The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of the Project for Open Voices. Today’s essay is Blurred Lines: Actually Not So Blurry Once it Happens to You. It was authored anonymously and is being published in honor of Take Back the Night, which is a week of events and dialogue concerning sexual assault. POV is always accepting new submissions, so if you want to share your story, email email@example.com – if you prefer to submit anonymously, the login password is kenyoncollege.
Trigger warning: Please be aware that the piece below involves sexual assault and may be triggering. The Sexual Misconduct Advisors (740-358-1544) and the Counseling Center are available 24/7.
Two weeks ago I was raped by my 26-year-old host brother while abroad in South America on the first night I arrived at his house. He invited me to go out with him to his friend’s party and I quickly accepted, excited to get to know someone that was supposed to become family. I was completely on his turf as I entered his car, to go to his friend’s party and then come home to his house where I was to be living for the next five months in his strange new country that he was supposed to be introducing me to.
He was a perfect gentleman at the party until he offhandedly mentioned that if I was getting tired, his “bed was much bigger than mine.” I responded very clearly that I had no intent of hooking up with my new host brother, thank-you-very-much. But the party was fun and his friends were nice, so I agreed to go to a club with them after. There, he persistently demanded I drink more beer until he took the large cup he had bought me and pushed it to my mouth, causing me to spill down my clothes in embarrassment. All his friends were looking at me so I took a couple large gulps and handed the cup back.
The music was pulsing in my ears and the crowd looked like a blur of darkness as we made our way to the door. He grabbed me by the back of my jeans and pulled me against his body. I remember feeling everyone’s eyes on me as he continued to shove his hand down my pants. Mortified that everyone would see and repulsed at being touched in such a public place, I pushed his hands away and told him to stop. When I stepped back, he pulled me right back in, and in the end I remember leaning against his body and putting my face to his shoulder to hide from the judgmental stares while the pounding electronic beat passed over me. When he tried to kiss me I told him we needed to leave right now, making sure he knew that nothing like would ever happen again.
I kept trying to get his hands off me as we made our way back to his car because it frustrated me that I couldn’t walk straight and not fall without his support. In the car, the lights of the city blurred past me as he was able to control the steering wheel with one hand, occasionally sending a text message or adjusting the radio, and grope my body with the other while all I could do was watch. I pushed his hand away and told him to stop, putting my hot face against the cold window so my brain could be far away from what was happening as my body sat paralyzed in ecstasy in the passenger seat.
We got back to his house and he told me to come up to his room to which I refused. He kept persisting so I started to make out with him in the isolation of his car, hoping that would be enough to end it. After being persistently touched for the entire car ride home my own body craved to be touched in a way that was so electric it sickened me. I reminded him again that what had happened would never leave the car as I slammed the door shut and walked up to my room as quickly as I could, afraid that either my legs would take me back to him or I would give in once again. He followed me the whole way there.
We had sex. First with a condom that I forced on despite his physical and verbal reluctance, but then I allowed him to take it off because he convinced me it would make it end quicker. In the end, he never finished because I forced him out the door and locked it, but I had sex with him.
It kills me to include my own actions in what happened but I wouldn’t be speaking honestly if I didn’t say this: I feel like an active participant in my rape. Many times throughout the night I pushed him away, ran away, said no, but what haunts me the most is that I kept giving in. I was too drunk for my body, so physically pleasured by his consistent groping, to actively fight back. Although multiple times I shut myself in my bathroom and refused to leave until he was gone, all I remember is the fact that he got me to come out. He made me feel so stupid for hiding from him, tauntingly asking me if I was scared, that I felt the need to prove myself.
If I let it wander, my mind flashes back to those ten seconds, forever burned into my memory, when I actually received physical pleasure from having sex with my rapist after I decided to be on top. I knew that in order to regain dignity in this situation, take back control and retain that unique part of myself that enjoys sex and feels so comfortable having it, I needed to have sex with him on what felt like my own terms. I know many people would deny that I was raped because of this blurry detail, this confusing moment during my rape that seems to flip the whole situation upside down, casting doubts on who was really at fault. In fact, before two weeks ago I probably would have been one of them. But I would have been so wrong.
Before two weeks ago, I too, a Kenyon woman, passionate feminist and proud Sexual Misconduct Advisor, believed that the reality of rape was extremely confusing, vague, and blurry at best. I want to tell you that I’ve changed my mind: when you are raped, you know it. The anxiety, the constant crying, the repulsion at the idea of sex, the deep and utter shame, the flashbacks, the nausea and panic every time I see my rapist, my bed, the clothes I was wearing the night it happened, and the feeling of helplessness that my own body has betrayed me: I learned the hard way that there is absolutely no blurred line in the emotional experience of the victim.
The “blurred lines” come not from the ambiguity of the definition of rape nor from the experience of the victim, but from our reluctance to call a blatant act of sexual assault what it really is. When my friends and family diagnosed my story as “bad but not terrible,” told me that I was “taken advantage of but not raped,” I felt weak, melodramatic, and crazy. I wondered why I was sad all the time, why I wasn’t strong enough to get over what had happened. I learned that when we deny the victim the right to call her or his experience what it really was, which is rape, we invalidate their emotional trauma and make it impossible for them to heal.
