Trigger Warning: This article includes testimony of sexual assault, violence and trauma.
In light of the Justice for Lena & Survivors of Sexual Assault Everywhere campaign, fronted by the brave Lena Sclove, Bluestockings Magazine will run an inaugural Brown Sexual Assault Series. We will be publishing various forms of testimonies about sexual violence, trauma and rape culture at Brown University. The series is an ongoing project to amplify the voices of survivors on-campus, provide them with a platform to recount their experiences, and to end the silence that stymies action and change.
If you would like to add your voice to the dialogue, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We guarantee anonymity.
I spent a good portion of my first college fall in a drunken haze. I drank to lower my inhibitions, because everyone else was, because the weather was cold, because we had our lives ahead of us, because I liked it. I felt like it opened up space to be fearless. It made me vulnerable.
I made a lot of bad decisions during that time, and ended up in a lot of situations that could have been so much worse. But the culmination of the period came just a few weeks before Thanksgiving, when I went out with a male friend and ended the night in his room, talking. He offered me his roommate’s bed. We thought the roommate was crashing with a friend. I don’t know if it’s relevant, but I was in love with my friend, or thought I was. So when I woke up, still drunk, in the middle of the night with someone on top of me, I at first thought it was him. It didn’t make it less scary, but it did stop me from crying out. Even when I realized that the hair wasn’t the right length, the beard rubbing against my face was too scratchy, that third person in the room was part of what kept me silent. But mostly, the whole time I felt frozen, paralyzed, flitting between disgust, anger, fear, shame, and focused on how to get out of this situation while attracting the least possible attention. After what I think was very little time, I curled up in a ball on the side of the bed against the wall, and stayed like that, trying to ignore the weight beside me. As it started to get light, I left.
The roommate came to my room just a little later, because I had left my phone. I took it and mumbled a thank you. A few days later I was in talking with my friend, and he asked what happened. He was kind to me, even if he framed it as “Did you guys hook up?” even though he had put me to bed assuring me it would be mine for the night. He was apologetic for himself and the roommate. It all ended with “He was so drunk.”
The friend and I drifted out of contact, though we did reference that night one more time. After a week of feeling physically ill I’d largely brushed away lingering feelings; this was something like a year later. The friend said something about his old roommate’s drunken behavior, how he got irresponsible and funny. We’d been having a totally nonchalant conversation; suddenly, everything snapped into a different focus. I got quiet. “I don’t think that’s okay,” was all I said. He suddenly looked sheepish, and assured me the roommate was working on his issues with alcohol and boundaries.
It took me something like two years into college to really get that as a woman in this social environment, my agency went beyond putting effort into my appearance, being drunk and carefree, and going along with whatever happened. What I mean: it took me that long to understand the responsibility involved in even the most casual encounter, from both parties. It took me that long to realize that expecting consent wasn’t this hugely significant part of serious, relationship-level intimacy; it was, or should be, a baseline. We (and by this I mean the man who took advantage of me) do not just have the right to what we want because it (and I do feel like I was an “it” in this situation) is in front of us. In short, it took me that long to stop feeling guilty and feel angry.
If I was vulnerable and could (should?) have anticipated the risks, that sucks for me. It really does and probably always will. But that does not make the risk an acceptable one. And that’s what’s most bizarre—how long it took me to acknowledge it’s unacceptable for a guy to see a girl asleep in his dorm room bed and do whatever he likes with her. He should have known better, but I could have too. Not known how to prevent this, but how to know what it all meant.
Here’s what it meant, as best as I can reconstruct it, and hopefully with some helpful advice for the future:
I was violated by someone I should have been able to trust. As a result, for a long time I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone, like trust was a privilege I had forfeited by carelessness. I felt less like a person, and it was only as I began to heal that I recognized the fundamental right to say yes or no, which I had never really exercised.
I don’t think knowing my rights would have prevented what happened, at least not from my end. Certainly his education on consent, if there ever was one, did not do the job. For me, maybe it could have quelled the guilt. But what I want to say is that the understanding of our right to consent is a fundamental part of our education, and we shouldn’t graduate college—we probably shouldn’t make it through the first week—without getting that lesson.
By Anonymous Contributor