This morning I woke up feeling incredibly exposed and vulnerable due to a Minnesota Supreme Court Ruling ruling that a person can't be charged for rape or sexual assault if the victim was willingly intoxicated at the time.
One would think this does not need to be said and repeated, but it does; a person who voluntarily decides to drink does NOT equate to a willingness to be sexually assaulted or raped. It's confounding that anyone, especially the judicial system, is incapable of seeing the difference between these two facets.
I'm shaking typing this because it's abhorrent to me that everyday people, especially women, have to plan out a safety plan before leaving the house. This is a generalized comment, but now it feels like we have to decide if going out for a drink opens us to the right to be raped and assaulted? Words can't contain the infuriation I feel toward this ruling.
To shed some light on sexual assault, I'm sharing a post written by Madeline, a friend of mine. She's shared her story before, and I'm honored she's doing it again.
When I was 17 I didn’t have the vocabulary to define this as a sexual assault. I grew up attending Catholic schools so anything “before marriage” didn’t exist because it didn’t happen. It took me a very long time to put words and feelings to it. I thought it was just part of growing up. I thought it was part of being a girl. I thought it was my fault for being so naïve. Every girl I know has a story. A story they only tell behind closed doors at sleepovers at 3 am. When secrets were asked to be kept.
I had freshly broken up with my first serious boyfriend. It was senior year of high school and I had different friends who let me borrow their clothes, helped me do my makeup and hair. I was hanging out at college parties on the weekends, lying to my parents where I was, stealing my older brothers cigarettes. I was carefree, rebellious, and knew who I was.
I was drinking in an apartment with high school and college friends. It was cold and they had just returned from winter break. The girls I was hanging out with were recent graduates from my high school and invited me and a couple girls to their place on the weekends to party. We had hopped between a couple parties and ended up at an apartment just a few doors down. There was a guy I had my eye on, and he also had his eye on me. We had previously flirted at past parties but it never went further than kissing. He came up to me, we talked and laughed and drank. He then proceeded to tell me he wanted to show me something in his room. I followed, not knowing he had nothing to show me.
I walked in his room and it was dark. There were 3 twin beds and someone was sleeping on one. There was glow in the dark art on the wall so I could see the outline of the room. I thought it was strange, why do you share a bedroom with two other guys? We then moved to one of the open beds and I instantly became anxious. I knew at that moment he lied to me. I kept thinking, “My friends are going to leave me and I am going to be stuck in this weird room with that guy over there clearly passed out drunk.” He started unbuckling my belt, zipped down my pants. I could smell beer on his breath and it instantly made me nauseous. I asked him to stop as these were my favorite jeans and I didn’t want him to break the zipper, fumbling myself to zip them back up. He fully stuck his hands down my pants and I froze with fear. I said stop and tried
to push him off. There was someone else in here like what is going on?! After I asked a third time he chuckled and said, “Ok, well when you’re actually ready here is my number.” He proceeded to grab my phone on the pillow next to me and put his number in. I slid out from underneath him and pulled up my pants not caring if they were buttoned correctly. I ran out of there as fast as I could, tripping over books while trying to get to the door. It was so dark in there but I have never seen so clearly to get to that door across the room.
I opened the door like a deer in the headlights, looking for my purse and my friends so I could get out of there without having to face him, to face what had just happened. I felt gross and violated, all I wanted was a cigarette and a shower. I looked around at people laughing and drinking and just wanted to scream at every single person in that apartment. The olive green colored walls disgusted me. I could hear every sound around me, ping pong balls hitting the rim of cups. The sound of beer cans hitting the counter. The clicking of buttons of someone texting on their flip phone. I was filled with rage and sadness all at once.
I looked around and didn’t see any of my friends and began to panic. My phone was about to die and I was intoxicated, not sure which way was the correct way back to my friends apartment. And then, I glanced toward the kitchen and one friend had stayed behind. She looked me in the eyes like she had known exactly what had happened. Every detail, every move. She grabbed me and my heart fell into my stomach, I couldn’t believe that someone stayed behind for me, someone cared, and someone knew.
I don’t remember much about the next few days but I remember waking up the next morning and throwing those jeans away. I told my other friends what had happened the previous night but they blew it off as no big deal because “nothing actually happened”. I never texted him. I continued to go to parties with the same friends not knowing he would be there, and to my surprise I would get that pre-party talk of, “So I just want to let you know so-and-so might show up tonight.” I would stand outside and smoke cigarettes just so I wouldn’t have to encounter him. He came up to me one time and I lied and said I was seeing someone so I could just shake him off forever. I felt my skin crawl when he would show up with other girls, wondering if it happened to
them too. To this day I don’t remember his name, and I don’t know if that is my body trying to protect me, or a trauma response to the event itself. It wasn’t until the Me Too movement really took off that this experience came flooding back to me. I had completely blocked it out of my mind for years. It just goes to show how powerful our bodies are at protecting us from the most traumatizing experiences of our lives.
I don’t think I have come to complete peace with it yet, because sometimes you are just trying to work on breathing exercises during your 30 day yoga challenge and the memory of him unzipping your pants comes flooding back. I have denied my own reality for a number of years thinking that it wasn’t that bad or that it didn’t matter because it wasn’t full penetration. But I was violated, I clearly said no even though I was drinking that night. I consented going into that room but I did not ask for that, I said no. There are a lot of aspects of my life that I am finally coming to terms with. I am learning from the chances I didn’t take, and forgiving myself for the chances I did take.
Sometimes we have to place blame on people for their actions so we can begin to heal and eventually forgive. He knew what he was doing when he wanted to “show me something in his room.” He doesn’t think about that night like I think about that night. How it shaped how I would seek relationships with men after that. I resented men for a very long time after that, I wouldn’t allow myself to get close to any man that I thought would be a potential relationship further than a friendship. I lost a lot of trust in myself, questioning if I was able to make rational decisions because how could I let this happen? How did this happen to ME? Would it happen again? Did every guy just care about getting in my pants?
I kept this experience from a lot of people in my life. I eventually went off to college later that year and completely re-invented who I was. I shed my skin like a snake and left Cincinnati behind, made new friends, forgot the old ones and didn’t look back. I eventually did get into a healthy relationship with someone that is my partner to this day. Even the most important people in my life didn’t know this story, I felt ashamed to share it because I felt like it was my fault. Even as I write this there is still a part of me that feels like it was my fault. I walked into that room with him. But after I put words and feelings to
what happened I was able to feel comfortable enough to share. I briefly posted about this story on my Instagram at the peak of the Me Too movement, and it was a weight lifted off my shoulders to write it down and have people read it. I am not hiding behind this anymore. When I was 17 I was sexually assaulted, and I don’t have to keep secrets anymore that I only tell at sleepovers at 3am.