Rapist Vs. Partner

Indexing A Sexual History

  Photo by    Stefano Pollio    on    Unsplash

My rapist is number 33 on my list of sexual partners and differentiated with a ~ before his entry. He is listed as ‘Handsy’, which is what I dubbed him upon our introduction; the foreshadowing of that nickname still makes me sick. I no longer remember his name. Handsy appears just past the middle of the list, after 32 other encounters I remembered immediately and could rattle off with ease. His appearance marked a pause; I had debated with myself for some time before ultimately including him and then moving on to the remaining names.

The inclusion of my rapist on my list of sexual partners wasn’t pleasant or immediate, but it did feel necessary. For me, the list is more technical than romantic, i.e., these are the people who have been inside my vagina. The list was never anything other than a practical document, something maintained electronically for easy access and tabulation, and only begun upon realizing I was approaching a point where I might no longer easily recall the specifics or circumstances of those involved in my escapades, somewhere around the number 40. The distinction of penetration meant that I did not include the man who molested me as a child nor the former friend who masturbated over me while I was incapacitated on pills and booze after my high school graduation.

Since deciding to write about this topic, it has become apparent that my approach to sexual indexing is not exactly common and certainly not popular. I brought it up with a girlfriend who had also been raped and at first she replied, “yeah I’ve included my rapists”, but that quickly shifted to the distinction that they go on a different list, not to be mixed with one of sexual partners, adding “they don’t deserve that”. While I agree that sexual assaulters don’t warrant the same classification as those with whom I’ve engaged consensually, it seems unnecessarily disorganized and somewhat irrational to create multiple lists.

Ever curious to know what the internet had to say, I searched for “including your rapist on a list of sexual partners” and turned up just one relevant hit, a post dated January of 2013 and published on the site Jezebel, exploring why people keep “fuck lists.” The matter of sex without consent was addressed briefly: “One of the most sensitive issues around numbers and lists involves how — or whether — to integrate non-consensual sexual experiences onto a list. Several women mentioned that they deliberately left those incidents out of their archives, while others made a separate category. “I have two assholes on their own ‘rapist’ list,” one woman wrote; “I won’t include them with everyone else, but I can’t forget them either.” Another put “rapist” in parentheses after a name, which she nonetheless included in sequential order on her spreadsheet.” The article was written by Hugo Schwyzer, a former Jezebel contributor.

The scant results from cyber research prompted my turning to a male friend next. He had strong opinions in opposition to my decision; his position also centered around the word ‘partner’ and its implication of permission. Of course I could see his point, given the strict definition of the word, but I felt his position diminished reality to a question of semantics, ignorant to the complexities and far-reaching impact of any actions taken on the matter. After all, as a straight male who has never been penetrated as a means of intercourse or assault, he has no basis of experience on which to base his conclusions. I probably should have asked a man who at least had firsthand knowledge of having one’s body explored by a penis instead.

Whether I use a different word in a title for my list or not, the fact is that my rapist physically entered my body, as did every other person I willingly engaged in intercourse; that detail alone makes his inclusion logical. The act of counting this man’s name, or rather his description, among my sexual partners, doesn’t excuse the crime in any way, but it does normalize the experience to something I can emotionally manage which is why it felt necessary. My decision allows me to gain some modicum of leverage against my abuser.

If I were to allow the pain and discomfort that comes from recalling that night to keep me from acknowledging or discussing my experience, then I would remain forever the victim. To be silent, to ignore the facts, to forget, would only keep me weak, forever burdened by someone’s else actions rather than my own.

***

Rape is one of those subjects many prefer not to discuss. Thanks to the infamous #metoo movement, plenty of people now feel empowered to admit to the occurrence of sexual assault, but not much has changed in terms of speaking about the events, specifically the act of rape. People may be more willing to know that such experiences have occurred, perhaps even an account of harassment, but they still don’t want to know the details.

After my rape, I woke up in a basement, fully clothed on top but naked from the waist down. I was groggy, my eyes dry and unable to focus; my rapist attempted to press a pill into my mouth as I struggled to ask where I was and what had happened. The assault occurred on the second day of a weekend-long house party for a friend who was celebrating the completion of his medical residency I think; my rapist was a close companion of my host and a child psychiatrist.

When I share these details out loud in mixed company, the responses range from visible discomfort to the occasional hushed and timid admission of identification. The distress manages to serve as subtle shaming for daring to speak of such things, as though the subject was meant only for therapists, members of the medical and legal community, perhaps a diary. Often it’s suggested I save such sharing for strictly female company; this not only infers I should feel embarrassed, but also discounts the fact that sexual assault knows no boundaries of gender, nor race or status.  The data-based site FiveThirtyEight, presented this thorough report in January 2018. It breaks down the rates of sexual assault, the widespread impact on all peoples, and the dismal occurrence of reporting in a way that leaves no questions as to the reach of the issue. Collective silence creates a sanctuary for perpetrators, fostering the notion that they may continue to act despicably without fear of recrimination. It gives abusers not only protection, but power as well, and what awful power it is.

