Content warning: This post deals with sexual assault, and may be triggering for some people.
I recently read an article published by Clementine Ford titled Was It Rape? In it, she detailed another woman’s story who had been harassed by a man she worked with for weeks. In it, the woman had tried rejecting the man multiple times and he kept questioning why she wouldn’t have sex with him.
Apparently, some men don’t get no. Apparently, some men don’t get no, even when a justification (that shouldn’t even be necessary) is given. Apparently, some men feel so entitled to women that they will not accept no as an answer.
In the end, the woman of this story (which you can read more about here) eventually gave in. She let the man have sex with her. While she let him, she was unwilling in the whole act and had begun to feel afraid about what might happen if she continued to say no.
But was it rape? That’s a question this woman still asks herself, years later.
Several people would argue it wasn’t – because she agreed.
But did she really?
If you were afraid, confused, and harassed – your voice and rejections continually ignored – does your yes actually mean anything?
To me, it doesn’t. To me, if someone experiences such excessive harassment, I’d identify it as coercion – and, in Australia, that would be counted as rape.
However, what if I apply the same logic to myself – in particular, my second ‘boyfriend’. (I’ve mentioned him briefly before – he was the delightful human being who told me he loved me, then dropped me home one day, ghosting me out and telling my best friend at the time I just wasn’t pretty enough. Real classy guy.)
Anyway, this man, was someone I’d always had a crush on in high school. Just after I graduated, he seemed to show some interest in me (he was a few years older than I).
We reconnected via the internet (as all famous love stories do) and, after a few months, he told me he loved me. I didn’t live in the same town as him. When I came back on holidays to visit, we began our so-called ‘relationship’.
I was happy. I remember being cautious, but I was incredibly happy. He seemed to think my cautiousness was silly. “You’re the only girl I’ve committed to since my ex!” he told me.
He loved me, he told me.
I was seventeen, and I wanted desperately to believe him. Looking back, I don’t think I ever did. But I desperately wanted to.
I’m not sure if it was because I liked him so much, or I liked the idea of being in a loving relationship so much.
I had a “sleep over” at his house. (And, just to warn you, this story is not going to end as badly as you might think.) It was beyond exciting, the idea of sleeping at his house, as it wasn’t something I’d really experienced before.
We slept in the same bed – also a completely new experience for me. We did a lot of kissing – and he was the second man I’d ever kissed. And then, without warning, without asking, he put his fingers inside me.
I remember being shocked, and pulling back. He mistook my recoil for enthusiasm, and he told me, “Don’t worry – we can do everything but sex.”
I didn’t know what to say, or even how to reply. I felt like my voice had been taken from me; for the first time in my life, words failed me.
I felt like I couldn’t say no – he’d already started. How do you say no when it’s already happened? Wouldn’t that make me a cock tease? I thought desperately.
Worst of all, he seemed to think that I liked it. He was older than me – maybe he was used to this type of behaviour, had come to expect this reaction from other women. Perhaps I was overreacting, I told myself. Maybe this was how I was meant to respond. After all, I’d been late to the dating game – and the first guy I’d ever really ‘dated’ (briefly, also) turned out to be gay, so my track record wasn’t great.
I didn’t want him not to like me, so I stayed silent. I felt trapped – how does one say no when they didn’t realise the situation they were in was even going to happen? I’d discussed with him my virginity, its importance to me, and my lack of sexual history.
To me, I thought I’d clearly highlighted my concerns, and my wishes that our relationship would go “slow”. Perhaps I hadn’t been clear enough, I told myself. Perhaps, I’d thought at the time, it was my fault because I wasn’t clear enough.
Regardless, he never gave me the chance to decide.
I do know, however, that while my words didn’t say no, apparently my body did. After he “dumped” me without another word (except to my former best friend), I ended up going to the hospital. I hadn’t stopped bleeding for almost two weeks at this stage.
During an internal exam, it was revealed that I’d been scratched deeply inside and the wound had gotten infected and hadn’t healed properly (hence all the bleeding).
