Warning: This piece contains more graphic descriptions of sexual assault than previous publications and could be triggering to victims of sexual assault.
“You seemed really self-absorbed around the time that you’re saying it happened. In my opinion, you left the door wide open for something like that.”
“I get it being scary and stuff, but I can’t sit here and say that God can help you with this because you stayed with him. Your window of being saved is getting smaller and smaller.”
“What were you wearing?”
“I mean, he was a twenty something year old virgin. Can you blame him?”
“You know that you can be beautiful again, right?”
Those were the first responses I got when I told my story to a few members of my church and people from Wheaton. So, for three years, I kept quiet about it and tried to keep details at an absolute minimum.
It happened quickly, and then I was left alone on his couch as he scurried down the College Ave Apartment steps to help set up for a College Union event. Crying while I tried to clean up the blood, I was unable to walk down the stairs so I laid on his couch and listened as the overwhelming weight of losing 20 years of ‘guarding my heart’ and ‘maintaining my temple’ went trailing down those metal steps with him.
The ‘Question’ of Consent
Laying on that couch with the blanket he had tossed over me, I thought over how it went from a few ‘have a good day’ kisses to being scared out of my mind, topless, on my back, silent, and paralyzed in fear, wondering why he pulled my dress down like that and threw me over. It was the first time anybody had seen, much less touched, my body–there was no permission granted or even sought after. I was stunned. I didn’t fight or argue when he stripped me for the first time and invited himself into my body.
What I didn’t know was that freezing was a normal stress response, that our options aren’t just limited to fight or flight. It turns out freezing is actually a very common response to sexual assault. In my case, as with victims that are attacked by current or former intimate partners (26%), or friends (38%), the level of betrayal and harm is almost impossible to grasp in the seconds it takes to assault somebody. Both of our perceptions were skewed: he assumed I was going with it because I dropped limp, and I assumed I was guilty because I didn’t actually fight back or run away. But you keep thinking:
– They’ll stop once they realize.
– This isn’t happening.
– I must’ve lead them on… they wouldn’t do this without a reason. They care about me.
What I didn’t know was that consent means saying “Yes,” not assuming the lack of a negative response, or any emotional responses in this story, implies the affirmative. If you’re ever unsure, ask your partner.
I laid there feeling the hopelessness of not having enough of a case to get help, fearing that it would backfire and cause both of us to be disciplined for sexual activity.
Yell FIRE instead of RAPE
That’s what I learned in a self defense class at Wheaton the year before.
In studies that I was shown, people are more likely to help if you yell ‘fire’ than ‘rape.’ Witnesses and helpful people tend to shy away from victims yelling “Help!” or “Rape!” but fires are supposed to draw in more of a crowd.
So basically, I left with the understanding that I would not only lose credible witnesses by speaking up about the truth, but that I would actually repel helpful people
I am a Spirit, not a Body
I was worried that I had been his stumbling block, that I had it coming because men can’t help it, that wearing a dress with a zipper made me come off as more willing, and that I didn’t have enough of a case for somebody to help. So I decided to stay… and at least try to like it.
After all, he had taken the virginity I had worked so hard to keep for my future husband. I wanted to think that future husband could be him.
And a body was a temple of the Lord, but not necessarily what communed with him. Right? God cared about my mind and spirit, but my body was purely utilitarian, valued on doing beautiful things for ‘Christ and His Kingdom.’ Hearts need healing, not bodies.
The moment that theology took root was one afternoon, when I started sobbing, telling him that I’ve never hated my body like this before and just wanted an escape from it. His response was to tear my clothes off, drag me against my will in front of a lengthwise mirror, and force me to stare at myself while I fought to both hide myself and get away. When that didn’t work, he was angry and hurt. The false guilt of not being ‘helpable’ and the shame of seeing my desecrated body was the last time I remember being present when he touched me. My body meant nothing anymore, and I was hopelessly lost in a world where healing was unattainable, because he loved me and was trying his best to show it. Hearts need healing, not bodies.
It was probably the worst theology I could’ve bought into at that time, but I learned to black out.
The day he called me a ‘whore’ for suggesting condoms and ‘the end of his reputation’ for wanting to talk to someone about being comfortable during sex, I took it to the next level and became a character he could shape. I was too quiet? You like that porn? Ok. Anything to end it quicker and let my spirit come home. The reality is, faking consent isn’t enough to get a woman’s body warmed up. It hurt every time, and I’d cry after he’d fall asleep.
It turns out bodies are incredibly important and worth being respected, but I didn’t realize that until somebody hugged me about a year later. No strings attached, no prior knowledge of my pain or the ongoing fear that I’d lose my family’s love and respect if they found out. It was the first pure thing to happen in so long that my body went into shock and he had to talk me down from a panic attack.
Because I saw women who had been sexually assaulted in South Korea stand outside the Japanese embassy every week… waiting for an apology they never got.
Because it’s not wrong, even during sex, to say “no.”
Because I should be able to walk down a street naked and not “have it coming.”
Because giving up bodily health, family, friends, church life, over the reputation of someone who doesn’t respect any of those things isn’t worth it.
Because he told me that nobody would respect me after I talked about this.
Authored by Jocelyn Cox, recent Wheaton Alumna