Not unlike most people, I’ve always seen myself as somewhat invulnerable. Diseases struck other people, murder victims were everyone besides myself, and I was relatively untouchable by the world. Besides, I’m smart. I’m confident, self-reflective enough to be able to figure out what I’m feeling and why, and I’ve got strong enough morals that nothing’s going to be able to come around and shake that up. Sure, bad things happen to other people, I thought, but I was too smart for that to happen to me. Especially when it came to boys.
As I’ve said before, I’ve always been uncomfortable with any kind of physical contact. I’m talking even hugs from my mom. I’ve never been out clubbing, and frankly don’t want to be, I don’t keep company with people that could get me into ‘trouble,’ I’m responsible, know when to say no, and how to keep myself out of situations that have the potential to go bad. I know myself well enough to know what I’m okay with and what I’m not, and I’ve never really been one to fall for any sort of peer pressure. Basically, I stick to my guns.
In which case, I always thought I was above anything happening to me. That was, until I found out that one of my friends had been raped.
This friend had a lot in common with me. We were both awkward about boys, to the point we talked about being asexual together. We had little to no experience with anything like that, and we were both vulnerable teenage girls dealing with a whole string of depression and anxiety issues. However, in a moment of intense struggling for her, a boy came along and took advantage of her fragile state. She told me that she didn’t really know what was going on, but went along with it because she felt as though she had to.
That could have very easily been me.
Flash forward, and I’m nineteen entering into my first relationship. I’m no closer to dealing with my anxiety issues, I’ve been struggling with depression for a while, and long story short, I was pretty lost in life. Miserable. At one point, I gave up hope that I would have a future. Not to mention the fact that I still had massive physical contact issues, and to top it all off, had no idea how anything even remotely sexual worked. I hadn’t even held anyone’s hand at that point, goodness.
Three months into our relationship, we moved in together. Rather, my boyfriend started renting a room from us in the basement, because he needed a place to stay, and we needed extra money to afford the rent. The first night we stayed there, we were the only two in the house. I was drunk, and it was the first night we shared a bed. Also the first night he told me that he loved me.
The details of our relationship isn’t the point. The point is, is that I, unknowingly, had put myself into a million different vulnerable positions. I was drunk, we shared a bed, we lived in the same house, and often times it would be only the two of us home. And here I am, a naive girl with absolutely no clue about anything even remotely sexual. He could have done anything he wanted to me and I would be none the wiser. I wouldn’t have known what he was doing. I didn’t know when I was potentially putting myself in a dangerous situation. I was naive to the point that I thought I was immune to anything bad happening, so I threw caution to the wind.
Thank goodness my boyfriend is as wonderful as he is. Because, if he wasn’t, I would have ended up like my friend. Very easily. In a lot of ways, I’m surprised that I didn’t.
That’s me, and I’ve been absurdly, almost stupidly, lucky. But there’s absolutely nothing to separate me from my friend, nothing at all different between us, and if my luck was a little bit less than it was, it would have been me sitting with a cup of coffee telling someone about the trauma issues I’ve had to deal with because I had been taken advantage of.
And this is what makes me mad. Furious even. I got off easy. My friend didn’t, sure, but that’s only two people out of the entire world. How many people are like me and my friend, with or without trauma issues, who are struggling to figure out their relationships? Who don’t necessarily know how to set boundaries or how to even figure out what boundaries are, because they don’t have support?
On one hand, I grew up with people who told me it was weird that I wanted to hold a guys hand. I thought something was wrong with me because of it. On the other hand, the rest of the world tells you that if you’re not having sex you should be, as if that were the entire point to being alive. Where do you find the happy medium? How do you deal with your trauma issues? How are you supposed to figure out any of these things when you don’t have any support to help you walk through them?
Sex Ed. at my school was an absolute joke. The only thing my friends would tell me was that I should wait exactly three months before sleeping with my boyfriend, and it’s not like I can come up to my parents and talk openly about this stuff with them. I, like many other people out there, was left to figure it out all by myself. And let me tell you, that’s been beyond stressful. Thank goodness I’ve had such a great boyfriend – he’s been there to help me through some of these things and always respects my boundaries – but I don’t think most people are as lucky as I am. Just like my friend wasn’t.
We tell young girls that rape isn’t their fault, and it’s not, but their ignorance isn’t helping anything. Something as important as sexual health, especially when things like rape are so huge in our society, need to be talked about openly. They need to be discussed without judgement. Girls (and boys), need to be brought up with the proper support in these areas. It’s absolute junk that I would have to ask my boyfriend to explain things to me because I never learned about them before. Not only that, but it put me in an incredibly vulnerable position.
Yes, victim shaming is never helpful. Assault happens, and the responsibility needs to be placed on the guilty parties, not the victims. However, by educating children properly, by providing the support and care they need, perhaps we can start to minimize this stuff happening in our culture. If my friend had known a little bit more about what sex was and what it wasn’t, maybe she would have been able to see what he was doing to her sooner. That’s not her fault, it’s the fault of the education system that failed to give her the tools she needed to deal with these sorts of events. If the education system was better, maybe I wouldn’t have to come crying to my boyfriend because I felt guilty just because he kissed me. Maybe this whole thing would be easier for all of us, and maybe, just maybe, we can create a culture of education so things like rape and assaults can become a thing of the past.