I’d been dealing with lots of thoughts on the issue of sexual assault and the general response (or lack thereof) when a woman makes a claim of sexual assault quite a bit lately. With my own personal experience in my past, it is an issue I’ve always had struggles with trying to grasp. The last couple of weeks, there have been a couple of things that have popped up, keeping it in the front of my thoughts, even had a discussion on FB. When I saw the hashtag going around, it kind of felt like maybe I needed to get it out of my head.
My personal experience was one that many would argue was not legitimate. There were so many “iffy” factors that if I’d actually attempted to report it, I KNOW not a thing would have been done, especially back in the late 80’s. I was made to feel, from my own mother, that it was my fault. That I was the one that had done something wrong, not once even questioning the boy’s part in the event. I spent a very, very long time feeling as though using the term rape in regards to what happened to me made me a fraud somehow. That I wasn’t worthy of being able to use that term. Because it wasn’t violent. Because there was no physical damage. Because I was still medically a virgin. In my 40+ years, I’ve only ever talked about it to maybe 5 people and only ever truly claimed the term rape when talking about it to Hubby for the first time nearly 17 years ago, over 16 years after the event, even then, I didn’t feel like I had the “right experience” to use it, that I wasn’t qualified. I still struggle with it to this day. How can you ever really heal the emotional wounds if you cannot even acknowledge to yourself, let alone anyone else, what actually happened.
I’d seen a term floating around not long ago. “gray rape” It supposedly covered assaults that were “questionable” as to who was at fault or what the circumstances were. I’d read it and felt it definitely fit my situation. At the same time, it made me furious, because it felt just like what I’d had going on in my head for a huge chunk of my life. That “gray rape” was somehow better or less real than any other type of rape. It minimized how utterly devastating it is to experience ANY type of rape or assault.
After all of the years of thinking on this whole thing, I realized that I don’t even really blame the boy involved. I blame society and the way we raise our kids. Don’t get me wrong, I know that everything that happened was wrong. The problem is that, at least then and even to some extent now, boys just were not taught any different, that the situation I was put in, the experience I had was okay. The whole boys will be boys, no really means yes and she is just playing hard to get, all of it played a huge part in what happened that day. If we had been older, had some life experience, I doubt I’d feel the same. As it is, we were both just a couple of really stupid YOUNG teenagers.
Another huge part of the blame for how I came out of that mess emotionally I lay at the feet of my parents. I cannot fathom EVER allowing the shit that flew out of my mother’s mouth that day even crossing my mind if my child ever came to me and said the words I said. My dad, he sat to the side and listened and never said a word. Just expressed his extreme disappointment in his face and demeanor. How on Earth can a parent of a child that is assaulted ever place the blame for that on their child? A big portion of that is just who my mother is, but another portion, again, is because that was the norm. Blame the girl/woman. She was dressed provocatively. She was acting too sexy. She was flirting. She was asking for it. Sadly, things aren’t a whole lot different now. Sure, I think we are more conscious of it, but there is still so much that we do that is subconscious and that is just as damaging to how we view things.
Here is something to think about. In schools, they implement dress codes. They use the excuse of not wanting distractions to the educational process. Problem one with that is laying the blame for the distraction on the clothing or the person wearing the clothing instead of dealing with teaching kids about overcoming or dealing with distractions in appropriate and healthy ways. It’s already setting the stage for “I’m not responsible for my actions, it is that other person’s fault.” Problem two comes into play in that nearly every single dress code rule targets girls and are not enforced equally for both boys and girls. You set a length for shorts and skirts, yet allow boys to wear running shorts that are kind of like wearing a pair of boxers? Um, nope. Exposed shoulders? Ever seen most basketball jerseys or what about the muscle shirts so many athletes like to wear? The whole concept is one of the bases for setting blame on the other person rather than taking responsibility for self as well as teaching kids that boys WILL be treated differently than girls, that the rules for them are different. Based on those foundations we raise our kids on, it is no wonder why so many people still go to the argument that it is the clothing’s fault when a women is assaulted.
As I was in the middle of this same conversation on FB, I saw a notice from my kids school district about a wrestling tournament complete with a graphic of a couple of wrestlers in full gear. Singlets anyone?! How much more “distracting” or “inappropriate” can you get? But that is okay somehow. Honestly, I don’t care what people wear. I care about the disparity in the rules and how they are enforced because these are the kinds of things that help to form the mindset that is all about blame and difference. As one more point of proof, when discussing the enforcement of the dress code at BG’s school, they sent the boys out of the room to go to their next class and ONLY spoke to the girls. I was LIVID when I heard this. I was also deeply torn when she made excuses for the school’s decision, knowing she doesn’t fully grasp the importance of why I was so upset. On the one hand, I’m glad she isn’t in a position to understand because of experience, but not understanding also perpetuates the problem.
I am angry that I have to teach my kids (yes, I teach them no matter their gender) about the fact that it is okay to say no and that no one has the right to do anything to you that you don’t agree with, that it wrong if someone does. I’m angry that I have to teach them about not leaving a drink unattended. I’m furious that I have to teach them about creating safety nets to get out of ugly situations or how to avoid them in the first place. I hate it because in teaching them these things, I feel like I’m creating a world where they must fear and distrust. How do you not, in the world we live in?
What I am absolute about and is the one thing I refuse to allow my kids to slack on is personal responsibility. They are responsible for their choices and the consequences for those choices. They are responsible for their actions. It is no one else’s fault when they made a bad decision and got a bad result. You do something, you own it. In doing so, my kids make better choices.
That is all I can do as a parent. I try to negate the negative messages they are bombarded with by society, what to watch for to try and keep them safe and I teach them not to be assholes. That is all I can do. Hopefully, there are enough parents out there doing the same so that future generations can break the stranglehold society has on the perception of sexual assault, blame and personal responsibility.
Written years ago….
I was always told…
I was always told that what I said had meaning.
I was always told to tell the truth.
I was always told that if I said “NO” that it was rape.
Well, I said no and he still pushed.
I was afraid. I liked this guy.
I still said “No”.
He still said “Yes. Come on.”
I didn’t push him away.
I didn’t scream.
I just said “No”.
He didn’t stop.
But I didn’t push him away.
But I didn’t scream.
I let him keep saying “yes”.
He was gentle.
He was sweet.
I still said “No”.
He still said “Yes”.
When it was done, I felt dirty.
He was smiling and asked if I enjoyed it as much as he did.
I lied and said “Yes”.
He left with a kiss and a promise to call me later.
I was quiet in my thoughts of guilt.
I didn’t push. I didn’t scream.
It couldn’t be rape.
I was strong. I was independent.
I couldn’t be weak. I wasn’t a victim. I wasn’t raped.
I didn’t push. I didn’t scream. I let him in.
I tried to ask for help.
I was told I led him on.
I did something wrong.
I didn’t push. I didn’t scream. I let him.
It was my fault. It wasn’t really rape.
But I said “No”.
I was always told that if I said “NO” that it was rape.