Trigger warning for discussions of rape and violence.
I have been lucky. As a 23-year-old female who has graduated college, lived abroad, lived alone in a few cities and is currently living in a place where women have very few legal rights, I have been very lucky. No other person has physically violated my body in the worst possible way a person can be violated, and that is a blessing I am very, very much aware of.
But the odds are stacked up against someone like me. These are the facts we know too well: In the United States, one in five women are raped. One in three women in college have experienced attempted or completed rape. And these numbers would be multiplied tenfold if I lived in a current warzone. Rape is out of control. Sexual violence is out of control. Sick entitlement to other people’s bodies, baseless victim blaming and excusing perpetrators are out of control. We live in a world, in societies, in communities, where a statistically disproportionate amount of men are told that they have a genetic birthright to touch and take what isn’t theirs, like a bunch of conscienceless rabid animals. Where alcohol or drugs or anger is an excuse. Where an unconscious human is an invitation. Where the absence of “no” automatically means “yes”.
Yeah, I’m pretty lucky. But about a month ago, I was almost not so lucky. Like my cherished childhood friends who’ve had to face the trauma of rape, or the countless women I met in college who’ve experienced sexual violence, or the new friends I’ve made across the world who have been forced to sit, utterly powerless, as grown men felt that they were allowed to grope and touch their defenseless bodies, I became a victim myself – but I was lucky enough to get out before this evil got the chance to strike. It shook me, like hearing those stories shakes me, and filled me with the blindest of rages and the deepest of fears.
I don’t need to go through grimy details of what happened that evening. To put it simply, it involved a humiliating excuse of a man, a cab, a dark highway leading to nowhere, and me throwing myself out of a moving vehicle. That night, I got the chance to give a rigid middle finger to a person who thought he could render me powerless, who had the fucking audacity to believe for a good twenty-five minutes that he was going to get away with it in the shadowy darkness, who dared to think in his sick twisted mind that he could take advantage of me – a physically weak girl, by herself, in a city that is not her own.
That night, I was given a choice: to jump or not to jump. To get out, or not to get out. To let him control my life, or not. To let him take charge of my body, my personhood, or not. It was a realization so stark, so real, so utterly blunt – that I almost didn’t do anything at all. In fact, if I had not been texting a friend, and had she not told me to “Get out NOW”, I might not have moved. I was paralyzed, frozen, my bottom glued to the seat. I felt like a gun was pressed cold against my temple, and if I blinked it might go off and crack my skull open. But if I didn’t move at all, it would just fire anyway.
But somehow, somewhere, I found it in myself to jump. This thing inside me, deep in my stomach, rattled my innards and screamed until its voice was hoarse and its vocal chords were bloody, begging me to take the chance. To jump. To save myself.
I was lucky. I was given the choice.
Choice is rare.
With rape, there is no choice. With sexual violence, there is no choice. If someone is evil and sick enough to want to take advantage of another person, they will. Victims of violence, of rape, of sexual assault, of any form of physical violation – they do not have a choice. The girl from Steubenville did not have a choice. The people sexually assaulted every two minutes in the US do not have a choice. My best friend did not have a choice. My friends in college did not have a choice. My roommate did not have a choice. This actress did not have the choice. This city councilor did not have the choice. And if that driver was paying attention – and if I wasn’t quick enough to take him off guard – I too would not have had the choice.
None of us have a choice when it comes to someone else violating what is most sacred to us.
This choice – this very clear decision – lies with no one else but the perpetrators themselves. This choice is very, very simple: Are you going to act violently towards someone vulnerable, or not? Are you going to violate another person’s body, or not? Are you going to put your dick or finger somewhere it doesn’t belong, without permission, or not? Are you going to be a fucking rapist, or not?
It’s really, really, very simple.
Because how can it be possible for anything with a human brain, a human conscience, to blame the casualties, the victims, the downtrodden – the ones who never had a choice in the first place?
How does that make any sense?
And this is where our global dialogue needs to change. It has to. It must. If we are going to move forward, to achieve some speck of justice within our communities and ourselves, we need to understand – to really understand – that there is a difference between the person who commits sexual assault, and the person who is the victim. One has the choice. The other does not. One is guilty. The other is not.
And that’s really all there is to it.
Written by Alia Gilbert
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