I wanna start off by saying I’m not exactly sure what I’m chalking this experience up to.. From the people I’ve told, I’ve gotten reactions that range from “it was a misunderstanding, move on” to “report him, it was sexual assault.” And it is honestly hard to really pinpoint where I feel like I fall on this spectrum. I wasn’t raped, but something happened to me that I didn’t want to happen..
Shortly after the incident I googled two things: “what counts as sexual assault” and “what if you don’t actually say no.” Because I didn’t actually say the word “no.” One of the articles that came up really put things into perspective for me in terms of how I reacted. The blog post talks about how we are conditioned to not say no, to avoid direct reject of an offer. We make up excuses like “I’m busy” or “I’m sorry, I have plans” or “let me check and get back to you” because we grow up being told that saying outright that we don’t want something is wrong. And when placed in certain situations where an excuse is not going to get you out of a situation, we sometimes freeze up. And that’s what I did. I froze.
The actual incident doesn’t actually seem that bad, when I think of how much worse things could have been, in a different setting or at a different time. I was at work. I’m a tutor for a university technology program and I work in two labs helping first year students with software. I have known this student for about 7 months and I have never noticed any attraction that he’s had towards me. So, last Friday he asked for my help and I went into the lab he was in (which was empty save for the two of us), and we were chit chatting like we always do to catch up because I only see him every few weeks. I mentioned how excited I was to have the long weekend off of work and I didn’t even really catch on when he said “we should see a movie this weekend.” I just reflex replied that I had homework and sat down beside him at the computer to help him with what he needed. He was sitting so close but I didn’t think anything of it because when you share a computer that’s what happens. We got distracted looking things up, and maybe I was too friendly or something and gave him the wrong idea, but I got up to leave and go back to work and he reached for me. I sort of sidestepped away that first time, but I had to pass him again to leave the room, and this time his arms got around me. His hands were on my waist, and then they ghosted down to my thighs before moving to settle on my ass. He was sitting and I was standing so he was eye-level with my chest and I was so uncomfortable but scared and I froze up and let his hands touch me. And then he stood up and leaned down and I thought he was going to kiss me so I moved my head to the side and he went for my neck, started kissing my neck in the middle of this lab. That’s when I unfroze and moved away. Said I had to get back to work and left. That’s it.
I’m not sure where I stand on this now because I don’t feel like he meant to hurt me. But I was a mess for the rest of the day because I had just had someone, who to me was basically a stranger, touch and kiss me without my permission. I was confused and scared because I didn’t say no. I didn’t even say anything to reject him when I was leaving the room because I didn’t know how. I couldn’t shake the feeling of his hands or mouth on me for the rest of the day. I hate to use the words “sexual assault” because it’s hard to apply that to your own life and experiences. You never want to admit that something happened to you without your consent. And it’s especially hard when you feel like you don’t deserve to use that because you didn’t push him off or say no.
But I didn’t say “yes”. My body language didn’t say “yes”. My reaction to what he was doing to me didn’t say “yes”. This is why consent is such an important topic to cover over and over again, as many times as you possibly can with every, single age group. If a person does not say “yes,” then the answer is “no.” I still feel like I need to feel guilty. For leading him on, or not standing up for myself, or not being able to say the word “no” when I desperately needed to. But I know it’s not my fault, and it will never be my fault. And what I do from here is up to me, and how I deal with it will be my choice. I’ve had friends who have asked me to report it and friends who are standing by whatever I decide. I’m scared to go back to work and face him, even though I did find some closure via texting him. I still feel dirty, and I probably will for a while, but I’m figuring out how I’m going to forget and move on.
Here’s the blog post I refer to about consent: