The boogie man is real. The monster that used to lay waiting under your bed has found its way into your bed. You were lied to as a child when you were told these beasts were fictional, unable to harm you, and that the only thing to fear were strangers with uncertain agendas. It might surprise and hurt you to know that you are surrounded by them, that these creatures have hidden behind friendly smiles and have even purchased real estate on your heart. It may also, in some twisted way, give comfort to you that actions committed by your loved ones no longer need the blind eye you once lent. Now you can call them out as vile and monstrous. But alas, you realize sickeningly that you cannot. This boogie man is still a friend to so many others you know, so who is going to believe you anyway? This boogie man isn’t the kind to just scare you. This boogie man will violate you, rape you, strip you of every sense of yourself, and then turn you back to face the world once its wretched job is done, as if nothing happened. Rape culture is pervasive, unrelenting, and unforgiving of its victims and perpetrators.
It probably hits hardest when I meet a guy for the first time. The immediate fight or flight instinct takes over in fear that what happened to me before will happen again. Even when I get past that, I recognize that there will be another hurdle to jump. I know at some point I’ll have to tell them what I’ve gone through. The unrelenting thought of ‘what will they think of me’ runs rampant through my head. Will they think I’m broken? Will they think I’m tainted? Denial and ignoring becomes an armor employed each time.
It has been exactly one year since the first time I was raped. For a full year, I remained silent. I could count the number of people who I told on one hand, and I didn’t refused to go into detail on what happened with them. I didn’t want to believe what had happened to me. I didn’t want to admit that I had been a victim of rape. Stigmas and judgement ran rampant through my mind. The fear of being hated, judged, and shunned paralyzed me, forcing me to stay silent.
When my best friend told me she was raped, I stayed silent. When a family member told me when a man on the train was staring at her so pervertedly she had to get off the train to get away from him, I stayed silent. When 13 Reasons Why came out, I remained silent. When news first hit of Harvey Weinstein, I still remained silent. I chose to remain silent, rather than helping people know that they are not alone. When I saw my friends posting “#Metoo”, friends that I never knew had been dealing with this, my heart broke. But it was then that I knew it was my time to break my silence. One year after I was raped, I’m ready to share my story.
It was October 26, 2016, my freshman year of college. It had to have been around 1:00am, and like many nights before, I wanted to have a casual hookup with a guy. As I had done so many times before, I went onto Grindr. After a while of messaging multiple men, I found a guy who peaked my interest. He was kind and was able to hold a conversation. On top of that, he was pretty attractive. He had dark black hair, deep brown eyes and tan skin. He didn’t have a name on his account, but that didn’t stop me from chatting with him. Lord knows how many people I’ve hooked up with before without ever getting their names. Anyway, after about an hour of chatting, I invited him over to my dorm to, well, you know.
I want to say it was around 2:20am when he messaged me, stating that he arrived on campus. I walked over to the gate to let him in, and then drove with him to show him a parking spot near my building. While walking with him to my dorm, he said his name was Jonathan, a name that will forever be etched in my memory. I remember that he had a little satchel with him, a bag that I assumed he used to hold items he typically brought to hookups: condoms, lube, keys, and phone. In all honesty, I don’t really know what was inside that bag, I never saw, but that is my suspicion at least.
When we got back to my room, he started undressing and told me I was cute, and he was excited for what the night had to offer. When he undressed I noticed a tattoo right above where his heart must be. It was two words that I can’t remember. I followed suit and started undressing as well, and he kissed me once, maybe twice. He led me towards my bed, the only one that was made, and laid down naked. It was then that I took in his full physique. He was thin and muscular. His arms weren’t ‘ripped,’ but I could tell that there must be strength behind them. He had a little bit of hair at the center of his chest, and a happy trail leading to his penis. His penis was uncircumcised, something that was fairly new to me, as I grew up in a predominately Jewish neighborhood and environment.
