I have been aware of predators since childhood. Since I was four or five years old and first had a man’s penis in my mouth. Contrary to some knee-jerks here and elsewhere, the fact that I’m aware of predators in my environment does not mean that I think all men are predators. It’s one of those double-edged swords women so often find themselves at the wrong end of: If we get raped, we should have been more careful. If we’re careful, we’re alarmists (worse, we’re FEMINISTS) who believe all men are out to rape us. There’s no winning with some people.
But those are not the ones we seek to reach this month. Over the next few weeks, while the Steubenville wound is still open and oozing, it’s our job to appeal to those people who are not yet aware (or not yet aware that they’re aware) but are ready for awareness. We’re not preaching to the choir or trying to make the blind see–we just need to be vocal enough and authentic enough to reach those who are out there listening, absorbing, and becoming warriors in their own time, at their own pace.
I’ve seen it happen. I know how powerful our stories can be. Share yours. The world needs your voice.
Note: Lest anyone think that the point of #AlwaysAware is to put the onus of rape prevention on potential victims, it is not. The point is that (most) women are always aware of potential of violence. We are taught to be afraid and trained to be vigilant. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is not for us–it’s for people who don’t spend every day of their lives alert and aware and looking for ways to keep something like this from happening to them. It’s for people who don’t understand how often women experience assault. It’s for those who believe that women, not men, should be responsible for preventing male-on-female rape. Until we’re all #AlwaysAware of the problem of rape culture, women will continue to bear the weight of that awareness all 365 days of the year.
I’m adding new posters as often as I have time to make them. I’ll replace the one at the top now and then, and add alternate ones here.
The idea for “Always Aware” started with a Twitter chat with the Sin City Siren and was further inspired by the above illustration by Laura Boyea (used with permission).
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Trigger Warning: This post is about rape.
I was fourteen years old the night my friend G took me to my first kegger. We told my mom we were going to “a little get together.” I remember almost nothing about the evening—flashes, mostly. I remember absolutely nothing about being raped that night.
I might never have known about it, except that N–a woman I’d met the night before–mentioned it casually the next morning when I woke in a strange house with what might have been my first hangover. I don’t remember the words she used, just the image they evokedof me passed out in a bed and two men doing whatever they wanted with me.
Apparently G had left me at the party—I never learned why, but I assume that I was either passed out or otherwise resisted leaving. I never asked him. Sitting there with N that morning, I barely remembered that he’d brought me. I don’t remember worrying that I’d be in trouble for not going home the night before. I don’t remember anything but a sick feeling in my gut and the vague thought that “I guess that’s what happens when you get drunk and pass out.”
N didn’t seem particularly bothered by it. I’d soon learn that she wasn’t bothered by much. If I’d heard the term “sex positive” back then I would have assumed it applied to her because when it came to N and sex, the answer was always “yes.” By comparison, even as promiscuous as I eventually became, I always felt like a prude. And I felt like one that morning because I knew I wasn’t okay with what had happened, and yet, here was this woman ten years older than I who seemed to think it was no big deal.
So that’s how I treated it. I put it out of my mind, and I never once thought of it as rape. Rape was what happened to me when I was twelve and a boy forced himself on me and I fought with every fiber of my being. That was when I went to the police and lost friends and created a scandal in my community. This was different—it was my fault for passing out and leaving my body lying around for other people to use.
I never thought of it as rape until it happened again. I was 35 or so, out drinking, went back to someone’s place after the bar closed to smoke some pot, and woke up on a couch with a man’s penis inside me. So disoriented it took me a moment to realize what was happening and shove him off me, I first assumed that I just didn’t remember somehow letting things get started with this person I had absolutely no sexual interest in. I left him sitting on his couch looking down at his lap, and I walked home in the dark, and I blamed myself and shamed myself and felt like the most disgusting slut in the world.
And then I remembered:
We’d smoked some pot, and I’d felt really tired. I’d curled up on his couch just to rest for a moment. I had passed out. Between the alcohol, the pot, and my anti-depressants (and it’s entirely possible he slipped me something, I have no way of knowing at this point) I was good and unconscious for I don’t know how long. Until some part of me realized my body was in the middle of a sex act I hadn’t consented to.
It wasn’t my fault. I feel the need to say that because it wasn’t, and because I want anyone reading this who has experienced something similar to know that it isn’t your fault, either. We never know when we walk out the door when we’re going to find ourselves in the presence of a rapist. We can take precautions and self-defense classes, maintain a constant state of awareness of our surroundings, only ever drink at home, and still get raped. I know because the first time I got raped I was just hanging out with friends smoking a joint. I know because most women who experience rape are not drunk or dressed provocatively or in any way “asking for it.” Most victims are raped by someone they know, and it usually happens in their own home or that of a friend or relative.
Rape isn’t the logical conclusion to a night of drink ending in unconsciousness. In a civilized society, it should never be a thing about which we say, “What did she expect?” If the crime was murder, we never would. Because drunk girls don’t cause murder any more than they cause rape.
What causes rape? Rapists. People who believe on some level or other that they are entitled to use someone else’s body for their sexual gratification or rage/power/fantasy-fulfillment.
I’m grateful for the guilty verdict in the Steubenville case today. I’m outraged that the judge verbally admonished the boys for irresponsible behavior while drinking (including texting dirty pictures), but not for rape. I’m disgusted at the slap on the wrist these boys got in the form of one- and two-year sentences. But I’m hoping out of all this comes a real conversation about the culture that produces boys who aren’t even sure what rape is when they see it, and a system that treats rape victims like criminals.
Also, Jane Doe is donating all funds sent her way to her local women’s shelter and is asking that others do the same. (Worth reading.)
For more background on my history of abuse, read A Brief History (the Bad-Parts Version).
For a great breakdown of Steubenville and rape culture, read So You’re Tired of Hearing About “Rape Culture”?
And for commenters who would still like me to take responsibility for my rapes:
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
On Make Me a Sammich:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts version)
- #IStandWithDylan – My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse
- 10 Things Rape is Not
- #SAAM Facts: Arm Yourself
- Letter from Another Jane Doe
- Bree’s Story