I’ve been here all along

Content warning: Discussion of rape, discussion of how bad rape must be to count, and an explicit description in the “My story” section.

I’ve been warned that if I ever speak publicly about my experience with corrective rape, people will only use my experience for politically convenient ends, or otherwise just ignore me.  Therefore, I’m going against my intuitive sense of correct writing flow, and opening with my possibly unpalatable opinions related to my own experience.

I think it is often overemphasized how bad rape is.  Feminists emphasize how bad it is, because they rightly want people to care about an important social issue.  Anti-feminists emphasize how bad it is because they want to argue that most incidents don’t actually count, since the victim didn’t have it that bad, and the perpetrator wasn’t that evil.

It’s believed that perpetrators are so extremely evil, that they deserve to be put in jail, where, incidentally, they have a 5-20% chance of being raped themselves! Then they should be put on a sex offender registry for life, preventing them from living anywhere near other humans.  If I say that I’ve been raped, it is assumed that I want the perpetrator to be punished that way.  And since everyone recognizes how excessive the penalties are (despite voting in favor of the same penalties), that makes me a terrible person for making accusations without immediately supplying hard evidence.

As for victims, I think we must live in Lake Wobegon, because it sure seems like everyone’s experience with rape is above average.  Nobody’s experience was bad enough to “count”.

All the same, I have many reservations about trying to convince other people that their experience “counts”.  I, too, thought my experience didn’t count for many years.  When I decided it did count, that made me feel worse about it, even though the entire episode was long over.  This is known as the nocebo effect, and it’s a direct consequence of overemphasizing how bad rape is.1  I’m bothered that the only people who seem to care about the nocebo effect think that downplaying rape is a solution, rather than the other horn of the dilemma.

With that spiel, you might guess that my experience with rape wasn’t that bad.  That’s not in fact what I’m saying.  Quite simply, I’d like us to take victims’ experiences as they are, without exaggerating, and without ignoring certain types of victims.  I’d like a model of understanding that is centered on victims and survivors, rather than on political causes.

My story

Long, long ago, when asexual visibility was much lower, I was an undergrad who had just started identifying as asexual.  I really needed some social support, but I wouldn’t meet another asexual for over a year.  Instead, I found social support through the queer student group.  I also started drinking heavily, because that was the queer culture, and because I was miserable.

Obligatory aside: It is possible for people to be so drunk that they cannot meaningfully consent to sex, and having sex with such a person is rape.  People often have trouble with this idea because the word “drunk” means a wide variety of things to different people.  So to characterize how drunk I was that night, here is a handy-dandy guide to my alcohol tolerance:

1 drink – I feel pretty buzzed.
2 drinks – No one could mistake me for sober.
3 drinks – Things start to blur together.  Everyone who is not an undergrad starts looking askance at me, saying “Uh, maybe you’ve had enough?”
6 drinks – I pretty much pass out.  Even when I was undergrad I immediately realized there was no reason to ever drink this much.

So on that night, I had five drinks.  I was at a big party for the queer student group, held outside in an apartment building patio.  As I was drinking, I was loudly explaining asexuality to everyone I met, just because.  I remember people saying, “There’s a guy over there saying he’s asexual!”  “Wow, I’ve never met one of those before!”  I was enjoying the exposure.

One of the people I explained asexuality to at length was Mr. Perp.  It was some time later, when I was really smashed, that he pulled me aside.  He said he thought I was really attractive.  He lead me around a corner, where the crowd thinned out a bit, although maybe it wasn’t entirely empty.  I wasn’t really paying attention to how many people were around, because I was too drunk, and because he soon had me sucking his dick.

What I remember is an interminable length of time, during which I discovered that oral sex is kind of gross.  At one point, he asked, “Are you still asexual now?”  I said I was.  He said, “I don’t think so.”  Eventually, we stopped, and he tried to get me to anally penetrate him, which was kind of painful.  I think it wasn’t very successful because he said we could stop and he jerked off into the bushes.

Here’s how I felt about it: physically sick.  Penis doesn’t taste like much, so I felt like I was still tasting that same thing for the next few days, and it was disgusting.  I also spent a lot of time worrying over what it all “meant”.  I specifically remember declaring to my best friend, “This is the worst week ever!”  I didn’t ever explain why.  I mean, it was a bit embarrassing.

To avoid further embarrassment, I instead cried on the shoulder of the only person who already knew about the incident: Mr. Perp.  Looking back now, that’s really the most embarrassing part of my story.  The fact that my first sexual experience was outside, in public, near a bunch of people I had just come out to as asexual?  I could live that down.  But why would I ever reach out to Mr. Perp for support, and do it while sober too?

Who was Mr. Perp?  He was about my age, closeted, and had recently left a religious cult.  I could never reach him by phone because his answering machine was filled with messages that he was ignoring from his mother.  In short, he was some random guy who had his own array of problems.  We dated a bit (nonsexually).2  He dumped me over the phone.  I spent the rest of the year hoping I’d never run into him again, and I didn’t.

In retrospect, Mr. Perp probably found it rather bewildering for me to come crying to him.  He spent a lot of our time dating trying to avoid me (although at the time I wrote it off as flakiness).  So I think there was a little justice after all.

