Tonight I realised that I’ve been raped. I had already recognised and identified a previous sexual assault, and sexual abuse, throughout my life. But this took me a lot longer to see. My rapist would never, in a million years, believe that he is a rapist. If he found out that I was saying this, he would probably roll his eyes, and be genuinely amazed and astonished by my ability to make a mountain out of a molehill.
There are a lot of people who, upon hearing the details without the context, would also be quick to tell me that it really isn’t a big deal and really isn’t rape. But the thing is, rape is a complicated thing. Rape needs context.
My rapist would absolutely have stopped if I had told him to. So then, how could that possibly be rape? My rapist created an environment in which I felt like I couldn’t say no. But it’s tricky, because I didn’t feel like I was in physical danger if I said no. I didn’t think he would hit me, or “rape-rape” me. Rape doesn’t only happen when the survivor feels like there will be dire, life-threatening consequences when they say no. It doesn’t only happen when they fight back. It doesn’t only happen when it’s a stranger in an alley.
The only real consent is enthusiastic, freely given consent. There’s a reason this has grown to be the understanding of consent in activist circles, instead of simply the “yes means yes” phrase. Because consent becomes coerced easily and, sometimes, gently.
I never told my rapist to stop. I never told my rapist “maybe.” I never told my rapist “not right now.” I never told my rapist “I’ve changed my mind.” I never told my rapist anything. I never felt, at the time, like I was being raped. But I’ve finally realised that none of that matters.
Rape happens as soon as consent becomes tainted with coercion.
Times when I stopped doing sexual things when I felt like stopping, my rapist would get sulky. He would give me the silent treatment. He would snap at me. He would spend the whole night subtly punishing me for my decision. It didn’t take long for me to feel like just carrying on even when I didn’t want to anymore was better than stopping. He created an environment where “no” had consequences, consequences that may simply be a minor annoyance – but enough of a consequence for me to feel like it wasn’t worth the trouble to say no.
Rape is what happens when someone feels like it’s not worth the trouble to say no.