Posted by: CeCe | November 25, 2013

To this day

***POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING, please proceed with caution***

I know I’ve probably written about rape culture too much (example here), and people out there in WordPressland and Facebookland are sick and tired of hearing about it, but I’ve had this going around in my head for a couple weeks now, and I think it would do me good to write down my thoughts.  Please be aware that some of this may be a trigger, so if you have been sexually assaulted, please read with caution.

For a little background and an explanation of my inspiration, I’ve been reading through a lot of anti-feminist literature the last few weeks, because the way I see it, how can I call myself a feminist if I’m not willing to examine the other side and argue against it?  I’ve said many times before that I think it’s important to explore the other side of whatever philosophy or “ism” one happens to follow, and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t follow my own advice.  As such, it means that one of the things with which I’ve been confronted is the argument that rape culture absolutely does not exist, it’s just a feminist construct, a disorganized and loose group of thoughts that often conflict, etc.  I’m not going to address this in this particular post, at least not directly.  Instead, I’m going to write about my specific experiences with rape culture.

The truth is, the first time I was confronted with rape culture, I had no idea what it was.  In fact, I didn’t even know what rape was, or even sex for that matter.  I’ve written before that I was assaulted by a family friend when I was a child.  I don’t know when it started, but I do know that I couldn’t have been any older than 6, because by my 6th birthday, I no longer wanted to wear dresses.  My parents chalked it up to me being a tomboy, but I really fought with them tooth and nail over wearing dresses, especially to church.  Some people may think that my parents must have been blind to not have seen what was actually happening right under their noses, but they were occupied with my father’s failing health, and the loss of several close family members, like my mom’s parents, my dad’s brother and brother-in-law, and my mom’s brother-in-law, on top of making a move from one end of the country to the other.  I can’t and don’t blame them, nor should anyone else.

Truth be told, I don’t remember very much about what happened with this person.  There are fragments of memories, some of which surface still in the form of nightmares, and I’m not really sure how much of it is accurate, but there are also concrete memories that come to me unbidden while I’m doing mundane things like playing a game on Facebook, doing the dishes, or fixing dinner.  I have a fear of walking down hallways with open doors leading to dark rooms, and I don’t know why.  Sometimes in my nightmares I’m walking down a hallway and a voice whispers my name from a dark room and I don’t want to go but my feet won’t obey me, and I start to walk and then I wake up suddenly in a different dark room, for a few moments unsure of where I am.  These were more common throughout the time between the ages of about 8 or 9 and 16, but they still haunt me on occasion, and the fear of darkened rooms with open doors is still very real, even to this day.

So that’s the context for my first experience.  I remember being teased by a couple kids at church who called me names that I couldn’t understand.  They knew what was happening, but instead of helping me, instead of telling an adult or telling me that it wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t doing anything wrong, they called me names of which I now know the meaning: Slut.  Tramp.  I was a child.  It started before I was even six, and I was blamed for it.  Because of this and several other factors (like the very real fear that my father would have another heart attack if I told and it would be my fault), I was silent about what was happening, and held that silence until it exploded out of me when I was 14 and having an argument with my mom.  To this day, I still remember the look of horror on her face, that something so terrible could have happened to me.

For a long time, I blamed myself for what happened.  Maybe it was because I started developing early.  Maybe it was because I was wearing dresses.  Or maybe it was because the “man” who did that to me was a monster and a bastard.  I don’t hate him anymore at least, and I don’t hate God, but I guess some part of me still hates myself, for not telling anyone, for not putting a stop to it, for not telling him to get his hands off me and keep them off.  But I was so innocent and naive that I didn’t even realize that what he was doing was wrong, until it had already been going on for close to three years, and we had a guest speaker at our school tell us all about “bad touching”, and suddenly I realized that it was not okay for him to have his hands up my skirt.  I almost told them that day what was going on, but the thought of my dad having a heart attack kept my hand out of the air and my mouth closed.  And I know on a surface level that hating myself, even a small amount, is not justified, but unfortunately when something like that happens it shapes who you are as a person, and when you’ve been called names even for something that wasn’t your fault, you just can’t help it.

