Being Raped Forced Me To Admit That I Myself Had Been Sexually Coercive

"It hurts me to know that what I experienced was rape, that I spent eight years denying it and blaming myself." Image: Thinkstock

"It hurts me to know that what I experienced was rape, that I spent eight years denying it and blaming myself." Image: Thinkstock

It took me a long time to understand consent. I knew that forcing sex on someone was rape. I knew that one in five women would be raped in their lifetime. I knew that the majority of rape victims knew their attacker. But beyond that, my understanding got cloudy.

I knew it was “bad” to have sex with someone who was drunk or high, but I thought that if an intoxicated person agreed to sex explicitly (by saying “yes”) or implicitly (by never saying “no”), that they didn’t have the right to say it was rape later. I knew also that it was weird to have to talk someone into having sex with you, but I thought that if everyone eventually agreed, it was all okay.

I was wrong, on both accounts, but I didn’t realize it until long after the damage had been done.

When I was twenty, I broke up with my first love. I was doubly vulnerable: not only had we planned to marry, but the relationship ended because I thought he didn’t see me sexually anymore. I was desperate for male attention and, for the first time in my life, I was willing to get drunk.

So, on February 13th, 2009, I went to a party thrown for an acquaintance of mine — let’s call him Nick.

I spent most of the night (or what I remember of it) in the basement. There was at least one keg and a fully stocked bar, tended by the boys who lived there, and as people began to drink, they also started to dance. All the pieces were in place for a stellar night.

Before my memories of the party end, I remember two things:

1. After three drinks, I told the bartender that I was officially cut off.

2. I mentioned to the guest of honor that if he wanted to hook up, he should let me know.

In the weeks between my break-up and the party, I had called Nick to ask him if he found me attractive. This wasn’t meant flirtatiously. I was so confused about the logistics of my break-up that I wanted to hear from any guy, “it isn’t about your looks.” But when I saw him at the party, and he began to flirt, I was flattered. I flirted back. I thought that making out with him would make me feel better.

But that’s all I wanted from him. I had only slept with one guy before. I didn’t want to have sex.

The next thing I remember is being naked in my bed. The tampon I had inserted earlier that night had been replaced by Nick’s penis. We were having sex, but I had no idea how I’d gotten there or when.

The fitted sheet had come loose and the harsh threads on my mattress were scraping against my lower back, but I barely registered that. I was too busy wriggling out from under him to throw up the sour mix of vodka and orange juice.

When I returned, I don’t remember him asking if I was okay. I don’t remember him saying anything. But I do remember that he re-inserted himself and continued to have sex with me.

The next day, my first single Valentine’s Day in years, I discovered that my back had been rubbed raw and required constant bandaging. There were seven painful hickies on my neck. I convinced my ex to let me sleep over that night because I was terrified of being alone.

For years, I thought the whole thing was my fault, or at least not Nick’s. I never should have said the words “hook up,” since he obviously thought I meant sex. I should have been more careful while drinking. I shouldn’t have flirted that night, should never have called him weeks before.

Then, when I heard about the Brock Turner case, I changed my mind. When I read his victim’s letter, when I read these words, I was stunned:

“I was too drunk to speak English, too drunk to consent way before I was on the ground. I should have never been touched in the first place.”

Yes, I was drunk that night. So drunk I don’t know if I was capable of speech, or if I told Nick I wanted to have sex. But if I was so drunk that I can’t remember getting from one place to another. If I can’t remember how a tampon was removed from my body and replaced with a penis, I was too drunk to consent.

That was something I had never realized before: that regardless of how I had flirted, how much I’d had to drink, and how I’d said I was okay with “hooking up,” being blacked out at the crucial moment of yes-or-no meant I could not have given consent.

I realized what happened to me was rape.

But that realization also reminded me of another night, when I was older and sober, but still desperate for a guy’s attention.

I had been having sex with my ex-boyfriend (I’ll call him Michael) off and on for months. Sometimes we were dating. Other times we were clearly friends-with-benefits. I don’t remember where on the continuum we were on this particular night, but I do know he was angry with me and I was panicking.


It hurts me to know that what I experienced was rape, that I spent eight years denying it and blaming myself. It hurts even more to know that I went on to put someone else in a similarly horrible position.


I was outside his apartment, begging him on voicemails and texts to come down and talk. Eventually he relented and agreed to sit in my car, but it was clear he was angry.

So, shamefully, I appealed to the only thing that had consistently worked between us: sex. I tried to kiss him, to touch him, to pull his hands onto my body, even to pull down my shirt to entice him.

Even though Michael told me "no" and moved my hands away from his body, I pushed until he changed his mind. 

I thought that since I wasn't physically forcing him into sex, this was a form of seduction -- aggressive though it was. I thought that since I was a woman, it was okay to wear him down until he changed his mind because I was certain he wanted to do it anyway. And, eventually, he did consent. We did have sex that night and many nights after. But what I did was incredibly wrong. 

Scott Allen Anderson, author of Conceptualizing Rape as Coerced Sex, wrote that rape occurs not only when someone is physically forced to have sex, but also when they are "unable to ignore, deflect, evade, or work-around the enforcement of the threat" of unwanted sex. In the case of what happened that night, my advances were deflected for a time, but Michael could have also opened the door, gotten out of my car and left, evading and ignoring me without fear for his safety.

I say this not to defend my actions, but to note the sickening idea that if I had been a man, a woman would not have felt free to leave safely. It happens all the time. I don't believe that what happened between Michael and me was rape, but the fact that his feelings of safety relied on my gender is a sign that we as women need to renounce any behavior that would be unacceptable from a man.

As Suzannah Weiss wrote,

Many men and women alike have failed to obtain affirmative consent because we simply did not know what we were doing. Women especially often don’t see when we’re violating someone’s boundaries because of the myth that we’re incapable of sexual misconduct. We’re taught that men always want sex and that we’re not powerful enough to make them do anything. The media depicts women’s attempts to manipulate men into sex as cute, comical, and always welcome. That, too, is dangerous.

Of this misconception, I am guilty and, despite the hurt and trauma he caused me, I will find a way to apologize to Michael. I owe him that.

Now I’m with a partner who has taught me so much: how it can be sexy to ask permission, how it’s okay for me to say no (when I’m triggered or otherwise), and how the love of a good person can help me heal. He’s even taught me to forgive myself for what I did to Michael, reminding me that knowing what I did was wrong is a sign that I’ve grown and accepted responsibility.

Nevertheless, I’m still processing both events.

It hurts me to know that what I experienced was rape, that I spent eight years denying it and blaming myself. It hurts even more to know that I went on to put someone else in a similarly horrible position.

But most of all, I’m thankful for the letter I read in June. Despite the horrible circumstances under which it was written, it allowed me to know the truth: I was raped. I also coerced someone else into sex.

And, finally, I know exactly what it means to consent. 

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