Of late my focus has been on family issues with kids and self defense. So it may come as a shock to some that I’m going to take a hard left turn for a moment and talk about something a little awkward, maybe a little messy and far less straight and narrow.
Sex and self defense.
Yup! We’re going there.
News flash, for those of you who might be new to the blog: I’m a rape and sexual abuse survivor. This year was twelve years since my last rape. There were times before that. There was other sexual abuse before that. Many times. By many different men.
To say that I had a messed up sexual beginning would be an understatement. The decisions I made to get into some of the most abusive relationships of my life sprang from a viscous cycle of abuse, feelings of my self-worth being directly related to my sexuality, low self-esteem, fear, confusion over what I wanted vs what others wanted and the inability to stand up for myself.
From a very early age I learned that, “no” meant nothing to some people and it seemed to go a lot quicker and quieter if a victim simply consented to being a victim. I stopped trying to tell people no.
That mindset kept me a victim for the majority of my childhood up through middle school and high school. It kept me spiraling down a black hole of abuse, bouncing off a debris of twisted men until I landed on the bottom and into the arms of someone who wasn’t content with my placid indifference to him.
It wasn’t enough for him to just have me. He needed to hurt me. And he hurt me very badly.
It’s hard to describe a life-changing moment. The images of light bulbs turning on or windows opening doesn’t seem to do it justice. Not when you’re lying in a bed, covered in bruises and staring at a sky you never thought you’d see again. When you’re thankful to be alive in a very raw, real and literal way. But also knowing that it was your life decisions (or lack thereof) that put you in that place.
No, it wasn’t my fault I was raped. I didn’t make him beat me. I didn’t ask to be choked. I didn’t want what happened to me and I reject the fault for that, but I set myself up by not avoiding guys like him. I didn’t shut him down when he approached me even though I had zero interest in him in any way. My ambiguity about what I wanted and what I didn’t want and my inability to express those differences left me open to him deciding what direction the relationship would take. And he took it to his garage with a chain around my neck.
Had I shut him down the moment he showed up he would have moved on to another victim. Someone else just like me. But not me.
And then there was that moment.
Looking at the sky I thought I’d never see again, feeling ecstasy at the illusion of the newness of my life, I felt dread at the reality and awareness that if I continued on this road it would absolutely kill me.
The man who raped me wouldn’t be the last. The last wouldn’t be the worst. It might not be the next time or the next man but eventually I would end up with someone who controlled me like he did, someone who abused me and eventually beat me. Instead of letting me go, this person would marry me and just like every other man before him I would be unable to say, “no.” I would be his property and when I was never good enough, never sexy enough, never faithful enough, never sorry enough, he would kill me.
And there it was. The totality of my future in one of the most painful, frightening and beautiful moments of my life. It wasn’t a light bulb. It wasn’t an open window. It was awareness. It was honesty. It was taking responsibility for my role in my life or what would be left of it if I didn’t change.
That was my “no more” moment–my “never again.” The first step on that road was changing myself.
Victim Blaming Or Honesty?
Talking about sexual abuse, rape and victims is a lot like walking a tight rope with a wet cat in each arm in the middle of a hurricane. You are bound to fall and despite your best efforts someone is going to misunderstand your message as victim blaming or perpetuating a rape culture (whatever that means).
One of the most honest conversations we should be having is turning into a sham. A ruse where we confuse between being smart and taking responsibility with blaming and being some sort of rapist sympathizer.
I’m not going to mince words and if you can’t understand what I’m about to say then that is your disconnect, not mine. I do not, in any way, condone rape. I believe the sole individual who is responsible for the actions of rape and sexual abuse is the rapist or the abuser. They should incur the full wrath of the courts, society, media and everything else we can throw at them.
It is never the fault of the victim for being raped or sexually abused. Living a certain lifestyle, wearing a certain type of clothes, drinking, partying, being in a particular relationship does not mean that one deserves to be raped or abused. It does not excuse the animals who take advantage of those people. There should be a special place in hell reserved for people who say things like, “She (or he) deserved it.”
