Elyse is a blogger at the popular network skepchick, where this article was originally posted. Re-printed here with permission.
I was raped. I reported it. I was raped. I didn’t report it. I was raped. I reported it but I didn’t press charges. I was raped. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do so I told myself that I wasn’t raped.
But I was. I was raped.
We have these conversations about rape, conversations that always include a question of “Was the rape reported to the police?” Women are taught that when they get raped, it is our duty to report it. We are obligated to press charges. We must crusade for justice. If the rapist is a real rapist, and he raped someone, it the victim’s duty to stop him.
And we think we know what rape looks like. We know there’s bushes or drinks involved. There’s kicking and screaming… or unconsciousness… and the word “NO!” can be heard from the next room or by passersby. And there’s crying. Crying during. Crying after. So. much. crying. And there’s blood. At least SOME blood.
And we know what to do when you know you’re being raped. If there’s a weapon, you don’t fight. If there’s no weapon, you do. And you make sure you scratch him to get his DNA under your nails. And you don’t shower. And you don’t change. And you go to the hospital. Right away. You’d be irresponsible to wash away evidence.
Even though women put a lot of effort into not getting themselves raped, we already have the script written. We have a plan. We know how we’ll handle it when someone finally thwarts our attempts to get through the night un-raped.
Funny thing about rape, though, is that sometimes your rapist doesn’t match what you thought your rapist would look like. Sometimes central casting sends in dudes that don’t match the type you were already planning to get raped by. And sometimes these guys go off script, ad libbing lines and their timing is off and sometimes it’s the script is edited so much, you didn’t even recognize that this was Your Rape because NONE of the shit that just went down was part of the original plan.
This is a discussion of the times it does and the times being raped doesn’t go according to plan. They’re not in chronological order. They’re in the order in which I feel like discussing them.
And at this point, I’m offering up some trigger warnings for rape and if you’re my parent, you should probably stop reading…
The time I went straight to the police.
I probably shouldn’t call this the time I went “straight to the police.” I didn’t do that. But this was the rape that fit the script. At least in a “maybe we could consider this as an alternate ending” way. It wasn’t a Plan A rape by any means. This was a rape I was sure I was smart enough to avoid. I knew better than to get raped like this.
(By the way, we also have rapes that we know can’t happen to us. We do know better than to get raped in that way. This was one of those.)
But it was a pretty obvious rape-rape.
I was at a party. It was time to go. A friend of mine expressed concern for my safety walking back to my dorm, alone, super drunk, with a vagina, at night. And since he had brought a ferret with him to the party (because why not?), and needed to get it back home anyway (because ferrets have a curfew, I guess), he offered to walk back with me. And since I had a mad crush on this friend, I accepted his very considerate offer.
As we approached my building, he told me he had to first go to his dorm real quick to drop off the ferret and said I should come with him and then he’d walk me back… it didn’t make much sense because going to his dorm required walking past mine… but I was drunk and didn’t think much of it.
So we got to his room and the details start to get fuzzy. I wasn’t feeling so well. There’s a vague memory of being handed pills to help me. And there was kissing and me saying that this was a bad time because I was going to be sick. I may have thrown up before passing out… I don’t know.
I woke up the next morning, alone, in a room I didn’t recognize, not sure how I got there. I didn’t know what the hell was happening. I scanned the room and saw the ferret in a cage. Then the friend and another guy walked in, grabbed the ferret, nodded hello to me (in a weird bro-y “‘sup slut” kind of way) and left the room.
That was when I realized I didn’t have pants on. Or underwear. And my shirt was on but my bra was unhooked. It was all very confusing. And I was hungover as hell. I found my pants, checked the garbage can for used condoms or other clues about what may have happened. Then shame-walked back to my room.
