Okay. *takes deep breath* This is going to be a tough post to write, and I want to put some trigger warnings on it. Mainly – trigger warnings around attempted rape and sexual assault.
The past month a half of 2018 weren’t great for my mental health. I know a few friends on FB probably saw posts and thought, what the hell is wrong with her? Well…
Sweater I was wearing that night.
About mid-November I went on a date. It ended in an attempted rape. That’s the short version. The longer version I’m going to place behind a warning so that readers can skip it;
I met up with a guy for Happy Hour drinks in the space between getting off work and picking up my kid from school. We met at a bar in Uptown. He seemed nice; showed me pics of his kids, was obviously proud of his daughter’s STEM accomplishments, well-dressed. It had been roughly four months since I’d been touched or kissed anyone so when he suggested we go back to his condo I said, “Okay, but.”
And laid down some ground rules. I had at most a half hour before I needed to go pick up my kid. I wanted to make out but that was it – no sex. I clearly stated this, and more than once. We hopped in his car and drove a few blocks. Everything was fine, we’re enjoyably making out in his condo. All clothes are on – I mean all of them.
It was like he flipped a switch. He pulls at my pants and tries to get them off – ripping my zipper. He’s trying to crawl on top of me, and I feel him trying to get inside me. I’m yelling whatever I can think of, “Condom! Condom!” and manage to get enough leverage to get him off me. Note that while I fought back this time, when I was first raped in my twenties (and, yes, I’d like to keep it to once) I froze.
It literally came out of the blue – no clothes were off previously. I’d had one drink – a single glass of wine – and wasn’t even tipsy. He’d had two beers. That night I gave him a hand job to get the hell outta there* and got home to my kid.
The day after it happened I didn’t go into work. I thought I was fine. I took my laptop and my dog to a coffee shop and wrote a piece. Texted a friend that I was okay. And then, mid-morning, looked down and realized that I was shaking. Whole body convulsions. Shaking hands that wouldn’t type, shortness of breath. A panic attack.
(I had the doggie with me and, even though I didn’t get her for a therapy dog, she’s been so immensely helpful in dealing with all this)
Fucking great, I thought to myself. I’m not okay. I didn’t really have anyone that I felt comfortable calling and asking to pick me up at a coffee shop because I was having a shock/panic attack/reaction to trauma thing so I pulled myself together and got home. Texted my therapist, who fit me in first thing the next week. She, of course, asked me why I hadn’t reported him.
I didn’t report what happened for a lot of reasons. First, I’m so damned tired of dealing with the legal system and have absolutely zero faith that it would do the right thing. Second, initially there were questions in my mind (shock) about what had happened. Third, I knew the stuff that would come up. The words about “gray areas,” or how he’d point out that I went back to his place willingly. That I’d had *a* drink.
And I know the things people say; things that I wish they’d examine.
“Well, you shouldn’t have gone back to his place.” “You didn’t think he’d actually listen to your stated boundaries, did you?” “What, you just expected him to stop just because you’d said ‘no sex?’” “You did have something to drink.” “You met him online.” “Women change their minds all the time.”
What you are saying, in effect, is that I, as a woman, should expect to have what I say disregarded. That, even if I speak up and clearly state what I do and don’t want out of an evening, I should have zero expectations that a man will listen. You are saying that all men don’t listen to women’s boundaries, don’t respect them, and are completely untrustworthy.
And that’s bullshit. It’s insulting to men. It places them at the level of animals unable to control themselves around women. Here’s an example of a time it went in a completely different direction.
My second date with Massachusetts boyfriend I’d had a shitty day at work, a shitty day dealing with lawyers, and I missed my kid something fierce. I texted him on the way home from work – Hey, wanna come to my place, order sushi, and make out? No sex. He accepted.
It was a warm, fall day so we sat on my porch and ate sushi and then I crawled into his lap. Literally, just felt comfortable enough to curl up with him. We moved it into my bedroom – furniture hadn’t come yet so the mattress was on the floor – and were making out semi-unclothed. I shyly said that hey, maybe I did want sex and he started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“I didn’t bring condoms!” he explained. He told me that he knew I was in an emotionally vulnerable state when I texted and he didn’t want to sleep with me when I might regret it later. I’d said I didn’t want sex before the date. He wanted to respect that so, to safeguard against either of us changing our minds, he hadn’t brought condoms.
That’s right; he made sure he’d respect the boundaries I’d stated beforehand so that our first time having sex would be clearly consensual and respectful.
Damn, right? (and we didn’t have sex that night).
Maybe I was spoiled by one man who listened and went out of his way to respect my boundaries. Maybe because I now know that men who listen do exist I’m no longer willing to hold men to a lower standard. Maybe it’s because I call bullshit on a world that simultaneously tells women that we should speak up and then disregards our voices when we do – in the boardroom, on a date, or in the bedroom.
I had every right to expect that a man would respect my boundaries when I went on that date in November. All women should have every right, and expectation, of healthy respect from men. And I’m no longer willing to accept excuses or engage in conversations which put enforcing boundaries entirely on our shoulders (bring a knife, don’t go home with him, etc).
Men can do better. I’ve seen proof. I have many male friends in my life that I know would never act the way that man did. And I want to live in, and keep pushing for, a world where he’s the exception rather than the rule. The only way to get there is to continue to speak up about those quote/end-quote “gray” areas of sex and consent, to hold men accountable for their actions, and to stand firm in an unwillingness to accept or entertain language and excuses that simultaneously blames women and debases men.
*I’ll be writing about the trade-offs women make to get themselves out of bad situations later.