As I went towards the bed, he asked me to perform oral sex. Because oral sex is normally one of my favorite parts of sex, I happily obliged and said sure. I remember that for maybe a minute it was enjoyable, but then everything went downhill. He placed his hand at the back of my head, and slowly added force against the back of my head. At first I thought this was normal, as I had seen it in porn before, but then it changed. He was forcing my head farther down and with more force with each thrust. I remember trying to show that I didn't want this to happen, so I started tapping his stomach, near his navel area. I tried forcing my head back, trying to overcome his strength, but my assertion that his arms held strength was correct. None of this didn’t stop him. At this point I was gagging out of pain, and started to have tears running down my face. I tried forcing myself free from his hand by resisting, but he was strong, really strong. Throughout this he was making statements to me like “don’t you like this,” and “oh yeah that feels great.” He was finding pleasure in my pain. I eventually got free from his grip, to which he responded, “Oh, so now you want me to fuck you?” With fear and tears in my eyes, I just looked at him. Hoping that maybe it would be better than what had just happened, I handed him a condom. I can’t even describe how scared I was. I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but I thought that nothing could have been worse that what was happening.
This was maybe my second time bottoming (receiving anal penetration by a penis) in my life, and I was scared. He was quiet for a little, and then I suddenly felt a tight grip slightly above my hip bone. Moments after, I felt a searing pain, one that I had never felt in my entire life. I remember barely being able to breathe, let alone speak. I weakly saying “ow” to motion that what he was doing was not pleasurable, but that didn’t stop him. At this point he took one of his hands off my hip and placed it on the back of my neck, forcing my head into my pillows. When people ask about fight or flight, there’s a third option: giving up. My body had given out, it was no longer in my control. All I could do was exist. I couldn’t move my body, I no longer owned it, and all I could feel was pain, and his body thrusting itself onto me.
I had been crying for some time now, and my face was fully covered by pillows to drown out my pleas for him to stop. I kept whimpering “stop” and “no, I don’t want this” but this did not stop the attack on my body. At this point I didn’t know what to do. My mind couldn’t believe what was happening. A million thoughts were racing in my mind, but all of them were surrounded by a single thought “am I going to die?”
I don’t know how, nor do I know where it came from, but something came over me. It gave me the strength to throw him off my body, and to this he laughed. I ran to the other side of the room to turn on the light, and he said “what you weren’t liking that, I know you were,” while he was masturbating with the condom still on. When he finished he joked “at least I came” and proceeded to put his clothing back on. While my body was shaking and numb he said on his way out “this was fun, we should do it again sometime.”
I remember trying to wrap my head around what I just went through, but my legs were still numb with pain and fear. I slowly tried to bring myself to normalcy, so I got dressed, and I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts, because I don’t know what I would have done. The first thing I did was I messaged my friend group chat. I didn’t know what to say, so all I said was, at 2:52am, “is anyone awake? I really don’t want to be alone right now.” I immediately got a response from Katie, a girl who I had met once, “I’m awake Jake, what’s up?” I then proceeded to say in my group chat, at 3:00am, that I couldn’t move my body and I thought I was raped.
It wasn’t until the next day that a lot of my friends found out what happened by reading the messages. Many of my friends kept pressuring me to report what had happened, even though I didn't have the strength or the heart to do it. How could I put my mother through this I thought, she always warned me to be careful and look at what happened. I was terrified. I couldn't report. One friend even got aggressive and told me I had to no matter what.
The coming weeks and month are somewhat of a blur, but I do remember how my rapist left his mark on me. I could no longer be in a dorm room with even a little light, and when I went back home, a room with no light would bring panic attacks and flashbacks to what happened. Being touched on my sides, especially in the spots he held me down with are trigger points for me. When someone would touch me there, I’d flinch, even to the severity of falling to the ground.
The thing I vividly recall from those weeks, something that made a lot of people think differently of me, was the way I tried to erase him from my memory and my body. While many survivors of rape and sexual assault can’t be touched by people of the same sex as their attacker, I was the opposite. Within one month of the assault, I had sex with more than 40 different people. I wanted to erase him from my body, I wanted to prove to myself that I am still desirable and worthy of other peoples’ affection.
Until today that still lives with me, and it always will. I am just coming to terms with it now, and I have just started being able to tell people what happened. I still have physical ailments from that night that I may have to live with forever. I am a victim. I am a survivor.
