Not Rape

Last week, I came across an essay written by a woman named Latoya Peterson that focused on the issue of “Not Rape” (I highly recommend reading the piece before reading the rest of my post. I cannot do it justice and it really is a wonderful piece of writing). It discussed statutory rape issues, many of which I agree with, but the part that really struck me was when Latoya told of her own experience with “Not Rape.” We all know what rape is. And we know that when rape occurs, we should (though many, many of us don’t) report it. We know that there is evidence left behind. Whether it is bruises, tearing of the vaginal or anal opening, or semen, the rape can be investigated.
But what about Not Rape? What about all of those sexual assaults and harrassments that take place constantly in this society? Are we supposed to report those? How do we know that what happened was really wrong? It didn’t technically qualify as “rape.” There was no penetration, no evidence. So what do you do? Do you blame yourself? Do you tell someone? Do you keep quiet? Rape-culture is shame-filled. It shames women into silence. If most women don’t even report their rapes, what are the chances that they will report their Not Rapes?
Latoya helps to define Not Rape with these examples:
“Not rape was being pressured into losing your virginity in a swimming pool pump room to keep your older boyfriend happy.

Not rape was waking up in the middle of the night to find a trusted family friend in bed with you – and having nightmares about something that you can’t remember during the daylight hours.

Not rape was having your mother’s boyfriends ask you for sexual favors.

Not rape was feeling the same group of boys grope you between classes, day after day after day.

Not rape was being twelve years old, having a “boyfriend” who was twenty-four and trading sex for free rides, pocket money, Reeboks, and a place to stay when your mother was tripping.”

It’s taken me a really long time to acknowledge and accept the fact that I was Not-Raped. That I was sexually assaulted. Because at the time, I didn’t have a word for it. I knew it was wrong, I knew I was violated, but I didn’t know how to deal with it. I knew that if I was raped I should report it. But this wasn’t rape. I knew this person. I had to see him every day.

When I was a Freshman in college, I passed out in a room full of people hanging out and drinking. The room belonged to my boyfriend’s best friend. I woke up (I have no idea how long I was passed out) and my pants were at my knees and the guy was fingering me. I left, ran upstairs and told my boyfriend what had happened. He didn’t believe me.

I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t “raped.” I had no proof. I was wasted. It had to be my fault. I was the one that got drunk and passed out in some guy’s room. And worse, even my boyfriend didn’t believe me. What is there to do when even your boyfriend thinks you are lying? And so I never talked about it again.

What’s ironic is that a year or so later, after I broke up with but remained friends with, that boyfriend, he saved me from being raped by another one of his friends. We were at a party at my apartment, and his friend followed me into the bathroom and tried to kiss me. I turned him down because I was seeing someone at the time and that someone was in the other room. The next weekend, that someone was out of town and we had another party at my apartment. The guy followed me into my room, shut the door, pinned me on the bed and growled, “Where’s your boyfriend to save you now?” Right at that moment, the ex-boyfriend that didn’t believe me the first time happened to come looking for me and his friend jumped up like nothing was going on.
Again, nothing technically happened. He never had the chance to grope me. He never penetrated me. It was Not Rape. But it was still a violation. I still curled up and sobbed and felt dirty. Again, who do you tell? His friends wouldn’t believe me. I would have been accusing TWO of their friends of sexually assaulting me. At that point, it would look like I was either a) a liar or b) a drunk slut who didn’t want people to know that I had actually hooked up with these people.
I still wouldn’t report either of these incidents if they happened again today. The grey areas are just so complicated. I have no proof. It’s more trouble than it’s worth. But it’s that shaming that rape-culture fosters that makes us hesitant to report not just our sexual assaults and our Not Rapes, but our rapes. And until we aren’t ashamed anymore, and until we can stand up and say this was NOT my fault, this is NOT okay, and you cannot continue to treat me/us this way, men will continue to sexually take advantage of women. Our society teaches men that it’s okay to take from women what they want. And because no one stops them and because “little” things like these Not Rapes are not talked about, they continue to happen.
It’s not okay. It’s never okay. And it’s never been okay.
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  1. ~art
    Posted December 30, 2008 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Sorry you have gone thru all of this. I do understand as I was molested when I was young and being a guy….well… just don't tell. Your boyfriend should have kicked their ass though.

  2. SCAmsey
    Posted December 30, 2008 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Very well said. It's such a prominent issue, and it never gets the publicity and exposure that it duly requires. It takes a lot to talk about issues like this, especially when you've experienced them first hand. I applaud you.

  3. April
    Posted December 30, 2008 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I am truly sorry that you, Latoya, or any other women have to experience this.

    I want to write how I feel about this, but I'm having a hard time putting it in words that don't make me sound like I'm heartless or ignorant. So, I'm just going to say that I'm glad you were able to get it out and I'm sorry that it happened to you. And leave it at that.

  4. Anonybrit
    Posted December 30, 2008 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    The problem is compounded, howewever, by the fact that there are some women who say yes at the time, then wish they hadn't, then wish that they had said no and then convince themselves that in fact they did say no and then cry rape or assault when it is entirely unjustified.

    The fact that this does happen makes administering the justice system in these cases a real minefield.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Nooo what about teh menz! Give me a break. Rapes have false reports at the same rate as all kinds of crime, and yes doesn't mean yes when someone is threatened or coerced.

  6. Britni TheVadgeWig
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Anon: Yes, there are false reports. Just like there are false reports regarding other crimes as well. But I'm not quite sure I see your point. The fact that there are false rape reports filed in no way takes away from the wrongness, violation, and emotional damage that a rape or sexual assault or sexual harassment has on a person. Yes, men can be sexually harassed or assaulted or raped as well as women, but it is a rarer occurrence. I, personally, am a woman and so I speak from my experience with sexual assault.

    So, I'm not sure I follow your point with that comment.

  7. eva
    Posted January 4, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    your blog is getting better and better, britni, i'm in awe of your courage. i have so many friends, including men, who has been raped and Not Raped, some of the stories i've heard has been truly chilling and it's been heartbreaking to see how much it can influence people, years and years later. i find it so fucked up that a lot of men actually start fingering & having sex with girls who are asleep. this is not the first time i've heard about it. rapists are pathetic.

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