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Dealing with Date Rape & Abuse

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HurtandUsed asks:

Okay, this happened to me a few months ago but it's been really bothering me. I was dating a guy for a while and when we started dating, I told him I didn't want to do anything sexual till I was 18. He promised that it was okay for him and he wouldn't do or try anything. Well, after we were dating for about 8 months, he started to change. He would get ticked off at me if I didn't spend every minute of my time with him. He wouldn't let me hang out or even talk to any of my friends. Then he started saying things to me that were perverted but I just shrugged them off as him just joking around. He then started touching my chest area, and I told him to stop, but he just acted like it was always an accident. He kept on doing it even at school, so I just gave up, and didn't care if he touched me there anymore even though in the back of my head I knew it was wrong. Then one day, we were over at his house lying on his bed, and I guess you could say we were making out. I really regret it now. Then he did something he never did before, He put his hands up my shirt and took off my bra. I couldn't say no because it was already too late.

Heather Corinna replies:

HurtandUsed's question continued

He then went and put his hands down my pants and started touching me there. I wanted to say no, but I couldn't because I was afraid he would get mad or break up with me. He then went and grabbed my hand and put my hand down his pants. I pulled my hand away but he just kept putting it back in the same place. I finally gave in (yet again) so he wouldn't get mad at me. After he got what he wanted, he told me to wear a skirt next time so it would be easier access. But there was never a next time because I never went back to his house before I broke up with him. After he did that to me, it seemed all that was on his mind was "sex, sex, sex". I put up with his butt for at least 4 more months till I told my friends what had happened. They told me to get out of the relationship immediately for my own safety so I did. But now, my ex is going out with some of my friends and I'm worried if he's going to do the same thing to them. The questions running through my mind is was I sexually assaulted because I never really said okay and I just stayed quiet? Do I need to tell my parents or the police so people will know what he did so they could be warned? What would happened if I turned him in? He was 15 and I was 14 when it happened. What are the laws for that? Would people say that I gave him consent because I never said anything like no and I just stayed quiet? I'm just so confused and worried and hurt and I feel so dirty and used.

What you're describing here is a very typical set of dynamics with someone who is abusive.

For instance, the dynamic of control. This guy wanted to control your time (people who are healthy and who earnestly care for us want us to have friends and our own lives: healthy people look to share our lives with us, not take ownership of them), who you spent time with, and after your assault, asked you to choose how you dressed based on his access to your body and his wants, not your own. You describe things which are about a dynamic of power he was seeking to have over you, such as the ongoing sexual harassment and the sexual assault.

You also have absolutely described sexual harassment -- the things he was saying, the way he kept touching your chest at school -- and a sexual assault. You set a clear sexual boundary (one which he lied in saying he would honor), both in saying you had an age you wanted to wait until, but also when you did things like telling him to stop touching you, like pulling your hand away when he put it in your pants.

I want you to know that because you found yourself frozen at times during that situation -- which is a very typical response many people have when we are shocked, afraid or intimidated, and something we see happen with all kinds of rape frequently -- does not mean you said yes to what he did. Yes is a far bigger thing than a lack of someone shouting no: consent to sex, when it is real, is something that even when not verbalized with a big, giant, "Yes, please!" or "I want this!" often looks or feels a certain way. Someone consenting to sex with us is not sitting or lying frozen still: they are reaching for us just as much as we are for them, they are tending to initiate sexual activities just like we are. The fact that you were scared into silence does not mean you gave consent, nor does that make your assault any less real.

As well, the fact that you were scared or stunned silent does not likely mean this guy just didn't know any better: the idea that people who rape are just misunderstanding a lack of consent tends to primarily come from people who want to justify abusing others. It can also come from people who want to rationalize why someone they care for has been abusing them, because it can feel less painful to explain away abuse, or pretend it really wasn't, then to face it sometimes. But mutually wanted, consensual sex that is about the pleasure and well-being of everyone involved just does not look or feel like what you have described here: not at all. This is what abuse looks like, not sex.

If you want to, you absolutely can tell your parents about this, and you also can tell the police about this and file a report against this person. What was done to you was a sexual assault, and what age the two of you were doesn't make a difference: he could have been your same age, or even younger than you and is still would be an assault and an abuse. However, if in your area, the age of consent laws are such that his having any kind of sexual contact with you at all -- even contact you DID consent to -- was criminal, then that would be an additional crime on top of the assault itself.

I can't say exactly what would happen if you filed a report, because that tends to depend on a lot of factors I don't know. For instance, some areas and police organizations take sexual assault more seriously than others. If someone has reported him before you, that also makes a difference in what will occur. Again, too, not knowing where you are, I don't know how the age of consent laws in your area may or may not factor into this.

Since at this point, you'd be filing a report without any evidence of the assault left on your body, you may not be able to press charges, but just file a report that stays on file should someone else file a report, too. Because you would be going in after-the-fact, so evidence could not be taken, unless others have filed reports, this guy may not be charged with any crimes. If he is, and you decide to press charges (or someone else he has also assaulted does), then a warrant would go out for his arrest, he would be brought into the station for questioning, and the police would take it from there to determine if they have enough evidence against him for a case or not. If he is prosecuted, given he's a minor, his sentence would probably be minimal at best, if he was sentenced at all: unfortunately, many people who rape and sexually abuse get off with little more than a warning, especially without any physical evidence for authorities to use to hold them responsible for their crimes. Ultimately, what I'd suggest if you want to have a clearer idea of what could happen if you report is that you have a talk with either a lawyer or legal aid service, or with someone from a rape advocacy group in your area or community.

