Yes, you read that right. I was raped.
Don’t worry. It wasn’t last night, or last week, or last month, or last year. But it happened, and this is the first time I’ve said that without qualifying it in some way. I rarely use the R-word when I discuss it.
Shortly after graduating from college, while I was still living in a state I hadn’t been born in, hundreds of miles and a five-hour drive away from my family and any actually reliable support system of friends, I experimented with alcohol and excess and drunkenness. Why? Because I’d been raised in a Christian bubble, right up through four and a half years of undergrad at a private Christian school. I wanted to know what the World was like.
My boyfriend of three years (who was three years younger than me) had broken up with me because he no longer believed in God, and I still did. There were other reasons (another girl, opposite goals and dreams, stages of life that were too different – I was a burgeoning adult in the real world; he was still in early undergrad). But the main issue between us was our difference of belief about faith and religion, and it drove us apart, and that’s okay.
But there were other things that had occurred in that relationship – things that caused me to question whether I was valuable as a person, and desirable as a woman. That boyfriend and I never had sex, but I was not a virgin when we met. I (willingly) gave up that title and became a statistic at the age of 17. For the next six years I allowed guilt and shame over my deflowered, marred, damaged status to conquer and rule me because the church mandates that it should. Premarital sex is wrong, the church says. Period. And, because the church says that it’s such a black and white issue, the implications that accompany the wrongness of the act heap a load of guilt and shame – mostly the shame – upon the person who engages in premarital sex but still wants to be part of the church – and especially so when that person is a young woman.
A lot of people know this fact about me – that I’m not a virgin. A lot of people probably also have suspected it over the years. I have been a flirtatious girl since the time I was four and obtained my first boyfriend, so it would be an easy speculation or conclusion to draw for the speculating and concluding types. But a lot of people also don’t know it. Or, at least, didn’t know it, until just now.
Near the end of my college career, and just after, I ran with a group of friends I’d gone to school with, and in retrospect I can admit that it was a fairly shallow group, catty and petty at times. It was also a very inclusive group, though. Anyone who wanted to hang out with us could, and we had a good old time when we went out drinking and carousing. We got drunk often, and woke up on one or another’s floors on many occasions.
It was through that group of friends that I met a guy we can call Camden. Camden was what many might call a “good ol’ boy.” Big, football linebacker type of guy, sorta square headed, and honestly not all that attractive when it came down to it. But I was getting over my boyfriend of three years, who – even though he discarded his faith – refused to have sex with me, which I took personally, as a rejection of my womanhood, even though he gave lots of other, perfectly acceptable reasons (we were too young; he was a virgin, it was important to him that his first time be…special; there was a pregnancy risk, and we weren’t ready either to get married or deal with the responsibility of a child).
So, back to Camden. Who wasn’t hot by any means, or even mildly attractive, but who found me sexually desirable, especially after we’d been drinking. My natural tendency to be flirtatious encouraged him, which is of course not surprising. Plus, and this is something else the church likes to shame women for, I have a sex drive. My body physically responds to sexual stimulation, to sexual attention, and to sexual hints and flirtatious comments. Sadly, it isn’t just the church that condemns sexuality and libido in women. It’s most of the world at large. But the church is the context I know.
Camden made lots of advances that I rebuffed. I enjoyed the flirting but wasn’t interested in dating him (either casually or seriously), so in my mind that meant no sexual interaction needed to occur. But he kept joining our group on bar outings, and he kept seating himself next to me, and he kept touching me – first my hair (which was quite long back then), then my arm, my hand, my hip, my lower back, my knee, my upper thigh.
I don’t remember all the details of how things progressed (alcohol was invited to all of our get-togethers too, remember), but things did progress. Light kissing, making out, grinding, and all of the other things that good and creative Christians do when they feel the need to draw the line at actual intercourse. We never went on a date. I never asked for a date, and he never offered.
Though many will start to judge me at this point in the story, I did not feel cheapened by our interactions at the time. Everything we had done, I had agreed to do. And there were plenty of things he asked to do that I did not agree to do, and we didn’t do them. He was pushy, and asked for various acts multiple times in a given hangout session, but I was always firm with the lines I had drawn, and I always “won,” even if only because I could say no for longer than his drunk body could keep his mind awake or his erection stiff. And yet, the church and much of the world would want to label me at this point. Tease is a common word, and slut usually follows soon after.
He certainly thought I was a tease. Why would I flirt with him, text him provocative messages, invite him over at midnight, if not to allow him to penetrate me? How cruel I was. I couldn’t tease him like that. Once his penis was erect, it needed to be satiated, relieved. It was a physiological, biological fact. It’s why men have to masturbate. But not women, right? We don’t have a bulging, throbbing flagship of physical proof. Well, there is physical proof of a woman’s sexual desire, as any educated person knows. But for a woman to seek masturbation for sexual satisfaction, as a relief of sexual tension, as a physiological necessity: That is Wrong with a bolded, capitalized, underlined, italicized W. Women can turn it on and shut it off like a pressure valve, and society says we should. Men can’t, though. Men must expunge their tension, and any woman who raises the tension (literally) but then refuses to relieve it is a tease, a bitch, a slut, a cunt for doing so. But men are not to be blamed for their needs. It is primal, instinctive, and natural. Wet dreams prove that, right? (Hint: Women can have orgasms while they sleep too.)
