Feminism Politics

I Hugged My Rapist: Trauma And The Myth Of The Perfect Victim

perfect victim

Caution: This post discusses sexual assault. If you find anything here, in the news, or in life to be upsetting, or if you need to talk, please reach out. There are agencies and centers across the globe that can help. You can also contact one of the agencies on the linked lists if you live in Canada, the United States, or the UK

It was St. Patrick’s Day and I had just been dumped by my romantic partner/best friend. 

After about 10 minutes alone, it became apparent that I was not taking this breakup well. I was already more than a few drinks in, and didn’t really feel like returning to the bar. So, I scrolled through my instant messaging list, looking for anyone who was online. Only Parker was. I had hung out with him a few times, and while we weren’t close, we had bonded in the past. Before I could type a word, he asked what I was doing home so early. We got to talking, and he invited me over to watch something to take my mind off it. I readily agreed, eager for the distraction and to get to know Parker a bit better. Since he was already part of my circle of friends, there was no need to check in with them and let them know what was going on. 

Except there was. 

When I arrived, he asked if I wanted a drink. I sat down on his couch to watch television. I know it was on, but I don’t remember what was playing. Nor do I remember anything about his room – I couldn’t tell you the colour of the couch, whether the floor was carpeted or hardwood, or even if his bed had sheets. What I can say for certain is that I eagerly drank the coke and whiskey Parker brought me quite quickly. Once it was done, I noticed that there was a weird taste, but chalked it up to him using cheap whiskey. 

I don’t remember putting my glass down. 

I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in pain. I wasn’t even sure why I was so sore – just that there was a bit of daylight coming through the window, I wasn’t wearing any clothes, and that I was moving slightly. It was Parker. He was inside me. I tried to push him away, but he laughed, insisting that I liked it. I told him no, but he laughed again, telling me it was “cute” for me to “play.” I told him it hurt. He said, “that’s not what you said last night.” 

I didn’t know what to do, so I lay there, frozen. I had already objected, already told him it hurt. He was stronger than me and pinned me down when I had tried to push him away. Part of me couldn’t believe this was actually happening. He was suppose to cheer me up. We were going to watch silly comedy shows and vent about crappy breakups. He was my friend. He had invited me over, and I had agreed, so I would stay safe. How was this safe? 

I don’t remember leaving his house. 

I do remember thinking that it maybe was my fault. 

I shouldn’t have had so much to drink. I shouldn’t have gone to his house. I shouldn’t have accepted a drink. I shouldn’t have finished the drink. I shouldn’t have lay there frozen.

I shouldn’t have I shouldn’t have I shouldn’t have. 

Two weeks later, almost to the day, I ran into him at a bar with some friends. He came over and joined us. “Hey, Ashley!” his face lit up, as though I was the best part of his day. He approached me, as if nothing had happened. As if two weeks prior I hadn’t been lying underneath him telling him to stop, that he was hurting me, and trying to push him away.  He told me, and my friends, that he had been worried about me, that I had been quite tipsy when I was at his house, and that he was glad he had been there for me. Then he held open his arms. 

I hugged my rapist. 

Trauma does horrible things to the brain. It isn’t uncommon for victims to forget details like the colour of their rapist’s car or to have gaps in their memory.  To paraphrase one expert, you cannot expect someone to recall trauma the same way they would joy. Nor can you expect every victim to behave in the same way. Some victims aren’t sure how to react, how to move forward with their lives after. Being stuck in reverse, or even neutral, is not uncommon – it’s sometimes less traumatic than trying to process what happened. 

Most sexual assaults are not strangers in alleyways; they’re committed by people we know, people we  may even have trusted. There is no perfect way to respond to this situation, no perfect way to react. That’s something we are constantly told – no matter what you do following a sexual assault, it is always going to be the “wrong” thing. Reporting may ruin a man’s life, not reporting means it didn’t happen. What were you wearing? Who were you with? What do you remember? Why don’t you remember more? Why were you smiling before the rape? Why were you laughing three days after? Etc, etc, etc. 

I hugged my rapist.

My reaction was in part because of societal pressure, self-blame, and the lesser-known “fawn” response. People are typically well aware of the flight or fight response. Many people feel that if a victim doesn’t flee and scream or stay and fight back, they must have been consenting. This is, quite obviously, untrue. Those in potentially traumatic situations may instinctively adapt the fawn response, where you focus solely on surviving by trying to appease your assailant to prevent the situation from getting worse.

The fawn response can even be seen weeks later when faced with the same assailant. Once you are equipped with the memory or knowledge that an assault happened, you are more than willing to do whatever it takes to prevent it from happening again, even if that means making your rapist breakfast, texting them later, or even existing in the same social circle. It doesn’t matter how a victim acts following an assault, they were still assaulted. No action or behaviour can go back in time and undo what has been done. 

I hugged my rapist, but it doesn’t unrape me. 

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