“Common during first time experiences if the woman is tense,” the doctor told me. “Nothing to worry about.”
I, personally, felt quite differently. I felt violated. Worthless. Meaningless.
Someone had taken my first real sexual experience from me, and I hadn’t stopped him – to me, it didn’t matter that we hadn’t had sex. To me, that had been an intimate moment; a moment I had wanted to save until I was ready.
I felt weak. I’d been physically and emotionally hurt.
Obviously, my experience is very different to the one I just mentioned.Technically, it could be legally classified as rape under Queensland’s law code.
Like I mentioned in my post, Let’s Talk About Consent:
(2) A person rapes another if:
(a) the person has carnal knowledge with or of the other person without the other person’s consent, or;
(b) the person penetrates the vulva, vagina or anus of the other person to any extent with a thing or a part of the person’s body that is not a penis without the other person’s consent” (Queensland Criminal Code Section 349).
So, technically, legally, one could argue that yes, I was raped. But was it rape?
If I didn’t say no, didn’t try to stop it (even if my body did), could I cry rape?
(Let me be clear: I’m sharing this particular story because I do not – at least I would not, personally, label this man a rapist, nor in this instance call myself a rape victim. While I felt violated at the time, I would not have labelled myself as a rape victim then, either – and again, I still don’t in regards to this situation. I’m sharing it because I have very few emotional ties to this story, and I think it poses a hugely valid question that so many people – of all genders and sexes – should never have to ask themselves. And, many years later, in a similar situation with a different man – I found my voice and I said no. He tried, multiple times to touch me, to convince me, but I was stronger the second time round; and far more certain of my wants. I also had decided that if a man couldn’t handle my “No”, he wasn’t a man worthy of dating, no matter how much I liked said man.)
A campaign was run in Norway to explain the different between consent and rape to men, watch it below (post continues after video).
I’ve written about rape culture before. And male entitlement. I think this situation – the one I’ve just described – highlights the epidemic of both.
He felt entitled to my body. When he stuck his hand down my pants – I was clothed, not naked – he never stopped to consider that I might not want to go any further than kissing.
He never gave me a chance to say no. He never asked. He assumed that what he wanted, and I would want to.
And that’s a fundamental flaw in our society. That presumption. Follow by the judgement, was I asking for it because I spent the night at my “boyfriend’s”? No.
Was I asking for it because I was kissing him? No.
Should I have said no? Yes. Certainly.
But fear – fear of so many different things – took over. I didn’t know how to say no.
I didn’t even know I could, which sounds stupid, but ask women how many times they’ve done something – anything – because a man made them feel too afraid to say no, and then tell me how it’s stupid.
Fear does crazy things to a person; even in “reasonable” and “safe” situations.
I think it’s up to the person to decide whether they feel they have been sexually assaulted or not. Some reading this might look at the law, look at my age, look at the fact that I was afraid, and decide, logically, that yes, it was rape (though I doubt, even if I felt like it was – which again, I don’t, I could get anyone to convince a jury it was).
Others might read this and believe that I can’t claim anything (and let me be clear – again – I’m not trying to. I’m not crying foul and I’m certainly not crying rape) because I didn’t say no.
However, I think either side of the debate is pointless: it doesn’t matter if you think it counts as rape, or sexual assault, or if you think it counts as a “pathetic woman crying rape because she wasn’t strong enough to say no”. The point, alone, should be: no one should ever have to wonder or question if they were raped.
If we all had more respect for each other, worked towards destroying rape culture and the myths that surround rape, perhaps fewer people will be in a situation like I was – and like so many women are faced with, but with far worse consequences.
Perhaps fewer people will feel afraid to stand up and say no. Perhaps fewer people will be in a situation where they have to ask themselves:
“But was it rape?”
Have you ever asked yourself that very question?
This article was republished with full permission from The Melodramatic Confessions of Carla Louise. Featured Image: Leah’s Ambition Designs and Photography.