I was incredibly angry and grossed out that this dude I had a crush on was obviously into some weird shit… like fooling around with chicks while they’re passed out. I went straight to my friends to report on this “gossip” about Ferret Dude’s fucked up idea of cool sex. And it started to occur to me that this might have been rape. I mean, I wasn’t conscious and something got did to my lady parts. I spent the day running errands with my friends. But I had to let this “was that rape?” thing settle in for a bit… and since I knew better than to shower or wash my underwear, I changed my clothes, put them in a safe place and didn’t wash anything… except my hands…. and my teeth.
Later that night, I finally came to terms with the realization that I was, in fact, sexually assaulted. So I went to the hospital. Because that’s part of the script. You got raped, you go to the hospital. I brought my clothes with me. Because you bring ALL THE EVIDENCE. It’s right there. In the script.
They called the police and collected a bunch of evidence from my vagina. And photographed my raped-parts. And while they were documenting the state of my pelvic region as a crime scene, and while sort of forgetting that my vagina was actually attached to a human being who was still in the room and could fucking hear them, I got highlights about what was happening “softball sized bruise on left inner thigh” “blonde pubic hair”… and then later I’d be asked things like if I knew where a giant inner thigh bruise came from or if I had consentually rubbed pubes with any blondes.
And I let them do all that. And I was honest with them. I told them everything. Because my job as a rape victim is to do everything I can to help police stop my rapist from hurting other women.
A victim advocate showed up with a change of clothes and an offer of support, but I already brought my own clothes because I knew they’d need mine for evidence and she kept telling me it wasn’t my fault, but I was all like fuck that; I know it’s not. I was PASSED THE FUCK OUT. Why would I be ashamed? I felt quite empowered. Aside from the hiccup in the morning where I thought I might not have been raped but wasn’t sure and waited a few hours to go to the hospital, I was doing EVERYTHING right.
As the days went on, my 24-hour full-time job was rape-victim/witness. My mom drove down to my school. I had to answer calls from the school’s administration… who were a little unhappy with me going to the hospital and police before university security, but security was closed on Sunday night… and security doesn’t have antibiotics to make sure I don’t get syphilis or offer morning after pills, and that was shit I really wanted because infections and babies of dudes who fuck passed-out girls are things I didn’t want to have, ever.
The school promised to do something about my classes that I had with the dude who raped me… then didn’t.
The police interrogated me in front of my mom, asking me if it was true what my attacker’s frat bros said: that I was “quite promiscuous.”
When I walked out onto campus, I could hear the whispers… because they weren’t quiet. The rapist’s girlfriend would call me, threatening me, and telling me that she knew I was lying because he was with her, studying, in her dorm all night and he never even went to the party… which I thought was kind of fucked up. It was more important to her to get me out of their relationship than it was to get him out of their relationship.
The girlfriend’s friends would talk loudly as I walked by, so I could just happen to overhear them talking about rape dude getting arrested in some humiliating way… and it was always a lie. (I guess I was supposed to feel bad for reporting a great guy to the police for something petty like leaving a softball sized bruise on my crotch while I slept.) The dude was never arrested.
After a few weeks, I dropped out. There was no reason for me to hang out in a dorm room at a school I wasn’t using for school anymore.
A few weeks after that, the police called me at home.
“This is ____ from the Decatur Police Department. Your rape kit came back. No semen was found. Evidently nothing happened. Please let your parents know.”
And that was that. No semen meant no rape.
The next few months, years, really, my mental health became completely unmanageable. I lost all my friends. I tried to go back to school, but couldn’t keep my anxiety in check well enough to leave the house. I dated this amazing saint of a man, but he had to leave me to destroy myself alone or I would have taken us both down with me.
I can safely point to that one incident as the thing that fucked up my life for a long long time. And the fallout from that still affects me today.
And that was the time I did it “right.” I did what I was supposed to do.
And despite the incident not following my script for how my rape would go down, it follows a pretty standard template. Drunk -> assaulted -> reported -> not believed -> no investigation -> dismissed.
Of all the “hard topics” of my past, The Time I Was Raped and Reported It is probably one of the easiest to talk about. Because it’s familiar. It’s not surprising. Everyone already knows this story, maybe with different characters. A different party. A different building. Probably without a ferret. But it’s not hard to discuss because I feel safe knowing that I did nothing wrong. They did. They all did. They all did in a system where they’re expected to.
