CN: Sexual Assault
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I'm really conflicted and upset and confused at the moment and just wanted some advice.
My best friend sexually assaulted me, and he doesn't realize it.
So a couple of months ago my best friend was drunk, I was sober, and it got to the point where I needed to carry him home to our uni campus residence. On the walk back he had tried to kiss me a bit, and I had said "no" and just kept walking with him, thinking he's drunk and nothing else of it.
My room was on the ground floor, so we went there first so I could get some water into him then take him to his room a couple of flights up. When we were in my room, I sat on my bed to take my heels off, and then next thing I know, he's pushing me back and getting on top of me, kissing and touching me and telling me to “Shh.”
I kept saying"no" and pushing him off and oh god I was so scared when it wasn't working, and he wouldn't budge... eventually, he did, and nothing penetrative happened thank god. After that, I just took him to his room and put him to bed.
The next morning I went to check up on him and told him what he did which he apologized for, but I don't think he really got what he had done.
It was never spoken about again between us.
A couple of months later, after the inquiries into sexual assaults on university campuses in Australia, "I stand with survivors" shirts started circulating, and for an event, he thought it would be a great idea to wear one as he "stood with survivors.”
I was sickened.
How could he stand with survivors when he had sexually assaulted me, had made me feel so scared and sickened and not safe?
Since then, our friendship has really deteriorated, but we're still mates. It's the start of another year, and we're both living at the same uni residential colleges again, and the awful feeling of being assaulted keeps coming back, and I don't know what to do because I honestly think he doesn't know or realize what he's done.
But how do I tell him??
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I wish I could say that yours is a unique situation. But sadly, this blurred line of consent and intoxication — especially in pre-existing friendships — is so common. I am so glad that it stopped short of penetration.
But, you were violated, and I think you’re right — your friend doesn’t understand what he’s done.
This is the crux of the problem here with the whole consent conversation. A painful re-education around consent has to happen. It’s the only way forward. And that conversation needs to include men who may not be outright rapists, but through their societal programming and silent entitlement, are unaware of just how violating their behavior has been.
I’ve been in similar situations. Three times, I’ve woken up to a friend’s hand down my pants. In all three instances, we were in a platonic group sleepover situation, they were intoxicated, and when I woke up and said some variation of “What the fuck are you doing?” they stopped and acted remorseful/embarrassed for their behavior.
And what did I do? I said it was okay. It was no big deal. I ended up consoling them because they felt bad.
WHAT. THE. HELL.
I didn’t have agency over my own damn body. I felt like I had done something wrong. I cannot tell you the number of times a man has acted inappropes with me (which is so many) and I have brushed it off, made them feel better about it. And that’s not the way forward.
The way forward is letting them know just how very wrong what they did was.
If you feel safe enough having this conversation in person, do that. It’s harder for people to shirk responsibility when they are face to face with another human. If you do not feel comfortable doing that, then write him an email. You should write down what you want to say either way, leave it for a couple of days, and then come back to it.
It’s okay if you want to end your friendship. It’s also okay if you want to work through what happened and remain friends. You are in control here. Remember that. You hold the power.
If I were you, I would tell him that what he did still haunts you — that you felt violated and scared and unsure of how far he was going to take things. I would tell him that it makes you sick to see him wearing an “I Stand With Survivors” t-shirt. I would tell him that you want to be sure he never does something like this to anyone ever again, because it is sexual assault. He pushed himself on you — after you said no, without your consent.
There is no gray area here.
Lastly, I highly recommend seeking some therapy or support through a group. You mentioned in your email that you are in Australia. You can access resources in your area through ReachOut Australia. Additionally, there may be services or support groups through your university. If you need any more guidance in finding some support, please do not hesitate to reach out.
*If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please seek help. You can chat live now online or by phone at 1-800-656-HOPE, through the Sexual Assault Hotline. It is free and confidential. If anyone needs region-specific resources, RAINN has a page where you can find centers near you, or you can email me.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I'm not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I've gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, recovery, friendship, sex, consent, what I’m watching, Blue Chalcedony, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo