We Couldn't Give Consent While We Were Sleeping
My friend's story of sexual assault triggered a childhood memory of a nightly intruder in my bedroom.
Sexual violence and rape are 80% likely to be perpetrated by a person known to a woman. 51.1% of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance - Source
A sobering reality and one so many of us know first hand.
One of the down and upsides to growing up on an island is the opportunities to socialize with people you may not choose to be in your immediate tribe.
You meet friends of friends all the time, and social circles begin to intersect - you end up with hundreds of acquaintances.
*Sierra and I knew each other since high school. We went to different schools but flowed in the same social circles. In adulthood, we became close friends. Earlier this year, she started to build a bond with a guy, *Nathan; we knew in common through different people.
I'd met him when I was 19 through my best friend at the time and always thought he was charming but standoffish. She met him through someone else and began seeing him more in recent years because we have friends in the local music scene.
He's a musician and plays in a band with some close friends of ours. On this account, he was deemed trustworthy. He presented himself as a nice guy that always finishes last. I'm beginning to understand now that those are the guys you need to watch out for - the wolves in sheepskin.
Their communication drew them closer to each other, and feelings blossomed. *Sierra told me she was into him and I endorsed it, they'd make a cute couple, he's tall easy on the eyes and talented. An even more significant plus was that he was very thoughtful, considerate, emotionally open, came off self-aware, and woke.
In the beginning, they were hot and heavy real fast - but *Sierra's heart was still pining for her ex, and so for her, the infatuation began to dissipate.
*Nathan, however, was thoroughly smitten with Sierra and professed his love. She was candid with him. Letting him know that she didn't return his feelings but because they had mutual friends, they would always be friendly with each other.
After drinking from the fountain of Sierra and having his supply cut off, Nathan began to thirst. Tagging her in really cheesy posts about love and relationships and asking her if he'd see her at certain events around town.
One night, Sierra needed a favor, she bumped into Nathan at a local restaurant they all hung out. She expressed her issue; her washing machine was malfunctioning, and he offered to help. So, they left together, and she went over to Nathan's house to do a load.
While waiting, Sierra fell asleep on the couch; she'd expressed how tired she was to Nathan earlier that night. About half an hour into her nap, she woke up because she felt discomfort between her legs.
Nathan was next to her, hand between her thighs, stroking her vagina.
The Startling Truth About Rape and Sexual Assault
The Bahamas, where my friend and I are from, statistics show the highest rate per capita of rape and sexual assault in the region - rape culture is a cancerous monster that refuses treatment.
According to the Bahamas Crisis Centre, 60–80% of all rape cases involve friends, acquaintances, or family members; many occur on dates. - Source
In the United States, the statistics show that the majority of rape and sexual assault is carried out by someone close or known to the victim, with 8 out of 10 cases. –Source
The commonality of the majority of victims who know their perpetrators is a staggering reality. Who can you trust?
When the war against women continues to wage on unequal footing?
What do we do when society ignores our agency and body autonomy?
Men and the women who've internalized misogyny; perpetuate rape culture, ignoring the proliferation of damaging ideas about sex, sexuality, and gender bias and the victims it creates.
How do we dismantle this system of bodily oppression and violence?
Yeah, I don't know either.
She had no idea her story would trigger me.
Earlier this week, *Sierra called me one morning to recount what *Nathan had done to her. I had such a visceral reaction, and I didn't understand why until I spent the day thinking about the emotions that bubbled to the surface.
Instead of suppressing them, I explored each one.
*Sierra sounded resigned, disappointed, hurt, and tired about the entire ordeal. When she woke up and looked at him, he stopped and immediately apologized. She said nothing, got her things, and left.
On the phone, I went off in a rage. *Sierra continued saying she could still feel a tenderness where his hand had no authorization to explore.
Unsure if it was in her mind or if the pain was real.
Incensed, I told her what he did to her was sexual assault, and he had no right to molest her body as she slept. There was no consent given, and even though they'd slept together in the recent past, previous sexual encounters are not a lifetime access pass to any women's body.
Men need to understand that giving consent in the past does not equate to unfettered access to a woman's body. We are not objects - our bodily autonomy should be respected not disregarded.
