As part of our “Impact of 98 Seconds” series, the Butler Collegian is publishing a collection of letters from survivors of sexual assault to their perpetrator. Our hope is to provide survivors with a voice, even if it is anonymous. This is the third letter we have published. More will follow.
To my perpetrator —
Virginity is a complex topic, one I never really paid much mind to, but a little over a year ago mine was taken from me by you. By making that decision for me, you completely undermined my autonomy, something I realize now. You stole something from me that I can never get back. You raped me.
Do you realize that’s what you did to me? Because at first I didn’t even know. After it happened I spent weeks convincing myself I actually wanted it. I even talked to you. It couldn’t have been rape if I didn’t scream or fight back, right? That’s always how it is in the movies anyway. And even if I did, I willingly went to your room drunk, giving you the impression that I was there for sex — or at least that’s what you decided. Maybe that’s just how sex is. How would I have known? I was a virgin, remember?
Then I remember how many times I said no and how uncomfortable I was. But it seemed like every time I said “no,” you heard “convince me” instead. I told you I didn’t want to have sex and you asked if I was a virgin with a creepy smirk on your face as if it were a challenge. The next thing I know, you’re on top of me and I’m frozen.
A few months after it happened I came across an article about how the human body reacts to sexual assault or rape. There’s this idea that people respond in one of two ways: fight or flight. This is what I’ve always thought, and this is why I didn’t realize what happened to me until I started reading about other women’s experiences.
It turns out there’s another response that is even more common called freeze and submit. After learning this I became obsessed with understanding what happened to me. I tried to remember every detail of that night but my memory was disjointed and fuzzy.
You’re probably thinking that I can’t fully remember everything because I was a little tipsy that night, but after what you did to me I also learned about how the brain processes trauma. To protect itself, the brain focuses on details other than the assault and the pain, so memories of difficult or painful experiences are often fragmented and incomplete.
I wonder, though, how well do you remember that night? Or do you remember it at all? Have you done the same thing to other girls, or have you learned? I hope you understand what you did as much as I do now, but, frankly, I doubt you do.
And, honestly, that’s not completely your fault. You are part of a society that tells you women exist for your entertainment — that “no” does in fact mean “convince me.” But I’m also a human being that experiences fear and pain, and it should be obvious that your pleasure is not more important than another person’s wellbeing.
The more I learned about other women’s experiences, the more I began to realize and accept what happened to me. I’ve pieced together that night over the past year and now I understand that you violated me in the most intimate way. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t a big deal, but you have impacted my relationships and mental health in a way I never could have predicted.
So, yeah, this is a letter to you, my perpetrator, but more importantly this is a letter to other victims who have been made to feel like their experiences are invalid or less than. Regardless of how you dress or how sober or drunk you are, you do not owe anyone anything ever. You don’t need to explain why it happened or how you could’ve prevented it.
It is never the victim’s fault or responsibility. Yeah, I could’ve gone straight home instead of to a boy’s room, but I didn’t. And even if I had gone home, it is not my responsibility to protect myself from rape. I can do my best to avoid victimization, but in the end, the perpetrator is always to blame.