December 20, 2012

From Man, To A Monster, And Back Again

Trigger warning: Rape, rape culture, sexual violence

Day 20- Fear
Describe something that scared you. How did you overcome your fear? 

I've always thought to have good relationships with guys, but I've actually been struggling with those views for a while now. I've only mentioned it in passing because I was still in the thick of working through it, and in many ways that is still true. I will forewarn and say that I’m not glossing over anything or mincing words, although I won’t include names out of respect for those involved. 

It was back in March, when a couple of family friends came to campus to visit me for the weekend. We went to a nightclub downtown, and immediately got separated upon entering; I'm not sure where they went exactly, but I did immediately hit the dance floor.  After a little while I did make an effort to try and find them, but the place was packed and texting became pointless. For a short time I considered heading home; I didn't want to wait around and waste an entire night on keeping track of them. However, I felt extremely protective of the both of them since neither knew the area very well. And when you’re unfamiliar with how the police force in my college town works, it’s possible to get into some serious trouble. And for those two, getting into trouble meant serious consequences.

And on the other side of the coin, I didn't get very many opportunities to get out and have a good time, shall we say. And normally when I see an opportunity to let loose, I take it. When a guy approached me and asked me to dance I said yes, having no problems with having done so before. It was fun for a little bit, at least up until he tried to kiss me. I hadn't experienced my first kiss yet, so I was not about to give it to someone that I wasn't even attracted to. "Just a little kiss?" he asked. I told him that I didn't want to.

I'm not sure if it was solely because of my refusal or what, but a moment later he resorted to groping me below the belt. Honestly, It didn't occur to me to tell him no, because I’d believed over the years that such touching in that kind of environment was “just something that people did” and that it was best act like it didn't matter. All I remember thinking was how badly it physically hurt, though it lasted only about ten seconds. It hurt so much that for the next two days, I had a hard time putting jeans or pants on. The first chance I got, I bolted up the stairs and out the door.

Upon leaving, I found my friends outside near a bench and insisted we get the hell out of there. Meanwhile, they’re telling me that they want to go find a party and that we should split up. They were way past drunkenness, and I felt as if I had no choice but to agree. I had very little money to spend on a taxi, and the night ride service was done after three in the morning.

I started walking toward my apartment with the mindset that if I couldn't find a party, at least I could go home. Creepy Kevin Federline (that’s how I remember what he looked like) showed up again out of nowhere and was adamant about walking with me, despite my firm rebuttal of preferring to be alone. I felt trapped, because everything was starting to close down, so there weren't many places I could go to get help. It seemed even less safe to go to the cops; the buzz of the liquor had worn off, but I was extremely tired and therefore appeared to be more out of it then I actually was. I didn't want to run the risk of getting a ticket or being arrested for public intoxication. I basically went  into survival mode; in that moment, I thought it was better to have him walk with me than walk alone and be ambushed.

On the way back, he asked me a lot of personal and sexual questions, most of which I didn't know how to answer. I did my best to be nonchalant about it in hopes that he would take a hint, but he kept persisting. Taking it a step further, he put his arm around me and attempted to sweet talk me about dating and what I wanted in a relationship. By now I was more irritated than I was afraid. I wriggled out of his grasp and told him “I do have pepper spray, and if you touch me one more time, I will spray you!” I figured something wasn't right when he immediately took his hand off my waist. 

We got to the intersection where I usually crossed to get to my apartment, and I said that I could take it from there (there was no way I would allow him to walk me to the door). He tried to kiss me again, but I refused and then practically sprinted toward my building without looking back.

For about two weeks afterward, I was both terrified and paranoid; I wasn't sure if he had seen the exact place that I was living in, so it was hard to fall asleep at night. The building was more like a Motel Six, where you could walk right in as opposed to having to go through a hallway, and needing a special key or code to get to that point. Not to mention the lock didn't work well (and I know because I accidentally kicked the door in once). I avoided going out until shortly before finals and I made absolutely sure that it was with friends that I completely trusted.

I didn't have a whole lot of time to work through the ordeal, since I had a whole lot of other crap going on in my life. I did tell a few of my close girlfriends about it, most of whom I knew would react without judgment or asking why I hadn't handled it differently. And while I do kind of regret not bringing it up, I chose not to discuss the matter very seriously with those that I had been with that night; I tried to do so very casually, and all I got was “I’m not responsible for what I do when I’m drunk” which indicated that going any further would be a lost cause.

