I suppose my expectations were higher for her. I low key expected a man to downplay the experience. To imply that it was my fault and to list all the reasons why being in that room, with that person, was enough to warrant the violation that would forever change the trajectory of my life.
But it wasn’t a man discrediting me. It was a woman. An alleged friend, who, after hearing me recount my rape at the hands of her cousin, said, “Welp! Maybe you shouldn’t have been so comfortable with him giving you a massage. You kind of asked for that.”
Those words rocked me. Destroyed my insides. I was a lot of things. Young. Naive. Maybe even more than naive. Maybe even dumb. But I wasn’t the one who didn’t understand the word no. I wasn’t the one who kept going even when the person under him used her fists to express that things had gone too far. I wasn’t the one who chose to ignore the body that had gone limp long before he did.
Rapists are responsible for rape. There isn’t a hemline, sketchy locale, or bad decision that changes this simple truth. And yet, the conversation that’s often sidelined in our valiant and necessary efforts to make this point clear is how many women are complicit in the continued lack of accountability for perpetrators.
In all the recent discourse around the influence of the #metoo movement and the pervasiveness of rape culture, there is the ever present hum of women signatories who not only cosign the behavior of men who have been accused of sexual violence but, even worse, perpetuate to young girls and other women the false narrative that we somehow invite sexual assault.
In my observations, it’s too often other women who say, “well, why did she wait so long?” despite knowing the real reason why they themselves never told anyone what Uncle So-and-So did when they were twelve. (One in four women have experienced some form of sexual trauma in their lifetime). It’s too often other women who say, “well, she shouldn’t have gone there, wore that, let him do that,” knowing full well that allowing a neighbor to sit on your porch or even inviting them into your living room, does not give them carte blanche to rummage through your closets.
Sadly, it’s too often women who have bought the lies of our own inferiority and, in the name of twisted interpretations of various religious texts, say “Well, that’s the way men are.” That kind of language has been horribly complicit in the unleashing of sexual trauma on generations of women and girls. It’s how hundreds of women could support Brett Kavanaugh and cry real tears at the sentencing of Bill Cosby despite evidence and/or testimony against both men. It’s how millions of women still voted for a president with a track record of harassment—at best. It’s how my so-called friend could tell me I caused my own rape. It’s how, for a very long time, I could believe her.
I wonder what it would mean to survivors to change “Well you shouldn’t have worn that” to “He had no right to touch you, no matter what you wore.” How much grace would it take to change “why did you take so long to say something?” to “I’m so glad you are finally at a place to share what happened to you.” Could we love ourselves enough to revise “that’s just the way men are” to “men have the capacity for self control and when they don’t control themselves and someone is hurt as a result, there is a consequence”? That kind of shift in the lexicon of women alone could ensure rape culture dies a slow but crucial death.
As we teach our young boys the nuances of consent and the integrity of being accountable for their actions, I think we must also prepare our girls to push back against the notion that their bodies are inherently inciting. We must let them know that healing is a process; that sometimes it takes time to work through trauma before we can tell our stories; and that time will never make our stories any less true. Most of all, we must teach women and girls to believe other women and girls. To not weaponize each other’s pain in order to shine for men. To hold space for each others’ lived experiences in a way that doesn’t add to the damage already rendered by the violation.