Trigger warning for sexual assault.
He was tall with dark, curly hair. For some reason, he had become my drunken make out buddy at a couple of parties. The time he tried to feel me up, (we were both sober) I pushed his hands away. That’s as far as it ever went. I never wanted anything more. Then, one night, it went farther than I wanted. We were, or at least I was, drunk at an apartment party. I went with him into his brother’s room, which only had an air mattress and a couple of boxes. I remember just going in with an intention to sleep. But we did start making out and fooling around. I was tired and didn’t really want to, but I went with it. I remember him suddenly saying, I want to fuck you or I want to put my dick in you. One of those two. He didn’t wait to see how I felt about it. He just put on a condom and went in. I didn’t want to have sex with him. I didn’t say no. I didn’t really feel like I had the power to say it. I didn’t struggle. In my mind at the time, if I didn’t fight it, then there wouldn’t be a chance for me to lose the struggle and it actually become rape. When he was finished, I sheepishly emerged to go to the bathroom. The few people who were still out in the living room laughed at me because of the noises they heard. I peed, went back in, and went to sleep.
When I’ve recounted this story to friends, they’ve told me I was raped. Honestly, I still live in the land of Plausible Deniability, which is Regrettable Sex adjacent. It still makes me feel, at the very least, unsettled when I think about that night.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard of or read the Rolling Stone piece involving the story of Jackie, who says she was gang raped at a UVA Phi Psi party. Anger and outrage from across the nation have rained down upon UVA, one of a handful of universities under a federal Title IX investigation for the mishandling of sexual assault cases on their campuses. You’ve probably also heard about the retraction Rolling Stone issued, essentially throwing Jackie under the bus, rather than owning their shoddy reporting. Suddenly, trust in Jackie was “misplaced”. Her friends and support group now no longer believe her story because some details may have changed. Details like whether it was 5 guys or 7 guys who gang raped her. You know. Things that a survivor who endured hours of trauma should be exact on, otherwise it totally didn’t happen. Jackie’s credibility has also been thrown into question because the members of Phi Psi have responded to her claims with a resounding, Not uh!!!! They have said that they do not use gang rape as a rush initiation ritual. And you know that if they did, they would be sure to admit it. They also say they did not have a party on the day in question. They conveniently don’t have the records from two whole years ago to back up that claim, but they’re a group of highly influential rich boys with a lawyer, a national chapter advising them, and have had two weeks to rally. So you know they’re telling the truth. I’m not going to go through each and every refuted claim. Suffice it to say, it’s very odd that everyone seems to suddenly doubt Jackie because of what Phi Psi says.
I’ve seen a few rape culture myths trotted out in relation to this story. There are the classics:
– Why didn’t she go to the hospital?
– Why didn’t she go to the police and press charges?
– Why doesn’t she name the guys if she’s telling the truth? What does she have to fear if she’s telling the truth. *gasp* She must be hiding something.
My new favorite, though, is: She probably has false memories. Some details have changed over the past two years, so clearly she’s “remembering” things that didn’t happen. (Let’s just be real, though. I wouldn’t be surprised if Phi Psi had a few false memories of their own.)
I guess that is the logical argument to make if you want to call someone a liar without actually calling them a liar. So let’s break down why this is bullshit and tell armchair psychologists where they can shove their armchair.
1) Eyewitness testimony can be unreliable IF they witness a crime or fleeing criminal from a distance and/or it takes place too quickly for the brain to process it. It is then that someone’s brain may try to fill in the gaps or are susceptible to suggestion. That certainly doesn’t apply here.
2) False memory diagnosis was developed, in part, by Sigmund Freud. It posits that memories of sexual abuse from childhood may be repressed. When they are recalled, false memories may present themselves. Taking it a step further, false memory syndrome is when someone bases their life around a false memory. The latter would certainly describe Jackie’s case. The problem is that there is no accepted empirical literature published, nor is it a diagnosis within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-5). So…..no.
3) Our brains are so wonderful, in that they are capable of denial. When trauma is too much to handle, our brains will protect us by kicking back the information as bogus, (common in cases of sexual assault.) Another protective action our brains take is compartmentalization. Your brain will say, I can’t handle this right now, so I’m going to set you aside and ignore you. Over time, these memories become shrouded in cobwebs in a darkened corner of one’s mind. It’s still there; it still affects you…your psyche. But it becomes increasingly difficult to pull back out and deal with it. Your brain fights back, continuing to try and protect you. But once you begin to deal with it, you may find you remember things that you meant to banish forever.
It is insulting to suggest to a survivor of sexual assault that they may be unintentionally making things up. It’s effectively patting them on their heads, handing them some cocoa, and saying their little women brains and wandering uteruses don’t know what they’re talking about. It takes away what little power the survivor may feel s/he has left; it is the power of knowing their own story.
I told my story at the beginning because I don’t remember a lot of things. I don’t remember what day or year it was. I don’t remember what or if I said anything to anyone right after it happened. I don’t remember the guy’s last name anymore. But there is one thing I remember with absolute certainty:
If you have, or even think you have, been the victim of sexual assault and need support or don’t know what to do, please call the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.