Every woman I know has been the victim of some kind of sexual violence, myself included. The stories I've heard range from threats, to repeated harassment, to stalking, assault and rape. I consider myself lucky that I've only been in serious danger twice. I realize how insane this sounds, especially since I live in a place that is frequently touted as one of the safest places in the world. I can't even imagine the horrors that women in "less safe" areas have to face daily. The sheer thought makes me shudder.
Despite the "safety" of our city, nearly every woman I know has a story, but with the prevalence and pervasiveness of sexual violence, it's easy to write it off as "just the way it is." I've only recently stopped thinking this way because it's toxic and will perpetuate rape culture, not to mention that it's completely insane. The sheer number of victims shows that sexism and sexual violence are rooted deep in our culture, and the way to eradicate it is to bring it into the light.
Sexual violence, as well as the way it's reported, publicized, and dealt with is a tricky thing. As a society, we're still working on a way to make the victims feel safe, as well as fairly investigate the accusations. I acknowledge that it's an inherently difficult thing to prosecute, but we don't seem to be doing enough. While there are technically three categories (section 271: sexual assault; section 272: sexual assault with a weapon/causing bodily harm; section 273: aggravated sexual assault) the lines between them are still blurry.
I feel as if I need to say this in plain terms: I was not and have never been raped, and to call what happened to me "rape" would be dishonest and disrespectful to survivors of rape. I was, however, a prime candidate for rape twice in my life, and escaped by the skin of my teeth both times. Without bodily evidence of what happened to me, I convinced myself that "nothing happened" and that it was my fault that I got myself into those situations in the first place. This is a toxic way of thinking about it: I've talked to women who have had dangerous sexual experiences but shrugged them off saying, "well, it's not like I was raped."
Our society seems to think it's rape or bust. Minor sexual assaults are tragically unreported, and this is why I'm writing this piece: I want to change that. We need to start talking about our experiences. I tell people what happened to me and they all have the same response, which is usually along the lines of "wow, I had no idea." As I said earlier, every woman has a story, and it's time we start hearing them. I'll kick it off.
The first time it was a stranger, the second time a "friend."
I was 18 and in my freshman year at University of Toronto. With limited options for alcohol consumption and a hunger for the "university experience," a friend and I went to a frat party. Since I've started telling people this story, many will interrupt me and tell me that going to the frat was my first mistake, but I try to bite my tongue and tell them that line of reasoning is poisonous. We arrived at the party and filled our cups with warm beer from the keg and went into the basement where there was a DJ and dancing. Everything was fine for awhile. A few hours in I left my friend, who we'll call Theresa, in the basement while I went to refill my beer.
When I came back downstairs, she was dancing with a guy and kept losing her balance, which she and the guy laughed off. She took a few more sips of her beer and within seconds, she was inches from unconsciousness. Her dance partner looked distinctly unworried that she couldn't stand up on her own, and he kept her propped up, Weekend At Bernie's style. Her legs buckled beneath her and her skirt rode up her hips, exposing her panties.
I saw the dance partner exchange a glance with another guy at the perimeter of the room, and I decided to intervene. I put my cup down on the mantle and approached them. The dance partner brushed me off, telling me she "just needed a quick rest" upstairs. When I persisted in trying to help, he leaned in and asked why I was being such a "bitch." I grabbed my beer and took a gulp, hoping it would calm my nerves. As I turned to my cup, I noticed a guy hovering. I didn't think much of it. I put my lips to the rim and immediately got tunnel vision. I felt the floor beneath me rumble, and I grabbed the table to brace myself. Then it hit me: we'd both been drugged, and I knew we needed to get out of there as fast as I could. Stumbling, I grabbed Theresa's arm and slung it around my shoulder, using the wall to steady myself. I shouted that we were leaving, and the guy shrugged, muttered "cunt" under his breath, and likely scoped out his next target.
