The Cut continues to receive stories of abuse. We believe there is power in the specificity of each woman’s account as well as in acknowledging just how commonplace these experiences are. You can read them all here.
I went on a date with the guy who sexually assaulted me, two years after he sexually assaulted me.
The assault happened when I was 15, at a house party. I was drinking. At some point, I became incapacitated. I have intermittent memories of each individual attack — there were three — starting with coming to on the floor of a guest bedroom, a boy’s head between my knees. The next time I surfaced, I was moaning “ow” in a bed, and there was a second boy on top of me, penetrating me. The last thing I remember of that night is being in another bedroom, in another bed, with a third boy, and a burst of something vile in my mouth. In the morning, I woke next to him laughing about how crazy the party had been.
I wrote about this experience, first as a fictionalized account in my novel before coming forward with the real story in an essay I wrote for Lenny. But something weighed on me heavily in the weeks leading up to the essay’s publication, something I felt guilty withholding. I told my agent, burning with shame as I spit out the confession, I ended up going out on a date with one of these guys later. What do I do if that comes out? No one will believe me. Who goes on a date with her rapist?
Over the last week, reading the mounting and harrowing allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the answer has crystallized for me. Asia Argento admitted to growing close to Weinstein in the years after she told the New Yorker he forced oral sex on her in a hotel room, a closeness that included consensual sex. This is common among survivors of assault. One of Jian Ghomeshi’s accusers consented to giving him a hand job after he allegedly choked her (he was acquitted), Megyn Kelly spoke of Roger Ailes as her “friend” and “mentor” while she had been dodging his advances for years, and Barbara Bowman said she accepted Bill Cosby’s invitation to see his show in Atlantic City despite her claims that he had previously drugged and raped her. Who would go on a date with her rapist? Let the record show, most of us.
That I fraternized with my attackers for the remainder of high school and even into college does not make my account suspect, it makes it textbook. And yet, while this behavior is hardly abnormal for so many women, it is behavior that is inconsistent with how we think a “victim” of a violent crime should behave; broken and bedridden, shrinking like a violet whenever she encounters her assailant by chance, never by her own design. But to measure the impact of a trauma by the behavior of the victim is to misunderstand the experience of assault.
From the moment I opened my eyes that morning, my assault was treated as consensual by almost everyone around me. I oscillated between taking my cues from what most everyone said (I was a slut) to what I felt in my bones (I had been raped). Did someone put something in my drink? I asked one of the guys a few days later at school. You’re crazy, he laughed, visibly irritated by the suggestion that I hadn’t wanted it. Later, I became so angry I confronted one of my attackers, calling him “RAPIST” to his face. TRASH SLUT appeared on my locker the following Monday, which turned out to be the match-ending blow. I couldn’t take cruelty on top of the pain. Any ideas I’d had about advocating for myself ended there. All I wanted was for the torment to stop, to move on, and if that meant people thinking that I’d consented to what happened then so be it. I went to parties. I kept laughing and blow-drying my hair and trying to look pretty. I did not appear to be suffering.
When my rapist asked me out, two years later, I was grateful. I thought his renewed interest in me might actually spell redemption. At the end of the night, he wanted to hook up, but I could not bring myself to touch him. A few years later, home for the summer, we made out at a party. I still thought this person could offer me something by way of healing, but the feeling of his lips against mine made me recoil in disgust, and it never happened again.
For a long time after that, I did not refer to what this boy had done to me as assault, even though I knew it was. This was partly because there was very little education for me as a young person about what assault looked like. I thought it was only forcible penetration and that the only appropriate reaction was like the girls I saw on TV, the ones who stopped eating, stopped sleeping, who broke out into a cold sweat at the sight of their rapists in the hallways at school. It has taken seeing myself in the stories of other women to realize I’m not abnormal, but that our definition of what “normal” is when it comes to the behavior of an assault victim is immensely flawed.
For decades, people had the wrong idea about what a person having a heart attack looked like. In the movies, the victim was usually a man, with a beet-red face, clutching his chest and falling to his knees with one last anguished cry. Doctors warned that dramatic Hollywood depictions of heart attacks could have fatal consequences, because the actual signs of a heart attack are subtler and easy to overlook. There was a public-health push to reeducate people about what this kind of suffering looks like. For the women who have spoken up about their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment, that’s what this last week has been about: reeducating people about what our suffering looks like.
It is imperative that I am forthright about the circumstances surrounding my rape. I owe it to my younger self, and to the younger women who stay silent because their behavior does not align with the inaccurate archetype of a sexual assault victim. Women who play nice with their abusers are not cowards. We are not opportunistic, and we are not untrustworthy. We are the clear majority.