Trigger warning: Sexual Assault, Attempted Rape, Purity Culture
One night when I was in high school, when my boyfriend and I were fooling around and making out, he sexually assaulted me.
He asked to pull down my pants and touch the tip of his penis to the opening of my vagina.
I was crying.
I told him I didn’t want him to do it.
And he did anyway.
He said he wouldn’t stick it in; He just wanted to know what it felt like.
It has taken me 21 years to realize, accept, and name what he did as attempted rape.
The thing is, I liked making out with him. I liked fooling around “over the clothes.” As Christian kids raised in Purity Culture, we both knew how to feel proper guilt over our sins against the body, against each other, against the “temple of God.” We would cry. He even bought me a necklace — a cheap gold cross from Family Christian Bookstore — to “remind” us not to do that stuff anymore. It never worked. We would make out again. Sometimes he would go farther than I wanted him to, he would apologize, and we’d agree not to let that happen again. He would promise, as the “leader” in our Good Christian Relationship, not to let it happen again.
When we broke up, I believed Purity Culture’s lie that I was defiled, impure, chewed-up gum. But I had this one singular hope that since we hadn’t had intercourse my virginity was intact and I could be made whole.
It literally never occurred to me that what he’d done when he forced himself on me while I cried and begged him not to was abnormal, never mind an attempted rape, or that it was a gross violation and theft of my body and sexual autonomy.
Purity Culture taught me my body wasn’t mine anyway. I did not belong to myself; There was no such thing as sexual autonomy for me.
My body belonged to God, and to my father — God’s surrogate — until a good and godly man had come to ask for my hand in marriage, at which point possession of my person would transfer from the headship of my father to that of my husband.
So when my boyfriend ignored my cries, ignored my “no”s and sexually assaulted me, I took it on myself. I abided my training and believed that if what happened could be deemed wrong and sinful in any way, it was wrong and sinful because I had failed.
I failed to protect myself, cover myself, and assert myself in a way that preserved both his and my sexual purity by keeping him from lusting after me and taking something he couldn’t help from taking.
I failed my father, to whom my body belonged and on whose shoulders the shame of my sin — of passing out pieces of my body like chewed up gum — inevitably fell.
I failed God by inviting a boy — who, having been made by God to ravenously desire my body and take for himself what God has entitled him to — to take from me something my father had not yet offered.
My guilt and shame for a sexual crime committed against me was a full-grown adult by the time I was far enough removed from Purity Culture and its demons to recognize and name it as sexual assault.
It all came crashing down again this week as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford spoke the truth even as her voice
shook, testifying before a panel of the most powerful, furious, entitled white men — i.e. a panel full of men just like her attacker — to the attempted rape she survived at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, a judge who will likely be the second sexual assailant confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States, adjudicating alongside Anita Hill’s assailant Clarence Thomas the constitutionality of laws that protect — or fail to protect — the victims of high-school-aged Brett Kavanaughs like Brock Turner.
As I considered everything that’s come up over the past year of the #MeToo movement, which again came to a head with Dr. Blasey Ford’s (and the other womens’) testimony, I went back over the multiple times that boyfriend took my body from me, and the multiple conversations I shared with his other ex-girlfriends in the wake of our breakup, all of whom recounted similar incidents while dating him.
And I wondered what I — what we — would do if he were the one interviewing for that position:
Would we go over and over and over those nights, second-guess ourselves and our memories;
Chock up our experiences to “what boys do in high school” (because in reality, for most of us, that boyfriend was neither the first nor the last to play those games with our bodies);
Revert to old excuses for his “immature” (rather than criminal) behavior;
Gaslight ourselves with questions of what we did to invite the assault;
Ask ourselves if the assaults were important enough to risk ruining his career;
Ask ourselves if speaking out was important enough to risk to our own sanity, lives, families, careers and even physical safety;
Would we ultimately decide to let sleeping dogs lie for another 10 or 15 or 21 years?
Or would one of us be brave enough to stand for all of us and send a letter to a senator, requesting anonymity, and ask them to look into whether or not he took his pattern of behavior from high school with him into adulthood, to law school, to the bench, all the way to SCOTUS?
If you have experienced sexual assault and need someone to talk to, please don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out to RAINN.com. You may chat online or call their national sexual assault hotline at 888.656.HOPE. You are not alone.