My first admission: Last summer, I enjoyed “Bachelor in Paradise.” In fact, I watched it religiously; placed bets on which participants would leave the show engaged. I found it the perfect respite from talk of the election and reading for graduate school. During a time when every conversation felt heavy and loaded, I was able — for a few hours — to sit back and think about nothing. It was reminiscent of summer seasons of “Beverly Hills 90210,” where whole episodes were taken up with Brandon and Kelly on the beach. Even better than “90210,” “Bachelor in Paradise” seemed to embrace its schlocky appeal — it was in on the joke — and I thought little of the production bartender pouring endless drinks.
In June, when I first heard “Bachelor in Paradise″ was suspended due to “misconduct,” I took to the Internet with intrigue. I assumed it was a publicity stunt, and when initial reports stated a notorious “troublemaker” was involved, I assumed he or she would be sent home and taping would resume in a matter of days. I wasn’t wrong. The show’s suspension lasted 10 days — long enough for Warner Brothers to conclude sexual assault allegations were “unfounded.” Though a female contestant, Corinne, says she was too drunk to give consent to sexual activity with fellow contestant, DeMario, the internal investigation determined there was no wrongdoing. Given the way women are consistently discredited when claiming assault (see: Bill Cosby’s mistrial, Mike Comrie’s dropped charges, Kesha’s legal battles), this conclusion isn’t surprising.
Very few people will ever really know what happened on the “Bachelor in Paradise″ set. A third party, a producer, made the accusation of assault; she saw explicit video of a poolside encounter and was troubled by what she was viewing. In a press release, Corinne admitted she had little memory of that night, though “something bad obviously took place.” DeMario has his own side of the story.
As for the tape — and of course, there is one — it was never supposed to be released. Recently, this decision was overturned — and in thinking it wouldn’t, how naïve could I be? Of course producers would take female pain and position it as commodity. In promotional interviews, host Chris Harrison stated, “you’re going to see more than enough to show you what was happening that led up to the shutdown, within certain taste and values of what we can show on network TV.”Taste. Value. If it all wasn’t so sad, I would laugh at the irony.
* * *
My second admission : I have been Corinne. I have been the person who drank too much and ruined the fun for everyone around me. I did just that, almost six years ago to the day. On a hot summer night, during a weekend with friends, I drank until I was no longer capable of standing. I shifted in and out of consciousness and woke up to a man I once dated having sex with me. Like Corinne, I can only tell my truth of the experience, my version of the story. I finally admit — and it has taken me six years to write these words — that though I made the choice to drink to excess I did not make the choice for him to rape me.
We first met at a reading in New York City. Jon was the final act at the event, and I was an attendee. He was older, experienced, and I was enamored by the confident way he took the stage. He looked directly into the audience while he was speaking, his words memorized, no need to even turn the page. After, I went up to him and told him how much I loved his writing. He shook my hand and turned away, joining a group of friends for celebratory drinking.
Later, Jon wouldn’t recall this interaction, he’d first acknowledge me at a writer’s house, where we stayed up until 3 a.m. talking. He was a doctoral student and recommended articles he thought I should read. He provided advice when I expressed nervousness about my first year of teaching. When he offered me a cigarette I took one, although I hated the taste. It seemed like what I was supposed to be doing.
Our first date was at a Thai restaurant in the West Village. After, he told me perhaps we shouldn’t see each other again. He had recently gone through a messy divorce and wasn’t in the right place for a relationship; he wrote in an email: “I’m trying to tidy myself up, emotionally.” I appreciated this honesty, but I didn’t let it deter me. It was a time in my life when it seemed smart to act foolish; anything that didn’t kill me would become material for writing. Although Jon claimed he wanted to tidy up, we kept the situation messy, meeting every few months for 18-hour dates that would end with him back at my apartment, us naked but not having sex, my attempt at a division between feeling and not feeling.
It was July when we reconnected at a weekend on Fire Island. The last time I had seen him it was snowing. I had suspected Jon would be there but couldn’t be sure; he was freelancing for several newspapers and was often traveling. When we hugged it seemed the hug of friends, our hello not the hello of people who desired the other’s body.
