Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Woman Silenced or a Woman Scorned

Warning: This post is one of a very serious nature about a very serious and potentially controversial topic: Sexual assault. It is a personal account and I hope that through my sharing, there are others who feel like they need no longer be silent.

I recognize that, as someone living in a small community, this post may elicit some concern or some criticism. This is what I choose to share, no more. This is as far as I go, no further.

If your iPod got stolen, if your car got broken into, if you were involved in a barroom brawl, you would talk about it. You would complain to your friends that now you have to buy a new iPod, that your stereo was so nice and now you can't afford a better one, about how the fight started and ended and how everyone should see the other guy. Bad things happen. You can talk about it.

But not always. When a woman is subject to sexual assault or domestic violence, she is silent. Women make up excuses for why their significant other hit them, they contemplate all the reasons it may have been their fault that they had non-consensual sex. I was wearing a short skirt. I was flirting. I don't really remember what happened because I had been drinking, but maybe I did want it. A woman may feel more guilt for being a victim than the perpetrator feels for sexually assaulting a woman who did not consent.

Only a very small number of instances of sexual assault are reported. To speak up is to be scorned. A woman I know filed a complaint about sexual harassment in the workplace and not only has nothing come of it, people mumble and grumble about her stirring up trouble. There is also a question of what constitutes sexual assault? That would be sex without consent, right? But consent is this awful gray area. If a woman is blackout drunk, can she consent to sex?

I choose break the silence. I choose to speak. I will not speak in full detail, but it is a story shared by many women, many of my friends.

I enjoy drinking. A lot. It's probably awful, I started drinking in college, engaging in college binge drinking culture. I would drink copious amounts of alcohol on my weekend nights, waking up to horrible hangovers and a very patchy memory. It didn't stop when I graduated college, though. I work at a bar myself and hang out with other people who work in this industry and I'm not going to hide it, many, if not all of us, are alcoholics by some definition or another. We drink often and we drink a lot.

I can't count the number of times I have gotten carried away and consumed so much alcohol that I have been slurring my words, that I have blacked out, that I have vomited. It's an unacceptably large number, I assure you.

Not too long ago, I awoke in my bed with a throbbing headache, a dry mouth, and hardly any memory of the night before. On some mornings like this, I might chuckle to myself and think, “Must have been a good night.” but on that particular day I awoke feeling awful. It wasn't just my pounding head or my dehydration, nor was it the fact that I had fallen asleep face first in my pillow with my clothing still on. I had no idea how I had gotten home or when I had gotten home or what I had been doing for however many hours prior to having gone home. I did my best to recover, showering, drinking liters of water – then I went to work. In the afternoon I received a text message teasing about me and a man – I suddenly remembered that he and I had been talking – no – making out. Not someone I would choose to make out with, but we all make mistakes. Then I got more and more teasing. Friends texting, friends who dropped by.

Then I got a message on facebook that said, “I know.” and I was confused. Was this like a teen slasher flick? You know what I did last summer and now you are going to kill me? I didn't get an answer, which was strange, but I have a lot of friends who smoke a lot of pot, so I don't consider any interaction too weird.

On Monday I got a phone call from one of my best friends. She asked if there was something I wanted to tell her and I was again frustrated that everyone seemed to know about my making out with this guy. I responded with, “Oh, about making out with [man's name]? I figured everyone already knew.” She was quiet for a moment and said, “What I heard was not making out, Melissa, what I heard was much worse. Did you?” “Did I what, have sex with him? No. Is that what he is saying?”

But then I thought about that night and I realized that I didn't have any recollection of having sex with this person, but had I possibly had sex with this person? I concentrated as hard as I could and managed to piece together a few more vague memories, patches, here and there. I told my friend I didn't want to talk about it and that I had to go. I ended our conversation and spent the rest of the evening locked in my mind, trying to uncover any clues. I scoured phone and social networking and, aha, I discovered a very drunken message sent, likely via facebook mobile, rather incoherent, encouraging the person to call me. No recollection of sending that. In a sober state, or even in a less drunk state, I would not kiss this person, let alone have sex with this person. I even recall pulling away a friend of mine who had been talking to him, a couple years ago.

What had I done?

Well, really, I had no idea what I had done, but the slurring, sloppy drunk me had apparently done something. And not only that, apparently everyone knew about it. Could I have consented to whatever happened? I could have possibly said. “Oh, yes, please!” but whether it is strict law or just ought to be, a person in an altered state cannot really consent.

Here I was – here I AM – feeling awful, staying at home, avoiding people and places, thinking constantly about what I had done, what he had done, knowing that I was a “slut” and that he was a “stud” and that I was looked down upon and mocked and that he was probably congratulated and high-fived. That I had been a victim of sexual assault, and that he will be unaffected. I went to dinner with my friend who had informed me of the depth of the rumor and she got me to talk. I told her everything and I told her how hopeless it all was. There was absolutely nothing I could do but let it all blow over and try to never allow myself to be in that position again. But there is one thing I can do.

I, a victim, choose not to suffer in silence, but to share this story. I share this story here because I can't do anything better but make people aware of a major problem. It's nearly a week later and I have no evidence that anything has occurred, had their been witnesses they may have said I wanted it, I also have no proof of my level of intoxication. To file a report, to try to press charges – it is futile. I would waste time and money, I would, like the woman I know, stir trouble, and I would be stressed out. And when it is all over and the case is dismissed because there is nothing really there but a woman who says she was too drunk to consent – I'll be a woman who is both scorned AND silenced.

So if I must choose, scorn me for sharing this story, but do not silence me. By sharing my story, I feel that there is one more voice calling for laws to be changed so that women are not victimized by the legal system as well as by the men who take advantage of them or assault them.

One of the worst things is that, despite having been taken advantage of and having to hear the worst of it as a rumor, I still have to force myself to call it what it is – I feel guilt and I feel shame and I am the victim.