I’ve been thinking a lot about why I didn’t report my rapist these last few weeks – mostly after reading Mary Cate Smith’s piece in The Journal, which is not about rape but about the violent harassment she experienced at her gym. It’s a bracing piece that details her own experience, while using it to talk about male aggression in general – and what (if anything) is being done about it.
The reaction to it was disappointing, but also unsurprising. Readers expressed disbelief that her experience was honest. “If it happened, you would have reported it.” It made me think a lot about that time I didn’t report my rapist, and how that didn’t make my experience any less true. (Although that’d be a nice magic trick; hey, girls, if you don’t report it, it didn’t happen! Yay!)
I always enjoy the Hollywood Reporter’s Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot but I’ve been frustrated by recurring comments about the movie Elle. The anonymous Academy voters say that Isabelle Huppert is excellent but her character doesn’t behave like a victim ‘should’ after her rape. This idea that there is a certain way for people to process trauma is missguided at best, if not dangerous. It negates the individual experience and can be manipulated into yet another reason to disbelief survivors if they don’t react as ‘expected’ There are countless different ways in which victims can and will react to sexual violence and all are valid. It is not up to us to prescribe how survivors ‘should’ behave. We need to listen, and let them know that they have been heard and believed.
Then, today, author Louise O’Neill posted this on her Instagram account which, once again, brought up the same themes. Why are rape victims held to such unrealistic standards of predictability when, in all other parts of life, we accept that human behaviour is, above all else, unpredictable? I decided I would share my story – an explanation, if you will, as to why I didn’t report my rapist.
I was 21 years old when I was raped. I had been sexually active, at that stage, for five years; I had slept with five men. (I wonder, sometimes, if I will ever regret sharing so much of my life – I suspect, however, that my Mother regrets enough for the two of us.) One of them was this man – the man who would, in a few short paragraphs, turn from sexual partner to rapist.
He and I had known each other a few weeks – we were in college together – and had kissed a handful of times. The weekend before, after a drunken night in a neighbouring apartment playing cards, we had ended up in bed together. Afterwards, he told me he’d been hoping this would happen – he really wanted to cuddle and I felt really uncomfortable.
I had recently broken up with my boyfriend and, I think, in that moment I realised that he was a rebound. I liked him a lot, but I didn’t really fancy him, and I most definitely didn’t want to go out with him. I was kind of disgusted with myself – I felt like the evil men I read about in women’s magazines, who slept with women and then, once they’d “got what they wanted”, realised they weren’t that into them anyway. I felt guilty.
The following week, we found ourselves socialising with a group of friends in the local. I spent the night avoiding him; I was afraid he’d try to kiss me again, and I was too much of a coward to be upfront and tell him I wasn’t into him.
Later, back in our apartment, he and a few of his friends came back for more drinks. We all sat on our couch, drinking from glass bottles (remember when it was cool to drink those tiny bottles of French beer?). When it came time to go to bed – I was always one of the first to fold, which may be part of why I don’t really drink anymore – he followed me into my room and asked if he could kiss me. I was in my pyjamas.
Once again, I was too ashamed – of my own meanness to say no. I remember thinking, he’ll get the message eventually. We kissed. He tried to undress me. I said no. He tried again – my top came off. I told him I didn’t want to have sex. We kissed some more. He tried to take off my bottoms. I said no.
He wasn’t pushy – at least not physically – but he was stubborn. After several “no”s, I remember thinking, ‘it would just be easier to let him do it.’ So I stopped saying no, and I lay there, and he had sex with me. At no point did I shove him away, or scream at him, or tell him to get out of my room. (I wish I had.) I didn’t behave like a rape victim should behave.
Right afterwards, he asked if I wanted him to leave. “Do you want me to leave?” When I look back, this is the part I have the biggest issue with. Up to this point, I would believe you if you told me that he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong – that he didn’t know he was taking something I wasn’t willing to give. But he knew; the minute it was over, he asked if I wanted him to leave. I said yes. He left.
I didn’t report my rapist because…
I didn’t report my rapist because, for years, I refused to accept that I had been raped. I was humiliated and ashamed; I felt worthless. I remember being disgusted at how I had just let him do that. What kind of person was I, who thought it was easier to just let someone have sex with me than to have the awkward “I don’t fancy you” conversation?
I didn’t report my rapist also, in part because I felt bad for him. I still do. I don’t think that he would look back on what happened that night and think that he had raped me. I doubt he ever thinks about it, in fact. I worried that, if I reported him, it would ruin his life. I still would never report it, because I still worry about that. He didn’t mean to rape me; that makes it okay.
Afterwards, I didn’t do anything a rape victim is meant to do. I didn’t stand in the shower, rubbing my skin raw. I didn’t skip lectures for weeks and stop eating. I just… got on with things. I carried on.
But I went through an incredibly promiscuous phase. It was as if I thought that if I could let him do that, then why not just let everyone else do it? I’m not saying I slept with 20 men per weekend (I didn’t), but I definitely slept with men I didn’t particularly want to sleep with, and who definitely didn’t warrant being looked at twice. I hated myself.
I don’t know when I quite recovered (if that’s even the word), but I think it was around the same time that I realised that what he’d done was rape. Once I realised that it wasn’t my fault – that this was something that had been done to me, rather than something I’d let happen (although it was that, too), I shifted the blame from me to him. That helped.
I’m not sorry
I’m not sorry I didn’t report my rapist. I think the lines were too blurred for there ever to have been a conviction. I think that reporting him would have ruined his life – when I’m not sure he necessarily deserved that, for being drunk and pushy and not respecting my boundaries – and possibly mine.
It’s so funny because, in theory, I would always advocate reporting rape. I mean, who wouldn’t? But it’s not so black and white when it happens to you.