[MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING for the nitty-gritty of sexual assault and aftermath. This is not a happy post and it's not one I really wanted to write. But it's one that a lot of people seem to need to read.]
There's been a lot of talk lately in my local BDSM scene about how to make the scene a safer place. Which is an awesome thing, but it's depressing to see the pushback it's been getting. (If I felt safe before, I wouldn't now, not knowing how many people around me like to play the "but if you don't do XYZ then you're to blame if you get raped!" game.) And one part of that pushback is "hey, public safety isn't our job; if someone has a problem they should go to the police."
This isn't limited to the BDSM scene. I've heard this elsewhere in discussions of sexual abuse. Formally report or you have no right to complain. Formally report or you're to blame for their next victim. Formally report or it probably didn't even happen.
Like it's that easy.
So I'm going to explain in agonizing detail how I was assaulted by a guy in a BDSM scene, and why I didn't go to the cops. And I hope this makes a difference to all the people who think "if someone assaults you call the cops" is the be-all-end-all of stopping sexual assault.
The guy was Benny, we'd been sleeping and playing together for a couple years, and he had been throwing up the flaggiest of red flags for a long time. He'd already done things to me without my permission. That's putting it lightly. I mean that I'd said no (last paragraph) and he'd gone ahead and stuck his dick in me. Which is... I guess it's rape right there? But I didn't even register that. At the time it just seemed like... a thing that happened. I told him "no," he penetrated me anyway, I was like "whoa whoa whoa hey," more annoyed than scared, and in a second he stopped. It seemed more like an awkward, uncomfortable misunderstanding. Like someone giving you a noogie even though you're going "hey no."
Which is why I don't believe in giving people noogies if they don't want it, by the way. Sets a bad precedent.
REASON 1: Sometimes assault doesn't "feel like assault." A million movies and news reports had conditioned me to the idea that assault is big and loud and dramatic, that there's always blood and bruises and screaming. The idea that something quiet and weird and awkward could be literally rape didn't occur to me. And maybe you can argue that a guy shouldn't go to jail for something that didn't traumatize me, but that's only from my point of view. From his point of view he had a woman saying "no" and he stuck his dick in her anyway.
To say that's not rape because I didn't start screaming is like saying it's not theft if you snatch someone's purse and they say "oh well, these things happen, I suppose I can live without that purse."What did bother me was the time he convinced me to let him come on my face, telling me it would be totally sexy and awesome and badass of me, and then as soon as he'd come he burst out in laughter at how ridiculous I looked with come all over my face like some stupid whore.
What did bother me was the time he fingered me, I had a blindfold on, and I didn't realize I was starting my period. He stuffed my blood in my mouth and smeared it on my face without telling me what it was, then took the blindfold off, told me to look in the mirror, and cackled with glee at my predicament.
What did bother me was the increasing frequency with which he played the hold-down game. The way this game worked was that we'd be lying in bed together and he'd roll over on top of me and not let me move. He wouldn't do anything to me, just use his size (he had a full foot and 100 pounds on me) to hold me down until he decided to let me up. Which could be a while. I'd beg him, I'd try to hit him, I'd "no, seriously, it's not funny, seriously let me go" him, I'd even try reverse psychology and just go limp, and he'd just laugh and keep holding me down until he felt like giving my body back.
REASON 2: I blamed myself and expected to be blamed. So this isn't one of those cases where a nice guy turned into a monster out of the blue. This is a case where I had a million red flags and I ignored or excused or "that's just his way"ed them. Was this stupid of me? HELL YES! Is sexual assault a fair punishment for being stupid? FUCK NO. But because there had been those warning signs, I felt like I had it coming, felt like anyone I told would ask "why did you keep seeing him?" and I would have no answer, and felt like I had no right to report a crime that I had "contributed" to by not avoiding.
I'd heard (and continue to hear, and future victims are hearing it right now) the same things said about a million rape victims before me.And then eventually he crossed a line I couldn't forgive or ignore. I was at his house, late at night, with only one purpose, the only reason I kept seeing him: filthy kinky sex.
REASON 3: Slut! There's a lot of shame in being a woman who goes to men's houses late at night with only one purpose. Even without the red flags, that alone is enough to get a lot of people saying "well, what did she expect?"
REASON 4: I said "yes." I did agree to have sex with Benny that night. And there's a huge number of people (some of them cops or jurors) who think that consent to sex is consent to anything, and you don't get to say no once you've said yes. Or if you do it's only rape by some finicky feminist definition, only "gray rape," not in the same category as "rape-rape."So he tied me up, spread-eagle to the four corners of the bed, saying he was going to finger me and get me off while I was tied.
REASON 5: Kinky shit. So how do you explain this to a cop: "Yeah, I said he could tie me up naked, but not tie me up naked and hurt me!" We're in a cultural atmosphere where most people think going to a guy's room is consent to anything he might do to you; what were my odds of explaining that letting him tie me up was not blanket consent?
REASON 6: Kinky "crazy" shit. One of the more common stereotypes about women who do kink (especially who bottom in kink)--one I've had people say to my face when they didn't know I was kinky--is that we're "crazy." Unpredictable, irrational, damaged goods, you know, "crazy." And it's a widely accepted fact in the misogynist community that a "crazy" woman will make an accusation of rape for no good reason, just because she's so "crazy." That's not shit I wanted to face.
