| The dynamics of power

Rape culture’s abuse of trust and (non)consent

Trigger warning: this article contains discussions of rape, sexual assault, and eating disorders.

After a couple of hours at a party at Sam’s* house, two weeks after Frosh, we all decided to go to a club. On the way, I talked with Sam, my Frosh leader – getting my foot in the door, as they say. He was cute, and in all my naiveté, I imagined that moment to be the beginning of a trusting relationship with someone I thought to be funny, charming, and honest. We flirted, and by the time we made it to the bar, he had asked to come home with me. My words slurred through the several drinks that I had, but I firmly told him “no.” He kept asking me, urging me to “get out of there” with him. I told him I didn’t want to have sex; I wanted something serious, and he was only looking for something casual. Finally, in agreement that we would not have sex, I obliged to let him come home with me. In my mind, I pictured a romantic night cuddling, and the next morning, he wouldn’t be able to resist taking me on a date.

When we got home, my roommate was there, and I stumbled in the dark over her clothes to get to my bed. He got in with me, as planned, and we continued to kiss. All of a sudden, he became very passionate, taking our clothes off. He got a condom, and without me knowing what was happening, we both ended up being naked. I didn’t know how to say ‘no’ to him anymore. I was drunk – I trusted him. I figured if he, my Frosh leader, was telling me it was okay, I should trust him. I was drunk – what did I know? But a little voice in my head kept telling me, “Why are you letting this happen? This isn’t what you signed up for.”

For months, I lied to myself and everyone else about what had really happened. I felt so ashamed, as if I had been weak. I had ‘let him’ do that to me, despite my own wishes. But how could that be rape? I trusted him, I knew him. My roommate was there, and I had flirted with him that very evening. None of these things added up to what, in my mind, was rape. But something was wrong; I got really depressed and anxious. I couldn’t trust anyone, and now more than ever, I was terrified of being too close to men. My self-esteem took a nose dive, and I developed body dysmorphism, which is an excessive preoccupation with a perceived defect of physical appearance. On too many occasions, I sat in front of my toilet wondering if I would really make myself throw up to be thin. I started hating my roommate, who I subconsciously blamed. She was there! Why didn’t she know that I was too drunk? Why didn’t anyone say anything? Why didn’t I say anything?

The truth is rape is not just something that happens in dark alleys, sometimes it happens in your own home with people you trust.

The symptoms I experienced were only a few of the many ways sexual assault can rob victims of their lives for months, or even years, after the incident. The aftermath manifests itself in both short-term and long-term mental disorders. Some of these include depression, anxiety, overeating, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for many survivors of sexual assault, according to the website of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It wasn’t until January that I realized what had happened was wrong. I spent whole nights sobbing, wondering why this had happened to me. After four months of therapy, I admitted to myself that it was not my fault. I had said no, and he had overstepped a boundary, taking advantage of the fact that I was too drunk to notice what he was doing. I finally told someone what happened; at first I was terrified, though. I thought people would tell me I was lying or exaggerating. To this day, I’m mortified of what happened that night. No one should have to feel like they’ve been stripped of all self-control, that others are entitled to their body, or that the violation of that boundary is somehow their own fault.

The truth is rape is not just something that happens in dark alleys, sometimes it happens in your own home with people you trust. Rape Victims Support Network states that “80 per cent of assaults happen in the victim’s home,” and “70 per cent are committed by a perpetrator who knows the victim.” Additionally, approximately half of rapes occur on dates. Knowledge of facts like these can allow for sensitivity to the reality of rape culture and sexual assault that are frighteningly present in society today, as it makes people realize that sexual assault is not only the preconceived notion that many understand it to be. Assault happens when you scream no, and you kick and bite; and it happens when you’re too drunk, too shy, too embarrassed, or too disempowered to say anything at all.

I would like to establish a norm of enthusiastic consent. Not begrudging or silent consent. A lack of a “no” does not mean “yes.” Rape culture is when society takes rape lightly, making jokes about it, mocking it, or even encouraging it. Rape culture is blaming victims, making them feel guilty and ashamed for things they aren’t responsible for. It’s when people like the Steubenville rapists get sympathy in the media and online because their football careers are now over. It’s when McGill football players are accused of assaulting a girl and get to keep their varsity status.

As an alternative, I’d like to suggest a culture where survivors’ voices are heard, and consent is enthusiastic. Where jokes about rape and the oppression of women and minority groups are not responded to by laughter, but by dismissal and acknowledgement of the real struggles people face. Although a reality of acceptance, enthusiastic consent, and support are perhaps far from the present, we can start to create such an environment by sharing our stories and giving people the space, comfort, and respect they need to be honest about their experiences. We can provide support and give hope to past, and regrettably future, victims.

SACOMSS is a confidential, non-judgemental, free organization, open to anybody, McGill student or not. They can be reached at (514) 398-8500 or at main@sacomss.org. For more information, go to sacomss.org/#contact

*Name has been changed
Author’s name has been changed