Unlearning Surrender

In the wake of the Steubenville rape case verdict and a recent “falsely-reported” rape case at my alma mater, I feel compelled to talk about the day I confronted the guy who raped me.

It took a long time for me to get to a place where I even felt comfortable reaching out to him. First, there was the process of even admitting to myself that I’d been raped. That part took the longest–no one wants to be the girl who cried rape, and I certainly didn’t want to be seen as a victim to be pitied.

Then, there were the consequences of discussing the rape with my partner, friends, and family. That part was pretty easy, actually. I’m very lucky; everyone was supportive beyond belief.

Finally, after months of smashing self-judgement, quitting my post-collegiate caffeine addiction, seeing a therapist, and taking up yoga and a gluten-free diet, I sent him a message on facebook.

While I was dealing with the rape on my own, I’d been frustrated, upset, confused, and sad. I had not yet felt fear. But from the moment I contacted him to the moment we met in person, I was scared.

I’m not going to say that I was especially afraid of physical violence, although the thought of him getting physically aggressive did cross my mind. Mostly I worried that if the conversation went sour, I would have further evidence to hate our society (even more than I already do). It’s also possible that I was scared because I didn’t want to open up wounds that I thought had already healed.

But the biggest reason for my fear, and the most difficult to shake no matter how irrational, was that society has kicked the shit out of him in more ways than one and in more ways than most people will every face. I didn’t want my whiney problems to add to that list.

“Okay,” I thought to myself, “So he’s a white male, which means he’s privileged in ways that are invisible to him. But the things he’s endured would make anyone defensive.”

Without revealing too much about his personal life, I’ll just say that he’s had immense amounts of power taken away from him from the moment he was born. And I don’t think that anybody has bothered to teach him how to take power back in a healthy, constructive way, where he won’t end up taking power away from someone else.

So I guess in a strange and totally internalized-oppression way… I could understand why he raped me, which made it very difficult for me to confront him.

And even more difficult than simply arranging the confrontation was engineering the context under which which it would happen.

Up until the very moments before we met face-to-face, he argued with the terms under which we would meet. Everything, from the location of the conversation to my need for my best friend to be present during the conversation, was negotiated. And every time he declined one of my terms, I felt pressed to surrender. “Well, I guess I don’t really need [so-and-so] for the conversation.”

But for the conversation to be productive, he needed to meet me on my terms. At the end of the day, he took power away from me and I needed to take it back. That meant not surrendering on anything. As someone who has been socialized as a woman, not surrendering is not something I am accustomed to.

I have always been the one to give in. For my whole life, my mentality has been: if it’s no sweat off my back, I’ll do it for you, as long as we can move forward with whatever needs to get done. But those days are over now. We’re not really moving forward if I’m giving in.

Before the conversation, my best friend and I agreed that the best case scenario for the conversation would be a situation in which we feel as though we didn’t make things worse. That’s all. We just didn’t want anything to get worse. We also imagined worst case scenarios, in which triggers “undo” the work that I’d done on myself or my best friend had to intervene in a negative way. We promised ourselves that if things got too heated, we’d leave immediately.

Things I said to him before the conversation began:

  1. Thank you for agreeing to meet with us on my terms. I know it’s really difficult and scary, but you’re doing a brave thing and I respect you for that.
  2. I’m going to use words that might make you uncomfortable. I would like you to promise me that you’ll be okay with that and not interrupt. Rape happens between two people, but it’s because of a sick society and it can only start to be prevented when we can talk openly about it.
  3. My best friend’s role here is to make me feel safe.
  4. The conversation is over when I say it’s over.
  5. What I don’t want is for this conversation to turn into a conversation about whether or not you raped me. That is non-negotiable. This conversation is also not about an attempt to be friends again, nor do I want an apology.
  6. What do I want from the conversation: I want to say that you raped me, and I want you to promise me you won’t do it again (and talk about the steps you’re going to make to ensure that you keep that promise).
  7. I don’t need to have this conversation. If you can’t agree to these terms, then we’ll leave.

I then proceeded to explain the entire situation from my perspective, from the day we started sleeping together until the night he raped me.

I was shocked. Things NEVER got heated.

He sat there, looking me straight in the eyes, lips pressed tight, nodding his head, hearing everything I had to say. And when I was finished, he paused for a moment to make sure I was done before he responded.

He didn’t say exactly what I wanted to hear, which, oddly enough, was exactly what I wanted. Any better of a situation, and it would have felt disingenuous. It would have felt like a premeditated, inorganic response.

We talked about the role alcohol played that night, and during that time of his life more generally. We also talked about the unhealthy relationship he’d had immediately before we’d started sleeping together. He said that he felt like his previous partner had taken something away from him, and that he felt like he needed to take it back. He apologized for taking it from me instead of confronting the real source of his pain.

Getting raped was one of the worst experiences of my life. But the conversation I had with him may have been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

What this blog post is, more than anything, is a call to action. I am calling on rape survivors to start talking about their rape when they’re able to do so, and to find a way to confront their rapists. I am calling on allies to help create an atmosphere of safety for rape survivors to feel comfortable talking about their experiences. I am calling on men to STOP RAPING and to talk about rape with all of their friends, whether they’re the “kind of guy who does that kind of thing” or not. I want people to start talking about consent.

As I wrote in my last post, I want to demystify rape. I want you and everyone you know to know that rape happens way more than we are willing to admit. The fact that we aren’t willing to discuss rape as a collective is the first blockage in the path of smashing rape culture.

Finally, I want women to start unlearning surrender. Somehow we’ve managed to forgive our male counterparts for their inaction. I see this over, and over, and over again. Women floating their male counterparts, carrying male emotional burdens on their backs because of their refusal to be an active part of the solution. For this cycle to end, we must demand liberation. For this pattern of victimization and oppression to be broken, we must reclaim consent.

Update 3/30/13:
A dear friend of mine pointed me in the direction of a petition that asks members of the progressive community to think more critically about how we discuss rape. I urge you to read and then sign the petition.

3 Comments on “Unlearning Surrender”

  1. simon T says:

    You are one of the most amazing people I have ever encountered for this reason. I have held rape on the pedestal of something that I would never be able to survive, and yet you have managed to confront the person that changed your life irrevocably. My respect for you has skyrocketed, and I dont actually know if i’ve been more impressed with a person.

  2. Alana says:

    Shani, This is such a brave post — you’re doing such hard and important work here. I am so glad that you were able to orchestrate the conversation on your own terms in a way that let you experience your power and feel some healing. There’s a powerful petition/statement going around right now to urge members of progressive and activist communities to think more deeply about how to respond when community members come forward to say they have survived rape. Would you be willing to help circulate this within your community and urge people you know to circulate it as well? It feels like this message about the community response is an important piece of the conversation, along with your own call to action. You can sign here: http://notremainsilent.wordpress.com/

  3. Nik says:

    It is incredible that a friend of mine posted this on Facebook. It couldn’t have been a more perfect time in my life that I had the privilege of reading this.
    Being a survivor or rape and some sexual abuse. That even though I am going through healing. I know I am unable to confront the man who did it cause I have no idea where he is now. So it is comforting to see this strength and courage and knowing it can be done peacefully. I admire you for this.
    I Signed the petition. 🙂

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