Of course, I had no intentions of making my family aware, but one relative did see that something was up and eventually got it out of me. It wasn't a very detailed explanation, so I wasn't surprised when I was told that enough time had already passed (four months up to that point) and that I needed to move on.

In a way, I did get what she was saying; I hadn't been raped, so why was it a big deal?

The thing is, while that slimeball didn't take my virginity that night, he definitely took my sense of safety. I have never viewed myself as an overly sexy person and I don’t try to purposefully get attention, so I assumed that no one would try to come after me. But then I thought the other tiny incidents that I had pushed out of my mind: a guy calling out to me on the sidewalk asking me if I would sleep with him, and then when I ignored him, he told me that he could easily rip me in half. Another being a little too rough with me the first time I went out dancing, where I was first told that that kind of behavior was typical. I was hit on by at least three or four different guys during my twentieth birthday celebration, and that ended with my friends and I being followed out of the place. Oh yes, when I look at all of it from a broad perspective, it was a big deal.

I didn't realize just how much it affected me until I started my junior year. I was constantly on alert while walking around at night, even though I lived much closer to campus and it was only a ten minute walk. I couldn't, and still have trouble with looking a man in the eye in passing, regardless of the time of day. I was judgmental and suspicious of every guy that I saw on the street or on campus, mostly because of the manner that they spoke in or even what clothes they wore. There was even a night where a guy was walking behind me and I got so freaked out that I yelled "what the fuck do you want from me?" before running all the way home. I didn't stop or look back until I was inside and had locked the door.

More than anything, men scared the crap out of me.

I decided to continue doing group counseling, and knew I needed to discuss if I was ever going to truly heal. It took a few weeks, but eventually I did gather the courage to talk about it.It was really tough, both in group and in general to be vulnerable; I was ashamed by the choices that I made, and didn't want to face the pain and rejection that could possibly result from such honesty. This was especially true of the Christian student organizations that I was involved with, as well as most of my guy friends. Around campus, you’re either a good person or a bad person, and there doesn't seem to be much of an in-between. This seems especially true for women.

Emotionally and figuratively, it seemed easier to become defensive and automatically assume that the people I interacted with the most weren't going to understand. I particularly kept it from my guy friends for a long time because I didn't want to dump everything on them and make them feel like they had to make it better. I needed to be able to see clearly first and work it out in an environment where it could be properly addressed before I told certain people.

It turns out that there were a lot of difficulties underneath what I’d been through. I realized that I didn't know how to say no or communicate effectively when something, be it physical or emotional, upsets me or makes me uncomfortable. I don’t have a close relationship with my Dad or my brother, and that has bothered me to an extent. The big thing was that I hadn't opened up to a man since I was sixteen years old.. There were several others that came into my life after that, but any attempt to connect with them on that level was immediately shot down or turned out to not be worth it. For a while, I thought it was better not to try.

In the last nine months, I have been slowly working my way back to viewing the opposite gender in a healthy light. I’m still somewhat hypersensitive when walking around at night, but I do take the Night-Ride bus if I’m going home at ten o’clock or later. I haven’t been to the nightclubs since then, although I still enjoy dancing and can’t promise that I won’t ever go back. I will no longer allow random men to touch me or give me a hug if they ask (it has happened many times). I no longer care if it gets to the point where I have to be a complete bitch or get other people involved in order for a creep to stop bothering me. I’d prefer not to make a scene, but self-protection ultimately  precedes over being nice.

I've come off the pedestal of thinking that all men are heartless; I have met and gotten to know some that are absolutely wonderful and respectful. However, it does still take time for me to fully trust and invest  in someone, which is for another post regarding intimacy.

This kind of situation is just about me; there are millions are stories regarding both women and men who endure this kind of hell, often way worse than what I experienced. It’s not enough to just avoid specific areas or establishments, because it can happen just about anywhere and at any time. Go on and you’ll read stories about incidents on subways, trains, and even just walking down the street in broad daylight. Any place can be potentially dangerous, depending on how crowded or deserted it is.

