Dear Diary: What I Wish Teenage Me Knew About Rape Culture
Trigger warning for descriptions of sexual assault.
Numerous aspects of sex and intimacy can be confusing for everyone, even in adulthood, but the emergence of these kinds of feelings in our teen years is weird, stressful, and oftentimes disturbing. We want to express ourselves and participate in the sexy things we hear about from our more experienced friends or in the media, but there’s no “how-to” guide when it comes to giving into our bodily wants and needs. And unfortunately, a lot of us end up in some rather unpleasant situations without any idea of how to react or deal with things. One major issue that arises when naïve and horny teenagers begin to experiment with their desires is that the line of consent oftentimes gets blurred, especially if you’re totally inexperienced, and it’s easy to be left feeling embarrassed or used.
While cleaning my room the other day, I came across a stack of my high school journals and I was legitimately shocked. Aside from my atrocious grammar and incessant use of “lol” I read some passages that truly made me realize how oblivious I was to rape culture. To be clear, I was never raped, but I was definitely manipulated and taken advantage of, as I imagine a lot of other girls were at some point in their young lives –– even if they weren’t fully aware of it at the time.
One particular situation stood out to me. I had just turned 18 and graduated from high school so, like most of my other friends, I had a plan for that summer: to go to as many parties as I could –– and have as much fun as I could –– before leaving for college in the fall. And the summer started out wonderfully, as I was constantly out and about, drinking cheap beer with my best friends and enjoying my last months at home with the people I grew up with. But on one night in July, something pretty bad happened.
I went to a party with one of my closest girlfriends and we immediately started drinking. Things were wild, at least for a high school get-together –– the house had three floors of kids doing kegstands, dancing, playing beer pong, taking shots, and basically doing all of the things that high school kids do without parental consent. As the night went on, I lost track of my friend and ended up socializing with various group of people until I got situated with Cam, a girl I was somewhat acquainted with, and her boyfriend Anthony. She went home soon after, as it was getting pretty late, and I was left alone with Anthony. He started getting flirty, but it all seemed innocent enough, so I continued talking and hanging out with him. He tried to kiss me a few times, and I protested, reminding him that he had a girlfriend, but he would not stop. Finally, after a few more beers, I just wanted him to end his advances, so I let him kiss me for a moment. I knew it was wrong and totally uncool of me to give in, but I was 18 and stupid and drunk.
I hoped that allowing him to kiss me would satisfy whatever he was after, but I was very wrong. My friend was still nowhere to be found, and most of the other party-goers were slowly migrating back to their parents’ houses, and I was left with Anthony and a few others. I was exhausted, intoxicated, and annoyed by my inability to locate my friend. Anthony offered to help me look for her, which I stupidly agreed to, and he took my hand and guided me upstairs as I stumbled behind him. He brought me into an unoccupied bedroom and kissed me again, except unlike the previous kiss, which was flirtatious and close-mouthed, this one was wet and aggressive and disgusting. I quickly pulled away and tried to leave the room, but he stood in front of the door, put his hand over the doorknob and kissed me again. It was horrible. As I verbally protested, he literally said, “Shhh! Someone will hear you,” as if he didn’t realize that was my intention. Suddenly, my cell phone rang, and I saw that it was the friend I’d lost earlier in the night, so I answered it and told her that I was on my way downstairs to meet her. But when I closed my phone and turned to leave again, I saw that Anthony was still standing in front of the door, except now, he was only wearing his boxers and his, um, man-parts were intentionally hanging out. I’ll spare the nasty details, but in the next few minutes, he basically “Shhh’d” me again several times while forcefully trying to get me to blow him. After several failed attempts, I was somehow able to get him away from the door and escape that horrible situation.
It was all very gross and upsetting, but in retrospect, the most disturbing thing about that night was not the events themselves, but how I reacted to it all. Rather than being mad being at Anthony for trying to take advantage of me, I felt bad about what happened because it seemed I had done something horribly wrong. Sure, it was wrong that I allowed him to kiss me earlier in the night (I still take full responsibility for that), but I felt as though everything that happened in that upstairs bedroom was my fault too. In my journal, I’d written that I felt guilty about the night because I “hooked up” with Anthony, not that I felt guilty about kissing Anthony, or also angered by the fact that he violated me.
At the time, I felt like Anthony’s behavior was nasty and careless, but never did it seem as though he had done something terrible. I just felt like guys were known to be more sexual than girls, and Anthony’s actions were intensified by the fact that he was drunk. And what’s maybe even more disturbing is that I don’t think he felt as though he did anything wrong either; I think he was horny and drunk, and thought he was entitled to see if he could get my mouth on his genitals because we’d kissed earlier in the night. Even when I told my friends about what happened, they all basically maintained that Anthony was an asshole, but no one was like, “Wow, that’s seriously messed up.”
Upon rediscovering this account of what had happened several years ago, I was saddened and freaked out by the idea that this behavior seemed so normal, especially because I was pretty sure that I wasn’t the only one with a story or two that revolve around being violated. I texted a few of my friends asking if they ever felt as though they were taken advantage of under similar circumstances, and they all immediately responded with something along the lines of, “Yes, remember that time at so-and-so’s…” How awful is that?! We all find ourselves in stupid situations when we’re in our teen years, and we do things that we aren’t particularly proud of, but failing to recognize the difference between merely “hooking up” and being taken advantage of is totally different. It’s horrifying to think that so many young girls have had intimacy forced upon them in one way or another, but they overlook it because they simply do not realize that what has happened was wrong.
A lot of young women seem to think that sexual assault is more of a creepy myth than a reality that they might face at some point in their lives. They may tend to think that rape happens when you’re walking alone at night and a masked stranger jumps out from behind the bushes and assaults you at knife or gunpoint –– when you’re young it’s hard to accept the fact that you might be taken advantage of by someone you know, and maybe even someone you consider to be your friend. And they also might not realize that forcible penetration isn’t the only means of sexual assault; any situation that makes you feel uncomfortable isn’t okay.
Written by Nicole Woszczyna