UT Student Re-examines Personal Experience

Editor’s note: This story is unrelated to the incident explored in depth in this special investigation. It is just the testimony of one student grappling with many of the broader issues considered within and how they relate to her own life.

The generic definition of rape that most people think of as “an unwanted sexual act forced upon a person.” When people think of rape, they usually think of severe violence, sometimes a person attacking from nowhere, holding a person down or threatening with a weapon. I think that is the idea most people have, and it was certainly the idea I had until a few years ago.

It was only after what happened to me that I began to realize that rape, or other forms of sexual assault, don’t always include overt violence. Apparently, rape has a lot of different definitions. The legal definition of rape varies from state to state, but definitions also vary by person.

In high school, I was taught the general definition of rape: any unwanted sexual act forced on a person. This definition seems clear enough, and yet when I thought of rape I always thought of a random attacker: someone lurking behind a building or in a bush, possibly with a knife or a gun, using any means they wanted to have control. This was always the idea that came to my mind when I heard of the word rape. I probably had this idea because, when you heard about rape in the news or in the movies, this was the kind they talked about.

Yet, according to research done by the U.S. Department of Justice, 80 to 90 percent of victims of sexual assault know their assailant. That means that only 10 to 20 percent of sexual assaults are random, done (as I had once thought) by a stranger. 10 to 20 percent hardly seems on par with what I seemed to hear in news and what I saw in movies. Almost all the time I heard of rape, it was the random attacker kind. I was always more afraid of walking places by myself than of doing something like going to a party with people I didn’t know.

According to the same research by the U.S. Department of Justice, the reason why stranger rapes are reported so frequently, and acquaintance rapes are not, is because half of all student victims do not label their experience as “rape.”

Because a large number of victims actually know their attackers, they do not consider what happened to them rape. The research says that less than five percent of completed and attempted rapes of college students are brought to the attention of campus authorities and/ or law enforcement.

Knowing all of this, I never did, and still don’t, consider what happened to me “rape.”

I was 15, and I had been dating my first boyfriend for almost four months. Then, we were inseparable. I hated being away from him, and I thought about him all the time. He said he was the same way about me. He told me he loved me, and I told him the same. Around that time, the topic of sex came up. He had had it before, and I hadn’t, but I was really curious. I never told myself I was going to wait until I was married or anything. The only standard I held to myself was that the first time be special, and that it be with someone I loved.

I loved him. I wanted to know what it was like. And so, after just a week of talking about it, I consented to doing it. We were talking on the phone, and I told him I was ready, but that I needed it to be special the first time. I told him the only things I wanted: that we be alone, and that we were both comfortable, and that we did it because we loved each other.

A few days later, we were at his house, hanging out. We had thought of doing it that night, because his family was supposed to go out. However, plans changed, and his parents and siblings (and their friends) were home. With so many people in the house, I wasn’t sure about doing it anymore.

In the room he shared with his sister, my boyfriend and I sat on his bed watching a movie, with the door open a little bit (he wasn’t allowed to lock it when I was over). We were lying down together, when he asked me if I was ready. I was confused at first- I mean, I had told him that the first time I had wanted us to be alone. Even as I said it, there was yelling coming from outside the door.

But I still loved him, and I guessed I was kind of comfortable. I was curious anyway. So I said, “I guess so.” He asked me if I was sure, and I said I thought so. We went back and forth like that for a minute, when finally I decided it was okay. It wasn’t exactly the way I had wanted it, but part of me just wanted to get over the anxiety of the first time.

And so… he did. For ten seconds, maybe less, maybe longer, I couldn’t tell, it hurt so badly. Suddenly though he stopped… because his Mom and sister came in the door. The room was dark and we had all our clothes on (except for one of my pant legs) and we were under a blanket, so I’m not sure if his mom could tell. But she probably could. Either way I wanted to die.

For the rest of the night, we watched a movie. I left a little bit after that, and when I got home I lay in my bed for a while, confused, wondering why the experience hadn’t been like what it was on TV, and why it hadn’t felt good- at all.

The next time I was with him, we decided to do it again. I really wanted it to work.

But it didn’t, and it still hurt a lot. It didn’t feel right at all. Maybe part of it was that I had all of my clothes off and he had all of his on. Or that I didn’t know what to do, and I just lay there. Or maybe it was that he kept going, even when I started crying.

That night, lying in my own bed again, I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. Maybe I wasn’t ready. Maybe I really was too young.

The next weekend, I went to see him again. He asked me if I wanted to, and I told him no. I told him it just didn’t feel right and that I was scared.