Whether it “counts”

Initially, I did not even ask whether my experience counted as rape.  I consented.  I didn’t experience trauma, I just cried for two weeks, that’s all.  I met Mr. Perp afterwards, and he was an okay person.

Instead, I blamed myself.  Underneath it all, I was really unhappy about being asexual and aromantic.  I was unhappy about being cut off from the heteronormative model of success.  I drank heavily because I was hoping something would happen.  So when something actually happened, it was clearly my fault.  And when I subsequently tried dating him, and it was pretty terrible, that was my fault too.

I did, after all, start identifying as gray-A after we broke up.  There was no way to refer to sex-favorable aces back then, but I would have identified as that too had I the opportunity.  Although by that point I felt like sex and relationships were pretty terrible, and that maybe settling on aromantic asexual wouldn’t have been so bad after all.

A certain relative suggested that I started identifying as gray-A because I finally tried sex and liked it.  That sure made me trip over a mountain of irony.  I stopped talking to them for a while.

It was many years later, over many stages, that I finally recognized it as corrective rape.  To go into details of the process would make it sound more momentous than it really was.  To me, this happened a long time ago, and it doesn’t really matter what I call it.  But just for the record…

Yeah, this was a pretty clear instance of corrective rape.  He forced me to have sex with him because he thought it would fix me.  The fact that I didn’t resist was not indicative of consent; rather, people who are that drunk simply don’t resist much.  If I didn’t experience long-term trauma, that’s just the way it was for me.

The only tricky thing is that he was probably drinking heavily too.  Nobody really knows what to do in situations where both parties are drunk; such situations are only brought up when they can be used as ammunition, or else they’re glossed over.  My question: can perpetrators excuse themselves simply by drinking a lot first?  I don’t have an answer, but just once I’d like people to gaze into that particular abyss.  It’s not pretty but it’s the lived experience of myself and others.3

Conclusion

At this point, many readers might like to express their deep sympathies for my experience.  It is true that many survivors appreciate that sort of social support, even long after the incident.  However, in my case I don’t really need it, or want it.  Instead, I’d rather we talk about ways to address rape culture, and ways to help other victims/survivors.

Just to spell it out, there are differences between the following:
(a) Providing emotional support for survivors
(b) Talking about how to support survivors
(c) Talking about opposing rapists or rape culture

Sometimes people respond to survivors with (b) or (c) unasked, not realizing how emotionally trying the topics can be.  But here I am asking for (b) and (c), so it’s fine.

I wrote this not for emotional support, but because I am a Well-Known Blogger, and people might have a hard time ignoring me.  Here’s the main thing I learned looking back: Ace survivors are already here, and have been since the beginning, whether they talk about it or not.   Listen to what they have to say, if they want to say it, and recognize that there are many experiences, including ones very different from my own.  Support Resources for Ace Survivors.  That is all.

———————————————————-

1. I haven’t seen any direct evidence that the nocebo effect operates on trauma or rape, but if you read about the nocebo effect, it seems a reasonable guess.  I found that study through a Reddit thread where people were using it to argue that SJWs are terrible.  I didn’t get the sense that these Redditors actually cared about the effects on victims.

2. For anyone keeping track, yes, this is the same relationship I mentioned in an earlier post.

3. Situations involving alcohol or other drugs are extremely common.  In one study of convicted rapists, three quarters acknowledged using drugs at the time.  Another study of college students who self-reported actions that qualify as rape found that 80% of their victims were incapacitated by drugs.  Thanks to HJ Hornbeck (warning: autoplay video) for finding these citations.  He also argues based on literature that alcohol, not GHB, is the number one date rape drug.

About Siggy

Siggy is a physics grad student in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and makes amateur attempts at asexual activism. His interests include godlessness, scientific skepticism, and math. While not working or blogging, he plays video and board games with his boyfriend, and folds colored squares.
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38 Responses to I’ve been here all along

  1. luvtheheaven says:

    Thank you for sharing this whole story here. It was very well written, and very understandable for all of us who didn’t have to live through it like you did. You did a great job and conveying the nuance, and I really appreciated the privilege of reading it.

    I do think writing and sharing this type of blog post is one small step toward both supporting other survivors and also toward opposing even the alcohol-imbued kinds of rapists. By spelling it all out like this and sharing a true story in this way, something people can’t dismiss as easily as a “what if” scenario, you’re slowly helping to instill in people’s minds that this not only can happen, it does, and we should be working towards supporting all types of survivors, including people with stories that are relatively similar to yours.

    I think one of the best things we can do is really emphasize that people when drunk are not able to consent. But the more we say it, the more it might start to stick and strangers at parties won’t try to get the drunk guy or drunk girl to have sex with them. They might realize that this isn’t a good opportunity for a consensual sexual experience — the other person is drunk, and they should accept that. It doesn’t matter if the drunk person doesn’t resist much, they are too drunk to consent. People seem to fight back hard against this idea whenever it’s brought up. I’ve seen so many conversations where people don’t want to accept that concept, and part of it is the complex culture of “everyone goes out and drinks at a bar or a club or a certain type of party — such as a college one — with the hope of having sex, don’t they?” It leads to both genuine confusion about what could possibly be a solution to the problem and also victim-blaming type sentiments. But the more we say things like your quote in the post above, the more we say:

    It is possible for people to be so drunk that they cannot meaningfully consent to sex, and having sex with such a person is rape.

    the more it might start to stick in both witnesses and perpetrators minds.

    I think on top of that, too many people don’t realize what corrective rape is. It sounds so harsh and extreme that sometimes even the actual perpetrators of such sexual assaults — perpetrators who may even have heard the term and be against it “in theory” — likely have no idea that simply not believing someone when they come out as a sexual orientation, a sexual orientation that is likely incompatible with the idea of you wanting to have sex with that perpetrator — including coming out as asexual, and then said perpetrator seeing if they can “convince” the person with the “Wrong” sexual orientation to have sex with them anyway and prove they’re not actually that sexual orientation is still corrective rape. In fact, that is one of the main problems. The way rape has been presented in society is too often about physically forcing instead of verbally/emotionally forcing people into things. So people don’t think it can really be rape when it’s all just manipulating the other partner into agreeing. But it can be. People don’t get how powerful emotional/verbal abuse within a relationship can be, how alcohol plays into the whole mess, how there can be so much social pressure or relationship pressure or even just pressure to not upset the other person, and therefore so much feeling like it’s not okay to say “no” if someone wants sex so you don’t say it even when you didn’t want to do it, etc, etc. People don’t realize that if you have to “convince” your partner to have sex with you, that maybe you’re on the verge of sexual assault and you should walk away.

    So we need to talk about these kinds of things. The more everyone talks about it, tells their stories, explains how rape actually plays out in real life, etc, etc, the better equipped we are to support survivors and the more likely we are to stop some perpetrators from becoming perpetrators in the first place.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      I recently attended a very fancy Bar Mitzvah party for one of my second cousins, and his aunt, who is my parents’ age and my first-cousin-once-removed, made some very rude comments toward me that hurt my feelings. When I was alone again with my trusted immediate family — my dad, brother, and brother’s girlfriend — and shared with them the story, I tried to downplay the comments as not-that-bad, since maybe this woman didn’t mean them in the rude way in which I interpreted them, and after all, she was probably quite drunk because she wasn’t even planning on being the person to drive herself home.

      My brother’s girlfriend got upset at me for using this woman’s drunkenness as an excuse, as a way to downplay her comments that had hurt my feelings. My brother’s girlfriend had been drunk too but SHE hadn’t behaved in such rude ways and say such hurtful things. As my brother’s girlfriend said, being drunk didn’t mean someone automatically gets a pass at behaving badly.

      I think she made a very good point. I think it applies even more-so to the perpetration of rape & sexual assault, because while maybe lowering your inhibitions with alcohol and impairing your judgement might make you more likely to say things you wouldn’t while sober, and making a brief hurtful comment is one thing, actually getting to the point of sexually assaulting someone else is a bit more of a process. There are things that you aren’t allowed to do whether drunk or sober — crimes like murder, theft, etc — and there is no reason being drunk excuses you out of being held responsible for your actions, including if your action was the sexual assault of someone else.

      There is usually a huge difference between the person who, while drunk, didn’t resist or even say “no” to the sexual actions that transpired, and the person who, while drunk, initiated every step and wanted every sexual thing to happen — wanting them to happen with a partner too drunk to consent. Only the latter example is a drunk person taking a deliberate action, like drunk driving, which people are expected even when drunk to be able to avoid doing. Someone who is drunk and ends up in a sexual situation they wish they hadn’t gotten in is never the one who is at fault. Both people being drunk doesn’t preclude the fact that it was only one person who acted in a way that was unacceptable, even criminal.

      • Siggy says:

        From an ethical pragmatist perspective… The main reason you might not hold people morally responsible for what they do while drunk is that maybe drunk people don’t respond to moral incentives. It would be like holding a rock morally responsible for tripping you–the rock doesn’t really care what you think.

        But some degree of moral responsibility still seems warranted, because people still chose to be drunk in the first place. And in some cases people are gaming the system by drinking to do/say things they know are wrong. Lastly, I strongly suspect that drunk people still respond to strong ethical rules.

        • luvtheheaven says:

          Yes, Siggy. All of that makes perfect sense to me and I agree that drunk people still do respond to strong ethical rules, and that sometimes people are gaming the system by drinking as an excuse to then do/say the things they know are wrong.

          I think Lundy Bancroft’s book on domestic violence, “Why Does he Do That?”, is actually quite flawed, but in it he raised a lot of interesting points and some of them seemed to make sense to me. One thing he suggested was that abusive alcoholics often drink so that they have an excuse to abuse their romantic partner/spouse and children. It is interesting to consider the idea that the alcohol didn’t cause the abusive person to abuse the people they “love”, but rather the abusive person wanted to get drunk so that if they abused their family, they could blame it on the alcohol.

    • Sennkestra says:

      I think the issue with things like drunk sex and dubious consent for a lot of people is that it isn’t always a clean scenario of an active aggressor and a passive victim. Sometimes two people who are totally trashed will be incredibly enthusiastic about things that are patently bad for them and that they would never do when sober. Sometimes the drunk person will be the one initiating things with the bewildered sober one but still regret it. Sometimes people will initiate things they don’t want to do not because of social pressure from the partner but because they fear social pressure from a third party or group not even involved in the encounter.