This, however, is only one story. Unfortunately, stories like this aren’t uncommon, as we now see with the '#metoo' movement. Because we, in America, live in a culture of rape, this will not change. The Oxford Living Dictionary labels cohorts and environments whose prevailing social attitudes and actions have done nothing to adequately address sexual assault and abuse as far from normal and acceptable as a rape culture. Rape culture is preserved when society polices their daughters on how they dress, act, walk, and dance to “protect” them from rape, while allowing sons to act as they please. Rape culture is “defining ‘manhood’ as dominant and sexually aggressive,” and “defining ‘womanhood’ as submissive and sexually passive.” (“Rape Culture, Victim Blaming, and the Facts”). The culture is strengthened when false statistics are considered the truth, and people are scared to report what happened. The United States of America fosters a strong rape culture, and one that is perpetuated and fed everyday.
To understand why rape culture has become such an epidemic, we must first understand what rape looks like in America. For women, according to various sources, rape can be as common as 1 in 4 women are raped or victims of sexual assault (and in some studies which take into account the abundant amount of people who do not report, they theorize that it could be as few as 1 in 2 women). Reports on male victims are clocked at one in six men being survivors of rape or sexual assault. While this is a sad reality, when looking at 1000 rape cases, only six rapists ever saw jail time (The Order of the White Feather, 2014).
Being younger doesn’t help. In fact, it increases the likelihood of being a victim of sexual assault. According to the Department of Justice, 69% of rape occurs when the victim is between 4 and 34. If you are a woman in college, you are three times more likely to be a victim of sexual violence of some form. Men in college are at extreme risks over their non-student counterparts. The risk for college males goes up 78% opposed to their non-student counterparts (RAINN, 2014).
These statistics, however, are flawed and ill informed of an even harsher reality. Rape and sexual assault is the most underreported crime in America (“The Criminal Justice System: Statistics”). Many people theorize as to why the reports are so low, but it is agreed there is no one definite cause for such a complex and culturally pervasive subject. Some of the common reasons used to try to explain the longevity and severity of the presence of rape culture in the United States has to do with the stigma and the myths behind rape.
The biggest contributor to the stigma of rape victims who come forward is the misinformation fed to the public about false rape reports. When interviewing people, students told me that they believed that up to 15% of rape reports are fabricated. In truth, the percentage is actually around 2% (“Rape Response Services”, RRS). This perception creates a hostile environment that makes people weary to come forward with their experiences. With fear paralyzing victims, they do not seek the help they need to ensure that they can learn to live without such a painful weight on their shoulders.
One of the biggest topics not discussed when talking about rape and sexual assault are male victims. When discussing rape and sexual assault, typically, the reading is mostly, if not entirely, about women. Men are almost entirely written out of the narrative because it does not agree with how men are taught and constantly judged against criteria on what makes a man. Although rape is an already underreported crime, underreporting is even worse for male victims due to of society’s view on men. Men are often conditioned to believe that they should have been able to fight off their attacker and should be strong enough to stop it from happening entirely.
In reality, men are victims just like any other person that is sexually assaulted. Recently, there has been a step towards men having the opportunity to share their stories in a safe environment. In 2016, Art-Sheep posted a catalog of pictures featuring men holding signs of what their rapists said moments before and during the rape. Each of the signs showed that for the most part, a major “reason” as to why they were raped has to do with people using sex as a weapon. They use power and sex to subdue someone else making themselves feel stronger and their victims weak. This project allowed male survivors to get their story out without someone telling them it was their fault, or telling them that they must have like it or that men cannot be victims of sexual assault and rape.
One of the worst things done to a victim is victim-blaming. Everyone has heard the phrase “she asked for it” and “did you see what she was wearing?” These are two prime examples of victim-blaming. When you victim-blame, you are stripping the perpetrator of any blame and placing it on the victim. By doing so, the rapist can believe what they have done is okay, permitting them to have the opportunity to do it again.
