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Heather Corinna replies:
Last summer ('06) I was pressured to sex by my former best friend. I kinda blocked it out and it's come back with full force now. I had a flash back when having sex with my boyfriend about a week ago and that was horrible! Any idea how I can cope with that?
And how do I cope with the feelings of guilt and shame. I really feel like the whole thing was partially my fault.. What happened was that we hadn't seen each other for a year cos he'd moved and when I came to visit we made out. He wanted to go further and I didn't. When I refused to go down on him he spiked me drink and made me do it when I was drunk. Unprotected. (Had STI screening since then, which was all clear...) I just feel like I could've somehow done something. Like keep an eye on my drink or say no more forcefully or just plain fight him off. I don't really know how to deal with this... I hope you can help..
Also, I was talking to a male friend the other day and he thought that men should have an option to legally not be fathers in case of a pregnancy. Like not be obliged to pay for child care and not be a part of the kids life whatsoever. I thought that this was ridiculous, but couldn't come up with any sound reasons why I though so.. It was just a general feeling. If this discussion comes up again what can I say?
I don't know of anyone who would think that they needed to guard their drink from someone they thought of as a best friend. I sure wouldn't.
There's just no sound reason, at all, for you to think that for some reason, you should have thought to do something that pretty much no one on earth would think to do in the company of someone who was a best friend. It's not your fault that your friend wasn't your friend at all and betrayed you so terribly. That's HIS fault, not yours, and HE is the one responsible, and he's the one who should feel ashamed, not you.
If I were hanging out with a friend and they decided to just whip out a gun and shoot me, it would not be my fault in any way because I was with them, because I had poor judgment when it came to having them as a friend, because I didn't check them for weapons when they came to my place, because I wouldn't give them something they wanted, none of it. They'd be the one with the gun, they'd be the one shooting me, and they'd be the responsible party. I'd be the victim with a bullet in my leg, and nothing more: I didn't ask my friend to shoot me -- they did so purposefully without my permission and with the aim of doing me harm. And the same holds true for you: you didn't ask your friend to rape you. He decided to do you harm.
Certainly, self-defense can be something that works to prevent sexual assault. But it can be tough to do -- especially with someone you trust -- and often impossible when you are impaired in some way. And again, whether you fought him off or didn't, had that drink or didn't, it still doesn't make you the rapist: HE is the rapist, HE is the one who did-the-doing, and HE is the one responsible for that, 100%.
I think it also might be helpful to really voice what this is. Someone drugging you and then forcing you to have any kind of sex with you isn't "pressuring." Someone who purposefully drugs or inebriates a person in order to get some kind of sex they know or suspect that person would otherwise not consent to, or know that person has expressly NOT consented to, isn't pressure: it's flat-out rape. It can be a lot easier to put the blame where it belongs and to deal with what happened to us when we call it what it is, rather than trying to sugarcoat it in any way, even if it feels at first like calling rape rape makes it somehow harder to manage.
So, how do you deal with this? A good place to start, after you've called it what it is and at least gave a real try when it came to ceasing with any self-blame, is to seek out a supportive place to talk about it. We can certainly talk to current romantic and sexual partners about our sexual assault, but that often isn't the best person to start with, because they're going to have their own issues when it comes to an assault on a partner, and some of their issues aren't really things you should be managing right now. You need to come first at the moment, and you need someone to talk to who can, fairly easily, set their own issues aside and make yours the order of the day. So, you might seek out a close friend, for instance, or a family member or other adult you trust and know you can depend on for support. Or, you might think about calling a hotline for some counseling, a support group for sexual assault survivors, an online forum (including the abuse forum at the message boards here at Scarleteen, if you like), or an independent therapist. Which of those is best really depends on what feels best to you, and which person or setting is one where you feel most able to just start talking all of this out as openly as you can. Silencing ourselves, or trying to pretend a rape didn't happen only tends to make dealing with it tougher in the long-term: to start healing, we've usually got to start talking.
Creative outlets can also be helpful, whether that is something artistic -- like writing or doing visual artwork -- or something more physical -- finding a place you can just go and yell, or getting into a boxing class -- or something proactive, like doing some volunteer work for other women who are going through what you have. Too, self-defense classes are not only helpful for all women, whether they have been raped or not, they can be a real catharsis for assault and abuse survivors.
