Op-ed: Victim of the ‘gray area’
Read a letter from our editor, Sam Seekings, about this submission here.
Content warning: This article contains sensitive language regarding physical and sexual violence.
We are taught so much about sexual assault that it starts to feel like common sense, at least I felt safe assuming it was common sense. It feels simple to understand that you do not have sex with someone without consent. I couldn’t fathom I would end up in a situation that could be considered sexual assault—but I did. I woke up in the room of a fraternity house member on campus with no recollection of the night before and no clothing on. I recognized the person I was laying with and realized that I recognized the face next to me. I knew this person, we had hooked up and had sex before. But I still had no memory of how I ended up here and what happened with the night. I felt violated, vulnerable and confused. I don’t remember even seeing this person at the party and have no idea how I ended up there. Everything I “know” about what happened that night involving him is only from his perspective.
I still struggle with deciding if I consider myself a victim of sexual assault or not. I drank at the fraternity that night and since we had sex before, so shouldn’t I be OK with it? I tried to understand the situation from his point of view. He said I was into him and that I wanted it. But, he also told me that I was too drunk to walk myself home and he felt that he couldn’t let me leave for the night because I would not be able to walk back to my home safely. He said the only way to keep me safe was to have me stay there, but the only way I seemed like I would stay with him is if we had sex. He told me I was too drunk to even walk and that I was falling over myself. Apparently walking me home or giving me a place to crash for the night was out of the option or too unreasonable for him, so he had sex with me.
After talking about the incident with the other person involved, I fully realized how uncomfortable I was with what happened and his response to it. The other person involved later told me that he had not hurt me, and if he did he did not mean to. He only had my safety in mind and that I was lucky this happened with someone who did not want to hurt me. It was apparently “good for me” to be more cognizant of the possibility that this could happen when I go to a party, that it was a good reminder to be careful. He told me that even though people say that “the girl” (assuming he means the person under the influence of drugs or alcohol by this) is not at fault when this kind of thing happens, “she” does have some responsibility and should be aware that this kind of thing could happen. According to him I was “lucky” it happened with someone who did not have malicious intentions or want to hurt me. He left me feeling that it was my fault for drinking so much that night and for giving him mixed signals. He made me feel that I put myself in that situation. I still struggle with deciding if it was my fault or his—and I think that is part of the issue.
Just because I gave my consent in a previous situation, doesn’t mean you have the rights to MY body. If I cannot walk home, I cannot consent to having sex. The reactions from some of my peers who were aware of the situation or from the other person involved make me feel like my discomfort with the situation is invalid. Some say that he may have been confused and did not know what to do, maybe there were blurred lines with the signals I was giving. Yet, at the end of the day, if someone can identify a person as too intoxicated to walk, how can they consent to have sex?
The recent actions of Washington University in responding to Title IX violations shows me that I do not have the support of the University in asserting this right to have control over what happens to/with my own body. I considered reporting this incident but honestly feel that this would have no benefit and do not think reporting this incident would provoke change within the system—which is beyond discouraging. If action is not taken with events that seem to be so clear cut and blatant as sexual/physical assault, why should I expect to be listened to? Even though we are taught that sex without consent is not OK, I still struggle with feeling validated in being upset about this situation and that is an issue. I am hopeful those in the future will have better support systems where they can feel comfortable reporting and like they will be respected, listened to and treated seriously. Better yet, I hope that in the future students of this University will understand that this behavior will not be tolerated, and the lackadaisical way consent is treated will change. Consent matters and consent should be explicit.