Six Words That Changed Everything

(The following story is reprinted with permission from the February/March 2013 issue of Justine Magazine. My story began twenty-six years ago. What happened did not shatter me, though I did lock it away for a number of years. To those who find themselves here: You are not a victim. You are a survivor. You might not feel like a survivor at first, and maybe not for a long time. But trust me. You are, and you will.)

I won’t ever call it date rape.

A date is about attraction, give and take, getting to know each other. If a date is going badly, you can stop it. You can get up and leave at any point. Call a taxi, a friend, your dad. The worst that could happen? You might look rude.

A date doesn’t include emotional or physical threats. A date isn’t about being held against your will. And a date is never, ever, about non-consensual sex.

The acquaintance rapist doesn’t jump out of the bushes at isolated strangers. He’s not wearing a ski mask, and he’s unlikely to use a gun or a knife. He’s clever, and his weapons of choice are far less menacing. He knows your name, and maybe where you work or what class you have next. His smile is disarming. And because he’s familiar, your guard is down.

After all, he’s a neighbor, a coworker, the roommate of a friend, a classmate. Or yeah—a guy you’re dating.

Your first mistake is the one he’s counting on: that you won’t call it rape, even in your own mind. Failing to see his crime as such, you’ll take the blame on yourself. You invited him over, right? You gave him the wrong idea. You didn’t scream or bite or claw. It all happened so fast. It was a mistake, and you just want to forget it happened. 

So you do. Or you try to.

I understand that repression. It was twelve years before I told anyone what happened to me, and twelve years before I called it what it was. Before that, I called it my bad judgment. My erroneous signals sent. My fault. I never thought of him as a rapist, so of course I didn’t report it. This wasn’t something he might do to someone else—this was something between us.

I believed that rape happened between strangers, under vile threats and fear of death. It was a long, painful, terrifying ordeal. It would leave bruises, or worse.

Rape wouldn’t happen in less than five minutes. It wouldn’t shatter a friendship and invalidate every bit of character judgment I thought I possessed. He wouldn’t smile and help me stand up from the living room floor afterward with a glib, “I gotta go. See you in class Monday.” I wouldn’t repress the truth of it so thoroughly that I couldn’t connect the dots when sex was painful, every time, for years after, and doctors couldn’t find any medical reason for it.

I didn’t tell my friends, my mother, my husband, or even the therapist I began seeing for depression in my mid-twenties. A dozen years went by before I fully realized what had happened to me. Over those twelve years, I’d become adept at avoiding the triggers. I put books back on shelves after cursory glances at the back copy. I sidestepped films by suggesting something else. I valued my happily-ever-after endings more than ever, but I couldn’t believe in them as long as I kept lying to myself.

And then one day, I sat in a quiet house with my best friend, talking. The truth bubbled up, and for once, I didn’t shove it back down. I took a deep breath, my heart in my throat, and said the most difficult, powerful six words I’d ever uttered aloud: “I want to tell you something.”

What You Can Do

(NO, it shouldn't be a woman's responsibility to not get raped. There should be ONE what-you-can-do on this list, and it should read: DON'T RAPE ANYBODY. But the world is what the world is, and it can be damned unfair.)

(1) Call it what it is. If there’s no consent, it’s rape. Persisting after any common signal of refusal (verbal or physical) equals rape. Alcohol or drugs rendering one party semi-conscious or unconscious, even if the victim knowingly ingested either, is still rape.

(2) Tell someone. No one should carry this burden alone. If you’ve been raped, tell until you are heard. Report if there’s any chance of doing so. Get counseling. (If you are the person who’s told: listen and support. Don’t judge what she did or didn’t do. Don’t make excuses for him. Encourage her to report if possible, and get counseling.)

(3) Trust cautiously. It’s not my intention to make anyone fearful of every guy she encounters. But according to RAINN.org, a whopping 73% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a non-stranger. If you’re under 18, that percentage increases to 93%.

(4) Take a self-defense class. DO. IT. The obvious motivation: you’ll be able to protect yourself better in any threatening situation. The bonus benefit? Empowerment.

(5) Educate your guy friends, partners, brothers and dads. The 97% of guys who aren’t rapists don’t want to believe their friends are capable of rape, but their early empathy and willingness to get involved can make the lives of their female friends and family members safer.


Here's the NPR (KCUR.org - Kansas City) radio interview I did with Dr. Wes Crenshaw about teens and acquaintance rape (interview begins around the 6-minute mark): http://kcur.org/post/teens-and-date-rape