When it comes to making up your mind on filing a report, I'd advise you to put yourself first. Reporting can be very healing for some survivors, but others feel like it's just not good for them. While reporting absolutely helps protect other people, you're the one wounded right now, and you're the one whose care is most important at the moment, so make whatever choice based on what you feel like is best for you: there's no right choice here for everyone.

In terms of what people will say, chances are that the only people who are going to know any of this happened -- unless you tell others -- are you, your family, the police and this guy and possibly his family. In terms of people you tell directly, or any who do find out about this otherwise, the truth is that we can't control what people think or say. Some people understand enough about sexual assault, abuse and consent to know full well that the absence of a no does not equal a yes. Rape advocates and many rape survivors, for instance, tend to know this better than anyone. The police, too, should express an understanding of that dynamic, and I'd hope that your family cares for you enough that they would be supportive of you. But it's also good to know walking into disclosing sexual abuse that not everyone is so sophisticated in their understanding of these dynamics, and some people very well may blame you (or any other victim), or presume that it was your job to "control" this guy, rather than his job to control himself. I don't tell you that to scare you out of disclosing, because I'm of the mind that disclosing is really important for our own healing, but rather, just so that you are prepared to potentially meet some ignorant responses, as they do happen sometimes, particularly from people who are either not very informed, or who are either abusive themselves, or even who are being or have been abused themselves: sometimes, when abuse is common, people can have the idea that it's normal and just how things are.

It's sound to be concerned that an abusive person will abuse others because they usually do. In other words, when it comes to abusive relationships, they don't tend to happen because there is something about the abused person causing the abuser to behave the way he or she does, but rather, because the person doing the abusing behaves that way, and generally in most of the relationships they enter into, especially if they can get away with it. I'm so glad that your friends were there as a support for you and helped you terminate this friendship. I personally think it would be great if you could do your other friends the same turn in warning them about this guy, and speaking out might also be something that helps you to heal and feel stronger, on top of the protection it might provide your friends. I recognize, though, that it can feel very scary to disclose abuse and assault, so understand that if you do not yet feel able to do that, that's totally understandable and would not make you somehow responsible for anything this guy did, or for those friends choice to date him.

You express feeling dirty and used, and these feelings of shame are common feelings to have after abuse and assault. Hopefully, you can make some headway with those feelings in reading some of what I have said here, and recognizing that when we are abused or assaulted, it isn't about us in terms of the why of abuse: in other words, there is nothing about any of us who are abused or assaulted that makes us somehow deserving of abuse. The simple fact of the matter is that the only thing we all usually have in common is that we were available to an abusive person to exploit and do harm to. The person who is responsible for the abuse is the person doling it out, not the person who has been or is being abused. The person who simply does not care about the well-being of another person, but instead only about his (or her) own needs is the person who has done wrong here, not anyone victimized by such a person. In other words, you didn't do this to you: he did this to you.

But I'd also suggest seeking out some extra support for yourself, either through phone or online counseling, or in-person therapy, counseling or support groups. RAINN is a great place to start, and they provide online and phone counseling, and can also help you find in-person resources close to you. If all of that sounds too daunting, at least tell someone close to you, like a parent, a teacher, a mentor: someone you trust, know is supportive of you, and who you know you can talk to about this. Silence tends to be a thing that amplifies the pain of abuse, and which also helps enable the dynamics that allow it to keep happening so often. I'm also a big fan of self-defense classes: they're great for everyone, but learning how tom physically defend yourself can be particularly helpful when it comes to healing from assault. When you can develop an extra confidence in the ability to defend yourself from someone like this in the future, it can help you to feel a lot more safe now and in the future.

I want to finish by just telling you a few things. You are not dirty. You are not used. There is nothing now wrong with you as a person: you are just as wonderful, whole, glorious, strong, wise, beautiful and special as you were before. Someone else's bad stuff can't take away our good stuff.

You have been done harm, you have been harmed and abused: those things absolutely happened, but you are still the you that you were before they happened, and while it can sure feel like it, no one can take parts of yourself which you do not willingly give or share. While there's nothing positive about being abused or assaulted, you do have the opportunity to have this be an experience which becomes part of your strength in terms of how you deal with it and how you choose to heal. As well, you also know, all too well, what abusive dynamics look like now: you can use that knowledge to protect yourself from here on out and know that when you are around someone who is exhibiting things like control, who is harassing you, that you don't need to second-guess yourself, you just need to get away, pronto. You don't need to be afraid of someone like this breaking up with you: you need to be afraid of staying with someone like this.

The poet Adrienne Rich, who I think is a million kinds of brilliance, wrote a piece I personally have really appreciated during times when I am going through more healing, and struggling to find myself able to see how on earth abuses which have been done me, terrible things which have happened to me, could be a source of my strength. At this point in my life, I know pretty well that my tragedies have made me stronger, more of who I am, but now and then, like anyone else, I experience doubt about that. I'm sharing it with you in case you also might find it of value:

Living in the earth-deposits of our history

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate.

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power.

Along with my very best wishes, I'm going to leave you with some extra links to look at:

written 27 Nov 2008 . updated 28 Nov 2008

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