“I consider myself a tough-ass bitch, but I don’t know that I would come forward if I was ever so unlucky to be in the situation.”
I wrote those words in a comment on The Overcast editor Chad Pelley’s Facebook post about this article.
‘Wait, I’ve been sexually assaulted a bunch,’ I thought later that night.
It’s become so much a part of my lived experience as a woman in this society, so buried in my memory, that I barely remember it anymore. And I can’t think of a single female friend who hasn’t dealt with sexual assault, from the uninvited ass-grab all the way to violent rape.
Fortunately I was never raped or punched or choked – that’s part of why I can think it’s never really happened to me. And that’s so, so awful, because it has.
It will all sound rather familiar to most. 15 or 16 years old, at some all ages show in St. John’s, standing in a crowd when all of a sudden some guy comes up behind me and shoves his hand down the front of my pants.
All the times some men felt that just because we were in the same room, they could touch us. Our butts have been grabbed by so many strangers we couldn’t even begin to count. But our ability to evade such forms of sexual assault became a well-oiled machine quite quickly.
At shows, bars, and clubs we’d stick together. One eye on each other, one eye on our surroundings – intercepting, sliding in between a predator and our friend, the prey, circling away and around a room to find our safe spots.
Our favourite time of the night was when it got so late most people had already paired off and petered out – so we could revel in the open dance floor, in the freedom, and had bouncers to protect us from the aggressive ones waiting to pounce.
A friend has kicked a guy in the balls for me at least once, while I was too shocked to react. That’s the thing people seem to have trouble understanding, when something comes at you out of the blue, you rarely know what to do.
I had fingerprint bruises on my arm for a week from a man grabbing me to dance with him when I politely declined, then tried to get away. I worry he went on to find a woman who couldn’t pull away.
And the really close calls.
17 at the Red Cliff campground of Salmon Festival after way too many drinks; the last thing I remember was losing my friends. The next thing I knew I was pushing some guy off of me in a locked car, and he was not keen on letting me go.
In the struggle I found the lock and ran away, found my friends.
Then nothing. It didn’t even occur to us there was anything to be done. I actually felt like it was my fault for letting my guard down. Sigh.
A couple years later, in my shared residence room in Toronto.
One minute I’m just eating fries on my bed, the next my roommate’s gone out for a smoke and I’m fighting this guy whose name is actually Bhuppy (Boo-pee) off of me as he’s pinning me down and undoing my pants.
My roommate came back just as I was zipping my jeans back up and telling him to get the fuck. He did, and we talked about going to the police station down the street – but what was I going to do? My word against his? Needless to say there was no word.
He said it was my fault for being pretty. He was my roommate’s ex-boyfriend. She said, “That’s just how he is.” Oh dear.
A few years after that a Toronto police officer said it was a York University student’s fault for being raped, because she “dressed like a slut.” And this is where we get our rape culture, our victim blaming – our muzzled mouths.
The discourse has come a long way since then, with police officers now encouraging victims to come forward – both in the Jian Gomeshi case and the reports of sex workers being gang raped in St. John’s. But the road of reporting hasn’t gotten any easier.
It’s actually a wonderful thing we’re having this ugly, intimate conversation about sexual assault in the public domain. But when you look at the backlash and the statistics – only three out of every 1000 sexual assaults lead to conviction – can you see why so few women report it?
All this Jian Gomeshi stuff has me coming back to one horrifying thing: somewhere along the way women are taught that this is simply a part of life – no matter what man is touching us when we don’t want to be touched or emotionally shredding us when we deserve love and respect.
Gomeshi wrote that it was the woman’s fault for seeking the honour of his presence,and for being “jilted” when he took it away.
And we’re always told it’s our fault: for being too pretty, too drunk, too female.
But when it comes to sexual assault, it’s never our fault.
If you have questions or want to talk about any of these issues, you can call 1-800-726-2743. It’s the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre’s anonymous help line.