Asking Permission in a Rape Culture

When I was 17, I was nearly raped. It is not something I discuss often as I feel I am mostly to blame for the incident. From the moment, it happened I looked back on it thinking that I was naïve and stupid and that’s why I should not say anything about it. With everything going on in the news both in Canada with Jian Ghomeshi and in the United States with Bill Cosby, I thought it was time to talk about this.

I didn’t decide to wake up in the middle of the night and write a post on rape. I was inspired by my son. Will came into the room tonight, exhausted and half-asleep. My husband was out and more than half of our king size bed was empty. Still, Will waded his way through clothes, a dog, two computers and some empty water bottles to find my side of the bed in the dark. I was almost asleep as I heard a light whisper of “Mom, can I sleep with you?”.

As he climbed into bed, he settled on Chris’ side of the bed and nestled in for the night. That was until about half an hour later when he woke me up by poking my shoulder and asked “is it okay if I cuddle with you?”. I said yes and he nestled his warm back against mine and reached his hand down to hold mine.

Then it struck me. Why does a 6 year old boy behave in this manner when many men do not? What happens in life that boys ask to cuddle in non-sexual ways as children and then become men who don’t ask for consent to perform sexual acts mere years later?

What happened to me has happened to many women or in my case girls. I was on a non-school sanctioned ski trip with girls from my all-girl high school and boys from the catholic school across town. In Quebec, you can drink at 18. We all had very badly made fake I.D.s but in that time and I suspect now most of the bars in Quebec City didn’t care.

My parents were extremely hesitant to let me go. They worried about what would happen but my stubborn nature took over and they figured life would be hell on earth if they didn’t let me go. Thus they finally agreed. On one of the first nights of the trip, we all sat in a pub drinking. I remember feeling mature and like I had gotten away with something. I had no idea what would happen next.

A boy I hardly knew sat next to me and told me he thought I was beautiful. I was smitten. I was a pudgy teenager who was used to being told I had nice eyes and then looked over for the other girls who were thinner, taller and at that time covered in fake tans. I hope that last part doesn’t hold true for high schoolers anymore. The boy sat with me for about an hour and then told me he had forgotten something at the hotel and asked me to walk back with him to get it. That was the last time he would ever ask my permission for anything.

As we entered the hotel room, I stood at the door and waited. He told me it would take a minute and to just come in and sit on the bed. Red flags went off in my head but I didn’t want to embarrass myself and entered the room. The mistake this boy made next proved to be what saved me. He turned on music. Very loud music. Again you think this would have been time to leave but I sat on the bed waiting for him still. He also shut the door but apparently didn’t shut it all the way.

What happened next is probably a tale many women could tell. He pinned me down and despite my protestations attempted to rape me. There was no foreplay. No moments of romance beforehand. Just groping hands while his body weight pinned down my shoulders and legs. I cried and yelled repeatedly for him to stop. He didn’t.

Then, out-of-nowhere, I was saved. He had managed to remove my shirt and bra and had ripped my pants. As I looked up, I saw two people standing in the room. I made eye contact with one, who immediately shut off the music and the boy got up and left. These strangers looked at me half-naked and said “Sorry the music was so loud we thought this was a party”. I quickly gathered my clothes and ran in the bathroom. I distinctly remember my reflection to this day. My breasts were red from the aggressive groping and pulling, my eyes were swollen from crying and my cheeks were stained with tears. I put my clothes on and headed back to my room.

When my three friends returned later that night from the bar, I learned he had simply returned to the bar and kept drinking. When one friend asked where I was, he told them I had gone to sleep. No further questions were ever asked.

The next morning, I told my friends what had happened. I had a bite mark on my neck and scratches on my body. They told me I couldn’t tell anyone or we would all be forced to go home and the trip would be canceled. In my mind, I knew I wouldn’t tell anyone anyways as I was far too embarrassed and felt I was completely at fault.

My parents had raised me to be strong willed and independent. I felt like I had let them down. Instead of making a great decision, I made a series of very bad ones that led to the event. Was it my fault? No but it sure felt like it back then.

Throughout my life, similar events have occurred but never again to that extent. Still, there have definitely been things done without consent or respect for the words “no” or “not yet”. So am I shocked that established women in our society, some lawyers like myself, are now coming out and saying they were raped in the past? No. I have three university degrees and never fessed up to this or any other event until now.

What happen to the boy? He went to university, got married and had children. I sometimes see his comments on a mutual friends’ Facebook page. That’s right, my friends stayed friends with him. No one ever asked me about it again and until now I have only told a few trusted people what happened.

So to whomever marries my son or has sexual encounters with him in the future, I ask only that you respect him the way he currently respects me. He is a sensitive boy whose looks and unending growth spurts will soon transform him into an attractive teenager. I promise to keep an eye on him and teach him about consent and respect. He has an excellent role model of a father who was one of only a few men to expressly ask my permission before we had sex. We together will raise him to do the same. If, god forbid, he strays from these lessons, I ask that you tell me or tell anyone for that fact. I promise you will be heard.


7 Comments on this post

  1. What an honest and moving piece. Thank you for sharing this. I have two teenagers, a boy and and a girl, and this topic is absolutely on my mind. Rape culture is insidious.

    Sarah / Reply
  2. Sarah,
    You and I have more in common than our mutual love of travel and social media.
    No one was present in a neighborhood field when an older boy impacted my childhood forever. I don’t like to talk about my past either, but not talking about such situations gives the memories more power than they deserve. I’ve always wished a stranger would have happened by that day.

    But one never did,.

    We’ve both suffered in our own ways, but the past hasn’t derailed my present. Like you, I’ve carried on and I spend every day trying to be a good parent and husband. I’m glad we met, Sarah. You’re a good egg. (I hope you’re smiling fight now.)

    Be well, my friend, and thank you.

    The Hook / Reply
  3. Thank you for being brave enough to tell your story. I had something very similar happen to me, except for the fact that it was in my own dorm room and no strangers (or roommates) were there to help me. That was about five years ago now. Thankfully things have been changing and rap culture on campus is all over the news. At the time it happened I didn’t even know about rape kits or the fact that you could report a sexual assault to the university. I just thought, “I have no proof so no one will believe me”, especially since I invited him into my room. Thanks for being brave enough to share your story. Hopefully someday I’ll be brave enough to share mine with my name attached.

    Thanks Sarah / Reply
  4. I read your post all the way. You are right, it’s not your fault. It’s a shame nowadays that you can get raped and never protest about rape. People will always think it’s your fault and that’s ridiculous! I am not a mother yet but I learned so much from my mom who raised my three brothers alone. It’s tough, most especially for a single mother.

    Not everyone can share life experiences like this without editing what they wrote or sugar-coating. You did a great job and I really love how you write. I will be bookmarking your website!

    Trisha Velarmino / Reply

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