By: Sista’ Africana
First off, I would like to provide a trigger warning, as this piece will be centered around sexual assault and consent. By telling my personal story, on how I’ve attempted to recover, and navigate life following this situation, I hope that there will be someone who can identify not only with what I share but with the feelings, justification, and confusion that followed.
Quite recently, a close friend of mine, shared a video with me that was essentially an interview of a famous poet where she acknowledged that sexual assault is partially a product of patriarchy. When I began to think of my own experience, and the excuses and justification that were provided to me when I finally found the words to confront the person who sexually assaulted me, I realized that all of those justifications stemmed from power. They stemmed from the need to control, or better yet, the feeling of not needing or having to maintain control of oneself.
Outside of the pure selfishness, lack of consideration, and impulsiveness that was clearly evident in his tone of voice, dismissal and rejection of my feelings, and excuses for how he “never thinks about things too hard” I realized that those things were a result of the inevitable power that he has as a man.
To provide a synopsis of what happened, I went to visit an ex-boyfriend of mine. I thought that a weekend away from the small, predominantly white town that I attend college in would be just what I needed to escape all of the drama and stress that I was feeling from all of the leadership roles that I have on campus to the crumbling of a very personal relationship that I had.
Here, is where I believe I made the first mistake. Choosing to go to visit an ex, in hopes that he would take my mind off of the heartbreak and craziness that I was feeling from this complicated 2 year intimate “situationship” I was in, was definitely the wrong reason to make the trip. Nonetheless, I had convinced myself that this trip, this time with this guy who I once loved, would solve all of my problems; even if it was temporarily.
Interestingly, I think many women my age, think the very same thing; whether it’s reigniting an old flame or igniting a new one, we somehow think that this will cure our heartbreak. However, I learned the hard way that this is not true at all. For a couple of weeks leading up to the trip, he and I had engaged in a couple of conversations surrounding whether or not we wanted to have sex, or if that was even something that was on our minds.
I recall myself asking him, “what exactly is it that he expected from me?” I remember thinking to myself that it was okay if sex was all he wanted, and if he wanted to just chill that was completely okay too. The more stressed I became from schoolwork and everything that comes with college life, the more I was just looking for an escape and it didn’t necessarily have to be an intimate, sexual one.
A couple of days before the trip, we had established that we weren’t going to have sex, for reasons that aren’t relevant to this story. When I arrived, seeing him for the first time was like we hadn’t missed a beat. Not in terms of intimate emotions, but like years hadn’t gone by; conversation was normal and natural. Mind you, in our establishing of not having sex, we also discussed how much work I had to do while I was there, and why I was happy to be able to do it in what I hoped would be a stress-free environment.
This, is where things immediately made a shift. After I put my bags down, I immediately opened my computer so that I could respond to emails and all of those things that we have to do. He began to question me as to why I was on my computer and why my phone kept going off. At this point, I realized that he had turned down the lights and had lit candles. I was clearly confused seeing that not even 24 hours before I got there, we had discussed that we weren’t having sex. But, I remained chill, put my laptop away, and asked him to turn on Law & Order SVU. About 3 minutes into the episode, he said, “I’m really not actually fucking with this shit” and proceeded to kiss me. There was a battle in my mind in that moment of whether I was okay with it, and maybe if I wasn’t, was it too late to say something?
I had come all the way there, did I really believe that we weren’t going to have sex? The answer to that question is yes, I genuinely believed that we weren’t. However, I went along with it and followed his lead. Unfortunately during this time, there was no care or consideration for whether or not my body was in the same place his was, so my body negatively reacted in the end as a result. Maybe 20 minutes after it was over, he wanted to have sex again, and I said, “No, I don’t want to right now, can you give me some time?”
I repeated myself 5 times because I knew the pain that I was in, and each time he pushed me over and yanked down my pants, and said “no, I want to do it now, I don’t want to wait.” After the 5th time, he proceeded to try and force his penis inside of me…over and over again. He finally got frustrated and walked away because my vagina was completely swollen shut from the first time. I realized at that moment, that I had said no, multiple times, and he didn’t listen to me.
Here, again is where I made a mistake. Instead of thinking that he would respect my wishes and not continue to try and have sex with me, I should’ve gotten my things and left. But I didn’t. For some reason, which I’ve been working with my psychologist to figure out, I stayed. I assumed that he would chill, and I would just act like that moment never happened. Unfortunately he did the opposite of what I hoped, and 30 minutes later, forced himself inside of me, after I said no again, after I had said just give me more time.
I’m unsure how he confused my screams for moans, or if he didn’t confuse them at all and just chose to ignore them. After the 4th time, I texted my friends, who had my car, and told them that I was going to make up a lie to tell him so that I could leave without him getting upset with me. Why did I give a damn about him being upset with me? He had completely violated and invaded my body multiple times. What was it that made me feel entitled to make him comfortable in any way?
I began to blame myself and thought instead of saying, “no I don’t want to right now, just give me some time” I should’ve screamed no and pushed him away from me. Why didn’t my body and mind do that? This was actually my fault. When I called my best friends and told them what happened while he was sleeping, I realized, it wasn’t my fault. I said no, multiple times, and no matter how I said it, or if I consented to one of the times and not the others, I still said no, and my no was clear. That’s all that mattered.
When I finally left, I was relieved but in the most in shock that I had ever been in my life. What made me give him chance after chance, hoping that he would respect what I wanted for myself? What happened to this just being a stres free weekend? Was the pain that I was working through with my past situation so bad that I would let someone else completely disrespect my body just so I could say that I had “moved on” or “was over it”?
When I went to see my psychologist a week later, I realized that I had not accepted what had happened for what it truly was. I couldn’t even fix my mouth to say he “sexually assaulted me” all I could say was he consistently violated me, he didn’t respect my body, and he didn’t care about what I wanted at all. I further understood these things to be true after he and I had a conversation. He repeatedly said, “I heard you say no, but I didn’t take you seriously until the end… I don’t think about things too hard, you should’ve said no more aggressively…”
This obviously pissed me off because he acknowledged that he heard me when I said no, but the power and control that he has as a man allowed him to dictate to me what a no should’ve sounded like. Ultimately, the reason I’m writing this, is to remind every woman, no matter what tone of voice that you say no in, no matter how non-aggressively you respond(ed) to being violated, you said no, and that no should be respected.
Since my trip, I’ve committed myself to seeing my psychologist to ensure that I work through why I reacted the way that I did, and how to really resolve everything that I was going through at the time. My psychologist explained to me that often times when we are in situations like that, we either freeze, fight, or flight (run away). And clearly, I froze, at least mentally. If you have to question whether or not you were assaulted, whether or not you felt violated, invaded, or disrespected, it’s likely that you were and you felt all of those different feelings.
What I’m learning is that, instead of consistently asking myself why to almost everything that happened, I have to instead say yes. Yes, this happened to me, yes I responded this way, yes this is how I feel right now. Owning these things allow me to move forward with constructive ways to first ask my body for forgiveness, forgive myself, and then forgive him.