It was the first time I’d ever used a fake ID, the first time anyone had ever bought me a drink, the first time I’d ever worn too little clothes on a freezing December night because hours of dancing didn’t need a winter coat. I was celebrating the end of an intensely controlling and jealous relationship: new friends, new excitement. Twenty five drinks had quickly saturated every one of my hundred pounds and had catapulted me to a happily flirtatious and dangerously trusting state. I was going to make up for all the frat parties and drunken nights I had missed under the control of my ex.
It was the first time I’d gotten to be a normal college girl, just doing fun dumb things with fun dumb friends. I mixed liquors, I laughed, I shared my deepest secrets and a bathroom stall with a girlfriend, I writhed on the dance floor, I felt beautiful and young, and immortal. But like one in five college women, I also was the victim of sexual assault.
I was raped, and it took me years to admit it.
I couldn’t remember much of the night if I tried, a blurry string of images my brain didn’t want to save. There was a huge banner, some combination of Greek letters that I had never bothered to learn, plastered like a badge of honor on the wall. Intermittent trash, beer cans and whatever else a house and boys like this acquired. The guy that had walked me there seemed fine, normal. He had kept his arms around my shivering frame while his friends guided us from the bar to their apartment, an act of ingrained chivalry or some way of signaling “dibs.” I don’t remember exchanging a single word, but somehow I knew his name.
I remember him behind me, forcefully pressing his hard-on against my butt, his hands encircling my waist and trapping me in his grip. I numbly felt his desire against me, his hot breath panting in my ears. I remember wearing only my underwear after being flung onto the mattress on the floor, just a flat sheet dirtily clinging to its home.
I remember the girls I had considered friends laughing the next morning, mocking my “no” screams that reverberated through the walls. I remember trying to laugh too. I remember trying to think it was normal, that maybe I had missed some elemental understanding of the way a one-night stand worked. I liked sex, I wasn’t a virgin. Maybe it wasn’t really a big deal, was that how that worked? I was drunk, I was flirtatious and dancing, I was wearing something sexy. I knew it was wrong to say I was asking for it, I was taught “no means no” in sex-ed, but I did follow him home. Was it his fault, did he just misread my signals?
Maybe it was normal for my insides to ache for days, to remember his teeth scraping and penetrating the skin between my legs. To remember my arms urgently pressing against the mattress to my side, trying to squirm from his grip. Maybe it was normal to remember his halfway limp dick being rammed inside me
over. and. over. and. over.
Maybe this was normal.
This cannot be our normal.
I lived years of denial, assuming that I had inadvertently given a predator the go-ahead to do with me as he pleased. That even though my gut filled with toxic, nauseous air every time I remembered what he had done to me, that somehow that feeling was of guilt or embarrassment. I let myself think that it wasn’t a “real” rape.
“Real” rape is when a stranger attacks you while you’re walking home alone, you scream for your life, you go to the police. “Real” rape is acknowledged, it is definite. There is no gray area in “real” rape. There is no drunkenness or flirtatiousness. “Real” rape is unequivocal. No one thinks you made it up based on morning-after guilt. That it was your fault, that you implied consent.
But it was real rape. Rape is always real, no matter if you were drunk, young, trusting, flirtatious, even if you weren’t wearing a damn piece of clothing. No one has the right to you without your verbal, sober consent.