We Need to Talk About Sexual Assault
I have never been sexually assaulted.
As a cis white man, my privilege usually allows me to move through the world without giving much thought to whether or not I am safe. Sexual assault has simply not been part of my human experience.
Many people can’t say the same thing.
The first time one of my friends told me about her assault, I was shocked:
“I’m so sorry, I can’t believe that happened to you!”
Then I heard a similar story from another friend. And another. And another.
I was at a party.
He was a friend.
I was half-asleep.
He was drunk.
I said no.
He didn’t listen.
More than once I’ve listened as someone I care about told me,
The first time I had sex, it was actually date rape. I did not consent.
These are not statistics. These are not stories.
These are women I know and love.
Guys, we need to fucking talk about this.
Sexual assault survivors aren’t characters on TV or in an anonymous blog post somewhere. The fucked up reality is that they are the woman you are texting right now, the girl you just swiped right on, your best friend, the person next to you at church, the woman you’re going on a date with this weekend.
And the guy who sexually assaulted the woman you care about? He’s sitting next to you in church too (or he’s on stage leading worship). You play basketball with him. You just liked one of his Facebook photos.
Last week I read a story on BuzzFeed called “I Don’t Owe Anyone My Body.”
It’s a perfectly common story about a Tinder date with a nice guy…
When I arrived, he was hunched over the bar wearing a Patagonia fleece, turning the drink menu over between his hands. He was taller than I expected, which I liked, and cuter than I anticipated, which I also didn’t mind — though maybe it was just the forgiving bar lighting. When I introduced myself, he hugged me like he was meeting an old friend.
We ordered drinks and he immediately laughed off my offer to pay for my own, insisting that “a lady never pays for the first date.” I felt my stomach twist at his words, but shook it off, determined not to write off the date before it started.
It went as well as a first date with a virtual stranger could go. We revisited the small commonalities we had found in our online conversation — things like family and the minor stresses of our jobs. He made a few jokes that I thought were worth a small laugh, but gave a big one instead.
Two drinks in, he put his hand softly on my leg as I spoke and traced my knee with his thumb.
But you know that’s not how it ends.
He kept kissing me and pushed me against the wall. I felt my spine hit the frame of my closet.
“Slow down,” I said.
I could feel his teeth on my lips as he smiled.
“I’m on my period,” I lied.
“That’s OK,” he said.
“I don’t want to do anything else,” I said, twisting my body away from his.
“Let’s just have fun,” he said, holding my body harder against his own as he kissed my neck.
He moved his hands up my skirt and brushed my hand away swiftly when I tried to block him.
I closed my eyes and wondered when he would stop. I wondered if agreeing to have sex with him would be easier than what the alternative could be. I hated myself for thinking it, but as he pressed up against me I thought, Maybe I should just get it over with.
Listen. Listen to the stories of the women you know. It happens every damn day.
I suggested it might be a good idea if I left and we tried to connect the next day. He insisted I stay and give him a hug. He touched my face. His hand stroked my hair. It was all wrong. What ensued next was complicated and ugly and unwarranted. I said, “no” and “please, stop.” It didn’t matter. He didn’t stop.
The sun was rising when I pulled back onto the road. I could barely see the streaks of neon painting the sky through my tear swollen eyes. The shame. I thought it would devour the whole of me, start with the tenderness of my heart and work it’s way outwards until I was gone. Until there was nothing left but a hint of darkness at the sulfurous path it would leave behind.
As soon as he finished, I ran into the bathroom while he got dressed. I looked down to see my underwear covered in blood. Trembling, I stood up and rushed to put on a pair of shorts and as I did, I saw him grabbing his keys.
“You’re just gonna go? I’m bleeding…”
He looked over his shoulder, something sinister lurking in his smile.
I took a step toward him, “Seriously right now?”
And then he ran. He ran out of my apartment, up the stairs, into his car, and sped away.
I burst into tears. Alone, afraid, and humiliated. I called my closest friend, sobbing. Unable to find words, she knew exactly what had happened.