It can also help to try and become aware of your triggers -- in other words, any kind of situation, image, setting, dynamic, sexual activity, what have you, that triggers a traumatic response for you, like that flashback you had the other day. It's probably obvious that you'll want to do what you can to avoid those triggers, but even when you can't, if you can get in the habit of recognizing them for what they are when they happen, you can get good at taking a step back in those moments, doing something to center yourself -- personally, I've always done some deep breathing and then reminded myself, visually and verbally, if I have to, of where I am at the moment, that I am NOT in the rape setting I feel like I am. It is likely also obvious, but in the case that there are any dysfunctional, coercive or abusive elements in your current relationship when it comes to sex (or anything else), it is wisest, both when it comes to dealing with your previous trauma and just taking care of yourself now, to get away from those settings or dynamics. If things with your partner now are healthy and good, then if you can identify things that trigger you, you can simply make him aware of what those are so that you can both work to avoid and/or manage them. Here is some more good information on managing triggers (and that whole site is full of a lot of very helpful information, not just triggers).
Obviously, too, you're going to be dealing with some pretty intense feelings of betrayal that can be hard to wade through. Most rapes do occur with people known to most victims, and a great many are intimate in some way with that person: a spouse, a boyfriend, a best friend, a family member. Accepting that someone you trusted not only did you harm, but intended to do you harm to please themselves is a very tough pill to swallow. You might find that you have a hard time trusting other people close to you for a while, which is completely understandable. You might feel a great lack of confidence in your own character judgment of others for a while. It can be hard to feel safe around anyone, too, when we experience an incident where someone we are close to, who we thought we were safe with, turns the tables on us and proves us wrong in that respect. All of those feelings are normal and valid. Again, these are things where talking all your feelings through with a supportive, objective person can be a big help.
I don't know if you have considered (or did at the time) pressing charges against your friend, but that is also a possible option for you. Some survivors find that pressing charges -- even if they don't stick -- or even just filing a report creates some closure and a feeling that some justice has been done.
It always sounds a bit cheeseball to talk about being a survivor, even though it really shouldn't. Maybe that's just because we live in a world when it comes to rape and sexual assault which is so unhealthy, maybe it's because shame and victim-blaming can run so deep that we don't always feel like we deserve that title. But we do: here you are, and you've survived. You're here, you're lucid, you can clearly still be close to some people, you can give all of this some voice and ask for help when you need it. All of that is a very big deal: not everyone who has been raped can do that. So, I would also encourage you to really put some value in being a survivor and having survived. It's not like it's somehow a bonus to have been raped because it can result in being stronger, but surviving assault DOES make us stronger than we were, and the strength we can derive from dealing and healing is something that is valuable and important.
Per your male pal and what to say?
You might start and end the whole conversation by pointing out that asking one party to be completely responsible for something that occurs only with two people making a choice -- when they do: with all we've been talking about above, do remember that around one in four women will be raped in her life: when a woman doesn't even get to have a choice per sex, asking her to also have to be 100% responsible for a pregnancy or child via sexual assault is beyond inhumane -- to do something with a known potential consequence. Of course, you might also ask him who exactly, then, is going to pay for and take care of all the children men make, especially when a) women ALREADY bear more responsibility than men when it comes to pregnancy and children even with our existing laws and b) child poverty and mortality is still a huge problem worldwide.
Or, you might just state that men who feel that way should clearly just either keep their penises to themselves or get vasectomies. Men who absolutely positively do not want to be parents or responsible for children always (unless a woman sexually assaults them, which is very rare) have several safe, healthy ways NOT to be which are completely in their control: would that all women had that same level of freedom. If your pal knows for sure he absolutely doesn't want children or any part of them -- or any man did -- that's all he'd have to do to assure he never had to be personally responsible for a child.
But to be perfectly frank with you, if I had a male friend who said something like that to me, he just probably wouldn't be someone I'd keep as a friend anymore. Given I'm female, sexist men can't really be a real friend to me, and we all have to deal with enough sexism in our lives as it is (and often the older you get, the sicker you get of it), when we don't have a choice: I'm not about to choose friends where I have to deal with it with them, too.
~ Heather Corinna, Founder, Editor & Advice-Slingin' Sister @ Scarleteen.com
Author, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College