For a year -- before I knew it was rape -- I knew it was bad.
I had said "yes," but I didn't mean it. I knew that he knew I didn't mean it. Five minutes of what felt like a silent eternity followed. There I was, exhausted and hollow, a shadow of the person I used to be. While I felt that the justification of my trauma was messy, the fact that I was traumatized was clear. In a month I cut out most foods, lost 10 pounds and returned to campus for the start of sophomore year.
Before that, we had been best friends, and that became a problem when a few months into our friendship I started falling for him. I think he knew this but I tried to remain coy; no, I wanted to spend time with him because that's what best friends do. When he visited the city where I worked that summer, I was thrilled. The first night I saw him, he asked if I wanted to have sex. I said no. He asked that night, the night afterward, and every night that week. I said no because I didn't want to. It was that simple. It would have been my first time, I reasoned to him, and I started to get the sense that he didn't like me so much as he liked the fact that I was a body, a warm body in bed. We spent his final night in the city sober and cuddling, during which he asked me three more times. By 2 a.m., I said yes. I was tired and "it's your last night here, and I don't care." He whispered, "Thank you," and whipped out the condoms he had purchased after our first hookup, my first no.
He started and I lost my vision. I screamed, "I can't see anything! I can't see anything!" He stopped and I curled into the fetal position. He slept while I watched the sun rise and repeated under my breath, "This means nothing. This means nothing. Everything is okay, and I am fine."
It took me a year before I realized that there was a word for my experience. Prior to that I faulted my story on a few fronts: I had been attracted to my rapist, I wasn't tied down, and I didn't scream no. In fact I whispered a quiet "yes." Yet for a year I lived life between flashbacks, sometimes convinced that he was in the room with me even when I knew he was across campus. I felt like a slut even though that was the first and only time I had had sex, and I didn't so much have sex as had it done to me. Suddenly, I was willing to hook up with everyone and anyone, hoping with each encounter that I could convince myself that it was nothing. I was overreacting. To get face-deep in an anonymous stranger's face was so easy and common that, clearly, the flashbacks, nightmares, and never-ending fear were paranoia, maybe lunacy. If anything, I knew I had not "earned" the title of rape survivor.
I have decided to go public with my experience to validate people who might likewise have endured an experience that was not "rape enough." Rape is not one narrative. I wasn't at a party. I didn't get a rape kit done or press charges. But I did not want to have sex and my partner did not accept that. Instead, he asked until it was no longer asking me but pressuring me to give the answer that he wanted. He did not respect my ownership of my body, my voice, or me.
I'm afraid that in our growing national conversation on consent, we have demonized it. Some describe it as unduly cumbersome. Others imagine consent as a giant trap by which exes and former one-night stands can avenge terrible sex, unresolved arguments, or unrequited lust. Let me clarify: in no way is consent a contraption, a turn-off, or -- the most feared of all -- the anti-sex. Consent is the gateway to good sex, and should be the only gateway to sex, period.
Having sex with someone when they do not enthusiastically consent is a form of violence. By having sex with someone against their will, you are saying that your voice matters more because somehow you are worth more and, as such, entitled to so much as another human life. When will we, as a society, recognize that this groundless possession of another individual is "enough" of a crime? Rape, in all its iterations, is dehumanizing. It is traumatic. The truth is as bleak as the trauma.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about the NSVRC and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.