I never thought it would be hard to say no. In my head, I imagined a stranger approaching me at a party; he would ask if I wanted to have sex with him, and if I didn’t, I’d decline, and that would be that. But in my experience, that’s not how it usually goes. I never thought that in my experience it wouldn’t be a stranger, but a friend or a boyfriend. I never thought that after I said no once, or even twice, they would keep asking. I didn’t take into account how my usual resolve might be weakened by alcohol, or the pressure of being alone with him. And I never thought that my answer and what I wanted would be so thoroughly disregarded. The exact details of what happened do not matter. All you need to know is this: I was drunk and he might have been too. I wanted to say no, and I repeatedly tried with oblique excuses such as “Don’t you have a girlfriend?” and “I just want to be friends.” But he pushed and kept asking until, exasperated and inebriated after ten minutes of arguing, I finally said yes. And things went way further than I ever would have intended.
The next morning and in the weeks that followed, I struggled to find the words to categorize what happened. Terms like rape or sexual assault sounded too strong; after all, I reasoned, aren’t those words reserved for victims who are violently attacked or drugged and taken advantage of? And he had been drinking too, though how much I couldn’t recall. But to say what happened was consensual seemed wrong as well. He may not have forcefully taken advantage of me, but I thought he was a friend I could trust, and he certainly took advantage of a situation in which I was vulnerable. To this day, when I think about him, my blood drains and my stomach churns in a nauseous sensation that I’ve never quite experienced from anything else. I quit the one organization that we were both in together, and avert my gaze out of anger, fear and shame when I see him around campus.
However, what was far more painful than the aforementioned incident was the unsupportive and verbally abusive reaction I received a few months later after reconciling with an old boyfriend. When he asked me if I had been with anyone else in the time we were broken up, I reluctantly admitted yes, once, but that I’d rather not talk about what happened. Still, he continually brought up the incident, demanding to hear about it, and each time I begged him to stop. One night, he came over with a bottle of Everclear and urged me to drink. I declined. I was firm and clear. But he didn’t care about what I wanted and kept asking, each time more forcefully. He wouldn’t accept no, no matter how many times I said it, and I thought I loved and trusted him, so I felt I had no choice but to give in. When I was good and drunk, he forced me to tell him everything. Once I finished he stormed out of the room, leaving me to cry alone. Later, in a series of manic text messages, he told me that the other guy “must have really given it to me” because “I didn’t feel as tight as I used to” and that he thought I “wasn’t the type of girl to get taken advantage of.” I read the texts over and over, and for a while I truly hated myself. I shortly thereafter broke up with him.
I do not intend for this article to come across as a sob story, nor do I mean for it to sound vindictive. Neither of those things are this article’s purpose. We publish a lot of fun, silly stuff on this site, but when the need arises, Sherman Ave also presents the opportunity to transform itself into a platform. When I eventually told my female friends at home and school about both these incidents, I was horrified by the most common response I received: “I can relate.” I have since heard story after story from my friends about sexual assault. Some ask if I think what happened to them is rape, and I usually feel unable to answer. Many finish their stories with a helpless shrug and dismiss these instances as an inevitable part of the college culture, since so many others seem to dismiss their stories as well. And I’ve wondered, how do we tolerate this? Something has to change.
Rape is serious. I know it, you know it, and I imagine most of the students on this campus would never dream of soberly attacking and forcing themselves upon another student. Compared to the sort of violent rapes that we are accustomed to seeing on programs such as CSI or in the news, the incidents of sexual assault that occur most commonly on campus are murky and mild (if mild is even an appropriate word to use); but that does not mean they are harmless or unimportant. These incidents that hazily occur among peers in the presence of alcohol often exist in a strange moral gray area in which figuring out where to assign blame can be difficult. But I do not want to talk about where to point fingers for something that already happened. That is not this article’s focus. I want to figure out how we can prevent situations such as these from occurring in the first place.
So. How do we solve this? What’s the call to action? Honestly, I’m not sure. I think it’s important to start an honest and open dialogue about sexual assault as a place to start, which I highly encourage, but that’s not what I’m going to ask of you here. Instead, I’m going to ask that you reflect internally. I shared my story with you for a reason; I shared my voice, my experiences, and my pain in the hopes that you could empathize with me. I hope that you read my words and understood that I, like you, am a person. I got hurt by the selfish and careless actions of people I thought I could trust, and it sucks.
Here’s a tip: You should not have to spend ten minutes trying to convince a woman* to sleep with you. And you should not need to use alcohol in order for her to “consent” to something she ordinarily wouldn’t do. But for a second, let’s say you do these things. She’s drunk and you’re desperate, and after ten minutes of no’s, you finally get her to say yes. And odds are if you went through with these actions, you would not face serious legal repercussions. You would probably not get in trouble from the University, and almost certainly not from the police. I do not say these things to dismiss or encourage this behavior, but merely to be realistic and upfront about the consequences. I am not trying to discourage sexual assault using scare tactics, but by appealing to your basest sense of human decency. You would probably get away with these actions, but make no mistake about the situation: A yes and a forced yes are by no means the same thing; she said yes not because she wanted to, but because you gave her no choice. And odds are, you probably really hurt this person.
So please, I am asking begging you to be more considerate of your peers. Perhaps I’ve made the burden of responsibility too one-sided, but it’s a lot harder to keep saying no than to keep pressuring for a yes. If you find yourself in a position of power over another person, do not abuse it. Seriously consider what I have shared with you in the course of the last thousand or so words. I could be anyone. I could be someone you care about. I could be you. Please do not hurt me.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
Rape and Sexual Assault: 1-800-656-4673
Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
Evanston Hospital: 847-570-2000
Northwestern CAPS: 847-491-2151
*Or man. Sexual assault can happen to or be perpetrated by anyone, regardless of gender.