We ascended the narrow, nightmarish staircase, and no one helped us, let alone give us something more than a glare or occasional hoot. We made it to the front door, where another frat brother told us we couldn't leave. At this point, I'm not sure whether or not I was actually forming words, but I remember him telling us something about the cops being outside, and that they would arrest us and all of the brothers if they saw us. Luckily, someone from the porch pushed through and we snuck out. The whole house seemed like a well-oiled rape machine, and it seemed that every brother was complicit: no one helped us when we were obviously in need, no one intervened, and they even had the nerve to prevent us from leaving. Had I had one more sip of my beer, I have no doubt that we would have been raped. Let me remind you that this happened in Toronto in 2010.
The second time was a narrower escape. I was now in second year, and my friend, "Kelly," and I were out at a bar when we received an invite from a friend of mine, who we'll call Dave. Dave said that a bunch of people were at his house, and that he'd love to see us there. We hopped in a cab and arrived at his empty house, and he told us that everyone had migrated to the bar down the street, and that we would go meet them after doing a few shots. There was a 60 oz. of vodka on the kitchen counter and two glasses which he filled with two inches of liquor. I asked why he didn't want any, and he said he was drunk enough already.
Kelly, a small girl, took the shot and it pushed her over the edge. We moved to the living room to "relax" a bit, before Kelly got up to go vomit in the bathroom. I got up to follow her, and Dave put his hand on my leg, telling me she'd need a bit of space, and that she was just a bit too drunk. He threw his arm around my shoulders emphatically and told me to "chill out a bit." He was older, cute, and very charming, so I complied, opting to just call her a cab. As I grabbed my phone, he took it out of my hand and asked what the rush was, and asked if I wanted to "have some fun." I told him that I had a boyfriend to whom I was faithful, and he reiterated his "fun" argument. Panicking, I slid off the couch and sat on the floor at the other end of the room. Chuckling, he got up and followed me, pushing my chest to the floor, and got on top of me, his full body weight pinning me.
"Just a bit of fun," he grunted into the crook of my neck, "what's wrong with a bit of fun?"
"No. I have a boyfriend," I said again, hoping that I would tap into the primal "other man's territory" reasoning that I hated, but thought was my only way out of the situation.
I felt him rise inside his pants, and my panic amplified as he struggled to undo his belt.
I knew his super lived upstairs, and that there were people on the other side of the party wall, so I began to yell "no" with increasing volume. He eventually relented, and I'm lucky that he wasn't a hardened rapist, who I'm sure would have ignored and stifled my cries. He did up his belt and got off of me, and I ran to the bathroom where Kelly was unconscious on the tiles next to the toilet. I called a cab, and tried to wake her up.
As the cab pulled up, Kelly and I left the bathroom and found Dave staring sinisterly, sitting on the stairs.
"You're a fucking tease," he told me, angry and sullen.
This is what still kills me to this day: I apologized to him. Repeatedly. He sulkily accepted my words, while I felt like I was offering up a piece of myself to him as a consolation prize. I spent the next month in a deep depression, one of the worst of my life.
But I never told anyone until years later. If I'd told someone earlier, I could have escaped the guilt and anger I directed at myself. I could have saved myself the torture of thinking it WAS all my fault, and that I was an idiot for going there, drinking the vodka, letting him on top of me.
I know now that it wasn't my fault. I was misled, and yes, maybe I should have been more perceptive, but I was 19, drunk, and insecure, and I'm tired of beating myself up for it.
Victim blaming is the biggest impediment on the path towards abolishing rape culture. As a society, we hurl rationalizations and blame at victims as a way of making the problem go away. It's entirely reasonable to expect to go to a party and not get raped, yet that doesn't seem to be the case, even in our "safe" society.
If every woman who's been a victim tells her story, we can start to stitch together a narrative of sexual violence, the understanding of which is the first step towards eradicating it. I know it's difficult to tell people about experiences where you weren't in control, but think of it this way: by speaking about your experiences, you're giving a voice to other victims, past, present and future. If we all end the shame and silence, we can have a dialogue about sexual assault that actually involves the primary victims, which I believe is the first step towards making this world safer for half the world's population.
Assaulted Women's Help Line
Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: