Trigger Warning: This article contains discussions of sexual assault, trauma, and violence which may be distressing or triggering for some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
After attending the lovely SlutWalk Peoria Dinner and Dialogue it got me reflecting more about consent, my life and my role as an ally as well as a victim.
That’s right. I, a cisgender straight male has been a victim before too. Not until later in my life, one night after being fed what felt like bottomless Long Island ice teas with increased touching until the unwelcomed feeling of the touch numbed and it became accepted enough, I was propositioned and agreed, I felt I shouldn’t be there but it’s what she wanted… and it was her birthday… how could I say no. I was capable, so that means I want it, right? I convinced myself, and even enjoyed it. But then sobering up at home I cried for hours in the shower trying to scrub my inebriated decision from my life scrubbing my skin raw. We had been friends for years; she had expressed interest in the past, but I had made clear that I was not interested in that way. She was drinking too; things could have easily gone the other way. She’s been a victim before as well, I know it wasn’t planned or her intent to put me in that situation, but it happened. We never talked about it, and barely talked again. Though there’s pain I’m lucky enough to not harbor anger about it. But still… I lost my friend that night.
Thinking back on my life as an 80’s baby growing up in the 90’s, consent wasn’t really a familiar word. Beyond learning about the age of consent and that inappropriate touch from adults isn’t ok, conversations about consent between peers were just really starting to be talked about in colleges and by adults. So, they definitely weren’t explaining it to middle schoolers.
Even after surviving Y2K. Moving into the future and onto high school then college circles. Aside from women’s studies classes and occasional rallies; beyond the base “no means no” or “yes means yes” slogans, conversations about consent were sparse. Though momentum was building with more talk of consent about specific acts and introduction of consent contracts as the internet normalized more kinks the discussion of what exactly yes means began.
It has only been from as recent as the mid 2010’s, less than a decade ago, that society started into the true exploration of consent and when we have the ability to give it. Even though it may have made me seem an outcast or a prude in High School and the likes not hooking up at parties when everyone was drunk getting together, I find myself fortunate to have had a good guidance from my family on the essence of consent learning to get permission and agreement for interactions, sexual and otherwise, even if the word consent wasn’t directly used in the teaching.
I think I was 14 years old
The first time I had a friend confide in me about their sexual assault experience, then 15 another, then 16 the first time someone I was romantically involved with confided with me about their experience. None of these were ever reported to the authorities.
A year later we were still close but not together and she was raped on the street while walking home, it broke me hearing her tears recounting the experience… then the police dismissal… that her story didn’t make enough sense, why didn’t she scream, there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue the case, and of course… that she should be careful what she wears at night.
…Basketball shorts and a tank top. Basketball shorts and a tank top on a hot summer day in Chicago was too revealing for a teenage girl to be wearing to not be “asking for it” to the parties involved.
I wanted to do all the Hollywood tropes, find the assailant and “teach him a lesson.” I’ll admit I even spent some time driving around looking. I just needed to do something. I had to do something about it. But none of that was my place, I’m not Liam Neeson or Jason Statham, I don’t have a very particular set of skills, a hidden armory of weapons or a slew of properties and resources. And let’s be honest they aren’t their characters; they don’t even have that. Me at 17 wasn’t going to be able to do anything, and what, if I did somehow find and ID this 40 to 50-year-old man, was I really going to do.
So, I did what I could.
I listened and supported and helped to accompany her until some semblance of safety and security could restore itself for her.
Her same street assailant unfortunately assaulted a few others and finally left enough evidence around to get tracked down and charged. She had therapy and a supportive group of friends doing their best to act as Ally’s and to be there for her to work through it. But all too many times neither of those are the experiences for victims.
Howevver the first time a friend entrusted their story with me wasn’t nearly my first exposure to the horrors of sexual assault.
I had already met older victims
My mother worked with in her work at Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers. Some of whom had survived through horrific situations like sex trafficking as a minor and then were incarcerated for managing to defend themselves against an attacker. Or after a history of trauma end up in abusive relationships associated to someone committing crimes that gets arrested and so instead of being treated like the victims they are, get swept up into the situation, sometimes serving more time than the perpetrator because they have no information to provide in efforts to make a deal.
So, I guess you could say I was a bit raised to be an ally.
But as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that what I knew I could do and did do, still wasn’t really being a good enough ally. I’ve advocated for victims and supported victims’ rights groups and services. I’ve shared what I know and have learned with others to raise awareness of issues. I’ve prioritized and practiced consent in my own life experiences and grown that practice as I learned more about what is and isn’t consent over time.
But I’ve failed as an ally in sharing and enforcing those boundaries of consent with other men in my life. I felt that since none of my friends were going out assaulting people or slipping roofies, they’re all good guys.
But then sometimes… we’re hanging out, and it might even be a friend of theirs and not them directly, there’s the comment about the hot wasted chick they hooked up with… and I stay silent. Or laughing along to the stories of lies told to bed someone for one night. Brags of stealth removing condoms because they don’t like the feeling. Yet still, I’m Silent.
Consent is more than just a simple yes or no in the heat of the moment. Even if there were never those comments and situations it’s no excuse for not standing up for consent and what’s right. As the great misattributed quote goes,
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” -Unknown.
Though full of holes under analysis the intent remains solid. That if good deeds and intent are not brought out to counter the bad whenever possible then it contributes to the normalization of the bad actors.
The bad actors are there
Even if they don’t brag about it.
Challenging them and the normalization of their behavior is the only way things will change. We must be vocal as allies that it will not be tolerated. That means calling it out when we hear it but also being sure that our stance is known. To let it be known that all forms of rape and sexual assault are unacceptable and will not be tolerated any longer in our society.