      But instead of trying to take a nuanced approach, scenarios usually end up as a war between “they’re an evil criminal rapist” and “they’re completely blameless and should change nothing”, both of which are not helping. These kinds of situations are complicated and nebulous, but I feel like the current culture of rape-culture discussions equates nuanced discussion to victim blaming, which makes discussions like that hard. And I feel like there’s a desire to place the blame on an individual on both sides – claiming that the perpetrator should have somehow known better, claiming that that the victim was being a tease, etc. – instead of recognizing that terrible things are’t always clearly blameable on one individual.

      • Hollis says:

        Yes, thanks for this comment. Alcohol introduces a degree of messiness into things. I’ve played many parts of scenarios of dubious consent (now with alcohol!)–the “way too drunk to do anything but lie there and say no”, the “drunk and feeling terrible about myself so let’s engage in self-destructive behavior by verbally consenting to sex while knowing mentally I don’t want this at all”, the “very drunk and confusing the sober partner who would like me to stop please because I’m too drunk for this and they are too sober”, the “sober person who would like the drunk partner to stop because they are too drunk to be making this decision but would otherwise be down”. Alcohol messes with judgements for everyone–these judgments are both of ourselves and our perceptions of the world, and this leads to a place where there aren’t obvious and clean-cut lines.

  2. Raven says:

    Although your experience (and long term reaction to it) are very different from my own, there is a lot here that strikes a chord with me.

    In responce to the questions of how to support survivers, and how to oppose rape culture, the best answer I have is to do exactly what this post does: Tell the stories… describe the things that actually happened…talk about the impact on our lives

    otherwise, most people, survivers and non-survivers alike are basicly getting their ideas about what “real” rape is from Law and Order SVU, or what have you, and that leads to the tendancy to belive that their own or other peoples experiences “dont count”…I mean, they didnt find my lifeless body in a ditch…soooo…?

    Also, the idea that our perpetrators are *monsters* is a natural reaction, but very unhelpful in a lot of ways. Monsters are powerful, maybe unbeatable. They are vague and shadowy and might magicly reach out to harm us at any time. Ordinary human beings are both weaker but also more heartbreaking…we can understand their limits better…but also must accept that a *person* with all the usual good and bad mix of traits chose to hurt us so horribly.

    Ive never understood the concept of a drunk rapist being less culpable. So what if their impulse control was lower? The impulse still existed. My abuser was always drunk when molestation occurred (I was age 10-13), and he feels to this day that this should make a difference. Not to me. It was the same experiece for *me* regardless…so why should I be the one to make allowances? To me its a lot like drunk driving; impairment doesnt equal lack of responsibility when you hurt *someone else*.

    • Siggy says:

      In many ways, I find that the rapist as ordinary person is much scarier than the rapist as monster. It means that I can’t tell rapists apart from other people, and that there are many more than I imagined. And what’s worse, I care about their feelings.

      But it does give me hope that perpetrators will respond to social criticism.

  3. Sennkestra says:

    I think one of the the things that culture as a whole needs is more nuanced words and narratives to discuss non-consensual or dubiously consensual sexual experiences, I just don’t know how best to go about doing so (like, even the “dubiously consensual” phrase there is not great, because of it’s use as basically a fetish in fanfic spaces. I just don’t know a better term to articulate what I mean).

    Like, we have so much terminology and narratives for people taking your money without your informed consent, whether by force or by lying or by social coercion – you can be pick-pocketed, mugged, swindled, burgaled, robbed, defrauded, scammed, stolen from, embezzled from, have your proprty misappropriated….and you can have different reactions: Some people can be traumatized by a stolen phone or be afraid to go out at night after being mugged. Other people laugh off being mugged at gunpoint as a good party story or take being pick-pocketed as a fact of life of living in a big city and don’t see it as a big deal. And for the most part people accept this variety of experiences.

    But for nonconsent/poor consent, we just don’t have that many narratives or terms, even though discussions of what should be considered consensual/non-consensual rapidly expand. And while it’s easy to have a simple black and white one-size fits all model of thinking about nonconsent (in which a clear-eyed predator deliberately initiatiates penetrative sex of a clearly unwilling victim, who is left horribly traumatized), it doesn’t work for reality, which is hella messy and complicated.

    Supporting and recognizing people who have had negative sexual encounters (whether nonconsensual, dubiously consensual, or even consensual) is important. Talking about the problems with poor consent is important. But doing so by trying to shoehorn people’s experiences back into that simplified model of a clear-eyed predator leaving a victim horribly traumatized doesn’t help. Telling someone who had a mutually enthusiastic and pleasurable sexual encounter while too drunk to consent that they should consider themselves raped and be traumatized isn’t going to help anyone. And that telling anyone that talks about nonconsensual encounters as non-traumatic that they are perpetuating rape culture is not helping.

    • Siggy says:

      I haven’t gotten anyone saying that my non-traumatic experiences perpetrate rape culture, although I also haven’t told too many people yet. Rather, people just never talk about non-traumatic rape experiences. In a world where we have to deal with really basic rape myths, it’s just too advanced to say rape => *risk* of trauma => bad. If we talk about risk, we have to talk about probabilities, and variations in experiences, which requires listening to at least two stories.

