** Content Warning: sexual abuse, sexual coercion. If these topics upset you or cause you distress, then you may want to skip this read. If you choose to continue reading, I have listed relevant resources at the end. **
When I came back home after my sophomore year in school, I was afraid of everything- but I had no clue why. I was afraid of the idea of dating again. I was terrified of men in general. I could be minding my business in public and if a man even slightly glanced in my direction, I would burst into tears and have panic attacks bad enough to the point that I wouldn’t be bothered with going out anymore. It was the weirdest, most frustrating, and most confusing thing to me. When I tried to explain my fear to the counselor I was seeing at that time, she kind of brushed it off and contributed it to the fact that I was going through a tough breakup and just chalked it up as an irrational fear. Okay cool, but…why was I still feeling like this then? Why am I acting like a rape victim when I’ve never been raped or anything remotely close to it?”
It wasn’t until almost two years after the fact when I had the opportunity to join my school’s Title IX Sex Discrimination Student Commission (which by the way, was the best decision of my college career) that I was able to educate myself on various types of sexual abuse and finally came to the realization that I was a victim myself.
I was 18. I was in a relationship with someone that I loved and trusted. At least 90% of our sexual encounters involved some form of me saying no and stop while he proceeded to ignore my cries of pain. The few times that I chose to turn down his advances turned into at least another 15+ minutes of him either persuading or guilting me into sex which I eventually gave into in hopes of just keeping the peace. At times, he would even record us having sex without my prior consent or knowledge, which of course sends my anxiety through the roof because I’ll never know what happened to the videos.
I don’t consider myself a rape survivor. But I was still a victim of sexual abuse. I fell victim to sexual coercion and violation of consent. Looking back on it now, it seems obvious that all of this was sexual abuse and should have been addressed long ago. So why didn’t I notice that something was wrong?
I honestly did not know better. And neither did he. Imagine these two virgins who have barely even grasped the concept of adulthood, much less the idea of a healthy relationship, trying to rush into a sexual relationship before any of us were ready for it. So, despite my physical pain and guilt and depression, I wrote everything off because I assumed that this was normal in relationships. Saying no wasn’t an option because “this was my boyfriend, I’m supposed to be having sex with him, whether I like it or not”. I had no more say over my body or what happens to it.
I chose to write about my #MeToo experience because consent isn’t always common sense. Most people know how to identify and avoid rape, but what about those who experience sexual abuse in their relationships?
My hope is to reach out to other people who have been in my place and may not even realize that what they’re going through is sexual abuse. I want to educate people about the different forms of sexual assault and encourage them to maintain autonomy over their bodies.