Trigger warning: This blog is about sexual assault and may be triggering to survivors
It is no surprise that Christine Blasey Ford did not report her sexual assault for three decades. Like many women her age, she is a survivor of 1980s rape culture.
WAVAW Rape Crises Centre sums up rape culture like this: "We live in a society that teaches — don't get raped, instead of don't rape." Rape culture is still thriving, but in support of Dr. Ford, let's talk about the '80s.
I was raped in the 80s. I was 14 he was the "cool friend-of-a-friend with his own apartment." And I never reported it. Unfortunately, my case is not unique and the act of rape itself was not the worst part. The worst part was the rape culture that allowed it to happen and then kept me ashamed, quiet, and alone.
Sexual assault is not something that just happens on a particular day to someone who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. An assault does not stand alone in time. There is a history to an assault, as well as a future. I was assaulted because history told a guy he could get away with it and I kept quiet because society bullied me into silence. Rape culture is why it has taken some women over 30 years to report. As SACHA statistics show, our culture still supports perpetrators of sexual assault over survivors and sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada that is not in decline.
I blamed myself because the belief systems in place and language used concerning women's sexuality supported self-blame.
It was my first time drunk. I remember the thrill of being somewhere I shouldn't have been, doing something I shouldn't have been doing. I was a "good girl" with a curious mind. Like most teens my age, I was especially curious about sex. I'd been with my first boyfriend for nine months and we'd planned on losing our virginities together. Then I was assaulted and my teen years went sideways.
I didn't tell anyone about it, as all I wanted was for it to go away, but instead it completely changed my life. I went from happy with many friends to depressed, bullied, and alone.
Video: What is rape culture?
Rape survivors remain silent for so many reasons. A study conducted by Dr. Courtney Ahrens, Department of Psychology at California State University, found that survivors do not report because negative reactions from professionals, friends and family made them question whether they would be believed, encouraged self-blame, and made them question whether their experience qualified as sexual assault.
I blamed myself because the belief systems in place and language used concerning women's sexuality supported self-blame. How could I have put myself in that position — drunk in a strange guy's apartment? It must've been my fault... If I'd listened to my parents... If I hadn't broken the rules... If I'd accepted my boyfriend's movie invitation instead... If I'd left the party early... And, maybe I wanted it, right? I mean, I was curious about sex... Maybe I'd given mixed signals, in my drunken slurred-speech state... Maybe he didn't understand when I mumbled, "get off me"... And what about my boyfriend? Was I a cheat?... a slut? Only "easy girls" get themselves into these "situations"... Like that drunk girl in Sixteen Candles... Slut... That's what girls call other girls when they behave too "sexy"... My mother says girls like that are looking for trouble... Rape happens to girls who don't control themselves... It was my fault... If I'd only been more responsible... If... If... If... If I just keep it to myself...
It was as if my rapist just kept assaulting me, over and over and over again.
But not telling anyone does not make it go away.
Girls who strayed from sexual expectations in the 1980s were relentlessly bullied. In my school, girls often used knowledge about sex to gain power over other girls. Force: Upsetting Rape Culture explains that in rape culture girls lose control over their bodies as they're inundated with imagery, beliefs, and language that validate and perpetuate sexual assault. Gaining power over another girl involved re-defining her — hijacking her ability to define herself as an equal human being with rights over her own sexuality.
When word spread that I had lost my virginity to "some guy" and "cheated" on my boyfriend, I was labeled "slut" — a term often dressed up in the context of "humour" and validated by the laughter it elicited. As I was redefined as "slut," I lost power over my self-definition. As a result, I lost friends, my grades plummeted, I started to skip school, I became angry, my relationship with my teachers and parents disintegrated, boys sought me out solely because they thought I was easy, and I had to change schools because the bullying became unbearable. It was as if my rapist just kept assaulting me, over and over and over again.
More from HuffPost Canada:
Lack of sex education meant teens in the '80s had no clue when it came to sex – it was like feeling around in the dark while being guided by whispered hearsay, Sixteen Candles, and Uncle Al's naughty magazines (you know, the ones with the melon-boobed easy chics?). Looking back, it doesn't surprise me that I failed to understand that I wasn't at fault.
By the time I started university, I was an anxious ball of nerves with little trust in people. It took me years to rebuild my confidence and have healthy relationships. I buried my teen years deep and kept my "dirty secret" quiet out of fear of being re-victimised.
It was the Jian Ghomeshi case that jolted me into reflecting on my assault and the effects it had on my life. The Ghomeshi case, along with the more recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrates that we still live within a culture that excuses predators and encourages women to stay silent.
To reduce sex crimes, we need to change the way people understand sex.
Because sexual assaults don't end with the assault.
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