It seems like I have written a number of entries over the past several months about sexual assault and rape. (https://psychobabblechat.com/2014/11/21/rape-it-has-to-stop/; https://psychobabblechat.com/2014/10/20/date-rape-is-rape/). Every time I write one, it is because something in my personal or professional life has triggered my need to say something – whether it is a news item involving a sexual assault (Hello, Bill Cosby) or a client sharing her own difficulties – something happens and keeps bouncing around in my head until I put in on paper (or computer screen).
I have had a number of clients bring up the Rolling Stone magazine article depicting the alleged gang rape of a university freshman (http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/a-rape-on-campus-20141119). I will not revisit the article (please feel free to read the original article), but be aware there are allegations the girl made the story up and supposedly the fraternity mentioned in the article is planning to sue the magazine (http://www.universityherald.com/articles/17184/20150324/university-of-virginia-fraternity-considering-lawsuit-against-rolling-stone-for-gang-rape-article.htm).
I do not presume to know what did or did not happen in this specific situation, but it has incited a number of interesting conversations in session. Most specifically, what does a sexual assault victim look and act like? This is an impossible question to answer because there is no simple answer. Someone who has been raped may be sad or angry or may act like nothing at all happened. They may continue the “relationship” with their perpetrator and may not talk about the assault for a long time – if ever. Why? Well, because sexual assault is a confusing experience.
All too often, I hear that an alleged victim is not believed because she did not “act like a victim”. Many women have told me (especially in the case of acquaintance or date rape) they might be confused about what actually happened. They may hold mistaken ideas that rape is something that happens when you are grabbed in a dark parking lot and are held at knife point, not when a boyfriend refuses to take no for an answer after you have been voluntarily making out for hours. While they are trying to make sense of it all, they may even initiate continued contact with the perpetrator. This is often misconstrued by the police or media or the world as proof that the woman engaged in consensual sex. This is not always the case – it is just such a complicated issue.
I’ve even have clients who felt they were not believed because they were not perceived as attractive enough o have been raped. Can you believe it? Total BS. Sexual assault is about violence and power – not romance. People from all ages, races, sizes – basically every possible option out there – are sexually assaulted. I hate the idea that a survivor of rape feels the need to justify their “rape-worthiness”. Load of crap.
So…. what is my takeaway message here? I just recommend that you keep an open mind. Don’t assume that anything having to do with sexual assault can ever be a simple issue. I am not advocating you always take the alleged victim at face value, but try your best to remember there is no one way to react to trauma. Just because someone is not acting like you assume you would, does not mean the trauma did not occur.
Oh crap – another rape story. I was sitting in my office the other day and was so saddened (and angry) to have yet another client share with me how rape had affected him – this time it was his girlfriend who was raped by a male “friend”. The victim did not contact the police for a myriad of reasons we have all heard before – no one will believe her, she has no “proof”, it is her fault for inviting him over – take your pick. This asshole is getting off scot free and he probably has done it before and likely will do it again.
I know what to say to the victim/survivor after the fact and I know what to tell their loved ones. What I don’t know is what to say to women to help them avoid the situation in the first place. It is getting to the point where I want to tell them to avoid spending time with any male they don’t plan on having sex with – which is absolutely ridiculous. That comes too close to blaming the victim for my taste. We need to teach men that rape is never OK. We need to teach them the definition of rape and to clarify what “no means no” really means.
When I moved to California, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) was stuck back in Michigan finishing his degree. I came out to go to grad school at Pepperdine and didn’t know a soul in the entire state. I started doing some extra work to make extra money when I wasn’t in classes. This basically means I was a human prop on various TV shows and movies. I started to make friends with other extras because you would see the same faces time after time as we were in the category of “18 to look younger” which means we were over 18 years old, but could pass as high school students. After working with a guy a few times, he offered to show me around LA and to take me to a Dodgers game. I thought this was fabulous. My boyfriend back home was less excited. He warned me this guy may have ulterior motives. I thought he was being ridiculous.
So…I ignored my boyfriend’s reservations and made plans to go out to play pool and have a couple of drinks with this guy. Which we did – it was fun. Then we bought some beer and went back to my apartment to watch a movie. I had no hesitation in inviting him over. Once we got back to my apartment, I took pause. I lived in a little bitty studio apartment. No sofa. Just my bed and a dining room table with chairs. I don’t remember if he did anything that particularly creeped me out, but I just wanted him to leave. Fortunately for me, he did. We weren’t friends after that – maybe he had ulterior motives and did not like that they didn’t play out or maybe he just didn’t want to hang out with me. Either way, that was the end of our interaction.
The next day I started thinking I was really lucky. This interaction could have gone supremely badly. I was thinking it was not smart to invite a man into my apartment alone. But you know what? F*ck that! We should be able to have male friends and be alone with them without feeling lucky we didn’t get raped. No one should ever expect, demand or force sex that is not freely given. If you ever are feeling stupid about something you may or may not have done that lead to your being violated – remember f*ck that. If anyone tries to criticize what you wore, what you did or what you said as if that justifies someone hurting you – remember f*ck that. There is never anything you can do which will make you deserve to be raped.