I Blamed Myself For Being Raped, And I Still Struggle To Blame Them
Have you ever woken up in someone else’s bed with no memory of how you got there?
Have you ever woken up to searing pain? A pain so deep it breaks through any groggy haze that came before?
Have you ever woken up to someone’s fingers between your legs? How about two people’s fingers?
I’ve woken up to all of the above.
A few months ago, my friends and I were going out for some pre-Christmas day drinks at Sydney’s resident overpriced hotspot for getting white girl wasted against a stunning patriotic backdrop—the Opera bar. Day bled into night, one bottle of champagne bled into six, and for my meat-eating friends, the seafood platters were aplenty. Inadvertently opting for the vegetarian-friendly liquid breakfast and lunch, fairly drunk me was on the hunt for something more substantial.
The meat-free options seemed to get slimmer and slimmer everywhere we went, while our bar tab was growing larger and larger. Whoever first called drinking on an empty stomach a broke university student’s hack to getting lit quickly was right on the money.
I don’t remember when exactly we ran into two people we knew from high school or when exactly we left the bar, but I do remember my friend and I ending up at their place for another round. Even countless glasses of champagne in, I was still struggling to down the cheap boxed wine they’d haphazardly poured into plastic goblets. I remember sitting down and listening to everyone talking. I remember drinking some more. I remember thinking about ordering dumplings as soon as I got home.
And then it all went dark. It must’ve been close to midnight at this point. I don’t know if I was still physically conscious, but mentally I had completely blacked out.
The next thing I remember was waking up in excruciating pain to both of their fingers inside of me. My friend seemed long gone, and I was on my back on their pull-out couch with my skirt around my ankles. I didn’t even feel like I was there. I wasn’t remotely wet. I wasn’t even close. I felt like I was lying there watching other people. Like I had a front-row seat to someone else’s threesome. I don’t know if, in my paralytic drunken state, I accepted or even encouraged this. I have to assume I gave some sort of green light. But now I knew I wanted out.
However, I did nothing. I wanted nothing more for it to be over, but I didn’t say stop. Maybe I was nervous. Maybe I was embarrassed. Maybe I was worried about offending them, or maybe I was all of the above. All I know is that for the rest of the night, I laid down and took it.
I’d never been in so much pain. I’m sure I would’ve been wincing. I think one of them must’ve noticed. They gently whispered in my ear, “don’t worry, it’ll be over soon,” while the other continued pumping away. Part of me wanted to find comfort in this and believe them, but most of me knew I couldn’t.
My next solid memory is waking up at 9 am the next morning, sheepishly pulling my skirt up and ordering an uber home on a 3% phone battery to avoid saying goodbye. I bolted so quickly I accidentally left my favorite pair of sunglasses behind. I tried to convince myself that I dreamt it. That the pain wasn’t real. But it was. Bleeding through my undies for the next 48 hours reminded me of that. And so did my lack of sunglasses.
Classifying what happened that night has been something I’ve found challenging ever since.
Imagine we meet up, and I talk you through step by step everything that happened exactly as I detailed above. You’d probably call those boys rapists. You might even go as far as to say that this is another prime example of a toxically masculine patriarchy at work.
But what if I told you it wasn’t? What if I told you they weren’t boys at all? What if I told you they were two girls? Would your assessment change?
It’s safe to say you wouldn’t be the first. When I told the friends I was with that night, I was met with shock, confusion, and uncomfortable laughter. “Don’t worry, it’s on them just as much as it’s on you… You probably just haven’t found your g-spot yet.”
A few of them even thought this was my way of coming out as bisexual. While I’d normally say I’m pretty straight, to be honest, I don’t think sexuality is really relevant to this situation. Looking at it now, I don’t think on my end there was much want or choice, or preference involved at all.
Some of my friends acknowledge that. A lot of them don’t.
I was uninvited from the wedding of our mutual high school classmates because of it. But what exactly is it? I don’t know how to emotionally, let alone legally, classify what happened. Friends I’ve told who don’t know anyone else involved call it rape. Friends I’ve told who went to high school with me call it a wild night of experimentation. They think all parties involved somehow are and are not at fault.
So, where does that leave me? What am I supposed to believe? Are the opinions of my high school friends skewed by bias because they know everyone, or are my friends on the outside looking in, unable to understand the nuances of the situation because they can’t put faces to names?
Not a single person I went out with that night reacted how I wanted them to. Some of them think my story’s exaggerated. Others believe it but think I’m overreacting.
My best friend went to that wedding and texted me updates about them the whole time. She still doesn’t see anything wrong with that. None of them do. They don’t realize I feel sick whenever I hear their names. They don’t realize how much has been tarnished for me. Sex. Drinking. Sunglasses. Everything looks different now, and I don’t know how to fix my brain.
On paper, I followed the drunk night out rules to a T. I was in a group setting, with people I knew, surrounded by friends. I’m horrified that it happened. I’m terrified it’ll happen again. I feel let down by my closest friends, but most importantly, I feel let down by myself.
