A little while ago, someone linked me to this excellent essay about Not-Rape. It’s a fairly long, possibly triggering essay, and I don’t suppose all of my readers will be interested in reading through the whole thing (although I strongly encourage you all to do so, when you get the time), so I will summarize the author’s point briefly. She talks about her experiences as a teenage girl with various kinds of sexual abuse (coercion, statutory rape, molestation) which, although they are not considered rape, are nevertheless very harmful, and all the more so because they aren’t talked about. The women in her classes were educated about rape, but not about any of these other heavy topics, and so they weren’t prepared to deal with these things–if it wasn’t rape, then why should they speak up? The boys, to their knowledge, hadn’t done anything wrong, and who would believe them if they had? It would be their word against his, and in many cases they would likely get in trouble for even having talked to those boys in the first place, so why speak up?
One thing that struck me about the article is the prevalence of this kind of experience–almost every woman the author talked to, she said, began pouring out her own story of being the target of male sexual aggression. It was everywhere. And it seems that so many of my own friends have experienced it during their own teenage years, that every now and then I have to stop and wonder, “Where was I while all of this was going on?”
I had my own problems then, of course, so it’s not to say that I completely escaped all forms of violence, but while I was growing up, I didn’t have anything to do with any sort of sexual violence (so much for that old “asexuals were just sexually abused” stereotype, eh?). I think my asexuality certainly had something to do with it, along with my introversion. I was never interested in boys (or girls either), so I never bothered to try to vy for their attention. Why should I care? The fact of it is that I hardly cared about anyone; I was so inside my own head that I never even thought about trying to be popular or cool. I thought the girls who did that were stupid, and asking for trouble. They irritated me, so I avoided them. Thus, I never really had the social opportunities to experience this type of violence. I heard a few bland warnings about “don’t let anyone try to pressure you into sex” or “tell someone if anyone harasses you” but nothing more than that. It seemed a distant threat, and I couldn’t imagine that anyone that I actually knew was experiencing any such thing. To my mind, that only happened to the slutty girls, not that I even knew anyone that I would have considered slutty. Maybe girls on the other side of town. Not around here. I was so completely removed from the rest of my peers (largely by choice, because I simply wasn’t interested), that the reality of these threats never hit home.
There was only one incident while I was in high school that I can actually remember lightly brushing against, and that was when my then-best friend K (who was fifteen at the time) lost her virginity to a 22 year old guy who had garnered a sort of cult following at my high school, which I only knew about because she told me (but only well after the fact). I had been upset at the time because she had been leaving me out of her social life almost entirely; I saw her MAYBE once a day for about ten minutes (if that) due to her schedule, and she wouldn’t make time to spend with me outside of school. I had no idea what was going on in her life. I met the guy that she ended up losing it to once, very briefly, when we were both helping her move out of her old apartment. He was very creepy, to say the least. He invited me to go and hang out at his place with K and the girl he was dating at the time (whom he used just like he did with K). I declined, realizing that it was best to stay well clear of that mess, but still not even having the slightest glimmer of recognition for what kind of threat he was really posing to my friend. If I were sexual, I likely would have been much more aware of what was going on, but since I’m not, the idea of sex never even entered my mind.
In a way, my asexuality afforded me a level of protection from sexual predators beyond my simple common sense, but it also kept me from realizing what kind of danger my friend was in, or being able to relate to her when she finally told me what was going on. When she told me, I just stared at her quietly, not knowing what to say. I guess she probably felt insecure, maybe that I was judging her, but I wasn’t. I just didn’t know how to deal with the situation. I had no frame of reference whatsoever.
Since I entered college, I’ve heard many more stories from my female friends about rape and not-rape alike. The number of women who have confided in me that they have experienced some form of sexual abuse is pretty astonishing–at least one-third of those I am (or have been) moderately close to, and I’m sure I know plenty more who aren’t comfortable enough with me to tell me. It is a huge problem, to say the least (I’m trying to keep the feminist ranting to a minimum, here). One friend told me a few months ago about how she hates having sex with her boyfriend, because he doesn’t listen to her when she tells him that she doesn’t want to have sex, and keeps teasing her until she eventually gives in. I told her that that’s not healthy, but she doesn’t listen to me. Ironically, this same boyfriend, she says, told her that she had been raped after she had sex with a guy who was guilting her into it. I told her that it was coercion, not actual rape, but it was close. She seemed unsure about whether to believe me. I wish I could help her more, but I can’t do anything but tell her that the situation she’s in isn’t healthy, and hope she will listen, which she, frustratingly enough, so far has not.
I think the problem of rape goes well beyond what’s actually considered rape–nevermind all the problems women have even being believed when they actually have been raped. I think there’s a pervasive mindset to it, which society (though divided on the issue) generally permits. The issue of consent (not just to sex itself, but to other things as well) is a big one, and it’s something I think that everyone, no matter what their sexuality (or lack thereof), ought to step back and take a good, hard look at.