When I was 18 years old I was sexually assaulted.
In the warm summer months following my high school graduation I basked in the sunshine of my newfound adulthood. I had a car, a steady job, and the freedom to leave town for weeks at a time. I returned home infrequently, and these trips were almost always in the name of social calls.
On one such occasion, I attended a party with one of my best friends. We drove along the winding dirt roads of Colrain, in search of our friend’s far-off farm where we would not be disrupted or caught drinking underage. The briskness of the night was a welcome break from the oppressive heat of the August daytime and as we sat around a roaring fire, passing around a bottle of vodka we had soon melted into heaps of laughter. We soon found ourselves running through the nearby cornfield, full of joy and stripped of any restraint our soberness provided. Back by the fire, this loss of inhibition manifested itself differently.
Kris, barely my acquaintance, despite sharing my last name and attending the same high school, edged nearer to me on the grass. Wordlessly, his hand found my thigh. Wordlessly, I pushed it away. Five minutes passed. Again, I felt a hand on my thigh, beginning to inch ever inward. “Stop!” I said. He didn’t. I changed seats. Safe. But then, fingers on my inner thigh, tracing the seam on my jeans, up and down. I pushed him away. “Make him stop,” I begged my friend. She scolded him. I moved. He followed. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Eventually, in need of an escape from Kris and an intense and unfamiliar vodka-haze, I escaped to the cab of my friend’s truck to lie down. I breathed deeply, grateful for the solitude and safety. As I drifted off, I was suddenly brought back to consciousness. The door of the truck opened and Kris noiselessly crept in beside me. Immediately, I felt his hands slide up my calves, my thighs, and find their way between my legs. I tried to tell him to stop, bu my voice and motor skills had been compromised by alcohol, and I passed out thinking, “No, Kris. Stop, Kris.”
My father passed away recently, and in a near-frantic attempt to understand from where and whom it is I come, I have been building my family tree. As it turns out, Kris and I are third cousins. I have always suspected we must be related in some way, though I didn’t imagine it would be so closely. Considering this, I realized that for years I have been looking at what happened at that party an entirely wrong light. The few times I have shared this story, I have presented it as an event where I was groped by someone who had the same last name as me. But truly, the actual story- the actual problem- is that I was sexually assaulted by someone who happened to have the same surname. His actions are not worse because I have learned that we are cousins. His actions are awful because his actions are awful. My relationship to him should not play a role in my worthiness of not being molested.
When I was 25 years old I was sexually assaulted.
Filled with the spirit of adventure after a particularly difficult breakup, I had made the decision to leave the country and travel the world. A week before I was due to leave, I was frantically finishing up last minute chores and making sure loose ends were tied. I stopped at a self-service car wash, hoping to make my junkpile of a car look at least moderately presentable for my appointment to hand over the title the following day. I had a pleasant exchange with the man cleaning his car next to me, then settled into vacuuming the backseat of my car.
Encouraged by the oncoming summer, I had pulled on my favorite dress before leaving the house. This presented difficulties as I climbed into my car, but I took care against any accidental exposures. As it turned out, my efforts were in vain. As I stood up, I turned to see that the man with whom I’d spoken was barely a yard behind me and had the camera of his phone aimed up my dress.
“C’mon,” he said, smiling.
“Are you fucking kidding? Get the fuck away from me,” I spat.
“C’mon, it looks good!”
I edged backwards toward my driver’s seat, repeating myself.
“Well you shouldn’t be flaunting it then,” he growled as he got in his car and sped off.
Humiliated, heart racing, I hung onto my steering wheel and sobbed. No one else was around.
I spent the evening reciting the incident to my friends. “He probably has daughters,” I told them, “I’m somebody’s daughter!”
This line of thinking is a problem.
My worth as a human being is not determined by my relationship to other people (and more to the point: to men.) I am deserving of not getting raped because I am a person; not because I am somebody’s sister and somebody’s daughter and may someday be somebody’s mother. We need to stop acting as though teaching the idea that women should not be harmed because they play these roles in our (specifically: men’s) lives is helpful. Not all women play these roles. Let’s not infer that some women are more worthy than others when it comes to not being harmed.
I understand that this seems like a good tool in getting people to understand women’s issues and the violence that we face. I know that it seems that we’re humanizing victims by reminding people that women who endure harassment and assault are just like the women in our own lives. But listen: if we keep telling men that they shouldn’t rape women because they are somebody’s daughter, we are only perpetuating the idea that women are weak and require men’s protection.
Stop telling people not to rape me because I’m somebody’s daughter. Stop naming traits I possess that make me more worthy of not being raped. Every time you choose some characteristic of a woman and deem it rape-safe, you are choosing who should not be rape-safe, whether it be based on their clothing, occupation, relationships, or anything else.
Don’t rape me because don’t fucking rape anyone. Get it together.