I don’t even think I blame those two girls. How can I? I was blacked out to the point where not only do I not remember how this happened, but I have no idea who I became.
The only thing I’m left with is questions.
Did we talk about it beforehand? Did we talk about anything beforehand? Did we kiss? If so, was I able to kiss back? Was I just dead weight, or did I have enough physical agency to get my own clothes off? What did they get out of it? What did they get out of me just laying there? Was that a turn-on for them? Did at least two of the three of us have a positive sexual experience that night?
I know I’ll never get any answers from them because I can’t even answer the questions I have for myself. I still can’t decide how to classify what happened. They weren’t as drunk as me, but what if they had been? Would anyone be more or less at fault? I think about how they would react if they read this. Would they be defensive? Would they call me a liar? Would they be shocked? Would they think that my truth in any way diminished theirs? Would they destroy my sunglasses? Or would they be receptive to hearing my perspective?
I think about everyone’s reactions.
My family would demonize them. Their family would demonize me. Our mutual friends would either be conflicted or vehement in supporting one side over the other.
Five months later, I finally told my mum. She reacted at first how you could assume any mother would. She was fiercely protective of me, unduly hard on herself, and unspeakably disgusted with everyone involved. It took a couple of hours to convince her not to go to the police, but ultimately she realized the person that would hurt most is me.
At the time, that reaction sounded extreme, and while it still does, looking back now, I get where she was coming from. The last thing she wanted was for them to get off lightly (no pun intended), and my refusal to place sole blame definitely fuelled her fire. But telling her hasn’t just been one conversation. The conversation has been messy and hard and fluid and ongoing. It’s one that goes against many of my instincts, but ultimately I’m glad we’re having it.
I’m handling everything a lot better now. When I first wrote this indulgent manifesto a few months ago, I angstily signed it as “an answerless victim of self-destruction.” Thankfully, I can look back now and roast myself. I’ve finally realized that a sexual encounter I didn’t want wasn’t a reckless night of regret. It wasn’t self-destructive behavior. It was rape.
What hasn’t changed is that five months later, I still can’t bring myself to blame them. I just no longer blame myself.
I truly think we can have two conflicting perceptions of the same event that are both true to our own very different experiences. My experience is just a whole lot worse.
That also doesn’t mean I’ve fully accepted it. I cried today when one of them voted on my Instagram poll. Literally stopped in the middle of the street and cried. All I can say is thank god I don’t go on walks during peak hour.
I know I never want to see either of them again and am honestly scared of what would happen if I did. Not because I think they’re predators or threats to society. I’m not afraid of what they can do to me physically because, if we’re honest, that ship’s already sailed. I’m scared of every other part of me I’m unwillingly still giving them the power to mess with. All I can do now is focus on what I can control, take each day as it comes and google more cliches to blindly live my life by.
At the risk of sounding even more conceited, I’m honestly pretty proud of myself.
I’m proud of myself for processing this as well as I have so far. I’m proud of myself for telling my friends—no matter what their reactions have been. I’m proud of myself for telling my mum. I’m proud of myself for realizing the standard of friendship I am owed from the people around me. I’m proud of myself for deciding that many people haven’t lived up to it. I’m proud of myself for writing this, even if I’m still figuring out why I did. I guess it could be for several reasons.
First and foremost, as a form of catharsis. I hope that tangibly reliving this night somewhere outside of my own mind will somehow remove me from it. That the onus is no longer on me to be the sole keeper of this experience. But I also hope that I can remove the onus from others to be the sole keeper of theirs.
There’s a lot of talk about binaries regarding consent and rape culture—right and wrong, villain and victim. Most of the time, that’s the case, but sometimes assigning those labels doesn’t feel right. If that’s not healing for you like it isn’t for me, that’s okay. Not everyone’s going to agree with how you process what happened. You don’t have to blame others to not blame yourself.
Sex and consent is a messy and complicated beast, especially against the millennial backdrop of binge drinking and casual hookups. The stakes are high, but the rules can be blurry. How can the two cultures collide? Should they collide as much as they do?
There is no definitive answer. But there are questions. And I urge you to keep asking.
A confused casualty who misses her sunglasses.
Amazingly written piece, this is exactly the kind of honesty and bravery that we need nowadays if we are going to start acknowledging the gender binary of victim/perpetrator. I applaud your courage in publishing this and your ability to march forward, especially when those who were supposed to stand by you fell terribly short. You are empowering yourself and others who’ve had similar ‘atypical’ assault experiences (when in reality there shouldn’t even be a ‘typical’ situation when it comes to considering assault.) Please remember that you are a constant source of inspiration for me and the people around you.
Hey Maria 🙂
Thanks so much for reading and sharing such a beautiful comment ❤ I completely agree – this piece is powerful, brave, and authentic, and I’m so thankful we’re able to share it with the world.