My experience happened the way a number of these cases happen: There was alcohol involved on both sides. But that doesn’t make the sexual assault any less wrong.
Ten years ago while I was in college, I was at a bar with Jas*, a girlfriend of mine. We were waiting for other friends to join us, and the first to arrive was our friend Brian*, accompanied by Karl*, a guy I had never met before. For a long while it was just the four of us, and by the time the others got there, Jas and I were drunk.
This is the last thing I remember before passing out: I was leaning against a friend, waiting for Brian to pull up in his car that was parked a distance away and take me and Jas home. Apparently, it was decided that Jas and I would stay overnight at Brian’s house because we were too drunk to go home by ourselves.
I don’t know how long I was blacked out, but I came to in what felt like a moving vehicle, and the first sensations I felt were moist lips and hot breath on my neck and hands caressing my body.
In my alcohol-addled state, I thought at first that I was dreaming, because I could not recall any sequence of events that would have led to me being kissed and touched like that. As the fog in my head slowly cleared, I realized that I wasn’t dreaming. I was, in fact, in Brian’s car, in the backseat. And the person kissing me was Karl, who was a complete stranger to me until that night.
Many victims of sexual assault say that they did not know what to do when they found themselves in the situation, and I can attest to the paralyzing helplessness that sets in once it happens. Brian and Jas were also in the car, but Jas, drunk herself, was asleep in the passenger seat; meanwhile, Brian had his eyes on the road and seemed oblivious to what was happening in the dark in the backseat. I worried that it would be humiliating for both Karl and me if I lashed out at him in front of our friends. I wondered if such an experience was so common for women that I should just keep my mouth shut and not make a big deal out of it. And I honestly struggled about what to do because that sort of thing had never happened to me before.
So I did the only thing I could manage in my confused state: I stirred to let Karl know that I was conscious. He took his hands off my body and stopped nuzzling my neck, and I moved to the other end of the backseat and didn’t speak to him for the rest of the ride.
When we got to Brian’s house, we were forced to share the only spare room in the house.Karl slept on the floor while I curled up in an uninviting ball on the bed, disgusted at myself, but even more so at him.
I spent many days after the incident wondering what I should’ve done to put Karl in his place.
I imagined scenarios where I pushed him away as soon as I came to, I slapped him, or I shouted at him—all the while knowing full well that none of these was the reality. I agonized over not having stood up for myself, for letting a man violate me and being too consumed by confusion and shame to do anything about it. And I never spoke up about the incident to our friends or to anyone else, because while I knew that what he did was wrong, I couldn’t imagine a situation where I would confess it to other people and not be told that it was my fault for being intoxicated.
For many days, thoughts of self-blame swirled in my head, making me hate myself, so I chose to just push the incident to the back of my mind.
I hadn’t thought about it in months, maybe even years, until the Stanford rape case involving Brock Turner came to light ten years after my own experience. While I was lucky that I gained consciousness during the act and that no digital rape (when someone rapes using their finger/s) or actual penetrative rape took place, my situation was similar in that it also involved a girl too drunk to be able to give consent and a guy who felt entitled to some “action” anyway. And once I learned what had happened to Brock Turner’s victim, I realized that what had happened to me was sexual assault, plain and simple.
Sexual assault is defined as “illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent.” I may not have put a name to my experience in the past because I chose to bury it instead of confronting it, but now I can say that it was sexual assault, and that at least gives me more power over an unpleasant memory that I’ve tried to forget. I no longer have to silently beat myself up for having it happen to me, because whether I was drunk or not, I now know that the fact that I never gave any form of consent puts the blame on Karl. Not on me.
I recently opened up about my experience to a man close to me, and it gave me immense relief to hear someone else express outrage at Karl for seeing a woman passed out as an opportunity.
He didn’t blame me, but he said that I shouldn’t get that drunk again because no one can ever be truly sure about other people’s intentions, so it’s always best to be safe.
While I agree with him, not getting yourself too drunk to function only prevents sexual assault in some cases, because fact is, tons of sexual assault incidents don’t involve a single drop of alcohol. And in situations where alcohol is involved, not being drunk only protects you; it doesn’t protect someone else from being targeted and sexually assaulted.
Let’s face it: Sexual assault will continue to happen with terrifying frequency as long as there are perpetrators around and mindsets that condone rape culture abound. What we have to champion is the sheer importance of seeking consent before any sexual act is to take place. Is that so hard to understand?
*Names have been changed