Archives for category: Volume 1 Issue 1 Spring 2012

I’m a guy. Sexual violence, sexual assault, rape — that can’t happen to a man, can it? It can’t. That’s what I’ve been told by the media and my peers. Men can’t be raped.

Not true in the least.

Let’s go back to my freshman year. I’m scared, lonely, depressed. I feel unwanted. Not to mention that “friends” from back home keep asking me whether or not I’ve slept with anyone yet. I keep saying no. They question my masculinity.

But then I meet a girl. She seems nice. She talks to me at least. Makes me feel wanted. That’s a good thing? She invites me to a party. That night, when she picks me up, she’s already drunk. I can tell by the smell on her breath and her awkward stumbling. We go to the
party. I drink a few. My first time drinking in college. My first time drinking ever. I feel drunk. She invites me back to her room. I figure, why not? I’m excited. Yet…more so scared. But I’m a guy. I can’t show fear or apprehension.

We kiss. Some clothing comes off. But then I’m feeling even more scared. I’m nervous. I’ve never done anything with a girl before. She keeps going. Taking off more clothing. She starts working her way down. I tell her to stop. But she doesn’t. No. Please. I’m not ready for
that. I don’t want that. I barely know you. She doesn’t listen.

It took me a whole year before I became comfortable enough with myself even to think about trying to meet a girl again.

If someone says “No” — whether it’s a girl or a guy — NO means NO. Guys can be victims of sexual violence. Just because the traditional view of rape portrays men as rapists does not mean that men cannot be raped.

Please know that it’s not easy as a guy to say that you were raped. I tried telling a guy friend of mine about it once. He laughed it off. I tried telling a female friend about it. She thought I was joking, since “men can’t be raped.”

Anyone can rape. And anyone can be raped. Please remember that.

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To my friend’s rapist, 

How could I not have suspected you? Maybe because you just didn’t look, act, or smell like a Rapist to me. You don’t lounge in dark alleys. You’re not a gang member. You’re not a crazy drunkard.

I remember how I found out. It was past midnight in her room. She was perched on the chair, I on the bed. “Did he,” I hesitated, “sexually take advantage of you?” I was too chicken to say it. Measuring her words carefully, she murmured the memory, letting the words roll off her tongue. She was not looking at me. Listening, I felt my mouth go dry, my body rigid. I sat frozen. She hugged me and smiled. “Don’t feel bad for me, Maggie.” At the time, I didn’t realize.

A few days after she told me what happened, I went online and searched “rape” on Google. It is defined in Massachusetts by three elements:
• Penetration of ANY orifice by ANY object,
• Force or threat of force, and
• Sexual contact against the will of the victim.

So. Under Massachusetts state law, you belong in jail. But under Amherst regulation, you should just take some time off.

For months afterwards, I felt betrayed. I felt ill at ease. I feared for my safety. I wanted to kill you, actually. But I kept seeing you in Val and kept acknowledging your presence with a nod or smile. I hate myself for having treated you so nicely.

You think that rape only affected my friend? It affected her whole circle too. We were all shaken and angry. How could something so terrible happen? Why didn’t we see it before? Isn’t rape recognizable?

Before this, I thought rape was horrible, nasty, sexual, a something that happens to some people in some faraway place, right? Just not here.

But it did. And it does.

It is more than you, rapist. It is more than my friend and me. It is more than her circle. It is in our very humanity to address, discuss, prevent, and raise awareness of sexual assault and rape.

It is beyond “women’s issues” or “gender issues.”

It is about being free and respected.

We have to take action and stand up for our humanity, our freedom of sexual expression, our right to exist without fear of sexual violence or control.

I do not want to have to write another one of these.

-MH

“That I would be raped during my time here.”

“I wish I’d have known that there are certain warning signs to look out for prior to sexual assault instances, especially in relationships (e.g., verbal/emotional abuse, anger problems, drinking/drugs).”

“That it affects many men as well.”

“That it is actually a frequent occurrence, systematically covered up by the school.”

“How can I confidently tell my friends to come and apply to Amherst if I know that the school has a culture of silencing survivors and applauding perpetrators?”

“I wish I had known how many people I was going to encounter who had been sexually assaulted.”

“The administration would have you believe that it doesn’t happen.”

“Never really thought about it… That’s probably a bad sign.”

“I thought rape/sexual assault wasn’t something that was very present in Amherst, but I now realize it’s just something that hasn’t been acknowledged as a problem until recently. I am glad this magazine will make us more aware.”

“I feel like there are so many survivors among us and that scares me. It also scares me to think about the suffering behind each seemingly happy and accomplished survivor and the pain he or she still goes through because of sexual abuse.”

“I think that rape/sexual assault occurs at Amherst and is usually kept under the rug. I think the perpetrators do not receive real life consequences; they just get a slap on the wrist one-year suspension. The people who are assaulted do not usually speak up about it because they blame  themselves or they did not realize they were sexually assaulted or raped.”

“It’s more common than most of us realize, and more hurtful than most of us can imagine.”

“As a PA, I know rape happens on campus, not just once in a blue moon but a few times every semester. I’ve tried to talk about raising awareness, being a voice for my peer-survivors, but the school, as an  institution with a reputation to uphold doesn’t want to hear it. We need to stand up for our fellow peers, for ourselves—and, while I’m not saying the school won’t do that—I think it’s time we took our sexual integrity into our own hands.”

As a community, do we take sexual violence seriously? How do we treat survivors of sexual assault as compared to survivors of physical assault? Do we respond to one form of violence more attentively than to the other? What do the questions we ask rape survivors indicate about our attitudes toward sexual violence? How can we improve our disciplinary hearing system?

I have spent a year crying over this
Four months in therapy
and pages of emo poetry
and I’m still not ready

Here I am, sitting across from the person who changed so many things and I can’t look him in the eye because if I do, there’s a good chance I’ll jump across the table and strangle him. I will watch as every ounce of life slowly squeezes out of him and see if he finally has the ability to feel. If he finally understands what it’s like to have someone top of you who doesn’t care about your body or your feelings or the scars their actions will leave.

But I don’t
because one hearing
is more than I can take
and these people
do not look kindly on assault.
Thankfully.
I have to be calm.
I have to answer concisely.
And under no circumstance can I be sarcastic.
“Why didn’t you leave him after the first incident?”
I don’t know. I was young and I didn’t know any better. I thought maybe it wasn’t real.

“Is it possible that what you thought was rape was actually begrudging consent?”
I said “no.” I know what consent is. Believe me.

“It’s been a year. What made you say something now?”
I know how long it’s been, but how much disrespect am I required to take? At what point do I stop forgiving and pretending this never happened?
I want him gone and I want him gone now.

Tears streaming from my face,
I have no way of knowing if anyone will believe me.
There are no witnesses.
There is no proof.
There is just my word—
against his right to plead the fifth.

His silence speaks volumes.

I had fully expected the sun to be gone the next morning. The world would be gray and mute; everything would be in faded values of black-and-white, like an old photograph that has spent too much time in the sun. I guess I was surprised when it wasn’t. The sun was still there, hell it was shining brighter than it had in months. Of course the one day I didn’t want it to be there, when I wanted clouds and rain and cool dampness, the world performed the opposite. It was at that moment that I broke down.

Hours spent numbly curled up on a mattress in a claustrophobic dorm room staring brokenly and blindly at the ceiling, finally made me crack.

I sprinted to my room. 100 meters away, just 100 meters away. Why was it so close?

Over time we develop a connection with our rooms, a feeling of purpose and security that creates the ‘homey-ness’ all humans crave. My room at that time was only temporary, two weeks and I’d be done with it. I purposefully had not developed a connection with it. The windows were clouded, the mattress was vile, the lighting dim; I spent as little time there as possible. I don’t know what I had expected when I burst through my door. My dog? My friends with open arms? Help? I don’t know, but I didn’t get any of them, just a pile of books, an unmade bed, and dirty clothes heaped on the floor. I guess I had expected my room to change as well.
One of my best friends in high school was abused by her boyfriend; she stayed with him for three years, never reported him to the police. She finally left him after he knocked up different girl. I’ll never find another guy like him… She’d said reminiscently after she ended it.

Sometimes bitches get slapped ‘round, long ‘s nobodies ‘s dead ‘s ‘lright. That’s what we’d always been told. That was reality. As a kid you get the belt or sapling branch to the knees for punishment, as woman you’ll get punches and kicks in your life. It happens. You just have to pray that you don’t end up on the local news. Ending up on the local news means you’re dead.

Four miles from my parent’s house, on a property that I used to run by every day, lived a young couple. I’d see them every now and then, they looked happy, and they looked like everyone else. About 10 months ago she ended up on the local news. He had shot her in the head. Dinner wasn’t on the table when he got home.

Last April, a man locked himself and his girlfriend in their doublewide, he had enough firepower to feed an African warlord. He was threatening to kill her and attack the elementary school down the road. A SWAT team was called in; after 6 hours of negotiating they got her out. She was beaten, bruised, and terrified. This didn’t end up on the local news.

Then I was back in the room with the bed and the white ceiling that were identical to the bed that I had been raped in and the ceiling that I had pleaded with. I am not on the news, I should be happy that I’m so lucky…I didn’t tell anyone, I closed my eyes, put on a forced smile, and headed to work. As I left I looked back into my room. The sun was still shining, my clothes were still strewn about, and my books were still neatly stacked…But I’m not lucky.

“Do you want some tea?” she asked with a smile.

“Oh, no, I’m so stuffed from dinner. Thank you.”

He was Tom, Tim if you liked. He was an English major, once a soccer player, his mother taught him to love the piano. He made her laugh, and his hands always felt warm tucked around her waist. Still, they had only been seeing each other for a couple of weeks, so there was no telling. Maybe it would last, maybe she would discard him–another pair of eyes to carry around in her little black purse.

His face was clear, the golden kind of tan with his skin stretched taught over his cheekbones. Whenever he broke into one of those grins, his whole face wore his laugh–especially his eyes, which gleamed blue from afar.

But the bedroom was always another thing. When he got up close to her face rings and lines circled around his eyes, sinking deeper and darker, mixing with his pupils till they shone that familiar black. Everything sunk deep into his sockets, shadows engulfing his face and hers like bits of sand whirred away from the best attended sandcastles into the unremitting ocean…

fucking penises.

She pulled him close to her chest so he wouldn’t see her wringing, wringing her eyes shut, wringing out the memories, the dreams, the flashing images. She flipped onto all fours.

“You like doggie, don’t you?”

“Yeah, it’s nice.”

It started again. With every phwump she felt the snot shake loose in her nostrils. it was dripping, then gushing out in chunks. phwump. phwump. phwump. phwump.

pleasedontpleasestopplease she mouthed the words–soundless–that she had mouthed since that night four years ago, the mucus mixed over her lips, opening and closing in thin lines, dripping, then running then drenching, covering her nose and mouth till she couldn’t breathe pleasedontpleasestopplease

He cummed. Thankfully. And it was over.

Tom, or Tim if you liked, leaned forward and hugged her around the stomach, out of breath. “Come here, let me give you a kiss.”

“Just going to get a tissue.”

“You always do that, it’s so cute.” He said touching his finger to the ball of her nose playfully.

“Oh, I’m fine, just a habit I guess.”

She looked into her bag to find them.

“When are we going to do it face to face? It would be so nice to see you and make love.”

She was standing still, looking deep in her little black mermaid’s purse, digging, searching….

“Yes, It would.”

This is unpleasant:
the mere presence of a penis
within ten feet of me.
If I don’t want it there, it makes me nervous.

Hyperaware with a shot of courage,
one foot on the ground and ready to run:
this is what it means to be a woman.
Never inconspicuous when I want to be,
Never relaxed and always alert.

Men take up more space than they realize.
(so much space)
It encroaches on mine.
It makes me shrink into myself,
because that is the only way I can think of to protect myself,
because any man, anywhere, could be a threat.

Language is crucial. The difference between “love” and “loved,” for example, is one that we all understand. The past tense connotates a finite process. If your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/gender-unidentified partner told you they loved you, it would mean they no longer love you. You would get that.

The difference between “yes” and “no” seems to be harder for some people in our culture. If someone tells someone else “no, we’re so not going to have sex tonight, buddy,” some people seem not to hear it. Or maybe they just think that because they are that persons’ husband/wife/priest/football coach/rando/date/frat boy, “no” means “yes” (and “yes” means “anal,” right?)

Then there are some words in our culture, which aren’t really defined correctly, or at all. Virginity has no medical definition. (Yeah, actually: No. Biological. Definition.) The concept of virginity didn’t really exist for men until recently. Hymens don’t break, they stretch; cherries aren’t “popped.” But seriously think about it for a sec: Does anal count? Oral? What if the girl doesn’t orgasm – does it still “count” then? What about lesbians? Huh. Are lesbians virgins? Doesn’t seem that way from my point of view… In America, the fetishization of virginity (think of the opening to Kids, and sexy school girl costumes, oh, and, um, promise rings…) is part of a larger puritan Christian push against birth control, abortion, and women’s control over their own bodies. Don’t credit me with this thought though, just read The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti. PS she spoke at Amherst last year and is amazing.

And then there’s rape. Google has a definition for rape, it’s just incorrect:

“The crime, committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with him, esp. by the threat or use of violence.”