But it’s also the one that hurt me the most. I did what I was supposed to do and the repercussions were vast and permanent.
Which leads me to:
The Time I Didn’t Press Charges
Years later, I was out partying with a group of “friends.” And I was raped.
I know, I know… “But Elyse, if you get raped at parties, shouldn’t you know better than to go?”
The answer is fuck you, no. Because I’ve been to hundreds of parties. Very few of them have ended in rape. And the ones where I don’t end up raped are generally pretty fun. And I like doing fun things. So I go to parties. Deal with it––preferably in a way that doesn’t involve raping anyone.
But you know, that was exactly the reaction I expected after I was raped by a trusted long-time friend and dumped on a corner by my boyfriend’s apartment in the early morning with my dress mostly ripped off. —Why would a woman who knows better be raped like this AGAIN?
After I sobered up and pieced together the parts of the night I could remember, I realized what had happened and I went to the hospital (again). I got my antibiotics and my morning after pills (again). And even though I didn’t want to press charges, I still had to talk to the cops because I said the word “rape” and I still had to once again, offer up my vagina (and this time also my ass) as evidence.
I didn’t know the exact address of the house where it happened, so I had to call my rapist friend on the phone, from the hospital, and come up with some cover story for asking him what it was.
The police called me a bunch of times.
They had me meet them at the mall to talk about what happened.
I told them. I told them it was also pretty hazy. I told them I’d been through this before. I told them how I was treated. I told them I knew how these cases go. I told them I knew what kind of victim I was. I told them I wasn’t pressing charges.
They promised me things would be different this time. They promised me they wanted to get him. They promised me this man would rape more women if I didn’t do what was right.
I refused. I was still a mess of a human. I wasn’t going to go on trial for being a drunk slut who conveniently gets herself raped at parties as some kind of hobby.
To those who weren’t extremely close to me, this rape never happened. I didn’t talk about it. It’s bad enough to be the kind of girl who gets raped once while drunk at a party. But even your sympathizers start questioning your honor as a decent woman when it happens again.
My boyfriend broke up with me. For cheating on him.
This time my life didn’t slowly fall apart. This time my life quickly imploded. Within months, I’d hit bottom. It was brutal. But it was swift. Getting myself back together took years. But those are years I might not have even had if I were facing a trial, or even enduring another investigation.
If I had the option of going back and choosing to press charges in this case, I still wouldn’t. You could send me back in time a million times. I would choose no every single one of those times. Not pressing charges saved me from myself. And probably saved me from further abuse by my attacker. And it saved me from staying in a relationship with the world’s shittiest boyfriend.
If I had pressed charges, I would have had to deal with all my problems plus all the cops’ problems. I didn’t have time or energy for all that. I made the right decision for me.
One time I convinced myself I had a choice
I’ll be honest. I never really fully convinced myself I consented. But I somehow convinced myself, or let him convince me, that I was indebted and sex was what I owed. And because I let him have it, I was a good and decent person. And if I hadn’t, I would have deserved punishment.
After I left college, I decided I was going to start a new life. And part of that new life meant beginning a career as a model.
I spent an embarrassing amount of time getting shitty photos taken by shitty photographers before I finally found the right people to mentor me and help me build the portfolio and connections I needed.
I built a network of local and non-local professionals that I learned to trust. And I didn’t trust anyone outside of my network unless someone inside my network deeply trusted them.
One of the men in my network lived out of state. But he was a fantastic photographer. And even though he was retired and living in Montana, still had some of the best connections in the business.
He and his wife would, from time to time, take a promising young model, have her stay with them for a week or so, shoot every night, and they’d offer her guidance and help her get to the next level in her early career.
Flying out of state to meet with photographers I admired was something I did fairly often. Call it naive. Call it adventurous. Call it ambitious. Whatever. It was what I thought I should be doing. And I enjoyed it. So when this couple offered me the opportunity to stay with them for a month, I jumped on it.