      • Sennkestra says:

        I’ve only rarely encountered it, and mostly from people who imply it in the abstract, but I’ve encountered the same attitudes more often for more “minor” not-clearly-consented to things, like cat-calling/’street harassment’. Like, I always feel awkward in conversations about ‘street harassment’ because like…I don’t feel harassed at all? And I often even find it flattering and friendly, especially with certain types of comments? But I’ve been told that talking about that ‘distracts’ from the issue, and then I hear from these same people that the idea that women are flattered are a myth and that no one feels that way and that we are all traumatized but don’t admit it because of patriarchy.

        People are basically making the verdict (consciously or unconsciously) that the risk for the people who are negative effected by cat-calling and talking to strangers outweighs the people who are positively affected, which is totally a valid approach. But it’s not politically expedient to say that, it’s better to instead paint things as only having negative consequences for everyone, so no one can argue that maybe the balance tips the other way. And since rape and rape culture are such high-stakes political topics, the same thing happens there even more.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        I don’t know what the definition of trauma really is, anyway.

        Reading this: http://www.sidran.org/resources/for-survivors-and-loved-ones/what-is-psychological-trauma/

        makes me understand why you might say:

        I didn’t experience trauma, I just cried for two weeks, that’s all.

        I definitely don’t want to invalidate your claim or tell you you’re wrong to say you weren’t traumatized by this experience. Only you can define these things for yourself, Siggy, of course.

        I just wanted to say that crying for two weeks still seems like it could in many cases be considered a form of trauma. I mean, that article I linked to said:

        But the key to understanding traumatic events is that it refers to extreme stress that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope.

        and to me excessive crying might qualify. I’m not sure.

        I understand why you might not think of it as trauma in your case, and I’m certainly not here to try to convince you otherwise.

        I just want to share that if something made me cry for two whole weeks afterwards, I might call it a traumatic experience.

        Heck, even when I just had trouble functioning for what I think may have been just one day after the particular event that I’m thinking of right now — something that I experienced less than a year ago — when I kept thinking about it and being brought to the verge of tears, kept feeling really upset over what had happened, kept replaying it in my head — I considered the experience traumatic. It was just a bad memory after a day or maybe two… it stopped being a real trauma fairly quickly, and so I know it’s not the worst type of trauma I could’ve had to endure, of course not. But it was some kind of trauma. I was pretty sure of that. It was intense and emotionally painful and what else should I call it? I feel like in the English language, “Trauma” may be the best word for that kind of a thing.

        It’s a lot less than what the majority of rape survivors have to endure, a less-than-typical amount of emotional/mental distress caused by rape, but it’s still something that seems like a form of trauma.

        So while yes we can and should talk about non-traumatic rape experiences, but we should also not be afraid of discussing the many varying ways that trauma itself can manifest, and how trauma itself can have its own gray areas as well. “Trauma” is a very broad word. Not all people who experience trauma have PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) or any other extreme, lingering aftereffects. I don’t know.

        • Siggy says:

          I was thinking of trauma as PTSD or other prolonged negative psychological symptoms. I am open to the possibility that it might be better to speak of my experience as simply being a different kind of trauma.

          I have also had a couple of experiences with sexual assault which were not traumatic even in the broader sense, so I am still in favor of non-traumatic narratives.

          • Elizabeth says:

            (In response to your comment below re: minimization, since we’ve hit the nesting limit.)

            Right, I totally understand. Some of my experiences have also been like that. I was more thinking about the initial coping period than long-term, and relating it to my own experiences. There are so many established narratives (or political rhetoric) that this kind of thing always risks falling into… and they’re not right, and they chafe. I’m not sure how to avoid those traps either, but I agree that I’d like a better way to talk about it, too.

            Talking about myself only here… I certainly experienced dissociation and emotional numbing about several of my experiences. Some of them were and are still very painful, but others are even to this day, just… nothing to me. I don’t feel like it’s minimizing, like there’s anything to suppress. Even if it’s a coping mechanism to feel that way, it actually makes me feel worse when people suggest that I must not “really” feel that way.

        • Sennkestra says:

          I think trauma is a word that’s overused to mean two different things (and I have a bad habit of this myself, and probably did it in my comments already): While trauma is meant to be used to refer specifically to lasting long-term negative affects beyond the natural immediate reactions like grief, pain, fear, anger etc; it’s also watered down more generally to just refer to anything that caused upset. I think there is good reason to argue that these should be distinguished though – white it’s normal to be upset or saddened or angry after many experiences, those emotions should eventually pass as you heal emotionally and mentally. With trauma, people are unable to heal, and the ongoing upset/sadness/anger/fear/flashbacks/whatever has a serious negative impact on their ability to move on with life and do things they might otherwise enjoy and want to do. And that difference between ordinary passing negative reactions and long-term trauma is important in trying to reduce harm.