I don’t know if there is one broad solution to solving this problem; there will always be sick idiots out there who think that they’re either entitled or claim that they can’t control themselves. While it’s important for women to be aware and keep themselves safe, one can only do so much before they feel like they’re isolating themselves from daily life. Men need get it through their heads that if a woman tells them no or makes it clear that she has boundaries, they need to respect that and back off. Even if there are mixed signals or scantily clad clothing involved, that does not give a guy the right to feel her up or take her home. I don't advocate for the hookup culture, but if that's what you want,  go find someone that’s sober and will give a clear and verbal “yes.”

This is not an issue of sensitivity or how a big of a deal something is; this is an issue of comfort and personal space. I know that if I don’t like something or become uncomfortable, than dammit you’re not going to be able to convince me otherwise.

 Unfortunately not many want to openly discuss this stuff, but the only way a difference will ever be made is if we stop making excuses are start standing up for something. This kind of crap isn't normal and shouldn't be taken lightly. It’s disgusting, and no one should have to live with the shame of another person’s choice.

If you can, take the time to share this with people that you know. If a friend or a family member approaches you and admits that they were in this type of circumstance, don’t brush them off or tell them to let it go. Everyone has different ways of handling stuff that scares them, and it’s not your place to tell them how to do it. Listen carefully, and if you don’t know how to respond, simply say “I hear you and I respect that you feel that way.” It might very well be a situation that needs to be reported to the police.  But overall, a positive and non-condemning response can and will make a world of difference.

I don't see myself as a victim, but rather someone who has been through a lot and is managing to overcome it through love and Faith.  The more I hear about these stories, the stronger my feelings become. I don’t want pity or apology, but to live in the comfort and truth of not having to hide anymore.

It happened to me, but you can impact whether or not it happens to anyone else.

Update: It has been two years, and most likely there are people who are wondering why I'm still talking about this. This may have been my first experience in being exposed to rape culture, but it wasn't the last. There were several incidents my junior and final year of college, none of which were as severe but still left me shaken. It was never a question of "why did he do that?" but rather, "why didn't I fight back? Why didn't I stand up for myself? Why did I let him push me around?" There are a lot of possible reasons, but I'll elaborate more on that another time.

I saw the guy who approached, touched, and followed me that night at least one other time, but toward the end of junior year. I wasn't freaked out, but more so just wanting to get as far away from him as possible. We were both at the same bar and he said that he remembered me and thought I was a good dancer. Needless to say, I stayed glued to my friend's side the rest of the night. 

To this day, I still haven't had a full, in-depth conversation with the other two that were with me for a short time that night. I considered it and weighed my options carefully when one of them told me that they planned on visiting me last summer, but it never worked out. I just never saw the opportunity to bring it up again. And yes, the possibility of ruining that relationship by having that conversation is what scares me the most. I'm not sure how to describe their attitudes exactly, but let me just say that they only way they will understand is if and when they have daughters of their own. I can only hope and pray that it's sooner.

As much as it hurts, I accept that not everyone will see where I'm coming from. When you haven't walked in another person's shoes, it's hard to know what to say, though there are times when words aren't wanted or needed. I chalk it up to being a generational thing, but that's not an excuse to invalidate another person's experience, especially of it's painful or traumatizing at worst. 

For all of the horrors that continue to happen every day because of other people's choices and warped views on life, I will continue to speak up on this matter. I know now that what happened to me was not a punishment for underage drinking or using a fake ID. It was not because of what I wore, nor what I said or didn't say. It's true that I did make some poor choices, but nothing where I deserved to be preyed on by a twenty-six year-old grown man who probably had every intention of having sex with me that night.

 No one deserves to objectified or have their dignity taken from them. No one deserves to have their worth defined because of what they do or don't do with their bodies. And I make no apologies for saying this, but no one deserves or their life threatened or taken because they choose not to sleep with a certain person or attend a high school prom with them. There are so many things that have happened over the last six months that sicken me, so much that I can't even find the words right now.

While I genuinely believe that not all men are like this and not all men rape or commit violence,  this does not excuse the fear, shame, and humiliation that women have to endure because of the culture that we live in. I say that not because women are the only ones that go through it, but because I can only speak from what I've experienced as a woman, what I've seen, and what I've heard. I shake my head as I angrily agree that probably all of us have and will go through some form of this bullshit, regardless of what we do to protect ourselves from it. But damn it all, I'm ready to put my foot down. 

photo credit: DanielJames via photopin cc

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