‘Being who we are can never be used as a cause or justification for rape’
Rape is rape. And it can happen to anyone – be they a slut or a saint.
It wasn’t even supposed to be a “date-date,” was how Sophia (not her real name) began to recount her story.
It was 8 years ago, but Sophia still remembered enough to recount the details for me as I interviewed her for an article for Cosmo Magazine.
She was 26 when she first met Mike (not his real name). Actually, it wasn’t exactly like she had just “met” him; they attended the same university and he was someone she had known for some time. So when she ran into him at the grade school where he worked as a teacher, it was like bumping into an old acquaintance. When he asked her to have coffee, it did not seem like a date.
“It was more like we were just going to hang out and buy DVDs,” Sophia recalled.
It was a ho-hum evening of conversation and nothing really special. She remembered thinking she wasn’t going to see Mike again.
When he brought her home at the end of the evening, Sophia leaned over to give him the compulsory beso as a gesture of friendship.
Mike, however, did not want to stop at the peck on the cheek. He grabbed her neck, and while still reeling with surprise at the force he used, drove his tongue into her mouth. A succession of other similar actions followed: Mike unzipped his pants and with his hand still tightly around her neck, pulled her down to give him oral sex, and then was on top of her, penetrating her.
Sophia remembered suffocating, being confused, and extracting herself from the situation by forcing herself to see it as if it were happening to someone else. In this detached mind space, she retreated to the mundane details that seemed silly but also extremely important: When did he unzip his pants? Did I give off any signals over coffee?
She also grappled with the feeling of being betrayed by her own body.
“Mentally, I was angry. I didn’t know what was happening. I know I told him to stop, I know I told him I couldn’t breathe. My mind was fighting it but my body was responding to his touch,” Sofia said.
She felt her back arch, she began to feel wet. She could not understand what was happening in her mind and to her body.
Sophia went home that night unsure of what had happened. In the light of the next day, Sophia’s body responded again. This time, she began vomiting uncontrollably.
Her mind and her body were coming to terms with the fact that she had been raped.
It is rape – even if
I am retelling Sophia’s story because it is a story I have heard many times in my years as a writer reporting on women’s sexual health rights. It is a story I have heard one too many times, from one too many women.
Some identified as slut, some as saint; some neither.
There was a girl whose suppressed childhood memories of abuse resurfaced when she had sexual relationships of her own. She realized that the touch of the older men who were “uncles” was wrong, uninvited, and predatory.
There was the girl who was repeatedly raped as a teen by an older relative in her home, with her parents in the other room. She wrote about what happened for my site, Sex and Sensibilities.com, using her name because she wanted to free herself from the imprisoned silence that her experience had inadvertently locked her into.
There was the woman who was in an abusive marriage and was raped by her husband. The rape resulted in a pregnancy which she chose to have terminated.
Then there was me, whose similar experience of date rape was brought to the fore while listening to Sophia recount her ordeal.
“It allowed me to talk about the different permutations of rape and how it blurs the lines between consensual fornication and individual violation.”
or years, I denied what had happened to me and chalked it up to a bad choice and an even worse date. Listening to Sophia – who went a step further and got therapy to help her process the ordeal – emboldened me to ask fundamental questions that I dared not ask, and thus left no one compelled to answer: Is it rape even if there was no violence? If you were only slightly harmed but not beaten? Is it rape if your body and your mind are at odds with each other?
It allowed me to talk about the different permutations of rape and how it blurs the lines between consensual fornication and individual violation.
“When your body responds to touch, it is a physiological automatic response to stimuli. Like when you suddenly feel cold, the hair on your arms would stand. This is not something you control,” Terret Balayon, former executive director of a women’s shelter, explained to me.
What is sexual violence?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual violence as any sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act using coercion. What is also important is the definition of coercion which, apart from force, also includes threat of physical harm, psychological intimidation, and blackmail.
Globally, one in 4 women will experience sexual violence by an intimate partner – 25%. One-third of adolescent girls report their first sexual encounter as forced. In the Philippines, one out of 5 Filipina women reported being physically or sexually abused.
In reality, this translates to a high likelihood that a survivor of sexual violence will know her perpetrator; that not all rape occurs with attendant physical violence and that rape can happen to anyone.
Sometimes denial settles in the space occupied by a false sense of protection where we think “rape is not going to happen to me” because I’m not a slut, because I’m a saint or simply because I’m a tough ass chick who would never be victimized.
“What all women should know is that you have a right to say NO at any point in a sexual engagement. You have to claim that right,” stressed Balayon.
When we accept that we can be a slut, a saint, and everything else in between that spectrum, and that being who we are can never be used as a cause or justification for rape, we can claim that right.
This was re-posted from Rappler.