There are so many more more. Stories shared in my living room. Stories told on the sidewalk outside of clubs late at night.
Stories kept secret, because it’s still too terrifying to relive it.
Bros, we need to talk about sexual assault.
I don’t just mean now. I mean we need to wake up and pay attention.
How long are we going to let this be the status quo? When are we going to do something about it?
Here are four ways we can start:
1. CHECK YOUR ASSUMPTIONS
As men, we are culturally conditioned to believe that we are entitled to women — their attention, their time, their bodies, their sexuality. Movies and commercials and songs and jokes reinforce the lie that women are objects — symbols of status, or a reward to be earned.
If we don’t consciously interrogate and deconstruct this idea, it will permeate our view of women and we’ll never realize it.
sometimes nice guys do those things not because they are nice, in the real sense of the word, but because they associate doing those things with getting what they want. Or, at least, “deserving” it. I found out the hard way that in modern dating, that roughly translates to: If I spend at least $50 on you, you better sleep with me.
We need to ask ourselves some hard questions about this shit: Am I treating her this way to be respectful, or because I want something from her? If I don’t “get anything” from her, will I feel ripped off? If so, what does that say about my assumptions?
2. BE AWARE OF HER EXPERIENCES
I’ve been on a handful of dates in the past few months, and not once did I text somebody beforehand to tell them where I would be. Not once did I check in partway through the date to let my friends know I was safe. I didn’t have to, because male privilege.
I know the same isn’t true for her. She thought about what she’s wearing, where she’s going, and when she’ll be back. She pulled out her phone partway through the date to let her friends know she’s ok.
And while I’m wondering whether she’ll say yes if I ask to kiss her, she’s wondering whether I’ll stop if she says no.
…that’s the thing about nice guys: You can’t always pick them out. They wear Patagonia and have good haircuts. They open doors and pay for your drink. They laugh at your jokes and ask about your family.
It doesn’t matter that I was polite, that I was on time, that I was a perfect gentlemen. Nice guys sexually assault women ALL THE DAMN TIME.
How the fuck is she supposed to know if I’m just a few minutes away from refusing to take no for an answer?
3. LISTEN TO HER STORY
Eventually, a time may come when a woman entrusts you with her story of sexual assault.
Maybe it will come across your Facebook newsfeed once you’ve used up your daily allotment of Tinder swipes. Maybe she’ll mention it over beers, her casual tone belying the traumatic reality just beneath the surface. Maybe she’ll tell you in your living room, sitting on the other end of your couch and whispering because she doesn’t even want to hear the story she’s telling.
When that happens, fucking listen. And don’t wonder “what she was wearing” or “how much she had to drink” or “whether she invited him in”. (This might be harder than you expect, because we are culturally conditioned to blame assault victims for their own assaults.) Just listen. Hold sacred space for that story.
And let it break your heart that it’s not the first time you’ve heard it, and it won’t be the last.
4. CALL OUT YOUR BROS
Guys, this is on us. Women shouldn’t have to keep writing blog posts and starting hashtags requesting that their basic bodily autonomy be respected.
While we’re swiping Tinder and wondering “What if I want to have sex and nobody wants to sleep with me?” woman are wondering “What if I don’t want to have sex, and I’m forced to anyways?”
That’s fucked up. Women shouldn’t have to risk sexual assault every time they go on a date with one of us.
We need to hold each other accountable for this shit. We need to change the way we talk about dating, consent, and sex. Maybe instead of saying,
“Did you get any?”
we need to start asking each other
“Did you remember to not sexually assault her?”
Because experiencing a romantic or sexual encounter with another human is a fucking gift — not a right, not a reward, and certainly not a conquest.
And no means no.
“And while I’m wondering whether she’ll say yes if I ask to kiss her, she’s wondering whether I’ll stop if she says no.”
I told Melissa this morning that I was writing this and she said, “The sad thing is way more people will read what you wrote than what I did. People always read what men write instead of what victims write.”
So before you share this post, or go back to swiping on Tinder, read some of these stories. And then find your bros and talk about sexual assault.
We need to do better.