What blurred my experience were the unfiltered, uneducated, and insensitive reactions I received that caused me to question my actions and blame myself. Despite all the positive support I received, the negative reactions were the ones that stuck, polluting my mind and warping my perceptions of what happened. No matter how hard I tried to ignore them, when someone else validated my deepest fears I knew they were true. Some were simply ignorant, like “He’s really hot though!” Thank you, Stupid-Girl-Who-Thinks-I-Was-Lucky-To-Be-Raped! I don’t care if I was raped by fucking Channing Tatum, it doesn’t make it any better. Similarly:“But he’s a very good person otherwise!” Well I’m glad YOU like him!
But some were worse. I received this one from my “liberal,” well-intentioned-butpainfully-uniformed mother:“This was a really stupid decision you made! With your education, you should have been screaming.” I self-identify as a pretty strong-willed, feminist woman who knows the ins and outs of how to navigate sex. So yes, Mom, I had a little bit of an identity crisis after I allowed myself to fall into something I pride myself in knowing so much about. What I’ve learned is this: rape is not just something that happens to girls who are afraid to say no. (I literally thought I was the last person on planet earth who would be raped before it happened to me.) Next, I’m realizing that despite my extensive education, no one ever told me that while being raped, my primary concern would not be “escaping rape at all costs.” In my drunken, mortified, victimized mind I feared that my brand new host family would know that I was hooking up with my host brother. My priority was that no one would hear.
My mom continued: “Obviously if you were the one to get the condom, you had some control in the situation.” Intellectually I knew this was blatant slut-shaming and it was wrong. That being said, after I was told exactly what I feared most, there was no way I could talk myself out of thinking it: because I had enough control in the situation to make this last gesture to protect myself, I couldn’t have been raped. I only realized the insanity of this when my friend told me that all she remembers is the fact that he not only raped me, but also succeeded in doing so without a condom. (Also, did you know that you need to see a doctor and get a prescription for an STD test here?! Two appointments and 29 dollars later I am now even more pissed than before).
Here’s another biggy. This happens to be verbatim what my 23-year-old sister told me after I grudgingly told her the full story, complete with the “blurry details.” (I decided to secretly record her on Garage Band without her knowing.) #TRIGGERWARNING! “If you draw a circle around the whole event and you say ‘that was rape,’ does that not allow you to write off the mistakes you made?” To this I would say, yes it does. Because those “mistakes” I made were ones both I and my rapist knew I didn’t want to happen. She continues: “I think you have a few things to own up to. Like the fact that you started making out with him in the car and you got the condom. You know what the things are because they’re the things you feel like shit about. Those are things that you did because you, in that moment, were feeling attracted to him! And so YOU did those things. You weren’t completely dominated by this man because you made the decision to go forth with them.” Ouch. By far the worst part of this statement was her inferring what our society says constantly, which is: “You wanted it.”
Because I have thought about this more than any ignorant spectator ever could, here is what I’ve concluded: I did “want it.” In fact, my body was physically manipulated into wanting it and that is precisely what made my experience rape. There exists a natural physiological reaction that occurs when a victim is touched persistently against her or his will in which that individual’s body is turned on and forced to “want it.” (I want us to think for a moment: If a man was being groped against his will, would we blame him for having an erection? This is the same thing.) I have experienced the disconnect between one’s body and mind that occurs when a victim is also under the influence of alcohol or drugs and I am telling you that it makes it nearly impossible to obey one’s own intellect. The victim’s sexual responses by no means reflect his or her initial “desire.” It is still rape if the victim does not fight against her/his rapist at every point, or if the victim physically “wants it.” Because let me tell you, when you know you can’t win because your body is being both sexually and physically coerced into a sexual act, you willingly, maybe even actively, choose the path of least resistance.
I’m trying my best to explain the reality of rape because not even I understood it before it happened to me. After comparing rape stories with my best friend, who hadn’t previously told me all the details of her experience because of how deeply she was publicly shamed when it happened, I realized this: the way our minds followed such a similar script validates rape as a legitimate, psychological trauma. Our bodies did things we still can’t explain to try to take back control, and our minds suffer flashbacks, moments of severe anxiety, and guilt. For example, I realized today that sitting in the passenger seat of a car sets me into a downward spiral that causes my heart to pound and waves of nausea to hit me because I am taken back to that feeling of utter helplessness I felt in my rapist’s car as he groped me.
As frustrating as it is to be intellectually aware of your own irrationality, my emotional experience validates the fact that I was raped. It has taught me that sexual assault is in fact not blurry when you experience it firsthand. It only took me about four days to fully accept that I had been raped and start hating the world and most of the people in it. Due to the determined attachment to my rapist, some bizarre psychological effect I don’t think I will ever understand, it took me two more weeks agree to move out: to accept that what happened happened, and that there was no way I could win against someone to whom I’d already lost. While maybe the infamous “blurred line” exists inside the victim’s own, irrational, fucked-up, post-rape subconscious, in no way should it be further reinforced by a society that is more afraid of using the “r” word than validating a survivor’s experience. The last thing a victim needs is to be told it’s their fault, because let me tell you, victims of rape blame themselves all on their own without anyone else blurring the lines for them.