REASON 7: The kinky shit community. The kink community talks big about consent, but they also talk big about not having "drama". Calling the cops is the ultimate drama, and if I went back to the kink community after that, I'd very likely get the reputation of "holy shit, she didn't like a scene so she called the cops on her top!"
That's kink-specific, this isn't: the kink community contains most of my friends and it's a major source of emotional support in my life. Having a considerable proportion of my friends turn against me when I needed friends the most--that would not be an easy thing to get through.
REASON 8: Kinky shit exposure. If I pressed charges, inevitably everyone in my life would find out about it and the circumstances. Which would be... not good. Not good for my relationship with my family. Not good for my job. Not good with my roommates. Not good for a large chunk of my future.Things weren't going well from the start. I wasn't really into the sex and it was obvious; usually I get off easy and this time I was just tense and uncomfortable and kinda muttering "okay, this isn't working, maybe I should just... I mean maybe we could... can we take a break? Maybe?"
REASON 9: Mixed signals. "Did you actually say 'no' to him when you started feeling pain, Ms. Pervocracy?" "Er... I said maybe could we maybe take a break."He did not take a break. He tried to shove his entire fist into me. I've been fisted and liked it, but this was dry and sudden and forceful. It was his resentment for me not being a good fuck, for me not moaning and writhing and telling him how amazing he was, balled into a fist and shoved into my vagina. It hurt. Fuck it hurt.
I said "red" and he didn't stop. I said "red, safeword, stop, ow" and he didn't stop. Like when he was holding me down, this was going to end on his time. He kept going and I kept saying "no, really, fucking red, fucking stop." I wasn't screaming or yelling--I was feeling weirdly calm, practical, a sense of "do what you need to do now, panic later"--but I was definitely not unclear. Eventually he did stop. I looked down to see if there was blood on his hands but I think there wasn't.
He stepped away, but left me tied up. He went to the bathroom and started washing his hands. I asked him to untie me. He laughed and said "if you're tied up, you're at my mercy."
That's when I screamed. I screamed "YOU FUCKING UNTIE ME RIGHT NOW WHAT ARE YOU DOING FUCK LET ME FUCKING GO FUUUUUCK" or words to that effect. And then I screamed "I'M GOING TO SCREAM UNTIL THE NEIGHBORS HEAR" and he untied me.
And then... I didn't dash out of the house crying. I didn't attack him. I didn't grab my phone and call 911. I got dressed and I talked to him. Not even "what the fuck just happened?" talked to him. I just said "hey, this sex thing isn't working out, you know."
He said "yeah, I know. But we had a good run there. We'll stay friends."
And then I left. Still not crying, still not acting "traumatized" whatever that looks like, still not calling the cops.
REASON 10: Aftermath. I think I had a brief chance there to be a Proper Rape Victim and I totally blew it. If I'd gone right to the cops, right to the hospital, maybe I would have stood a chance of being taken seriously? But I didn't. I didn't even think of it as sexual assault at the time. I wrote a blog post right afterwards in which it's clear that I'm angry and shaken up but in which I don't call it sexual assault.
Going back after a space of time, and saying "no, wait, I realized it really was assault" fits the misogynist idea of the woman who "changes her mind" or "has regrets" just a little too perfectly.
REASON 11: Doubt. Was this bad enough to put someone in jail over? I mean, jail, that's a really big deal. That's gonna make him lose his job--and he had a good job!--and really ruin his life. From when I started saying "no" to when he untied me was, I don't know, five minutes tops. Can I justify ruining someone's entire life over something that only lasted five minutes? To be honest, even now I can't give an unconflicted "yes" to that question.
REASON 12: Retribution. Benny had a lot of friends. I didn't know them well. I'm sure most of them thought of Benny as the kind of guy who would never hurt anyone. I'm sure they would take his side if some random girl made some random accusation against him. What I'm not sure of is how far "taking his side" would go. Maybe they'd just quietly hate me. Or maybe they'd come to my house at night. I don't know.So I went home. I wrote my little blog post. I went to sleep. Went to work in the morning. Sat a little funny the next couple days. Got angry or sad a few times. Life went on.
REASON 13: It's over. I never saw Benny again. As far as I was concerned, that chapter in my life was closed. Reporting would mean reopening it, rubbing my nose back in the absolute worst parts of it for weeks or months. It would mean extending the ordeal from "got assaulted" to "got assaulted, got interrogated about it, got a pelvic exam, got interrogated again, went to court, got interrogated again," and what would I have at the end? At best, the very mixed (see Reason 11) satisfaction of punishing Benny. Quite likely, nothing at all. For that kind of risk-reward, I might as well just let it go.
Some of the stuff I've listed above may sound kinda trivial, or kinda theoretical, kinda like I'm worrying too much what people will think. But it's stuff that if I reported, I'd have to face all at once, all the time, for a long-ass time until my life was normal again. If I didn't report, my life would be normal again right away.Finally, I just want to say: These are reasons, not justifications. You might see some of these and think "but that's not right, actually that thing you're worried about wouldn't have happened" or "but this doesn't add up, you still should have reported!" And fuck, you may be right. But these are the things that went through my head during and after my sexual assault. These are not reasons I shouldn't have reported the assault. These are reasons I didn't.
Is there one big fix for all of this, one way to make sexual assault super easy and simple to report? I dunno. I doubt it. Or if there is it's a big, massive, culture-changing fix. I don't have time to get into it in this post. I just wanted to answer the question "Why don't sexual assault victims just go to the cops?"
So yeah, there are a few reasons.