The first few days I was in Montana were spent talking shop, critiquing my body, pointing out that I was kinda fat in the thighs, a little short, but that with the right strategy, if I’m extraordinarily talented (and lucky), I could get around these things. We went through several rolls of film every night.
Things were going exactly how they were supposed to be going.
One day, while his wife was at her office job, the photographer and I were in the dark room, like we’d done every day. And suddenly, he was behind me, hand down my pants, finger in my vulva. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. So I stood there. I didn’t want to get hurt, so I didn’t fight. But I didn’t want to give the impression that this was enjoyable. I shut down.
Later that night, he had a talk with me about how my behavior in the dark room was unacceptable. He was giving me a pleasurable experience and I was refusing it.
I explained to the man over three times my age that I was not really comfortable with such surprises and that I need time to warm up to intimate encounters since I’d been raped in the past.
He told me that wasn’t fair. He wasn’t a rapist. And I needed to learn to live in the now. “How long are you going to let this keep you down? If you can’t get over this, you’re never going to have a successful career.”
As the days went on, the attempts continued. And all the stories of all the models who fucked photographers and who they fucked and how that helped their careers. And the feigned concern for my mental health continued. Finally, I was told straight out that if I didn’t start fucking him, he couldn’t help me. He reminded me that it was a thing models do. All models. I needed to figure my shit out or he was going to have me dropped off at the airport and I could find my way home on my own.
Fortunately right then I got my period, for three days, which kept him away. And since it deterred him, I kept a tampon in for a few extra days. I had to accept, though, that I couldn’t fake menstruate forever, and I had to face my fate. I gave in. He’d insist on fucking me several times during the day.
I refused to act like I enjoyed it. But then he was insulted. And he was mad at me for keeping this stupid rape hangup in the way of really appreciating what he was doing to me. For me. And he wasn’t going to be able to bring his wife into it if I was going to be a huge bitch about it.
So I started faking it. I started to believe him. I started hoping that maybe his wife would put this into perspective. But she was so enthusiastic about it, I was sure I was the one who was wrong. Maybe I was just puritanical like he said. Maybe I just didn’t get things about grownup sex. He told me that I was naive and sheltered to believe that he couldn’t have sex with me because he was married. His wife was obviously fine with it. It didn’t matter if I was or not. He was. She was. I was being a baby. And I didn’t know what was good for me. If I wasn’t going to fuck my way to the top, I was never going to get there. And I here I was, still at subbasement 12, metaphorically speaking, not even willing to fuck my way out of Billings, Montana.
At this point, I knew this was the definition of sexual harassment in the workplace. You can’t just threaten someone’s career if they don’t fuck you––but this wasn’t really a normal workplace and for some reason I had a hard time admitting that sucking on someone’s crotch who asked you specifically, clearly and indisputably not to was beyond “harassment” and was actually assault.
Then there was the weird gaslighting. They insisted I needed to cut out all the jealousy. I needed to understand that I had to share this man. He wasn’t mine. I didn’t get to keep him all to myself. They lectured me and scolded me for days about how I kept trying to tear them apart. They were willing to let me be a part of their relationship, but I needed to respect theirs. I kept insisting I wasn’t jealous. They told me I was lying. I knew I just wanted to get out. I desperately wanted to not have to have sex with them. They drilled it into me that I didn’t want to leave and I was overstaying my welcome and overstepping bounds. And I was sentenced to extra house chores.
I convinced a trusted male photographer mutual friend to make a last minute trip from Chicago to come see me (his “favorite model”) and his hero together, in person, in the studio. And he agreed. While I’d hoped it would be a confessional, eye opening, life saving trip, it wasn’t exactly that.