I have two problems with this definition:

A) “by a man” – Rape can be committed by anyone on anyone. Just because a woman doesn’t have a penis doesn’t mean she can’t rape a man, or another woman. (I’ll get back to the penis thing in a moment.)

B) “sexual intercourse” – In reading more and more of both mainstream and feminist views on everything from Strauss-Kahn to Sandusky, I have come to notice that while the mainstream media reports on “scandals” like “sexual assault” they don’t seem to understand RAPE.

Rape is ANY non-consensual sexual activity between any two partners. It is not defined by a penis.

In the same way that it is problematic to characterize sex and virginity according to where the penis goes, it is problematic to define rape by what the rapist experiences. There is no difference between forcing anal, vaginal, or oral sex on a non-consenting other. All of those acts are equally rape. Period.

About a month ago, after 80 years, the FBI changed their definition of rape to read: “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Rape is not defined by the rapist, but by the survivor.

This is because rape is not just a legal definition. It is an act, or a series of acts, that happen to many, many, women, men and trans people. When someone is raped, all control is taken away from them. Afterwards, the victim of a rape feels that they still have no control, because they are afraid that it could happen again, or because they remember what it felt like to have no control. This is one of the reasons why rape is so emotionally traumatizing for survivors.

I use the terms “victim” and “survivor” to mean different things, different stages in the healing process. A victim is someone who is still in the mindset of seeking to regain the control lost during rape. A survivor is someone who has named their rape.

Naming (defining) is crucial in as an emotional act of regaining agency (power, control). The definition of rape is obviously important on many levels, as it is understood by authorities, by potential perpetrators of rape, etc., but the person who gains the most by understanding a broader definition of rape is someone who has been raped. They are the one who has to acknowledge, “I didn’t want this, but it happened to me against my will.” They have to understand that it doesn’t matter that the perpetrator was their husband/wife/priest/coach/rando/date/frat boy/frat brother/teammate.

Rape is not sex. Sex is a consensual act. Rape is an act of violence done by way of an activity that, if it were consensual, would be defined as sexual.

People don’t seem to understand this.

“We constantly talk about victims having sex with their perpetrator,” said Claudia J. Bayliff, project attorney for the National Judicial Education Program and a longtime advocate for victims of sex crimes. “We talk about children performing oral sex on their perpetrator, which suggests a consensual act and a volitional act. We use ‘fondled,’ ‘had sex with,’ ‘performed oral sex on’ — all those kinds of terms.”

Even the New York Times would rather write glossy euphemisms than have you read about Sandusky’s rape of a 10-year-old boy in a bathroom stall. It’s not fun or cool or sexy.

Instead of actually considering what rape means or looks like, people create basic assumptions, and then try to never think about it. This becomes a problem when we are faced with rapes that aren’t committed at gunpoint or by large men in dark alleyways. (And these are the norm; 80% of rapes are perpetrated by people the victim knows.) It’s easier for us to contemplate rape at gunpoint than date rape, or relationship rape, or one-night-stand rape, or ex-boyfriend rape. That doesn’t mean that those rapes are any less real, violent or traumatic.

I wrote this piece because no one LIKES to think about rape. It’s especially hard to talk about in the locker room, or your frat house. Unfortunately, as Penn State has shown us, it pervades those areas of our life. Rape crosses all social boundaries. Maybe it’s expected in a frat house, but not in a football locker room, or a conjugal bed. We don’t look for rape between teenage girls, or religious leaders and their congregants, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. We have to acknowledge that rape is a huge part of our culture. So while it’s uncomfortable and difficult to talk about, we need to have these conversations. None of us are exempt from this dialogue.

I feel alone
You feel cut to the bone
I want to feel love that has never happened
You want to forget pain that is all too real

I thought you were out of your mind
Even though you have always been kind
You just wanted to protect me
From the sick minds, prying eyes and impatient hands

You trusted them
But they didn’t give a damn
About anything but your body
And their fleeting pleasure

I am now out of my mind
Even though I have mostly been kind
Because I don’t understand why you still blame yourself
Why you have to hide your pain

And I am the only one who knows
That you suffered by hands you hadn’t chose
But you are not the only who knows
When what you want isn’t what goes

And how ugly intimacy can be
How many years later, you still do not feel free
The shame of being abused
The never-ending fear of darkness

I have now put myself to a task
To remove doubt from those who ask
If they did something wrong
And show them they were justified in trusting

And that the world we live in is harsher than it needs to be
I wish you could see
That it’s not your fault
That you are worth more than they would ever know

I feel overwhelmed and wonder
If the world will become free of survivors and perpetrators
And if we can trust each other
And comfortably express love without hurting each other