When I think of what happened to me, the most accurate description is this: he had sex with me without my consent. Was it rape? Was it Sexual assault? Those terms have always made me feel really uncomfortable.
Amy Schumer coined the term “gray-area rape” to describe her experience of her boyfriend having sex with her while she was asleep. It was her first time having sex. She struggled with how to view it for years. She told Oprah: “When that happens to you, you say, ‘OK, well, this isn’t someone I want to see rotting in a jail cell, but what he did to me was wrong, and I didn’t consent. For me, I lost my virginity while I was asleep, and that’s not OK.” Oprah noted that victims often feel conflicted after being assaulted by someone they care about because the perpetrator seems to show remorse, in turn making the victim feel bad. Amy agreed: “He was my boyfriend. I loved him. I had to comfort him.”
This explanation really resonated with me. You know it wasn’t okay. You know you didn’t consent. But it was someone you cared about, and you don’t want to make that person feel bad. It’s very confusing.
It turns out sex without consent actually is the definition of rape. “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” This is the FBI’s definition of rape for the collection of crime statistics. And it’s basically the definition of rape in every state. In Vermont, “consent” is defined as “words or actions by a person indicating a voluntary agreement to engage in a sexual act.” 13 V.S.A. §§ 3252 & 3254.
So if I simply apply those legal definitions, what happened to me was rape. There is no question in my mind that I did not give consent. So why am I still so uncomfortable describing it as rape?
I think I would be more comfortable with the word if it wasn’t also a crime. I don’t know if I think of the perpetrator as someone who committed a crime. I know that what happened to me should not have happened, but I don’t know if it was criminal.
But I think the real reason that I haven’t figured this out is that I haven’t really worked through the shame of what happened. I think I am still not sure whether I did something to make him think that was what I wanted. Somehow I feel bad that I might have done something to put him in this situation. Even as I write this it seems crazy, because I know I didn’t do anything wrong. I know I didn’t do anything to consent. Yet I still feel like somehow it’s my fault. And because I haven’t worked through this part of it yet, I can’t really face the issue of what to call it.
Except I know that he had sex without my consent. Which is rape.
RAINN online hotline https://hotline.rainn.org/online
VT Sexual Violence Hotline: 1-800-489-7273
If have been sexually assaulted are considering pressing charges or bringing a civil suit, you can call me for a free consultation at (802) 327-8458