It was the end of my visit. We wrapped things up business-wise, but by that point I’d already bought into the whole idea that I had to/it was for my career/I consented/they did me a favor/I was leaving enlightened. The Billings photographer insisted that I never tell the Chicago photographer what was up because “he [wasn’t] ready” for it. He suggested I try to seduce him, and did a 60-year-old-man version of 7 minutes/1 hour in the closet with us and cast us off to the dark living room. And I couldn’t ask for help. I couldn’t bring myself to even attempt to seduce the Chicago photographer. So we chatted. And I told him everything was great. And he offered to pay for me to come back again.
I flew home with the Chicago photographer, and things seemed promising. But things unraveled as my family figured out bits and pieces of what went down in Billings and intervened, and my mental health, cognitive dissonance and career spiraled out of control. By the time I got home, I believed I’d done the right thing. I believed I wasn’t coerced. I believed I did what was best for me—emotionally, spiritually, sexually, professionally. I was convinced that normal plebes, like my parents, didn’t understand what The Beautiful People go through. What We do. How We live. We, you see, do things differently. WE have different rules. WE fuck men who want to fuck us for our own good. WE understand that it’s how you make a living.
But that’s not really how things work.
Eventually I convinced myself that this wasn’t really a consensual thing.
And much later I realized this was imprisonment and rape.
The Billings photographer is dead now. Despite his framed Mensa certificate on the wall, used to convince me that I wasn’t smart enough to understand the world like he did, he believed that his homeopath would cure him––of lung cancer, which he smoked through. Because sharks were going to save him. In fact, he told me he came up with the theory of shark cartilage as a cure for cancer while at the University of Chicago, from which he dropped out, or something. He convinced me that I needed to get off my bullshit fiber supplement for IBS and instead use an “all natural” stimulant laxative diet tea, which I quickly became physically dependant on.
He and his wife also told me that to get over my rape I needed to take a homeopathic solution of sulphur. They could tell it was working because I looked “so angry” in this photo:
Maybe I was just really angry. Because I was a goddamn sex slave in Billings. Which isn’t even a glamorous place to get to be a sex slave.
RIP, Photog. Montana is a better place.
(His wife’s “Mensa certificate” was also on the wall. Her IQ was conveniently 5 points lower than his. I’m sure this was legit.)
I never went to the police because I was brainwashed into believing nothing bad was happening to me. But even if I did, this is how rape is handled in Billings, Mo.
(Callback fun fact: my ex from the previous story kept my entire portfolio and every single one of the photographs I had taken during my entire career because I owed those to him for being a cheating whore.)
The time I said no but then said yes
I was in high school. It wasn’t like “no means no” hadn’t been drilled into my head for years. I knew what rape was. I knew it was awful. I knew it was never the woman’s fault and skirts don’t matter. I knew the talking points. I read Sassy. I was kind of a feminist, even if I didn’t know that I was.
So when I look back at this thing, it’s a little heartbreaking for me. I was well educated on the subject. And I didn’t get what happened. What happens to girls who don’t grow up in affluent progressive schools that promote feminist ideals and encourage girls to find their feminist bearings? Girls who have sex ed every year? Girls who are taught that consent matters? I didn’t call it rape for over 15 years. Even though, immediately, I knew it was, but convinced myself it wasn’t. At worst, I decided, there were some blurred lines.
I was on a date with a guy I met at a coffee shop. I don’t remember where we went or what we did or what is name was.
But at the end of the date, we went back to his house to watch TV. And things progressed.
Once we started fooling around, he got weird. Silent. Not just silent, but non-responsive to anything I said or wanted. If I said no to something, he kept going. I said no repeatedly, but he kept going. I was having trouble processing what was happening. I kept telling him no, but why wasn’t he getting that? I was confused more than scared. I didn’t know what to do.
A situation like this seems so much like the script, you think you know what you would do. You know you said no. So you have to try to leave. But that didn’t happen. I don’t know if I even knew I could leave. Or should leave. I think I thought he would stop eventually.
But “eventually” never happened. Eventually I ended up naked. Eventually I ended up begging him to please stop. “Please, no.” I whispered. But he was putting on a condom.rape
At that point, I knew there was nothing I could say or do to stop him. So I stopped stopping him and I said yes.