I eventually broke off my dalliance with Camden, realizing that I wanted better for myself than a midnight booty call. I wanted better than a non-relationship that was only sexual (if not intercoursal). And I wanted better than a man who repeatedly ignored my protests and my NO, treated me as if “no” were a game. As if I were a plantation maiden being proposed to in 1861, and saying ‘no’ was the proper, decorous thing to do but that, if pressed enough, I would give the answer I really meant, and wanted to give, which was ‘yes.’
How many times have we heard that bullshit from some frat guy on TV, in a movie, or in real life? “Her lips said no, but her eyes said yes.” Unfortunately, there’s a wildly popular song here and now, in 2014, that uses that exact same logic, with lyrics such as, “I know you want it,” and “the way you grab me” and “must wanna get nasty” and “you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature” and “you wanna hug me, what rhymes with hug me?”
Frankly, Mr. Thicke, that is the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life.
But I digress.
So things with Camden ended, and we each moved on. By that time my main post-college friend group had broken up and gone separate ways, and I had started to meet and make new friends. I didn’t see or hear from Camden for a long time.
Then, months later, one day out of the blue, I heard from his best friend; let’s call him Eddie. Eddie was having a birthday party at one of the clubs downtown, and I was invited. Given how long it’d been since I’d heard from either of these guys – not even a peep on Facebook (and this was back when we actually used Facebook to communicate) – I was surprised. I was reluctant to go. Nobody from the old crowd except these two was going to be at the party, and it didn’t sound like a lot of fun to me. I hemmed and hawed on the phone with Eddie, told him I wasn’t really digging it, etc. He begged and pleaded, said it had been forever since they’d seen me, and they both missed me and would love to hang out again, “like the old days.” I finally relented. “Oh, and by the way, would you mind being DD?”
So that was why they wanted to see me so badly. They wanted to get totally hammered and then get home safely. Well, my conscience kicked in, and I went to the party. I drank water while everyone around me drank everything behind the bar, it seemed like. Then Eddie and Camden and three total strangers somehow piled into my car for the drive home during the wee hours for the afterparty, which was at the house Eddie and Camden rented together. Well, I was game for some house drinking. It would be safe, I wouldn’t be driving until the morning; Eddie had said I could crash on their floor. Wasted Camden made a lewd joke about how I could have as much of his bed as I wanted.
On the drive home, Camden threatened to throw up from the backseat. I threatened his life if he did. I had just bought my car. Alcohol-infused puke was the last thing I wanted to break it in with. I rolled down a window for Camden and sped the rest of the way home. He made it, but just barely. As soon as I pulled into the driveway, he stumbled out of the car, took two steps up toward the house, and spewed the contents of his stomach everywhere. Mmm, sexy.
We all went inside and began the drinking all over again, including Camden, who, freshly emptied, was good as new. It didn’t take me long to get drunk, and I also grew very tired. I wandered into an empty room and slumped on a couch, dazed and hoping to doze off. Camden – drunk again – found me before too long. He touched me in ways that my body found arousing, and I eventually started kissing him. We made out for a while. He tried to take me back to his bedroom, but we only made it as far as his closet. I have no idea what happened after that. I woke up on the floor of the closet, in a pile of clothes, mine included, Camden sprawled on the floor beside me, totally naked. He began to stir when I moved, and he sort of lumped himself on top of me again. I said no, I was tired, I just wanted to sleep or go home. “Here,” he said, “we can sleep. Let’s go to the bed, though.” I started to grab my clothes and was instructed to leave them. I was wearing my underwear and maybe my bra.
We both collapsed on the bed, and I immediately fell asleep again. I’m not sure whether he did, or how much time passed. The next thing I knew, he was on top of me again, groping me again. I tried to push him off, but he was football linebacker big, and far too strong for me, especially as a drunken deadweight. I remember foggily telling him “no, no, no,” and I remember him ignoring me. His hands, his fingers roamed all over. He sloppily sucked at me, he clumsily thrust fingers inside of me, and I wriggled and tried to get far enough away to fall back asleep. I remember saying, “I’m not even wet” as an attempt to deflect his focus from my vagina.
Finally he got up, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I drifted back to sleep.
The next thing that woke me was a stinging, burning sensation inside my vagina. Camden had gone to the bathroom and gotten scented lotion to use as a lubricant. I don’t even know if he had a condom on. I didn’t have time to think; the burn was all I knew in that moment. I shouted, “OUCH THAT HURTS GET OFF OF ME” and shoved him as hard as I could. I didn’t send him flying or anything, but he did pull out, and lazily rolled over.
I didn’t say anything else to him. I calmly sat up, gauged my level of drunkenness, deemed it to be drivable, and went to the closet to retrieve the rest of my clothes. By the time I put them on, Camden was on his back on the bed, snoring loudly. I found the rest of my things, tiptoed through a house scattered with crumpled bodies, went out the door, got in my car, and drove home, where I crawled into my own bed and fell asleep for several more hours.