Victim-blaming is one of the largest reasons for the stigma and underreporting crisis. Victims do not feel safe sharing what has happened because they fear backlash. If the rape happened the night of a party people might blame the victim because of the alcohol they consumed. People might claim that the victim was promiscuous, and possibly sending signals to the rapist that they “wanted it.” These notions, although nonsensical, are often stated every day to victims of sexual assault and rape. These ideas and mindsets create a venomous and rancorous environment for the victim, causing them to not come forward with what has happened.
This feeds into another contributing factor as to why rape is such an epidemic. In the case of the victim from the party, blame could have also been placed because of an incorrect or incomplete definition of rape. Rape laws are not universal in America, and the definitions of rape vary between states.
For example, North Carolina only defines a situation as rape if it involves vaginal penetration only. This means that if a man is raped, he cannot file it as rape in North Carolina because vaginal penetration was not practiced. Because of this, many are at risk and do not have the opportunity to report this as rape, and hopefully keep a rapist off the streets, but are degraded and told that this is not valid rape. Anal penetration as well as oral penetration are not considered to be forms of sexual assault in North Carolina (“Rape and Sexual Assault Laws in North Carolina”).
Consent is a flawed concept that needs to be readdressed and reformed into Affirmative Consent. Affirmative Consent changes three main aspects to make consent more protective and clear.
First, it states that consent is not a singular step during sex, but a state of being. Consent, like in the story above, should be something that can be revoked at any time during sex or any sexual contact. This shift in identifying consent protects everyone, because it allows people to be safe and happy during sex, not just feeling like they have to do everything just because they said yes to one sexual act. Critics of Affirmative Consent state that by making this shift, you could be ruining sex and taking the fun out of it. This, however, is invalid, because this shift makes it so that all parties are on the same page, ensuring that everyone involved can enjoy their sexual act as much as possible.
Second, Affirmative Consent requires that each party is not under any influence. This negates any discussion of “blurred lines.” Just like driving, if alcohol is consumed, you shouldn’t be having sex. If any of the parties are inebriated or under the influence of any recreational drug, Affirmative Consent states that they are unable to give an affirmative yes because their decision making was impaired.
Finally, Affirmative Consent requires a verbal yes from all parties. The common theory that it is consent until someone says no is an issue that many people face. Often people are discarded or discouraged to come forward because they simply did not clearly say no to the other person. One of the biggest issues with this, however, is that often times people are scared to say no. They may not even have a chance to say it. In order to protect people in situations like these, Affirmative Consent claims that instead of requiring someone to say no, there should be a requirement hear yes, and have a constant yes throughout.
By adopting Affirmative Consent as a standard, America would become more unified in the fight against sexual assault and rape. These standards would protect people, as well as make many feel safer. Having a unified definition would also make seeking legal assistance and justice easier for victims, creating a safer and more survivor friendly atmosphere. Additionally, with definitions such as Affirmative Consent, the gray area of sex is diminished, supporting a more consensual and sex positive community.
When my school’s Clery report (a federal law that requires every school to release all information about campus crimes) came out, I was interested in seeing how exactly my school defines consent, and if my school abides by the ideas of Affirmative Consent. Here’s a snippet of what it says in my school’s “non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy:
Although it does hit many of the important parts of Affirmative Consent, especially the idea that consent is a state of being, rather than a simple yes, it does miss a key component, alcohol and drug consumption. When looking through the Clery report, there is a small little add-on about alcohol and drug use.
When I read this I was simply appalled. They use the word generally, a word that gives exception. I would be okay with this, except for the fact that they do not continue to explain the reason for using generally, nor does it share when drugs or alcohol is okay when having sex. This potentially allows for another Brock Turner to get scot free.
Please, check your school's policy on this and advocate for affirmative consent.
This article does not end here. This topic does not end here. Statistically speaking, every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted (RAINN, 2015). While reading this article that took you maybe 10 minutes to read, statistically speaking 6 people were sexually assaulted. Rape in America is an epidemic that lawmakers ignore and bystanders watch. People would rather teach their daughters how to protect themselves than teach their sons not to rape. They would rather tell their sons to man up, than help them process what happened and seek help. I know my boogie man’s name, do you know another’s?
If you or a loved one has been through sexual assault or rape, please call the national sexual assault hotline at 1(800)656-4673.
** Disclaimer: my sister helped me edit and write parts of the article.