So that was my first experience with rape culture, being called names for something that wasn’t my fault.  That was the first instance of a permissive attitude towards sexual assault that I witnessed, but alas it wasn’t the last.

I’ve written before that I was sexually assaulted a little over 11 years ago, when I was 21.  However, there was an instance before that which I very rarely talk about outside of a small circle of people.  I was 17, and through a friend, I was introduced to this guy whom I’ll call Marvin because I don’t like that name, and I don’t know anyone with that name so my opinion of them won’t be colored by what happened.  So Marvin and I met, and he made it very clear that he was interested in me.  However, I had a boyfriend, so I told him we could be friends and that was it.  He said okay, and so we continued occasionally hanging out, and talking on the phone.  He had told me he was 20, but looking back, I think he was lying.  I think he was actually closer to 30.  But whatever, one day, he called me and asked to hang out, and said that he would bring beer.  I wasn’t a big drinker then and I’m still not, but back then I wouldn’t pass up a chance for free beer.  So he came to my house, and then from there, we walked over to the house of one of my girlfriends, who was hanging out with another girlfriend of ours.

Looking back, I realize that he really had set it up.  He hardly drank any of the beer; us three girls drank almost all of it.  Eventually it was getting close to my one friend’s curfew, so Marvin, her, and I caught the bus to her house to drop her off, and then he and I caught the bus from there to a park near my house.  While we were on the bus heading to the park, he kissed me, and truth be told, I liked it.  He was a good kisser.  However, I told him not to do that again, because I had a boyfriend and I wasn’t a cheater.  So we went to the park because it was still early (about 7 or 7:30), and I remember thinking that I was safe from anything bad happening, because I had him there to protect me.  In the back of my mind, I was remembering everything I’d learned about sexual assault, and I was thinking that if any rapist jumped out of the bushes at me, I’d be safe.

It seems hopelessly naive now.

So we were sitting in one of the shelters (known as the smokehouse), and … well, I’m sure you know how it went.  There’s no need for me to relive it, or to force anyone else to picture it.

At first, I wasn’t even sure it was rape.  Everything I’d ever learned about rape implied that it happened between strangers (I now know that that is very inaccurate), that it involved some creep jumping out of a bathroom stall or out of the bushes with a gun or a knife.  I never thought for a second that I would be raped by someone I called a friend, without the use of a weapon or any real physical harm.  After that, he walked me home, and I went to bed early, making the excuse that I didn’t feel well.  The next day was Easter Sunday, and I woke up in the morning and took a long hot shower.  I knew that was the one thing that I shouldn’t have done, but at the risk of sounding cliche, I felt so dirty and I just couldn’t help myself.  So I went to church (not by choice), and then had dinner with the family, and everything was normal.  I was quieter than usual and some people noticed, but not enough to really realize anything was wrong.  That night, I was talking to a friend on the phone, and I told her what had happened, and then I asked her, “Was I raped?”  And she sighed and sounded like she was on the verge of tears, and told me yes, absolutely.

The next day, I told my boyfriend, and he called my mom, told her what happened, and we met her at a local clinic.  And this is where my second very personal experience with rape culture begins.  After the doctor had performed the rape kit, we talked for a short time.  She asked me if I was sure I was telling the truth.  I wasn’t angry, but I was surprised, and even though I was still doubting myself, I said yes, of course I was.  So then she asked me if I was planning on pressing charges, and I said I didn’t know.  So then she told me that if she was me, she wouldn’t.  I asked her why, and she said the first reason was because I wasn’t a virgin, and hadn’t been when it happened.  What that had to do with anything, I don’t know, but while I was still reeling from that, she asked me how many partners I had had (it wasn’t very many, more than one but less than five), and when I told her, she said something to the effect of, “So you’ve already slept around a bit.”  If your reaction is anything like mine, you’re thinking, “Wait, WHAT?!”  And I said no, of course not, these weren’t strangers, these were people I had known for over a year, and in each case, I was in a relationship with them.  How is that sleeping around?