The house we were staying at was on the Atlantic Ocean — it was a type of wealth I wasn’t accustomed to experiencing. We ate fresh caught fish and made margaritas, oldies music was blasting. There were eight or nine of us, and we passed a joint back and forth while dancing. I was drunk from my sunburn and the margaritas and the weed. In a photograph from that night a friend’s arm is wrapped around my shoulders. I’m looking up at the camera and smiling. I never want this night to end, I thought, and in a way it hasn’t. It stays with me, popping up on the beach or in bed with my husband. It certainly re-emerged and lingered these past few months, as the “Bachelor in Paradise” story broke and people all over social media demanded Corinne apologize.
She hopped onto his lap, the story goes. She suggested they get in the pool.
I too, initiated contact. I crawled into bed with Jon that night. He had texted me hours before, but I was busy making out on the beach with another man at the party. For years, this detail brought me tremendous shame. I remember wanting Jon to hold me. The hook up with the other man ended with him asleep on the couch and I was left with a loneliness that made me ache. I remember getting into that bed, those blue sheets. Much of that house was blue and white; it was a place that took pride in the ocean’s proximity. Then, there was darkness, and when I regained consciousness Jon was on top of me. I remember saying I don’t know where I am. He might have stopped then, pulled out, but the next memory I have it is morning, and he’s in the kitchen drinking coffee. I put back on my dress, long and with brown beads across the neckline. I did not remember taking it off. I wondered where my underwear could be.
Then, it is a lesson in practicalities.
Did we have sex? Yes.
Did you use a condom? No.
Have you been tested? Not recently.
Weeks later, he will get tested and e-mail me the results. I will be so grateful for that.
After, I do not call this rape — for how could it be, when I got into bed with him, when we were both drunk, when I had been with someone else at the party. After, I just call it “a bad hook-up” or “that night with Jon,” the words tasting like sour milk. After, I text my best friend:
I didn’t want to have sex with him
but I did
I was so blitzed out drunk
I didn’t know what was happening
* * *
I’m telling this story because it is messy; it is murky. There were drugs involved; we were both drinking. The details make it not so easy to pass blame. I’m telling this story because a student of mine — a young man I respect — once confessed, “until I got to college I didn’t know a woman couldn’t give consent if she was drunk. None of my friends did. It was just something that wasn’t talked about.”
His observation is an astute one. At first his words took me by surprise. Yet, how could they, when I could not name what happened years before, though I thought about it all the time?
My student makes an important point — we need to talk about consent practices much earlier, not just when controversy arises. As it stands, many of the conversations around “Bachelor in Paradise” are skewed and misguided; it’s a prime example of the way female victimhood is downplayed. Reports focus on Corinne’s initiation; they emphasize she came on to multiple men the same day. #FreeDemario one Bachelorette contestant wrote on Instagram, though in fact no charges against him were ever made. In an exclusive interview, DeMario admitted both parties were drinking heavily, that he laid her on the ground and engaged in sexual activity. “I made sure that the cameras followed us,” he said. “It just seemed too perfect in a sense for me.” He was doing what he was hired to do. He was making good TV.
I won’t name what happened on “Bachelor in Paradise.” Corinne has never used the word “rape,” and I respect this choice, though over time “If you have an adversary, an opponent with an opposing point of view, give that person a platform, regardless of how extreme it may be,” he says. “...You challenge them, but you don’t challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently and when you do things that way, chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform.” OR, her language around the experience might change. I am grateful that her partner and family members are publicly supporting her, and for her entrance into therapy. It’s an important step and one I did not take right away. Instead, I tried to erase the experience, drinking heavily for months, until I almost fell off a roof at a house party.
I will say: I worry. I worry about the ways this coverage has been triggering for survivors — certainly I am not the only person to read the comments of “slut” and “whore,” and thought you’re talking about me. I can’t be the only person who cringes at the commercials featured prominently on ABC. “Paradise was almost lost,” a promo reads, while lighting cracks and ominous music plays. It’s treated as a joke, a plot point, a crisis for the show to overcome. Alleged sexual assault is part of the game.
Yet there is still power to be found in all this, a statement that can be made. This season, “Bachelor in Paradise” premiered to an audience of 5 million viewers. What would it demonstrate if this number declined? The show came back, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue to watch the charade. What a message this could send to survivors — that when you say, “Something bad happened,” people will respond. They’ll believe your story.
“I believe you,” I say the words out loud, and listen for an echo back to me.
This story was originally published in Athena Talks.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.