I hear about women being blamed for their sexual assaults all the time.
It could be the semi-revealing top they wore on a night out or the number of cocktails they consumed consecutively. Women are faulted for men’s incapacity to control their sexual urges all the time. But that doesn’t mean we should normalize it.
When I was a freshman at university, I woke up one Saturday morning with no underwear and no recollection of the night before. I was covered in so many bruises and in so much pain, I immediately went to seek medical attention. I remember feeling mortified as the nurses at the hospital examined me. I remember that look of horror in their eyes. After watching the clock strike midnight, I realized it was my birthday. Still, all I wanted to do was crawl out of the body I’d been born into exactly nineteen years earlier.
What made the ordeal so humiliating was I’d been taught by society if you were careless enough to drink excessive amounts of alcohol as a woman and you were taken advantage of, it was no one’s fault but your own.
I fell into a deep despair that semester, feeling isolated from my peers or anyone who heard what happened. I was told to “be warier of my surroundings next time” and “drink less.” It wasn’t that those words of advice weren’t valuable, but they kept reinforcing this notion that my carefree demeanor in celebration of homecoming weekend was the source of this man’s actions. It was as if they were suggesting I was the culprit.
The thing is, women should be allowed to party. We should be allowed to let our guard down. We shouldn’t need to look over our shoulders or carry date-rape drug testing kits in our back pocket.
For years I hung onto the guilt of that one night, seriously believing that my behavior paralleled with the perpetrator. I thought I fully deserved what had happened.
I’m 28 now, and I still have a great deal of wisdom to acquire. But one fact I know by heart is no woman should ever be blamed for what another man does to her, intoxicated or not. Any time a woman doesn’t give consent, it is rape. This includes drunk women, flirtatious women, women who have willingly taken drugs, women who wear miniskirts, and even women who sleep around.
I’d love to tell you that was my only experience with sexual assault, but that would be untrue. Other instances made me resort back to that same guilt I felt the first time around.
If I let it happen again, surely I’m the common denominator…
Those thought patterns were habitual to me, and it’s taken the jaws of life to dismantle them. I have to continually remind myself that neither incident was my fault, even though a part of me still struggles to believe it.
I can’t help but wonder if maybe other girls and women who have been through what I have, feel similarly. I can’t help but wonder if maybe they’re also crumbling beneath unearned guilt or shame.
As difficult as it was for me to write this piece, I knew it needed to be done, if not for me, for all of You. Sexual assault of any kind is never the fault of the woman, ever. I believe the vast majority of men are intelligent beings; intelligent enough to recognize when a woman is genuinely interested in having consensual sex.
At times I feel enraged by the people in my life who tried to make me feel responsible for what happened to me, but now I’ve decided that anger isn’t helping anyone. I’d rather just use my story as a way to empower others. We women are so incredibly strong, brilliant, beautiful, and brave. We are lovers, nurturers, and healers. We’re mothers of the human race. We should be celebrated for all that we are, not disparaged.
I’ve been stomped on by far too many size eleven shoes in this life, and it breaks my heart to see it still happening to so many other women around the world. I can only remain optimistic that one day things will be different. I can only remain hopeful that one day women won’t fear walking home alone late at night and can cross the street without getting whistled at or catcalled.
The first step in this battle is raising awareness and re-shaping these stone-aged views that paint men as victims of their own actions. People who steal and kill are held accountable for their actions, so why is rape any different?
To the amazing women out there: continue to right these wrongs by speaking in full-volume and fighting for one another. Because when we stand together, it becomes impossible to confiscate our power.
It will take time and some shattered spirits. But if we can make the effort now, maybe one day, our granddaughters will know a far better world than we ever did.