Ann Bartow of Feminist Law Professors found a recent letter to the editor in the Daily Pennsylvanian difficult to read and comprehend, but when I read the letter I immediately understood the anonymous author's words and experiences. More importantly, because of my experiences with rape I understood why the anonymous author used descriptions which left so many gaps.
Here is some of what Bartow found confusing:
During my junior year [of high school], I found myself suddenly thrust into a relationship with a reasonably attractive and yes, popular athlete from a neighboring high school. Obviously, it didn't last (and neither did my virginity). But what should have ended neatly instead turned into weeks of mute suffering and months of extreme depression.
The facts were simple. He came over after the breakup, wanting gratification, which I was less inclined to provide. I was the weaker sex. He apologized. I forgave. Pause, rewind, play. Repeat for three months.
I told no one. The traditional aspects of my heritage dictated that dating without intention of marriage was tantamount to prostitution, and so I decided that any alternative was preferable to having my parents discover the truth.
As a result, word spread that I was a willing participant in these acts, that I was a straight-A whore. I did nothing to dispel the rumors; if anything, I condoned them.
The gaps relate to sexual contact and they are there because of trauma. Not just any trauma. Trauma from multiple rapes.
In the first quoted paragraph the word thrust indicates coercion or a failure by this boy to even ask her if she wanted to be his girlfriend. A truly mutual relationship isn't something you are thrust into. From reading the entire letter I believe she lost her virginity through rape and that is why she was no longer in the relationship.
A commenter on Feminist Law Professors made the incorrect assumption that this woman gave her ex-boyfriend pity sex which assumes legal consent, but that is wrong. This ex-boyfriend raped her repeatedly. And he knew it -- otherwise there would have been no apology and no request for forgiveness.
For anyone who doesn't acknowledge it already forgiveness is not consent and does not nullify the crime of rape.
Look at the second quoted paragraph without the euphemisms:
The facts were simple. He stalked me because he wanted sex from me even after I thought I'd escaped the relationship, sex which I didn't want. He was bigger and stronger than me and I couldn't stop him from taking the sex he wanted. He apologized. I felt obligated to forgive him. I endured this for 3 months.
This was no lovelorn suitor, but a socially-acceptable predator who picked someone he was sure would feel so much shame that she would confide in nobody and who would blame herself for his crimes because she didn't know how to stop him.
As extra insurance against accountability if she ever found the words to report him this boy deliberately smeared her reputation so she would be called a liar if she went to the police. This smearing of her reputation would also increase the chances that she would be targeted by those boys and men who take this sort of smear campaign as the only form of sexual consent they need. If other boys raped her and bragged about their conquest then she would have even less credibility if she reported him or another rapist to the police.
Her refusal to explain that she was raped after rumors were spread about her comes from the same trauma that has her talking around rape. She likely believed that her best defense was to appear like nothing anybody said about her character could hurt her. Confirm nothing. Deny nothing.
She wanted the girls who knew her best to know that the rumors were false without having to relive her trauma and without giving any of those girls information which could be twisted into a confirmation of the rumors. But they didn't stand by her.
If she rightfully claimed to be a victim of rape, the rumors weren't likely to stop and the attacks against her would have doubled or tripled. When there has been any dating relationship -- abusive or otherwise -- many people refuse to believe that a report of rape should be treated like a report of a real crime.
Because of the harmful power of these types of rumors many girls know that if they stick by the target of these rumors that they will also be targeted. Hearing, "Are you Rumor-Girl's friend?" from some boy and then answering yes can be very dangerous in an environment which actively denies the danger and which refuses to tackle that danger head on.
Too often in these denial-rich environments the best protection for girls is to be as close to invisible sexually as possible. This explains why boys may not abandon the girl who is the target of these types of rumors the way girls will. They have no safety fears which are triggered anew because of those rumors.
I've lost count of the number of times somebody has said or written, "If it happens more than once it was consensual." These people don't know or don't care that they are encouraging rapists to never stop at one rape per victim. This also directly explains why if this dating relationship ended after one rape that her ex-boyfriend would not leave her alone or take a firm no as her final answer. The more times he could take her sexually, the more protection he would have against rightful charges of rape. This reality is inexcusable.
Yet people keep excusing it and they keep denying it.
So for those who see these gaps and find them confusing, please understand that there is serious trauma involved.
Labels: Violence Against Women