By Courtney Schwing
I looked at his face as I sat in the passenger seat of his car. It seemed different. I had spent countless days and endless nights studying the structure of it. I remembered the peacefulness in his face as he was in mid prayer on Sunday mornings.
I could spot the difference in his smiles: one effortless and the other when he was trying to be polite. I remembered how fortunate I felt to have his eyes upon me because as long as I was in his stare, no evil could touch me. I adored him in every aspect and loved knowing that his affection was for me.
We were young, beautiful, in love and engaged to spend the rest of our lives together. God had blessed us tremendously.
However, his face looked different and empty now as we sat in the car. I couldn’t recognize it. I could only feel a prickling sensation in the back of my knees.
Pain then replaced the prickling and I could feel it in my right cheek as well, just like I had the night it happened.
“You raped me,” I said to my fiancé.
“God forgives me,” he responded, looking out the car window.
That was the day that I realized I had become another statistic lost in the infamy of rape culture. And like the thousands of other women affected, rather than ask for help, I would handle it myself.
My fiancé was a prominent figure in our church. Throughout the duration of our relationship, he demanded abstinence. He explained to me that my past sexual encounters still “inhabited” my spirit and that I must refrain from all affection toward him. I took all the precautions against tempting my future husband to cast a lustful eye upon me. I wore conservative clothing, watched my body language, monitored what I said and made sure to listen to him and trust his choices. This was customary in all Christian relationships I had witnessed.
It took one evening to unravel all of that.
We were housesitting and agreed to spend the evening watching movies and drinking wine, enjoying each other’s company. I was shocked when he suggested we go skinny-dipping but trusted his judgement.
That was the only consent I gave and I regret it still.
He went to the restroom and returned reeking of a distillery and his eyes were fogged over. I sensed malice. I knew something terrible was approaching. I had to get out of the pool.
Unfortunately, I could not swim fast enough nor kick hard enough to escape his reach. He smiled as he grabbed my arms and pinned them behind my back. I felt pain in the back of my knees as he pushed my stomach against the pool and my cheek dug into the cement with his hand over my mouth.
“I know you like it like this,” he said.
I screamed but my voice was stifled under his hand. I bit it and tasted his blood. But he didn’t stop.
I cried, which only made the blood taste saltier.
I wrestled, but he continued to rip me apart.
I was trapped in my own body that was being taken over by the man I loved. I was forced to bear witness to a horrendous act of violence against myself.
For five months I walked in a daze, feeling only insatiable rage. I had somehow blocked out what happened that night, but I couldn’t deny the anger that would erupt when I was alone in his presence. When I came out of my psychological coma all I could think was, what had I done wrong? I dressed modestly and tried my hardest to refrain from expressing my sexuality.
The day I confronted my assailant in the car, I felt enlightened but still enraged. Why should any woman be unable to express the most simplistic and innocent aspects of her sexuality or self-identity for fear of tempting a man into raping her? Why must women accommodate the sexual desires of men by sacrificing their voice, their clothes and their behavior? No woman should fear having her body or personal space violated by anyone, nor should she have to be on guard and protect herself to the point of social suffocation.
Recently, Connecticut passed Public Act No. 14-11, which dictates sexual assault and stalking guidelines for college campuses. California is awaiting the final signature to enact the “Yes Means Yes” policy, which redefines sexual consent between sexual partners on college campuses. And a group of college students hailing from North Carolina has created a nail polish that changes color once submerged in common date rape drugs.
All of this puts the problem in the spotlight, but is it enough? Are we educating our young people on the grave moral, physical and psychological implications of rape, or are we just creating Band-Aids to cover the aftermath of assaults? Terms like rape culture should not exist in a nation like America, where we pride ourselves on our progressive and humanistic campaigns.
On the left hand we teach girls to be proud of who they are, including their body image and sense of self. On the right hand we teach girls not to tempt men into a lustful rage because that will make him a perpetrator of rape.
Essentially, we do not put fear into the message of perpetrating rape but fear into being a victim. We as a society teach young women not to get raped but we don’t teach young boys not to rape.
Welcome to the American dream, where girls are sent out into the world full of hopes and aspirations but without the disclaimer that being a rape survivor is also a possibility.