When I woke up later and recalled the sequence of events, I wondered briefly, Was that rape? But I dismissed the thought because I was a Law and Order: SVU addict, and what had happened to me was nothing like what happens to the girls on that show. Camden wasn’t a stranger grabbing me off the street, after all. He was a regular guy, whom I knew. It was natural for him to think I’d want to have sex with him. I’d teased him (there’s that word again) and encouraged him, and fondled him and let him fondle me plenty of times. Plus, we were both drunk. It’s easy to get the wires crossed. But didn’t I say no? Didn’t I tell him I didn’t want to have sex? I’m sure I said no. But we were drunk. It was my fault for getting him all wired and ready to go. It was my fault for making out with him at all. It was my fault for driving them home and drinking at the afterparty. It was my fault for falling asleep on their couch. It was my fault for agreeing to go that night at all.
It wasn’t long before I had convinced myself that what had happened was not rape at all, or anything close to it. Everything was my fault. I never considered calling any authorities or trusted mentors or even close friends. Nobody would know. I had made a mistake, and I had been punished for it. There was no reason to admit my sin to anyone.
It was more than a year before I told anyone what had happened with Camden, and by the time I did, I had moved back to Kansas City and left behind the drinking, partying, sex life I cultivated after college. By the time I did talk about it, I spoke flippantly and placed all the blame with myself. I never used the R-word; I didn’t even consider using the R-word. The first person to whom I described the scenario used that word, and I cringed and recoiled from it. No, no, it wasn’t that. Not nearly that serious. No way. It was just…drunk sex. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have gotten drunk. I should’ve just gone home after I drove them.
“Audra, did you agree to have sex with this guy?”
“No buts. Audra, that is rape. I don’t care how drunk either of you were. Someone having sex with you after you’ve said no is RAPE.”
Well, okay. If you say so. But..
And so on. Over the last few years I’ve had multiple conversations that went just like that. I describe a downplayed, heavily guilted version of events. My conversation partner clarifies by using the R-word. I deny it, retrace my words, emphasize my own culpability.
The conversations always ended either with agreeing to disagree or – more often – with me pretending to agree that it was rape and then changing the topic quickly. Over time, I began to accept that the situation was far more serious than I ever let myself believe. I began to refer to it in my mind and in later conversations as an instance of non-consensual sex. Even now, writing this today, I don’t like using the word rape. That word implies a victimization of some kind, and I have never seen myself as a victim. I was not attacked, or assaulted. The encounter was not violent in any way. My vagina was not torn, I got no STDs, I did not get pregnant. Hardly anything at all happened, actually.
But something happened. I was advanced upon. I indicated more than once that I was not interested and that the advance was not welcome. I was ignored. And I was physically penetrated against my will. (And, thanks to the fact that he used scented lotion – which is not intended for sexual employment – I was also caused physical discomfort.)
Slowly, after more and more stories like mine surface, I have begun to realize that – alcohol or no alcohol – what happened in that bedroom that night has a label; it has a name; there is a word for it, and it does, unfortunately, start with an R.
And I’m tired of dismissing it as “no big deal.” No, my life didn’t change an especial amount afterward, except for the fact that I cut off all contact with Camden. I stopped taking his calls, did not answer his texts, took his number out of my phone, and blocked him on Facebook. He was persistent for a long time after that. He created new Facebook profiles more than once and tried to friend me as if nothing had ever happened. (It’s actually kind of funny – or maybe a little disturbing – to see how many profiles of the same name appear on my block list.) He messaged me something casual once, asking how I’d been and saying we should catch up, it’d been a long time since we talked. I have not spoken a single word to him since the last time I saw him. The last thing I said to him was OUCH THAT HURTS GET OFF OF ME. I am still in contact with his friend Eddie, who has brought me multiple reports over the years of Camden asking how I’m doing. I know that at least one time I told Eddie he could tell Camden to fuck off.
So, except for that, nothing really changed about my life, externally or internally. Except for my intense guilt and shame in hiding the truth. Except for my belief that I deserved what happened to me. Except for the disservice I’ve done to other young women and men by not being honest about what happened.
I live in a world where it’s not only normal that I blamed myself; it’s accepted. It’s expected. The church is failing women in this regard. Society is failing women in this regard. Men are failing women in this regard.
Having been wronged, violated, doesn’t have to make you a victim. Am I going to fill out a police report? No. But I’m going to stop denying that something horrible happened to me. And I’m going to (try to) stop feeling shameful about it. And I’m going to stop focusing on why it was my fault, or even whether it was my fault.
I’m not sharing my story so people can feel sorry for me. Please do not do that, in fact. I’m telling my story because I know I’m not the only one who’s been holding onto a story like this. I’m telling my story because this story has to stop being written. I’m telling my story because I have young female cousins and a young niece, and I don’t want my story to become theirs.
The simple fact is, no matter what led up to the event, no MEANS no. And nobody, no matter how horny, no matter how intoxicated, no matter how physiologically tense, has the right to ignore that.