Babysitting has always been an easy source of cash for predominantly teenage girls. I’m no exception; I babysit at least once a week to fund my increasingly expensive social life. One natural side effect of babysitting is being able to observe the attitudes of children about various big-picture themes and potentially increase their own social skills. I went to go babysit for a nice family with two little boys, a 4 and 6 year old. Most of their behavior was expected and I had an easy time correcting it; they didn’t share well, so I told them why that was important. They hit each other, so I sent them to time out because violence isn’t okay. But when the 4 year old tried to kiss me on the lips and I said no, he didn’t quite understand the concept. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t want to kiss him and he had to respect my words. He said that if I didn’t kiss him, he would hit me. I didn’t let him kiss me, and he punched me in the face because “boys are supposed to kiss girls and since you didn’t let me, I get to hit you”.
When did society redefine the word “no”? According to dictionary.com, the word “no” is a negative used to express denial or refusal. In most situations, that meaning still holds. However, when it comes to sexuality, the word takes on a whole new meaning. The person saying yes has more power than the person saying no when it should be the opposite. This is the foundation of rape, and while it begins in childhood, it certainly doesn’t stop there.
I’ve known many women who have been sexually assaulted and raped, and personal connection has always incited me to do whatever I could to change the hostile environment that society allows when it comes to victims of sexual violence. This includes making my own school a safe place, which is a significantly more difficult task than it seems. It’s not so much the administration or faculty who hinder my efforts, but rather the attitudes of my peers.
When I speak out on behalf of sexual assault victims at my school, I’m met with a negative reaction 95% of the time. Students of both genders will show their disdain with comments that are geared to not only undermine what I do, but to attack me as a person. This has always confused me because I’m not trying to do a bad thing; I want to make the school a safe environment for victims of sexual violence and also prevent people at my school from being perpetrators.
But until now, I never truly realized the implications of what a hostile environment meant for a victim. I guess it’s difficult to know what it’s like until it happens to you, and even then, you don’t quite know what to think about everything or anything. It’s hard to not adopt the mindset of those around you concerning sexual assault. It’s hard to not blame yourself. It’s hard to not make excuses for your rapist. It’s hard to not forget about everything that happened. In a situation that’s already hard enough, the accusatory and judgmental mindset of society puts the victim on trial for the crime.
I was 15 when I first got pressured into doing something sexual that I didn’t want to do. Before that point, I had been privy to cat calls and unsolicited sexual attention, but it was all “normal”, so I didn’t pay it much mind. In fact, I thought it was flattering because guys thought I was pretty. Then I started kissing boys and boys started kissing me, and then it started going farther and that was fine because I knew my boundaries and I made sure that boys knew them too. But then one time I was kissing a boy and things were going too far and I said that I didn’t want to do anything anymore, that I wanted to stop. I thought saying “no” one time would be enough. It wasn’t. He tried to persuade me, tried to convince me that it would be fun, tried to tell me that everything was okay and that I needed to stop being a bitch. I really liked this boy and I wanted him to like me so I nodded and did what I was told.
I was 16 the first time I was sexually assaulted. After the incident that happened when I was 15, I moved my boundaries back a little more because “what the hell, it doesn’t mean anything anyway”. Then I had a boy that I thought was just a friend come over to my house and I learned that even if you repeat the word “no”, it still isn’t enough. He shoved me up against my bedroom wall and tried to take off my clothes, tried to have his way with me. I could barely fight him off. Then he slapped me, I suspect for the same reason that the 4 year old that I babysat for punched me. Boys are supposed to kiss girls and since I didn’t let him, I deserve to be hit.
I was almost 17 the first time I was raped. After the incident that happened earlier that year, I moved my boundaries back even more because “what the hell, no one will respect them anyway”. Then I went out with a boy I sort of knew, and he started kissing me and I let it happen, but I specifically told him that I would not have sex with him. I thought at least that boundary would be respected. He tried to persuade me, tried to convince me that it would be fun, tried to tell me that everything was okay and that I needed to stop being a bitch. I still said no. I said no the entire time, but this time I couldn’t fight him off. After it was over, he said he thought I was “one of those girls who says she doesn’t want it but is really just playing hard to get”. Then he apologized and left. I was in shock after it happened. I ignored it and went on with my day. I laughed, I smiled, I went to my friend’s house and never said a word. It hit me the next day. I let myself cry for 30 minutes, and then I tried to reason with myself.
It couldn’t have been rape because I didn’t bleed even though I was a virgin. It couldn’t have been rape because he didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt me; he just wanted to have sex. It couldn’t have been rape because it would have been my fault because I knew the reputation he had and I went out with him anyway. It couldn’t have been rape because I wanted it, right?
Then I watched some TV and tried to forget. I babysat some more and tried to forget. I went to sleep and tried to forget. I can’t forget.
I called the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline and spoke to a nice, helpful woman about my options. I didn’t want to go to the police because if I pressed charges, everyone would know. I couldn’t handle people knowing for two reasons: 1) I knew what people would say about me and 2) I knew that my rapist would get people to hate me. Whenever someone claims that they’re sexually assaulted, their peers will either try to blame them (what were you wearing? why did you put yourself in that situation?) or say they’re making it up (just because you regret it doesn’t mean it was rape!) Additionally, the rapist will try to make the victim seem guilty (I thought she wanted it! She’s a slut anyway. She’s lying!) My other option was to try and talk about it with friends to build a support system. The number of people I felt comfortable talking to was shockingly low. I couldn’t even tell my best friend or family what happened because I didn’t want to be blamed. I was blaming myself enough already, I couldn’t handle someone else interrogating me about what happened. I felt so alone and so unsafe and it took a long time for that feeling to go away. It still hasn’t gone away.
This guy wasn’t a serial rapist. He wasn’t a scary psychopath. In fact, I was never really scared the entire time that we were together, which is confusing even to me. He was just a normal, popular high school boy that wanted to have sex with another high school girl and so he did it. He knew that what he was doing wasn’t right (hence the apology), but if he were to read this article, he would have no idea that I wrote it about him. He doesn’t think he raped me. He just thinks that we had sex and I didn’t like it. This is the case for a startlingly large number of young adults who rape other young adults. 1 in 5 women are the victims of an attempted or completed rape, and of that number, 44% are under the age of 18 according to the New York Times and RAINN. He is one of the countless reasons why we need to talk about consent, and rape, and communication, and healthy sexuality. I am one of the countless reasons why we need to have that conversation. The people at my school make up the countless reasons why we need this education.
In all honesty, I’m terrified of having this article published. I’m terrified of the reactions I’ll get if/when people who know me read this. I’m terrified that a college could see this article and reject my application for some reason based off of it. I’m terrified that my parents will read this and never let me see another boy. I’m terrified that if I admit to what happened, people will never look at me the same again.
But I shouldn’t have to be afraid.