So then she told me that although there were slight lacerations, it would just look like I wasn’t very aroused, not like I was actually raped.  She went on to tell me that even on the off-chance it went to trial, it would look like I had sex, regretted it, and then made up the rape to “get out of trouble”, like for drinking underage.  But the truth was, my mom didn’t even know I was drinking that night.  I wasn’t late for curfew, and in fact, I was a couple hours early.  If I had had consensual sex, I just wouldn’t have told anyone.  It’s not like Marvin would have told anyone either.  So what trouble, exactly, was I trying to avoid?  Still, her words stung, and so when the cops came and questioned me, I was very unhelpful and told them straight out I didn’t want to press charges.  My mom and boyfriend were both disappointed and couldn’t understand why, and I didn’t want to tell them.  And I never did, either.

Afterwards, some friends that I told asked me horrible cliche questions, like what was I wearing, was I flirting with him, how much had I had to drink, etc.  As for the first one, it doesn’t matter, but I was wearing baggy jeans (a pair of my boyfriend’s jeans, actually) and a t-shirt, like normal.  I wasn’t even wearing any makeup, which was also typical.  Was I flirting with him?  Does it matter?  I was friendly, like I always was.  How much did I have to drink?  Enough to be slightly buzzed, not enough to be sloppy drunk.  It was just beer, not hard liquor, and three 40 oz bottles split between 4 people is not very much, even when three of the four are girls all under the age of 17.

Because of the doctor’s comments and the comments from “friends”, I spent years just trying to forget what happened, to the extent that I still rarely talk about it.  I’m always afraid that people won’t believe me.  But to this day, I still won’t set foot in the smokehouse.  I still hate doctors with a passion.  Every time I go in for my annual womanly exam, I always think of that doctor’s words, and I hate it.  It took two years of therapy to even get to the point where I would call that instance rape.  Usually I just wouldn’t talk about it at all.

For years, I didn’t know what to call my experiences with society’s attitudes towards rape.  Usually I’d just call it messed up.  But now I know that there is a term for it:  Rape culture.  I’ve said before that one aspect of rape culture is victim-blaming, and I’ve experienced it first-hand.  Could I have prevented what happened to me?  Only through hindsight.  Sure, if I’d known that the three men who have assaulted me were rapists, I would have avoided them.  But it’s not like it was tattooed on their forehead, right?  So how was I supposed to know?  I did things that were so innocent.  I hung out with someone that I called “grandpa”.  I had a couple beers with some friends.  I hung out with a guy I was dating and his best friend of nearly 20 years.  These are things that people do all the time, and yet in my case, the end result was something terrible.

It’s because of this that I know for a fact rape culture exists.  I’ve lived it.  I wish I hadn’t, but I did.

So there you have it.  If you’re still with me, thanks for reading… and all comments are welcome.

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Responses

  1. Wow, that is some story. I admire your courage in being able to talk about these events now which must have been harrowing at the time. I only hope that you do not blame yourself. That is something that should never be allowed.

    • Thank you very much, Jade! I try not to blame myself, but I have the feeling that some part of me will always wonder “what if…”. Thanks again!

      • You are more than welcome. 🙂

  2. ((CeCe)) you are so brave and so eloquent. You have my admiration and support, always.

    • Thank you so much (((LaDonna)))!

  3. Because of you, more people will understand that this happens and they are not to blame. I pray that doctors are wiser and more compassionate now. Telling is so important, and having supportive people around you makes all the difference. Bless you, CeCe.

    • That’s my prayer as well, Susan, thank you very much for your kind comment! Blessings to you also. 🙂


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