My anger gave way to sadness after I spoke to her. I was in a funk for the rest of the day and found it hard to concentrate on anything. Then a memory that I've fought long and hard to forget came back.
What happened to Sierra reminded me of a nightly intruder I had for a few months when I was a pre-teen. I've written about the generational trauma passed on between the women in my family, all surrounding sexual assault and rape.
In every instance of those sexual crimes against our bodies, the perpetrator was known to us. They had access to us by means of a friendly invitation.
When I was around 13, my mother's adopted (not legally) brother came to live with us for a few months after his release from prison. My family is known to have extended family not bound by blood rely on us for help.
*Bernard was no exception. He needed a few months to get on his feet before venturing out into the real world. My father is a high-ranking correctional officer, and he knew *Bernard; I suppose he felt it was safe to have his pre-teen daughter in such proximity to a petty thief.
The first time it happened, I wondered if I'd imagined the entire thing. I'm a very light sleeper, and I remember opening my eyes to the darkness that very first time. I felt the pressure of a hand between my legs, but it wasn't moving; it was just there.
I didn't move at first, groggy from sleep, and the lack of light meant I could see nothing. I scrubbed at my eyes, and then the hand moved, slowly, out of my panties, and I saw the silhouette leave the room. There was no time to process what had happened. I went back to sleep. A few nights later, it happened again.
I told no one. I couldn't rationalize what was happening, and I didn't want to after dealing with a different perpetrator for three years to that point. About a month later, it happened again - this time, I'd had enough.
After *Bernard skulked out of my bedroom, I followed him into the bedroom he was sleeping in and I confronted him. He began apologizing immediately.
I told him he'd better stop or I'd tell my father, there was real fear when I said that, he pleaded with me and asked my forgiveness. Mollified, it felt genuine, and I didn't want to cause drama.
Instead of returning to our respective beds, we went into the TV den and watched tv. I was sitting on the floor, and *Bernard was on the couch, he asked me to rub his back, and like an idiot, I did. At the very moment, my father walked by on his way to the hall bathroom and saw me.
*Bernard immediately sprung up and shouted, "It's not what it looks like."
My father ignored him and turned the full might of his anger on me. He grabbed me and told me to get to bed. The next morning was the fallout. He brought my mother with him to recount my sins.
Overnight I was a harlot in my father's eyes a wanton girl with nothing but sex on the brain.
He told my mother what he saw and blamed everything on me. At the moment I wrote my father off, the betrayal was too much. My defense was feeble, bringing up the molestation didn't seem like it would matter now because as far as my father was concerned, I was a 'fast' girl that wanted grown men.
My mother did not blame me; she listened and comforted me while I cried. She also stopped my father from hitting me, citing it as a misunderstanding. No one said a word to *Bernard, and I hated him and them for not thinking about me.
The blame was all on me, and it reminded me of what my first molester had told me, "No one would believe you."
*Sierra would not have known that her story would trigger such a painful time in my life, and I didn't clue her in because I didn't want to minimize what had happened to her by my tale of woe - a way of suppressing the memory.
I only confessed what happened to me when I asked her if I could tell this story to give her context.
It's one thing to guard and protect yourself against strangers who wish to harm you, but how do you deal and protect against the devil, you know?
I've never spoken a word of this to anyone. When I admitted what happened to me by the first molester to my mother years ago, I only did so because he'd been long dead.
*Bernard is still alive and the idea of any of my family members reading this freaks me out. But I needed to tell this story because so many women experience sexual assault, rape, and violence by someone they know.
Statistics show that 51.1% of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance in the United States. - Source
The recurring events of sexual assault and rape in my life has left me deeply scarred. With each new story I hear, I relive my trauma.
For a long time, I thought my body and sexual energy was to blame mostly because of religious conditioning. I've since relinquished those toxic and damaging ideas.
I know that the fault lies with the perpetrator and not the victim. But the scar tissue has left me numb and has taken a life of its own. My life has been a battle with PTSD, anxiety, and depression because of the pain I carry - the shame I held onto; the stories left untold.
Now I'm finding freedom in being open and honest. I will no longer protect the perpetrators that hurt me.
It is my truth, this happened to me, and if it happened to you, I encourage you to tell your story.
*Names changed for privacy
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