I know all too well what comes from staying silent, I did it for years. I'm loath to admit it, but I never reported any of the incidents of abuse I suffered. Following each of my three assaults, I was so broken and crippled by worry over my perceived role in the events I became paralyzed and mute.

As a child, I held onto that first instance of sexual abuse until early adulthood when I began confiding in romantic partners and close friends. I was abused by my next door neighbor, a senior citizen who owned horses and had been friends for years with my stepfather. It wasn’t until 2012 and newly sober that I shared the occurrence with any family member. My older brother, acting as my interim sponsor in a 12-step program, offered me the safety and comfort to be honest in a way I had never been with any other member of my family.

When I was 17, I confronted the boy who had masturbated over me while I lay unconscious during a graduation party. I awoke to find him standing over me exposed and stroking himself as he pushed my clothes aside. I knocked his hands away the best I could in the state I was in; somehow I managed to yell enough for him to pull up his pants and back off. Afterward, I got myself together and told my boyfriend who then collected my other friends and challenged the guy outside. He denied everything and the whole encounter fizzled out after some yelling and threatening; soon after, it was forgotten and everything reverted to normal. I heard later that night another girl had accused him of the same thing earlier in the year.

The rape happened in my early 30s and again, I shared it with the few people I trusted at the party. This time the assailant was thrown out of the party after being physically confronted by the host; the party quickly broke up afterward. I still didn’t go to the police. What I did do was continue to get high that night as the handful of people left started sharing little bits of what they had witnessed; apparently I had been “all over” Handsy. When we both disappeared, no one thought twice about the implications despite how clearly intoxicated I had been. The descriptions of my aggressive flirting were foreign and horrifying. Handsy had casually mentioned GHB earlier in the night, and I had lost a solid three to four hours of time to a blackness I’d never felt before; I started to realize I had probably been dosed.

It’s entirely possible I wasn’t — I didn’t go to a doctor or file charges, no rape kit was ever taken — but I know in my gut that something “extra” occurred. I also know that if I had somehow felt a change of heart towards Handsy and willingly engaged him in sex, then I would have for sure taken my top off to screw him. To find out that I had anything physical to do with that man turned my stomach; he was creepy and repulsive from the second I met him.

I blamed my use of substances that weekend despite deep suspicions that I had been drugged. Convinced that my account would be dismissed in court as coming from an addict and drunk who was “asking for it” and “had it coming,” I concluded there was no use in making a report or filing charges. I believed involving the law would only succeed in extending my pain indefinitely; the matter filtering from the police to lawyers, making statements and being questioned, revisiting the humiliation over and over.

I attempted to come to terms with what I had experienced and what I had been told in the months that followed. I obsessively relived it over and over. I tried to “own” the event by imagining it from the eyes of a professional sex worker. I told myself things like: if I were in porn this would be no big deal, it’s just a physical transaction, why do I need to be so emotionally affected by one night? I can’t even remember it, so why hold onto it? I talked it through multiple times with another doctor from the party; I attempted to use him as a substitute therapist. I drank and drank and drank and did more drugs than ever before. Unsurprisingly I hit an even deeper bottom than that felt immediately after the rape. My first attempt at sobriety came six months later.

***

Now that I’m in recovery and no longer stifling my feelings and memories with substances, I can face things with some clarity. Over the last six-plus years I’ve shared about my rape with others many many times. I’ve done moral inventories on my part in the events of my past, not taking the blame but honestly examining how my fears and ego contributed to my silence and self-harm. I punished myself for years, sick with regret and shame for not standing up for myself; for allowing not one, but three criminals to roam free without repercussion. I’ve always been able to excuse my reaction as a terrified and already home-abused child at the age of 8, but it has been much harder to forgive myself for doing nothing as an older teenager and later as a woman in her early 30s. In each of the latter instances, my use of illegal substances precluded doing the right thing. Fear of being blamed, discredited or even charged for a crime myself, held me silent and weak. I can never know how many others may have fallen victim at the hands of those same men as a result of never being held accountable for their actions.

My list is an index of my sexual history, but also of my sexuality and sexual choices. It is also a call never to keep quiet again; a motivator to accept myself and my past; to let go of all the shame. Choosing to face those ugly parts whenever I review or add to my list helps keep things in perspective, it keeps me free.

I wish it were more common for people to share the specifics of their sexual assault honestly; hearing about someone else’s rape might have inspired me to open up about my own sooner, perhaps even report it. But maybe not. It’s so hard to say given how tight-lipped we are as a culture when it comes to this topic; can you even imagine what it might be like to live in a world where victims weren’t blamed or ashamed?

Holding a painful truth a secret seems like the easier way, but really it does nothing but perpetuates the very acts of which we choose not to speak. And if no one is willing to listen, how can there ever be sanctuary for a victim? Blame and shame happen any time someone is asked not to talk about an uncomfortable subject, any time experience is mocked or questioned, any time a person is disparaged for intoxication or the way they are dressed. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

If we ceased burdening the abused with censorship, we might finally begin shifting the balance of power from the abuser to the abused.