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.
Recently, my Facebook feed has been full of wonderful, beautiful, bright Brown students who are trying to take a stand and make our campus safer. As shown by recent events, Brown’s policies around sexual assault are deeply flawed. It’s been inspiring to see people that I call friends fight an issue that is so close to my heart and my own experience.
And it’s sad, because I’m worried about the boy who raped me.
No, that’s not a typo. I’m worried about my rapist.
Maybe I should back-track.
Last year, it was the spring of my senior year at Brown, and I was very much in love with the wrong person. He was funny and charming and had a girlfriend. And one night, he was funny and charming and drunk enough to forget he had a girlfriend. Drunk enough to forget that I had said No – clearly and verbally twice already. Drunk enough not to stop when I started to cry.
The next morning, I asked him if he remembered what had happened. He said he did. There was a pause, and then I apologized, because he had a girlfriend, and it was all my fault.
My last three months at Brown, I cried all the time: I cried in class, I cried at my house, I cried in private and in public. I lost ten pounds in two months from stress-vomiting or skipping meals because I felt so sick. Friends kept asking me what was wrong; I kept saying that I was fine. That I was sad that I was leaving Brown. Or that I was in a confusing emotional relationship. Or that I had allergies. I kept remembering and then rationalizing away the fact that I had been raped. But every time I remembered, it was harder to forget.
My rape doesn’t look like the myth of rape that is perpetuated in our culture. It wasn’t a stranger; it was a friend. It wasn’t in a dark alley; it was in my house. My housemates were sleeping in the other room. It wasn’t violent. I didn’t fight back. I didn’t call out. I cared about him, so I must have wanted it to have happened, right? Besides, rape is committed by rapists. Rapists are bad people. He wasn’t a bad person. In fact, he was a good person. Good. Ergo, it was not rape. It couldn’t be rape. It wasn’t rape. Obviously.
We didn’t stop hanging out. We stayed friends. I wanted to talk to him about what had happened, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t have the words, and I was afraid if I pushed it, he would leave, and I would be alone. And I loved him and I didn’t want to be alone and I was afraid. I didn’t want to lose him. It wasn’t rape.
It wasn’t until months later, after I had left Brown, that I accepted what had happened. It was rape. And when I accepted it, I realized that I had known all along. I googled the physical and mental symptoms that rape victims often experience. I realized that my response had been a textbook case. Quite literally, I found an excerpt from a textbook.
We had lost touch over the summer, and he e-mailed me about visiting. I wrote back to him explaining that what he remembered as a hook-up had actually been sexual assault. I told him the truth, but also said that I had forgiven him. I was surprised to find that I had.
I wasn’t going to press charges – I didn’t and don’t want to – but I felt that he needed to know what had happened if we were going to try to continue to be friends. I also said that I understood if he didn’t want to, but I did.
Writing that email was the strangest and most difficult experience of my life. But it was an act of love, love for a friend that I was pretty sure was never going to talk to me ever again.
I didn’t know if he would respond. He did, a couple hours later, distressed, saying that he hadn’t actually remembered anything from that night at all. He had been blackout drunk and he didn’t know and he was so sorry and he was a monster and I needed to stay away from him and be safe and he was terrified and overwhelmed and he had no idea and
I called him on the phone and pretended that I couldn’t hear him crying and told him that everything was going to be okay. During that phone call, he pointed out how messed up this was. And it was, I guess. But the truth is, there were so many times that I really needed a friend to call me on the phone and pretend that they couldn’t hear me crying and tell me everything was going to be okay. And I could be that friend.
I spent the next six months trying to be his friend. I have done things in the past year that I never would have believed I would do. I tried to Google ways to help a loved one who was a rapist, and I discovered that it doesn’t exist. I couldn’t find accounts of rapist / victim reconciliation. I discovered that there was no textbook.
There was a time that we SnapChatted stupid shit to each other a lot. There was a time when I texted him two or three times a week just to check in. There was a time when we had scheduled phone calls. When I visited Brown, I would give him big hugs. He was afraid to touch me.
I wanted to believe that we could take care of each other. But he couldn’t take care of me, and it was unfair of me to ask him to. And as hard as I tried, I couldn’t take care of him either. If I was angry with him, it hurt him. If I was nice to him, it hurt him, too. My kindness was a reminder of the worst thing he had ever done. I was a reminder.
Finally, we reached a breaking point. Or a series of breaking points. We stopped talking about a year after he raped me. We don’t talk anymore. I am still his friend.
We do not want to believe that there is a grey area. Especially in a world where survivors have to struggle to be heard, to be respected, and to be given justice. Our legal system is by necessity black-and-white, and even then, our legal systems fail survivors more often than not.
But this is a larger problem.
The thing that had stopped me, over and over again from realizing what had happened to me was the fact that I couldn’t make myself believe that he was a bad person. He isn’t a bad person. But it doesn’t always take a bad person to commit rape.
When we divide the world into good and evil, black and white, when we generalize or stereotype who is and isn’t a rapist, we endanger ourselves and others.
I do not believe that we can divide the world into rapists and non-rapists. Everyone, absolutely everyone, has the potential of raping another person, not out of malice or perversion, as can be the case with serial offenders, but simply out of acceptance of rape culture. If you accept silence as consent, you can rape someone. If you accept “no” as “try again later”, you can rape someone. If you accept your significant other’s previous “yes” as “yes” for now, you can rape someone. If you accept anything less than enthusiastic and informed consent, you can rape someone.
Do not accept anything less than enthusiastic and informed consent. Do not allow anyone else to accept anything less from you than enthusiastic and informed consent. It’s a small step. But it’s how you change the culture.
This past year, I have learned what it is to love. There was a time last year when I thought that love could be a silent bleeding that ignored unpleasant realities. That gave and gave and gave until there was nothing left to give. But that isn’t love. I was silenced by my fear of losing him, not my love of him. While this silence acts out the part of the selfless martyr, it is fueled by a fear that was selfish. And there is no place for fear in love. Love is not possible without bravery. In fact, I’m beginning to think that they’re the same thing.
To my fellow survivors, be brave and follow the justice of your hearts. I do not know where it will lead you, but I know that it will be the right place. Lena, I am in awe of your love. My friends, I am in awe of your love. Brown, I am in awe of your love.
This is not a place for fear.
By Anonymous Contributor