‘Don’t be a prude!’ He grabs my waist. I say ‘no’ 12 times. He wipes my tears. They’re ‘not sexy.’ I give in. ‘Fine.’: Woman finally calls sexual abuse ‘what it is,’ says consent must be ‘enthusiastic, genuine’

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“Let me take you back in time. Queue the ethereal spaceship noises.

We’re in the month of January in 2017 (perhaps, because the air is cold and the Christmas lights are still up – darn those pesky things). My phone glows with a text from my good friend Sarah. It’s urgent. ‘Hey, can I talk to you? Like soon,’ she says. ‘Preferably now, if you can,’ she adds.

It’s still Winter vacation, so I’m away from college, sitting in my room, pantsless (it’s comfy, don’t judge!). I throw on some sweatpants and text back, ‘Sure! Ready when you are.’ Insert surprised emoji. I ask her if everything is alright, to which she responds, ‘Talk when I get there.’

I know she’s coming before I hear the bell. The lights of her Jeep Liberty illuminate and flash through my window as she pulls into the driveway. I hop down the stairs and open up. Her eyes are red and puffy. I don’t even know what’s wrong yet, but we melt into a hug. Suddenly, I feel like crying, too. We scurry upstairs before my mom spots us and asks, as per usual, ‘Who is that at the door?!’ We just miss her.

After some deep breathing, Sarah tells me what’s going on. For some reason, I think she is going to tell me she’s pregnant. What’s worse than getting accidentally pregnant, right? But no. This is worse. Much, much worse. She’s been raped.

More deep breathing.

I comfort her. Comb my fingers through her hair. Tell her it wasn’t her fault. How could she have known? How could she NOT have let her guard down? It was one of her good guy friends she’d known for years. She cries, we chat, I cry, we chat. The whole time, on the inside I’m screaming, ‘Tell her you’re a victim, too!’ Maybe it will make her feel better? Less alone and isolated. But I do not. I don’t find the courage.

I mean, am I really a victim?

Then, the cycle of evil self-talk begins again.

For years, I’ve struggled with this question. Like Sarah, and most survivors you read about, rape is brutal. The rape is ropes and roofies. It’s threats and bruises. But mine? It’s none of that.

You see, for four years, I was in a relationship with a guy who I thought loved me and had my best interest in mind. He did not. In almost every aspect he was perfect and kind. Everyone loved him. My friends, my family. Anyone we came into contact with. He was there at Christmas; he was there at Thanksgiving. Her was there at every family party and wedding.

But late at night, when we were alone, the pressure started.

‘Come on, won’t you just let me. I’ll be quick.’

‘No, I don’t want to.’

‘Oh, come on. Seriously?!’

‘I said no.’

He grabs hold of my waist. ‘Don’t be such a prude!’

This continues for three, four, five, ten more times until I finally give in, my obvious frown and words indicative of my lack of enthusiasm: ‘Fine.’

So, I do it. Rather, I let him do it. I’m just a body. I am used. Technically, I’ve said yes, but everything else says no. Not to mention, I started with 12 consecutive ‘no’s.’ It’s not a REAL yes. I don’t want to. I know that. And he knows that. In fact, when I lay, emotionless, he says to me, ‘A little more smile please.’ I flash a fake, phony smile and go back to my stone-cold expression and wait for it to be over. This happens again, and again, and, you guessed it, again. We get so accustomed to it that he starts laughing when I say ‘no.’ He says, ‘I know you want to,’ and ‘stop playing.’ Other times he wipes my tears. They’re ‘not sexy’ he tells me. It’s to the point where I no longer want to EVER consensually do anything with him because I am so depressed and hollow.

When I hear a sudden noise, when someone taps on me, my mind goes into panic mode. My chest beats and I’m suddenly taken back to a birds-eye-view shot of myself lying, being used. My mind becomes a war zone. Suddenly, I’m on the floor in the corner of my room, numb, biting my nails, crying. I can’t think properly for an hour, sometimes two. Sometimes, I go a day or two without eating. I just want the pain to end.

This, ladies and gentleman, is called PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Even when I got the diagnosis, I laughed to myself. I didn’t want it. How disgusting of me to have that label when literal military men and women were out being shot at and blown up, dying and bleeding! How DARE I take on that label when women and men were out being brutally abused. And me? I’m just ‘giving in.’ I’m saying ‘yes.’ Once again, the question swirls in my mind:

Am I really a victim? And subsequently, am I enough of a victim?

The answer is yes. A million times YES.

My healing journey began only once I could admit that to myself.

If someone touches you inappropriately after you have said ‘no’ or ‘stop,’ it is sexual assault.

And if someone touches you inappropriately after you’ve said ‘no’ 12 times in a row until you’re pressured, hassled, and harassed into giving a hollow ‘fine,’ that is also sexual assault.

In the end, someone is touching you inappropriately when you DO NOT want it. And that is abuse.

It has taken me so long to call it what it was. To stop comparing my trauma to others and minimizing it because I technically, eventually said ‘fine.’

If you have read this far, thank you. I want you to know that your trauma is REAL. All. of. it. Even if it doesn’t look the way it does in the movies or on the news.

My name is Victoria, and I am a sexual assault survivor. And I am an advocate for affirmative consent laws. This means that not only does ‘no’ mean ‘no,’ but ‘yes’ does NOT mean ‘yes’ unless it is ENTHUSIASTIC and GENUINE.

Your trauma is real and it MATTERS.

Consent matters, and so do you.”

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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Victoria Harper. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more important stories about consent:

‘Papa, please back up!’ He doesn’t move. ‘Oh, relax. I can play how I want with her,’ he ruffles her blonde hair.’: Mom stands up to grandfather for inappropriate touching, teaches 3-year-old daughter she is ‘allowed, expected’ to say no

‘I don’t want to do it.’ Our little girl looked at me in tears, apologizing for her own choices about her body.’: Dad urges us to let our kids ‘decide what they do with their bodies,’ says it’s ‘never too early to emphasize consent’

‘Stop touching my kids, stranger. You don’t know us and it’s creepy.’: Mom stresses importance of respecting children’s consent

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