Culture

I Think I Was Raped...Again. Unpacking Sexual Trauma

By Cathy Lee

I think I was raped.

And I'm not sure how I feel about it.

I’m 30. And for the past 20 years, I’m constantly back at this same point…over and over again. And up until today, I’ve shielded myself with humour that sometimes gets broken by self-doubt, but mostly…mostly nonchalant humour that lets me dismiss the gravity and confusion of what I’m feeling and hold tightly to the belief that I am too strong to crumble over this…again.

At a young age (think prepubescent), I learned that my body could be seen as an entity apart from who I am as a person. Men have been able to disengage Cathy, the girl that I know, and Cathy’s body, the physical thing that I want to fuck. Even back then, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know that I was supposed to. I didn’t know who would believe me. I didn’t know why this was happening. I didn’t know if it was my fault. So I didn’t say anything.

Since then and up until now, on any given night out (or just when I’m walking to work), strange men will grab my ass, my waist, my hips and laugh at me when I express anger. I don’t want to make a scene. So I don’t say anything. “Friends” will put their hands on me and even though the placement and the touch make me uncomfortable, I tell myself it only feels that way because I am disproportionately smaller. Must be, right? They’re my friends. So I don’t say anything. Strange men will insist that I’m asking to be touched by the way I move and the way I’m dressed, leaving angry bruises on my body, but my pride refuses to let me break. So I don’t say anything. “Friends” corner me at parties and even though everyone can see what’s happening, said everyone rationalizes this behavior by level of intoxication. So I don’t say anything. I’ve overheard men say they will “make” me love them. What does that even mean? Who knows? So I don’t say anything.

Every time I go through yet another sexual trauma, I keep coming back to this place. What am I supposed to do? Who would believe me? Why did this happen? Was it my fault? For the past twenty years, I’ve been here so often that I’ve decided the only rationale is that the common denominator is me. Yours truly, here. Ain’t that some shit.

I’m, on a good day, five feet tall. Maybe 100 lbs with a statistical range of plus/minus 5. Asian. Had braces until I was a sophomore in college and as a close friend likes to say, sound like Minnie Mouse’s 5-yr old daughter when I’m all hopped up. Been wearing glasses the size of half my face for 20 years now, Edna Mode style. My first kiss happened freshman year of college and honestly, I categorized anyone interested in me as a pedophile (sort of in a cheeky way, but not really…see aforementioned self description). I’m also social, flirtatious (some would beg to differ), have a lot of fun with fashion, dance pretty well (for an Asian chick) and have been called sexy (a word I despise) from time to time.

So despite identifying as the girl with the braces and glasses, it must be me. Because of all the things after the braces.

I must laugh too much. Show too much skin. Dance too hard. Be too friendly. Drink in excess.

So when someone gets angry when I don’t want to have sex, that must have happened because of my overtly flirtatious behavior. When someone is inside of my body even though I specifically said “I do not want to have sex”, that must have happened because of my actions. When someone is inside of me even though I am only semi-conscious from a combination of alcohol and lack of sleep, that must have happened because of my behavior.

So I don’t say anything.

Instead, I go through the ritual of washing all my sheets and scrub every inch of my body in hot, scalding water. Trying to process why I feel so dirty. Everyone has sex, right? This is what people do? And I try to excuse him and think hard about what I should have done differently. And to be honest, there’s a lot I could have done differently. I could have not gone out. I could have avoided alcohol. I could have not invited him back to my place. There’s a lot I could have done differently. I must have been asking for it.

And then there’s my instinct to protect him. Did I act weird after the fact? Should I have been nicer? Does he feel bad because he knows I didn’t want to do this? Was it actually assault? Are his feelings hurt? I’ll keep this to myself lest others see him in a different light. He’s not, after all, a bad guy.

So every time…I blame myself. It must be me.

Except it’s not.

“I don’t want to have sex.” Hard stop (no pun). Half asleep? Hard stop. “No.” Hard stop.

I’ve spent so many years combating these feelings that I’m relatively numb to it. I feel bad when I let someone know I’m not interested in more than just making out at this time. As though his needs are more important than mine. I feel guilty when I tell someone he’s hurting me and I don’t want to continue. As though my pain is less important than his sexual gratification. And I blame myself when things go too far. As though my ‘no’ really wasn’t enough.

Today, my anger lies more within myself. I can’t stand that twenty years later, my first instinct is still to rationalize this type of behavior by blaming myself first and foremost. I can’t stand that twenty years later, I’m still trying to protect everyone else but myself. I can’t stand that twenty years later, I still don’t say anything.

It’s not me.

For all intents and purposes, I am as unremarkable as they come. There are thousands of women who have endured far worse. A few who have endured less. Too many of us jump to protect these ‘friends’ and ‘good’ guys because we’ve become socially normalized to sexual affronts. Too many of us turn our cheek the other way rather than demand accountability from our peers who tolerate dangerous behavior. Too many of us stay silent mostly…mostly because we think it’s our fault.

It’s not.