          The trick is just how to say “that short term distress is not the same as long term trauma” without implying “there was no distress”, which is what calling things “non-traumatic” is often interpreted as. (it’s not always easy, because language is way too complicated and messy)

        • Elizabeth says:

          It may be worth bringing Rape Trauma Syndrome into this discussion to be a little more specific. Crying spells for two weeks does match the description of the acute stage, and there very well may have been an outward adjustment phase that didn’t include severe distress or mental disturbance—just mostly minimization or suppressing what happened.

          I know I went through both of those, and the “outward adjustment” stage lasted for about two years—it was to the point that when I finally got diagnosed with PTSD, the therapist who diagnosed me tacked on a “with delayed onset” to my diagnosis. But I think that was erroneous, because I only appeared to be functioning well during that time.

          The key point I want to make though is that RTS and PTSD are not the same thing, even though the symptoms overlap and many survivors have both. It’s very possible to have the acute stages without the long-term distress. And I agree with Sennkestra that “trauma” is a very broad term that’s used to mean… actually not just two, but many different things—including physical wounds, when it’s in a context like a hospital.

          • Siggy says:

            Part of the reason I don’t like framing or thinking of my experience in terms of trauma is because I don’t like how people assume suppression or minimization on my part. It’s sort of like saying, my happiness is a delusion and I should be less happy. Or, it’s like taking a less bad experience, and using it as still more evidence that rape is always super bad.

            Minimization suggests treating it as less of a deal than it “really” is. But how big a deal it really is depends recursively on my feelings about it. Perhaps I was able to cope successfully by minimization, but then it hardly seems like true minimization anymore. There has to be a better way to talk about it than this.

  4. Sennkestra says:

    I think that in general, talking about alcohol, it’s effects, and the risks of alcohol culture are really important conversations that need to happen but are maybe avoided because of fears of being seen as victim blaming. Alcohol is kind of the elephant in the room. Like, increased risk of sexual assault on college campus has over and over again been linked to excessive alcohol consumption and the places (esp frats and sororities) that encourage it. But it can be taboo to ever imply that we need to restrict or discourage drinking culture to help reduce rape culture, because it can be seen as victim blaming. It’s a fine line that trying to fight rape culture has to tread – you want to prevent rape, but implying that rape risk is preventable or reducible is often seen as implying that people who are raped did something wrong, which is victim blaming and not okay. But when this removes tools and information that people can use to empower themselves to prevent becoming victims in the first place it’s doing more harm than good. It’s admittedly a tricky balance to find. But I think it’s possible, and worth working towards.I think of it as something like gun control maybe – one tactic is to stop people from trying to shoot other people, but another equally valid concurrent approach is to also take away the tools that make it easier – and this also reduces the risk of unintended shootings as well.

    I also think it would help to have practical discussion of how to navigate sexual encounters when drinking, because we can tell people till we’re blue in the face that they shouldn’t drink, or shouldn’t have sex when drunk, but practically speaking that will never stop the people who like to drink and then also like to have sex. With the levels of social drinking in society (which aren’t going away), and the tendency for people to hookup in places like bars and clubs where alcohol is served, drunk sex is going to be a thing, and we need a way to figure out what separates a mutually enthusiastic and enjoyable encounter from an encounter with lopsided or one-sided interest; and where the bar is between buzzed and incapacitated. I’m probably not the best person for figuring that out, since I don’t have sex and almost never drink, but it’s clear that there’s a need.

    • Siggy says:

      I totally agree that alcohol is the elephant in the room. This is unfortunate since I think ignoring it makes our political messaging less effective. People who have drunk hookups are at pretty high risk of raping/being raped, so we should be able to communicate with these people. Lots of gray areas will be immediately apparent to people who drink a lot–we need to deal with those gray areas. Lots of these people may have already had experiences with sexual assault or rape, but don’t recognize them as such–we need to deal with that cognitive dissonance.

  5. Sennkestra says:

    Re: the nocebo effect, I don’t know if I’ve seen any formal investigation into it in adults (though I’ve read a lot of speculation), but I know that there’s discussion in conversations about children of the how risk of how the reactions to sexual abuse can cause more trauma than the abuse itself sometimes. Parents are often advised to try and stay calm and if they find out a child has been abused, because while the child may not have known enough about the abuse to realize it was supposed to be bad or be upset by it, if they see their parents getting upset and crying about it then they can easily internalize that upset, just making the potential trauma worse. And there is some evidence that repeatedly being interviewed by court official or psychologists about the experience can increase the risk of trauma and negative impact.

    So I think it’s definitely worth considering whether emphasizing the trauma and horribleness of rape and encouraging more people to think of themselves as raped is actually doing long-term good or harm, and to who. (Like, encouraging people who had seemingly consenting but drunk sex to think of it as rape or seek criminal prosecution might be a positive for rape culture activists and “the movement” in general, but what about it’s net effect on the individual in question?)

    • There’s actually a solid academic literature on the topic of “rape acknowledgement” with adults (i.e., someone coming to recognising that a situation where they experienced forced or coerced sexual contact or a sexual happened when someone was too drunk to consent was an act of sexual assault or rape). [I don’t know much about childhood sexual abuse from an academic side– what I know about I’ve learned from listening to the people in my life who’ve experienced it and who talk about how recognising the abuse as abuse was important for them.]

