There are many times where I have been on the receiving end of sexual assault. Ranging from photos blatantly taken of me on public transport, being groped, being coerced into sex my first time, and even being raped, the list goes on almost as far as the blanket of sexual assault covers. Some of these instances are foggy, glazed over with justifications or self-blame; others are crystal clear and a triggering, fearful reminder of what was inflicted upon me.
But I have also been a perpetrator of sexual assault myself.
Back when my ex and I were still friends with benefits, each visit to his house had but one purpose. On 2 occasions, I convinced him to have sex with me even though he wasn’t into it. I still recall the first time, I rubbed his chest and said please, please, kissing him on the neck and cheek, even after he said he didn’t want to. Eventually he sighed and said okay. The second time was Valentine’s day; he was sick so I brought over soup. Again I asked him to sleep with me though he said he wasn’t up for it cause he was feeling sick. Again, he eventually sighed and said okay.
As with every sexual assault, there are 2 sides of the story: That of the Victim’s, and that of the Perpetrator’s.
How I saw it was that I wanted to sleep with him, that our arrangement revolved around sex anyways, and that my behaviour of pleading till he said yes was necessary. I don’t fully understand my behaviour then. To me, he was not the most emotionally available person, I really wanted him, and the answer was to keep asking until he said yes.
To him, I raped him.
This came from him months later when we progressed into an actual relationship, when he told me he talked to his therapist and she told him that I had raped him.
I was in shock at that revelation. I went to my best friend immediately and she reassured me that it wasn’t, that there’s no way I raped him, and he was just talking crap.
The fact of the matter was that I sexually coerced him. I convinced him to sleep with me even though he didn’t want to, and both verbally and non-verbally showed his disinterest.
Now, sexual coercion, sexual assault and rape are often misconstrued as one and the same.
Sexual coercion: the act of using subtle pressure, drugs, alcohol, or force to have sexual contact with someone against their will.
Sexual assault: a form of sexual violence which includes rape (forced vaginal, anal or oral penetration or drug facilitated sexual assault), groping, child sexual abuse, or the torture of the person in a sexual manner.
Rape: a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person’s consent.
I believe I didn’t rape him but I sexually coerced him into sex on 2 occasions. He believes I raped him, as per what his therapist told him. The difference between the two labels, situation, and perception are different. That’s why there’s always 2 sides to the story. One thing is for sure: I know and feel like the guilty party here. I will try to justify that this relationship itself was unhealthy and I’ve received a fair share of emotional and psychological manipulation, but in the very clear situation of sexual coercion, I am guilty.
Let me segue a bit, but I promise this ties back. This has been such an amazing time of #MeToo, where men in powerful positions who have sexually harassed, controlled and manipulated women are being called out, thrown into the harsh spotlight and are finally facing the music. Women who for decades have been quietly accepting such tyrannical, abusive behaviour towards them are finally being heard.
And then a case like the sexual assault allegations against Aziz Ansari appear. I’m sure some of you have already read enough articles to understand the situation. Though Aziz may not be a Harvey Weinstein, the way he behaved still perpetuates the issue with consent in our society. It also emphasises how gray the area of sexual assault is, not just in terms of the law, but primarily in our everyday lives, culture, and experiences. Men and women alike are constantly finding themselves on “bad dates”, with primarily men who push incessantly for sex, and leave the recipient traumatised or bitterly adding another bad date story into the books.
(This is where it ties back to my experience)
I never thought that I would be relating to both “Grace”, the woman he sexually assaulted, and Aziz Ansari himself.
As I said at the start, I have been the subject of such behaviours for years now. In some cases, I’ve cried. In others, I’ve repressed the memory. For some, I’ve taken to blaming myself for drinking too much, trusting men too easily, being too slutty (and on and on the list goes). Yet am I allowed to be a victim, when I myself was a perpetrator?
Every conversation that revolves around #MeToo and #TimesUp focuses on how women should not be blamed for such situations anymore, how we should stand in solidarity with our fellow survivors, and how it’s time for perpetrators to take responsibility for their behaviour and not be a perpetrator.
But what do you do when you’ve stood on both sides of the issue? When you’ve both coerced, and been coerced. Do your experiences as a victim hold lesser or lose all weight?
It’s so gray and complicated because sexual consent in our society is so fuzzy. There’s been more awareness of Consent as Key, with No meaning No. In Aziz’s case, he stopped when Grace said “No”, but didn’t when Grace showed non-verbal cues or said anything but the word “No.” He kept trying to bring the situation back to one of a sexual nature. Later on, when she texted him about how she was uncomfortable throughout the scenario and he might not have realised it, he apologised to her personally, and later released a statement saying he thought it was “by all indications completely consensual” but that he “took her words to heart”.
In my case, back then I thought it was fine to keep trying, because I always gave in when my previous ex kept pushing; because my first time happened even after I said No; because with all my past experiences with sex, consent was never really in the picture. I thought that was what people did in relationships/fwb arrangments/hook ups: Keep Trying till the No becomes a Yes.
It’s completely fucked up, I know this now. I no longer push or try, I am focused on it being a consensual, mutually desirable circumstance. But yet, the fact remains that I have committed sexual coercion before. The fact exists that at the back of my mind, I’m looking for a way to be redeemed for my actions.
After reading Aziz’s response to “Grace” and his released public statement, I wonder if he felt the same way I did upon realising the situation was completely different from what he thought it was: Consensual.
The question now is… What do I do? What do all these men who have finally been outed as sexual predators and rapists do? What can we (if I can even be considered as part of the victims of sexual assault) do now to make sure these situations stop happening? What do I do as having been both a victim and a perpetrator?
This piece has no real answer; I’m stuck in limbo. Horrifying, self-aware, conflicted and paralysing limbo.
Do You know what is to be done in this situation?