I said no. Actually I said please, no, to him, as if manners would make a difference with someone who was forcing me to do something I did not want to do. It is something I will never forget, the part where I said please, please in a sentence where I was pleading with him to please not force me.
There was no confusion about it; at least I don’t see where the confusion could have been. There were no mixed messages. I told him no. I told him I didn’t want to be there. I asked him to please let me leave. I asked him to please not make me do what he was making me to do.
Later he took me home. We made small talk in his car as if what had happened had been consensual in any way. It wasn’t. There was no part where I said yes, no part where I said anything to him that could have made him believe I was interested.
I told people, though when I did it was with shame, as if the shame was on me and not him. I told people because somewhere in the deepest part of me I knew that what he did was wrong.
He confronted me in a crowded bar. He told me I wanted it. He told me that I went along. He left out the part where I asked him to please not force me. He left the part out where he did things that made me fear for my life.
People told me I was confused. People told me I was drunk. People told me I was desperate.
People told me he never would have done that. Even after he did.
I was 17. He was in his 30’s.
For years I convinced myself that everyone was right, that I must have done something to make him believe it was ok. I must have been desperate. I wasn’t forceful enough when I said no.
I told myself I wasn’t forceful enough when I said no, more than once, with tears in my eyes.
It is over 30 years later and not much has changed, except that I know that desperation had nothing to do with it. I know that my no was clear. It is something that should not have taken 30 years. It is something that shouldn’t have taken 30 seconds.
I was shamed into silence when the shame did not belong to me. I know that there are other women who understand that even if they are not out from under it.
Forget a society that still blames victims and celebrates those committing sexual assault. What we women do to ourselves in the aftermath is worse, yes, aided by a society that, even to this day, seems unable to understand sexual assault.
I look back often at that 17-year-old girl who was confronted in that bar and wish I could yell in her ear. I wish I could tell her not to back down, that he did everything she said he did. Instead all I can do is tell that woman who is turning 50 that it was not her fault, that she did nothing wrong.
Sexual assault is not your fault, unless you are the garbage assaulting someone. We all need to be on that page and stop the silence.
Please don’t tell me you’re sorry after you read this. Just please do better. We all need to do better.