He looked at me and said, “Why? Are you sure?” I told him I was sure. That didn’t seem to be enough for him though. He kept asking. I kept saying no, and he kept saying, “Please? Why?”

I looked at him. I didn’t want to do it, but I loved him, and I had already done it with him twice. Maybe since I did it with him then, I was supposed to keep doing it. Suddenly, I felt like I didn’t have a right to say no. Finally, I muttered “fine.” And he did. I turned my head and stared at the wall, crying quietly.

After that time, I became more self-conscious about my body. I didn’t want him to look at me. And so the next time he kept asking me for sex, I kept the blanket over my body, telling him not to look. He kept asking why though, and afterward, when I went to reach for my clothes with the blanket still on, he ripped it off.

All this time I still loved him. I still wanted to be with him. In my eyes he could do no wrong. It must have been this and a combination of not knowing what sex was really supposed to be like, that I stayed with him, really never again questioning our relationship. After those incidents, when I came over I would just say yes whenever he asked for sex. It stopped hurting as much, but emotionally, whenever it happened, I felt sick to my stomach. Sometimes I went home and cried because I felt so dirty.

A month after we started having sex, he dumped me. I cried for weeks, and was only able to get over it with the help of my two best friends. My friends knew that I loved him and understood why I was upset, but couldn’t understand why I was suddenly angry and ashamed of myself. It was then that I described some of what happened to me when we had sex.

My friends stared at me. Suddenly, one of them blurted, “I think you were raped.” My other friend jumped in and said that no, I wasn’t. I was shocked that the first one had said I was raped. What was she talking about? He was my boyfriend. Besides, I had said yes. Kind of.

After that, I wouldn’t let anyone touch me. With my next boyfriend, I was really reserved about what we did, and we hard
ly ever went past kissing. It was only in therapy a year later that I first told someone exactly what happened, and began to deal with it. It was then that I realized the extent of what the experience had done to me.

Even in therapy, I didn’t think I was raped. And my therapist didn’t describe it that way either, but he described it as a kind of sexual assault. It frustrated me that I didn’t know exactly what to call what happened. But I wasn’t raped. That much I knew.

According to some definitions rape is any time there is not full consent. This includes maybe, I guess, I don’t know, and even “yesses” and “OKs” that are said after pressure.

Few people think that what happened to me was rape, and I really don’t either.

What I have realized though is that everyone has a different perspective of what rape and sexual assault actually are.

This was also evident in the case of one of my friends.

A couple of years after what happened to me, my friend was raped. At least I think she was. She didn’t see it that way though.

This is what she told me: She was at a club, where she met an older guy- a friend of her friend’s. After the club, she and this guy, and all of her friends went back to someone’s house. There was drinking, and she was really drunk. Her friend left the house to do something, and she went upstairs with the guy she had met. They were fooling around, and she went along with everything he did, wanting to do it- that is, until he tried to have sex with her. Then, she tried to get him to stop, telling him no. She tried to get up, but he slowly pushed her back down and kept asking. She was having a hard time getting up because she was so drunk. He pushed her legs out and started to go in while she was still trying to get up. He had it halfway in when someone downstairs called her name and he let up.

I didn’t find all of this out until a week after it happened, because my friend was in bed that whole week, hardly getting up except to go to the bathroom. After a week of not seeing her, we had made plans to hang out. When I asked her where she had been all week, she told me what happened.

It was hard for her to tell me. She was embarrassed. He hadn’t used a condom, and so she was really worried she might have gotten something. When I asked her if she went to a clinic afterwards right away she said, “well… it’s not like it was rape.”

I asked her why she didn’t think it was.

She said that since he didn’t go in all the way and since she had wanted to do all the other things, that didn’t really make it rape. I didn’t want to say what I thought because I didn’t want to make her feel worse. I didn’t want to press the topic, and I thought maybe it was best that she didn’t think of it as rape. But I did think it was rape.

It took my friend about a month to get over what happened, and that was all. She is the kind of person who deals with things when they happen, and then just moves on.

She tells me that she thinks about it from time to time and still feels embarrassed, but that she has let it go.

After my boyfriend broke up with me and I considered what had happened during our sex, it took me more than a year to get over it, even when I didn’t consider it rape. I thought about it everyday for a year, replaying what had happened over and over again in my head. I’m still not entirely over it today.

My friend, who I consider was actually raped, took only a little while to get over it, and without any kind of therapy.

People have different perspectives of what rape is, and people react differently to what happens to them. What does remain a fact though is the staggering number of rapes that go unreported every year, many just because the victim does not consider it rape.

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