icky, self-loathing gray.

So for my United States readers, today is election day.  On one hand, we have a party of rape-deniers with a social agenda taken from the 1950’s.  On the other hand, we have a candidate who believes that people’s fates are intertwined with each other, and that we ought to move forward as a nation.  He passed legislation saying that being a woman should not be a pre-existindition increasing the cost of our health insurance.  So if you value your right to choose, to truly choose, not to choose from the limited palate of options that appease conservatives, head to the polls!  This is one box that you can check, that there is nothing grey or in-between about.  Vote!

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One in Four

A purple ribbon to promote awareness of Interp...

A purple ribbon to promote awareness of Interpersonal Violence and Abuse Prevention. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In honor of National Domestic Violence Month,

One in Four

Trigger Warnings: Domestic Violence

     Statistics state that one in four women will be subjected to Domestic Violence in her lifetime.  I often vacillate-am I the 25%?  Or am I over-exaggerating my experiences?

I never labeled my experience as Domestic Violence.  Not at the time.  Was it toxic?  Absolutely.  Do I have culpability in the death of our relationship?  Yes.  Was it acceptable that I felt scared of my boyfriend?  No.

Domestic violence is behavior that harms the other person in the relationship.  It can be verbal, emotional, sexual, or financial.  It includes the use of threats, gestures, glares to maintain a constant atmosphere of fear.  Behaviors that engender fear include

  • Shouting (Check)
  • Hitting Walls (Do doors count?)
  • Displaying Weapons, stalking, (no, no)
  • Prolonged silence-(I’m not sure on this one.   He would get scarily silent, but most stories talk about enduring the silent treatment for days, and I never received that.  Then again, most studies in domestic violence aren’t focused on university students, and assume that you live with your intimate partner. With him, the silence came between bouts of rage, so it was terrifying, but maybe it only felt prolonged.
  • Destruction of objects, injuries to children or pets. –(The wine bottle survived its trajectory across the room.)

Regardless of whether it met the definition of abuse, would I ever have reported his behavior?  No.

I’d like to think that he had, had he hit me, I would have left.  But I don’t know, and that’s what haunts me.  I think of myself as strong, but I allowed myself to be treated with such disrespect.  In hindsight, I almost wish that he had hit me.  It would have made forgetting and breaking up easier.  It’s hard to justify a breakup when you truly loved the person and the behavior felt vaguely justifiable.  Even if he had hit me, however, I would have never reported him-it was too trivial to matter to file a police report.

And I am not alone.  43% of women surveyed about their experience with domestic violence never reported it because it was “too trivial.”  Thirty eight percent said that it was a family issue that ought to be resolved internally.  7% sought to avoid humiliation, and 13% did not report for fear of triggering more violence.

And it’s hard to admit that that is you, that shriveling, shaking sad girl who accepts the endless barrage of insults thrown at her without offering a single word in her own defense.  The activist rendered mute.  That’s you and nobody wants to see that in a mirror.

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To this day, I’m not sure that my experience counts as domestic violence, but I have no doubts that it has affected my life.  Anyone with advice or similar experiences, feel free to share in the comments.