I have recently been in a situation in which I made a lot of realizations about the meaning of the word “rape”, and not just that, but also the meaning that most people in my community and in the world, it seems, takes from it.
For me, “rape” had always seemed like a distant and far-off topic — something that doesn’t happen to people I know. Rape was a violent and brutal act that happened to womyn walking home from the grocery store, grabbed by a dark stranger in an alleyway. A lot of other people in my life and that I know seem to think of it that way too.
That’s what’s wrong. What’s wrong is that we don’t realize that there are millions of other ways to be sexually assaulted — to feel sexually assaulted. You can feel sexually assaulted from the way that someone looks at you.
The fact that we all define “rape” as “forceful” sexual intercourse — this is the FBI’s definition — is why so many people type the words “was I raped” into Google every single day. Sexual assault happens in a number of different ways. You can be sexually assaulted by your friend, a stranger, an acquaintance. You can be sexually assaulted in your house and not on some dark alleyway. You can be sexually assaulted even though the whole ordeal did not include sexual intercourse.
You are sexually assaulted when someone touches you in a place where you do not want them to touch you. When someone does something to your body without your consent. When someone treats your body in a way that makes you feel violated. That’s sexual assault.
When I used to hear about girls’ stories of their sexual assault and their experience coping with it, and they would mention feeling “ashamed”, I never quite understood it. I can admit that now. But it’s important to put ourselves in their shoes. The world that we live in — the society that we are a part of — literally shames girls for being sexually assaulted. There is not even a clear definition of rape. So you don’t know whether or not you were sexually assaulted, you’re being told that if it WAS sexual assault it was probably your fault and you could’ve prevented it, and you’re feeling like shit because this whole awful crappy thing happened to you in the first place. And most of the time, the people you thought who would always be there for you are turning their backs. You don’t have a support system.
It’s important that we remember that when someone is assaulted, it doesn’t matter what they were wearing or what they said before they were assaulted or how they acted or if they drank a lot or so on and so forth. The person was assaulted. They were abused and handled forcefully and maybe they did not have it in them to push the other person off. Sometimes, people do not even have it in them to say the word “no”. But does that change anything? Does that make the fact that they went through assault valid, or okay? Does it make it their fault?
If someone puts a gun to your head and you can’t say the word “no” from how scared you are, does that mean it’s your fault when the person inevitably pulls the trigger? Is it your fault that you got murdered, that there are people who do bad things in the world like kill?
If someone breaks into your house and steals your money, and you’re awake and watching from the kitchen but the daylights have been scared right out of you because, what if the thief has a gun or a knife? and you value your life more than you value your money, does it make it your fault that they did this awful, awful thing? Does it make it any less of their fault that they chose to take something from someone forcefully and wrongfully?
And in the same way, if you’re sitting on a couch with someone you’ve been getting to know and you’ve had a lot to drink and suddenly you find yourself lying down half naked and the person is doing stuff you don’t want them to do, but you feel too upset and guilty and there’s a huge lump in your throat and you don’t want to seem mean and so you don’t say the word “no”; you don’t push them off, does that make it okay that they’re violating your body? Does it make it okay that they are doing something without your consent? Does it make it your fault for not saying the word “no”?
Because what if you did say it, and what if they didn’t listen? What if you tried pushing them off but they were bigger and stronger and you couldn’t do it? Then whose fault does that make it?