Welcome to the United States, where we put victims of sexual assault, rather than perpetrators, on trial in the court of public opinion. Rape victims are guilty of looking too sexy, playing too many games, drinking too much, not fighting back enough and not going to the police quickly enough. We are always wrong. We always did too much or too little to prevent it from happening in the first place.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I was raped by a man who was 30 years older than me. A long day at work gave way to a night at a bar, but my partner in crime bailed at the last minute. I was alone, and since I was never one to back down, I planned to make the most of my solo night. Relaxation and fun was in order.
My assailant bought me a drink from across the room. Always polite, I accepted it, even though he grossed me out. Within five minutes, he and his friend sidled over and began to give me gift cards to the many businesses they both owned. They were conversationalists, and they kept buying me drink after drink. Young and naive, I was totally blitzed within 30 minutes — so much so that I knew I couldn't drive home. My assailant offered me a ride, and I was so drunk, I didn't think to refuse it. He was like a dad. The thought of his intentions never crossed my mind.
He took me to his house. I begged him "no" when I understood what was about to happen to me. When he took off my dress, a survival instinct took over, and I stopped fighting back. He raped me, and I pretended to like it so it would be over more quickly and so I could return home and call the police. It was exactly what I needed to do to survive the situation, both physically and emotionally.
The police, however, didn't agree. They told me it would be unwise to press charges because the fact that I didn't fight back hard enough would tell the district attorney that my assailant must have thought it was consensual. Plus, there was no evidence, so it was my word against his. I waited longer than 24 hours to go to the police in my state of shock, and the alcohol was gone from my system. He had used a condom. There was no proof.
"Also, he told you his name," the policeman said. "This suggests that he thought on some level that you wanted it." Or, that he was a high-powered lawyer who knew he could get away with it.
Nevertheless, I feel the condemnation of the public when I see the responses to high-profile rapes, like those accusations leveled at people like Bill Cosby.
"She waited so long to report, she must just be after money."
"Clearly it wasn't rape — she kept going back to him!"
"It sounds like a product of drinking and drug culture, not sexual assault. Now that she feels badly about her sloppiness, she's just calling it rape."
The list goes on. Yes, rape is sometimes a violent attack in which a modestly-dressed, non-drunk woman screams and fights for her life. More often, though, it is more nuanced and more confusing from the outside looking in. But if a woman doesn't want a sexual encounter at any point in the process, it is still rape and it is still horribly violating — no matter if she is drunk, provocatively dressed or flirtatious. The sooner we get that into our public conscience, the sooner we can gain back our power and make this country's rape culture a thing of the past.
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