      I don’t want to get into details about sexual violence acknowledgement because yes it’s complicated and yes different things work for different people, but very broad strokes, it is generally a positive thing long-term for the people who have experienced sexual assault and/or rape to come to acknowledge their experiences as sexual assault and/or rape. It’s positive in psychological terms and it’s positive in terms of vulnerability to being sexually assaulted in the future (with people who have not acknowledged their experiences as sexual assault being much more likely to experience more sexual assault). At the same time, not acknowledging rape or sexual assault can also be a coping/survival strategy for some people in ongoing situations of abusive relationships with regular sexual assault. Acknowledgement is an important process, and it’s one that people need to go through on their own terms– whatever that means.

      This isn’t all theoretical (certainly not for the people who live it) and when people name sexual violence as violence, it’s not a matter of “rape culture advocates” pushing something for the good of “the movement” with no regard to the impact on real people.

      Having said that, the issue of acknowledging sexual violence is totally separate from the issue of criminal prosecution and reporting assaults to police or legal authorities. Coming to acknowledge sexual violence as violence is generally a positive thing in the long-term, but participating in the legal “justice” system… often not so much.

      But trying to keep people from acknowledging that their experiences were sexual violence in order to protect people from the trauma of the “justice system” is really messed up and shouldn’t happen. (Nobody actually suggested that– I’m just heading that off.)

      Nobody should be pushing anyone to report sexual violence to authorities. And I don’t see how that could possibly be any good to “the movement” (unless we are thinking of drastically different things by “the movement”)

      (Of the many “rape culture activists” I’ve met, I have yet to meet even one who would push anyone toward legal reporting– so that argument, which nobody has actually made yet, is spurious anyway.)

      • Siggy says:

        Right, my impression is that the people who push for reporting sexual violence to authorities are not the activists. It comes more from people who oppose sexual violence but aren’t much educated about it or actively fighting it. And also–unfortunately–from people who are being plain disingenuous and trying to question whether the incident really happened if you didn’t report it.

        Part of the problem is that whenever rape culture hits the news, it’s almost always related to a particular criminal accusation. So if you weren’t committed to learning about it through other means, you might think that opposing rape is all about more criminal justice. I have issues with this since I’m very pro-criminal-rights.

        • Yeah, I’ve definitely seen people accused of sexual violence demanding that the survivors go to police and prove their allegations in court– demand that as a way of silencing survivors. It’s really hard to oppose that kind of thing in a context that accepts the legitimacy of the “criminal justice” system.

          I wouldn’t approach things from a “criminal-rights” perspective myself because that still assumes that people should be criminalised for certain things and, more importantly, also presumably sent to prisons. I think there are bigger problems with the prison industrial complex than issues of criminal rights. But that’s another story.

          It’s a bit of an odd conversation to come up from the topic of sexual violence though, because the vast majority of people convicted of “crimes” are *not* convicted of sexual violence, and the vast majority of people who commit sexual violence never face any kind of legal trouble for it.

          At the same time, the issue of sexual violence in communities is a really big one. There’s a lot of that in some of my offline communities (not the ace one fortunately). People talk about restorative/transformative justice and stuff like that, but nobody really knows how to go about it and we don’t have structures in place for it anyway. Most of what I’ve seen has been communities just not dealing with violence or dealing really badly. I don’t really know what do to about that though. (And nobody else seems to know either.)

  6. epochryphal says:

    “I drank heavily because I was hoping something would happen. So when something actually happened, it was clearly my fault.”

    Same. Oh, same.

    Sennkestra mentions fandom and dubcon/noncon kink, and. Well. I’m a huge defender of those, and the easiest route is to say “it helps survivors process!” When really, it’s hard to say if I had PTSD yet, but it would’ve been from (acephobic and sex-tinged) bullying, not sexual assault, when I first got into the stuff.

    And maybe it damaged more than did good? It was an outlet, but maybe a self-destructive one? And hard to tell whether it specifically was seized on by my OCD brain, or if something similar would’ve been picked up regardless.

    A few years ago, before I was calling my experiences abuse/rape, I read a fic where one character had a noncon kink and was asking for consensual roleplayed help because she was scared she would go to a bar and get drunk and purposefully have unwanted sex.

    That struck a giant chord.

    It’s all so damn messy.

    I’ll still fight for noncon/dubcon fics as important, and they do help me process. There also needs to be more talk about sex as self-harm.

    And, again years ago, I talked a lot about how I needed alcohol to loosen my inhibitions to engage in sex, but because that was the purpose of why I was drinking and I consented beforehand, it was valid. I was fiercely defensive about my right to do that. Nowadays, I dunno, I think it messed me up but I wouldn’t have listened, and it really was the only way I felt ok with sex. Which I was determined to have, to get it out of the way. And yeah I would not’ve listened to someone pointing out those red flags.

    Anyway. All this to add complications. *throws confetti*

    • epochryphal says:

      Ah – sorry to derail. Compulsive sharing. Very much lots of support to you, Siggy. And thank you.

    • Siggy says:

      I find dubcon kind of scary because I wonder if people think it’s legitimate consent. With m/m, a lot of dubcon comes in the form of erection = consent, and that’s a myth that most people really believe. I regularly encounter confusion by the idea of male victims of rape being made to penetrate. Noncon doesn’t bother me so much though.