Today, I read an article titled, “Why is Common Sense ‘Blaming the Victim’?” (Please read the link, it’s very good). It asks some pretty reasonable questions about how taking common sense approaches and having common sense discussion about avoiding a violent crime like rape are being misconstrued as victim blaming.
The horror of it all is that, when we shift the conversation from practical means of avoiding a violent crime to the narrative that we should be able to do whatever we want and not have to acknowledge the risks, we set up a bunch of young women for failure.
We tell them there is no personal responsibility for safety even when we expect people to take that responsibility in many other areas of their lives.
Something else the author touched on in his piece was responsibility of taking charge of your sexual desires.
But there’s a troubling psychological reason that young women binge drink: they’re anxious. They’re self-conscious. They’re uncomfortable with the sexual expectations they face (or think they face) in party situations. They expect themselves to participate in sexual activities they may not want to do—or that they can’t admit to themselves that they want to do. Either way, alcohol strips young women of inhibitions that can feel quite inconvenient.
And so they drink so much that they become vulnerable. Unable to assess risk accurately. Unable to intervene in situations when they want to. Unable to say “I want X,” unable to say “I don’t want Y.” These disabilities are the logical climax of deliberately disabling their inhibitions—all so they can cope with their ambivalence, inability to communicate, and self-enforced isolation about sexuality.
If our young women find sex so simultaneously desirable yet unnerving that they have to get semi-conscious to give themselves permission to participate, there’s a serious problem we should be addressing. This is NOT anyone’s license to rape them; being anxious and drinking to cope with anxiety does NOT mean you deserve to be raped.
But a little self-honesty would go a long way here.
The Sexual Survivor
And there it is.
One of the hardest parts of being a sexual survivor was figuring out what kind of sex I liked and what I didn’t. Most of my sexual experiences, positions, discussions, or interaction were introduced to me in my childhood through some form of sexual abuse, forced sexual encounter or rape.
Part of determining to start my life anew was to take that back.
I refused to allow my abuse let me have a lifetime of negative associations with something that was supposed to be one of the most awesome, pleasureful experiences of a human being’s life on earth.
Wiping that slate clean was a lot like trying to wipe permanent market off a white board. No matter how hard you scrub, the residue was still there.. is still there. It never goes away completely but you can clean it up to the point where the real message gets through and you really have to look hard to see the mess behind it.
I was resolute and in that resolution I learned something very important: my taking control over my own sexuality and what I liked and what I didn’t like was the very first step in protecting myself against ever being raped again.
Not knowing what I wanted and didn’t want wasn’t fair to me and it wasn’t fair to anyone I would later be with. It was also far too confusing to try to figure out in the context of who might be abusing or taking advantage of whom.
If I’m sending out all of the “go” signals and have sex but later regret my decision because I did something that maybe I didn’t want to do was I raped? Was I not? What if I want to do it but don’t particularly want to do it with that guy but I want to do it so I do it anyway? Was I raped? Am I taking advantage of him or is he taking advantage of me? Are we both taking advantage of each other?
How could I tell the difference?
I decided the first step was learning and being exceptionally clear about what I wanted and what I didn’t want. Those who were not rapists would respect my wishes. Those who were would not. If I agreed to try something and decided it wasn’t for me a non-rapist would acknowledge that and be okay with the change in schedule. A rapist would not.
It was that simple.
Maybe not easy, but definitely simple.
I had a lot of fun figuring that out. And I’m not ashamed of it. I can’t be. I refuse to be.
I come from a particular upbringing that says I should be. That good girls don’t have unmarried sex and they certainly shouldn’t enjoy it. They certainly don’t write about it!
My ability to be prudish about my sex life seemed to be abruptly altered the first time someone stuck his penis in me while I cried.
I needed to take that back. I did. I am a decisive, sexual survivor. And I’ve never been raped again. My wish is that other women might be able to make those decisions for themselves. That includes if they want to abstain from sex completely.
Does that mean that once women embrace their sexuality we will be free from rape? No. I am not that naive, nor that stupid. There will still be sexual predators in this world waiting to prey on the vulnerable. There will still be shame and guilt. We will still have to teach the next step in this evolution which is avoidance, escape and ultimately physical defense from someone who might try to attack you. But we can definitely start by getting rid of the ambiguity in our own lives.