And that’s where I convinced myself I consented. As I drove home, I asked myself, “What happened? Was I just raped? No… I said yes. I did say yes. I said yes. I said yes.”
Then later “But maybe it was kind of rape? No… I said yes.”
“Maybe? No. I said yes.”
And for years the story I told myself was that it was uncomfortable and I regretted it because I didn’t want to but I SAID YES. And I had to live with my mistake.
I understood rape and “no means no”, I knew that any yes, at any time meant everything was okay to go. And I knew that yes could be revoked. But I never revoked that yes. I revoked my no. But I didn’t revoke my yes.
And I thought I hadn’t been actually threatened. So my yes stood.
But it wasn’t a legit yes. It was a yes that happened after at least a dozen nos. I said no. He kept going. I said no. He kept going.
By the time he was coming at me with a condom on his cock, what would another “no” have done?
And he didn’t have to threaten me out loud or with a weapon. It doesn’t have to be “If you don’t consent, I’m going to kill you.” He was going to rape me if I didn’t consent. “I’m going to rape you,” whether those words are spoken or implied, is a threat. He didn’t need a gun. He just had to show me he was going to fuck me whether I liked it or not. And he did. And I didn’t.
But his calm, detached, measured actions convinced me that I didn’t revoke consent early. He convinced me that those refusals didn’t matter.
So I didn’t go to the police. What was I going to report? That I just consented to having sex with some guy? I couldn’t even convince myself I’d been raped.
And life went on. Like nothing happened.
So when people say “Why didn’t you go to the police?” there are so many reasons. There are as many reasons as there are rapes. Not all those reasons are obvious. But we have this idea that rape happens and you know it happened because duh, you were raped. You know if your car is stolen. You know if someone broke into your house. How could you not know that someone just broke into your vagina (or any other orifice)? Someone shoves a dick in you that you don’t want there, you know it.
But rape doesn’t always follow the script. And we live in a culture that apologizes for rapey behaviors. If a woman says no, she sometimes means yes. You should never give up trying to get a woman to give you her affection. Women have internalized these messages. We often can’t recognize these attacks for what they are. And when any crime happens, the victim routinely goes back to figure out what happened and how they affected that crime. “Did I leave my doors unlocked?” “Did I give anyone my PIN number?”
I said no
Women are taught that it’s not their fault if they get raped. But they’re not really taught what “not your fault” looks like. We think of fault-questioning as lying somewhere in drunkenness and clothing choices and saying no to a dude with a boner. So when we’re forced to say yes, even though we’re clearly saying no, that doesn’t fit what’s in the script for things that aren’t your fault. And when it’s not forceful and it’s not threatening, and it’s calm and dismissive and insists that you know you want it, that doesn’t fit the script either.
We know what our rape is going to look like. Except that the script we’ve been given isn’t based on any true stories. So our rapes rarely fit. And for that, we blame ourselves. We blame ourselves for not recognizing it. For not stopping it. For not doing more. For not seeing it. For being there. For not knowing better than not to get raped. For not fighting. For freezing. For not being the right kind of rape victim, the kind of victim who gets cast into one of those familiar blockbuster type stories we know so well. The kind of rapes that don’t get prosecuted, but that people care about, at least. That people believe. That we can even convince ourselves of. We don’t just blame ourselves; everyone else blames us, too.
I’m tired of answering “Why didn’t you _____”
Because. Because I didn’t know I could. Or should. Or even had the right to. Because it wasn’t in the script.
Maybe it’s time we wrote more scripts. Better scripts. Ones of true stories. Ones with surprising characters. Ones with flawed protagonists we can relate to. Ones with antagonists we can recognize. Ones with outcomes we can understand. Ones our friends can understand. Our families can empathize with. Ones that humanize the survivors. Ones that recognize all survivors.
And maybe a script that goes like this
Partner: [not enthusiastic]
You: [moves on to a non-sexual activity]
Because if we were more familiar with that script, I’d have 5000 fewer words to say about rape today.