      I’ve heard a few aces on AVEN and elsewhere who wanted to drink to reduce inhibitions and maybe have sex. I don’t really know what I could say that would help, so I just tell them to be careful about the risks.

  7. demiandproud says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful and nuanced post!

    Not having had sex, consensual or otherwise, I’m not really comfortable contributing to the discussion. But since I did update and expand my knowledge of sexuality and sexual behaviours and the discussion thereof in part through YouTube videos, and it can be a powerful teaching aid, here’s two recs:

    Tea and consent, found on Upworthy: http://www.upworthy.com/dont-know-what-consent-is-let-this-animation-of-a-cup-of-tea-clear-it-up-for-you?c=tpstream
    Laci Green’s video on consent: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TD2EooMhqRI

    …and I’m hoping that’s useful, in case you want to talk about the difference between consensual and nonconsensual sex sometime, especially in an educational setting or blog post.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    A lot of aspects of your experiences are quite similar to mine, even though the whole picture looks really different. I went back to my perpetrator more than once, and although we never officially “dated” or anything, there was still some sort of ambiguous… thing. I never really planned or agreed to lose my virginity to him… but I couldn’t recognize that as rape because it didn’t register as traumatic. And I guess I sort of had wanted to try it eventually? But not in that way. But as far as I was aware, I had consented, so I didn’t even think about whether or not it might “count” as non-consensual in any way. It wasn’t until much later that I had an experience that I recognized as rape (even though I immediately discounted it and blamed myself because I didn’t know about tonic immobility).

    I don’t know. I can’t really explain the reasons I kept trying to continue the relationship. It just felt like it had to be done. Like it simply wasn’t over yet, if that makes sense.

    I think it’s really important to acknowledge that sometimes, the perpetrator is the easiest person to turn to for support. He’s the only other person who already knows, and no one else is guaranteed to understand. He may be one of the few people who can understand other aspects of your life, like your feelings towards religion. Sometimes he may even be really good at being comforting, when he wants to be.

    But all of those things are things that people assume anyone who is a rapist can’t possibly be. Because you know, monsters. So they are used to discount survivors’ stories.

    So I think acknowledging that sort of thing, talking about our own experiences if and when we can, is one of the best things we can do to change perceptions, reduce rape culture, and hopefully make spaces more welcoming to survivors.

    There was something else I wanted to say, but I forgot what it was. Meh. Maybe it’ll come back to me later.

  9. maralaurey says:

    My first thought for how to support survivors is really just for people to listen. I feel like the way rape is talked about and dealt with in survivor spaces is much better and so different to general society, which probably goes without saying but even so. The problem with getting people to listen to survivors is that we need the general view to be changed before it’s safe for a lot of survivors to speak, which creates a bit of a pickle. I’m not sure what can be done about that other than just hoping that there are people brave enough to add their voices.

    The main way I think people can support survivors, though, as I think has already been mentioned — is to stop seeing rapists as monsters. That not only is untrue and allows ‘good’ people to avoid thinking about their own actions, but it also creates a sort of righteous anger in a lot of people that is uncomfortable and painful to see and isn’t safe for a lot of survivors.

  10. Pingback: I wouldn’t have listened to myself | The Ace Theist

  11. Hollis says:

    A lot of what you’ve said have resonated with my experiences. Because for the longest time, I didn’t count (either) experience as a sexual assault because I wasn’t really traumatized*. Especially the second assault, I didn’t have really any negative feelings about it–it was more “okay please stop. no really, stop. okay you’re not going to stop so I’ll just lay here until you stop and we can go back to doing something I’ll actually enjoy thanks. finally you stopped.” And afterwards, I kind of wrote it off as “i enjoyed xy but not z” and minimized the part where I told the person I didn’t want to do z, mentally, but I had had a good enough time with x and y that I hooked up with that person again.

    The first experience with sexual assault took me a long time to recognize/process as assault because it was easier to not classify it that way. But it was. And I still minimize it sometimes, because it was “only” assault, like that asshole was decent enough to know that actually trying to have intercourse would have been rape, but still thought what he did was okay. And if he even remembers that night, he’ll still think what he did was okay. And that’s what really gets me.

    *I’ve come to realize that well, I might actually be a little traumatized from the first assault. But it might just be that I’m more sex-repulsed than I first thought because it seemed easier to be sex-favorable and I didn’t want to be repulsed by sex. Or being assaulted made me more repulsed. But that’s a rabbit hole that I’m not interested in going down.

  12. Pingback: Ace Survivors as Rhetorical Devices (part three): The One True Narrative of Sexual Violence Against Aces | The Asexual Agenda

  13. Pingback: The One True Narrative of Sexual Violence Against Aces

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  15. Blake says:

    So, I was molested by a man when I was a child. The man is best friends with the man who raised me. I never thought what he did to me affected me. I’ve been fighting drug addiction and mental illness for the last few years. Therapists have tried to get me to open up on this topic. But I just never felt the need to. For the last six months I’ve been experiencing an energy shift and the old stuck energy is sort of being tossed up in the air. Im not sure if this experience has impacted me, or what I could even do about it. I guess I just saw this, and thought I could at least vent.

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