[Content warning: this post is largely a reflection on some of my feelings about rape/rape culture. Please keep this in mind if this is triggering for you.]
I think there’s a sort of cultural narrative surrounding rape — what is and isn’t rape, who gets raped, what rapists look and act like…and I think the vast majority of people who have experienced sexual assault can find these tropes to be wildly inaccurate.
A couple weeks ago I got the chance to attend my school’s “Take Back The Night”, which is an event that raises awareness about sexual violence with the goal of prevention. There was a portion of the night dedicated to sharing experiences, and after the initial nervousness of opening up, people started sharing their own personal stories.
Growing up and hearing, things like, oh, rape is a thing that happens to girls who are drunk at frat parties or alone in parking lots at night is incredibly misleading. When I think about my own experiences, my friends’ experiences, the experiences of people at that event, there are so many (so many) that don’t fit in within that narrow lens. I feel like there’s no room in society (on the whole, as a goopy abstract concept) for things that aren’t simplified and sterilized, and so when you talk about the fact that rape is very frequently something that comes from someone you don’t expect — your partner, or someone you thought was your friend — people don’t want to believe it. It clashes with the idea that rapists are scary and immediately noticeable and that rape is not actually all that common, when in reality even if you’ve never experienced sexual violence, you probably know dozens of people who’ve been raped and probably also dozens of rapists.
Which is why preventing rape needs to be about teaching consent, as much as it’s about fucking pepper spray right now.
I remember the first person I really opened up to about my assault telling me later, “I get that you’re upset, but it’s been a year. You should be over it.”
I can’t speak for everyone, obviously, but here’s how “getting over it” is for me: there’s a lot of second guessing myself, thinking that maybe my new sweetheart isn’t such a sweetheart after all. There was a period of time during the first sexual relationship I had afterwards, where I was not entirely present during sex (or before or after or anytime even remotely related). Sometimes my hands shake or I wake up with my entire body tense, although those are on and off again, sometimes bad for weeks and sometimes weeks without an issue. I went back to my hometown and had a vivid rape dream sleeping on my childhood best friend’s couch.
People are always saying that things get better, in a lot of different ways. Things get better for queer kids, for people with mental illness, blah blah blah. Apparently things get better within a year of rape, but I don’t agree that’s true.
It’s not like sexual violence is ever gonna un-happen, which is why the event isn’t called “being okay and pretending this doesn’t suck.” Anyway, I don’t really think things necessarily get better in the sense that we want them to, so that eventually it’s completely okay. Things just get different, which is its own sort of okay.