First Person

Call It What You Want, But a Rape Is Still a Rape


A woman recounts a sexual encounter with an old flame that she now realizes, years later, was a rape.



When I was 19, I met a guy who was 29. The age difference seemed of no importance at the time because he was so exceedingly immature that his idea of a good time was getting drunk on vodka mixed with Hi-C and watching reruns of The Love Boat. I was a model/actress who had just moved to New York City, arriving during the last of the violet light before the dawn of AIDS. He was an actor/bartender, and we spent many of our afternoons having sex, or watching television, or going to movies. Killing time in the run up to work.

Carl (not his real name) had been a child actor on a soap opera, and was sweet, funny, handsome in an if-not-for-the-nose kind of way. We weren’t very serious about being a couple—we mostly just hung out together. I’d ungracefully dumped my Midwestern boyfriend for a hotshot Wall Streeter who in turn dished the same kind of karma right back at me. I’d burnt. Been burned. Held my heart in a vise. Carl was a player, and I knew it. He was dating another waitress when we met. She said she didn’t mind, but I know she did. This is what we did in those days: We swapped around, shopped around, slept around.

I began to get tired of the way Carl was always lounging around in only a T-shirt when I’d show up at his house, his enormous penis slapping about in the breeze. An alcoholic, Carl always had a tumbler full of something in his hand. Sometimes he would call me while I was on the East Side, and by the time I got the bus over to his apartment on the West Side, he’d be passed out and wouldn’t hear the buzzer or the phone. Which was quite something, not to hear either, because back then, you could not turn off the ringer on phones—and they were loud.

Carl would do anything for that penis of his—including repeatedly asking me if he could put it inside of my anus. I wasn’t a naïve person, but anal sex wasn’t really on my radar in 1984, so I demurred—a lot. At least a dozen times.

One afternoon, as we were laying around at my studio apartment before dinner shift started at the restaurant, Carl took a plastic object out of his bag and a handful of small canisters. These are whippets, he told me. They get you high. Better than pot, it’s a silly high. He did one. Showed me how. I did one. I have no clear memory of what whippets were like. But I do remember that I found myself being anally penetrated. I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience, and I’m pretty sure at some point I said, “Let’s not do this.” But to be honest, he used his hand to make me come at the same time he did, so I guess I thought it was pleasant enough.

What happened 15 minutes later was less pleasant: We took a shower. I got out and dried off, telling him, “Hurry up! We’re going to be late for work!” He responded, joking, “Sorry, just trying to scrape your shit off my dick.” Any feelings of pleasure or intimacy were instantly smothered by a wash of humiliation. My capitulation had meant less than a joke—it was nothing more than a notch on his man-dildo.

Many years later, I learned that whippets were very popular in the gay world because they lower inhibitions related to anal sex. I’ve never done either since. But then I began to think about what happened to me that afternoon. It wasn’t about my inhibitions being reduced. Carl knew I didn’t want to have anal sex. I’d told him no on repeated occasions. And I am quite sure I told him again even when we were doing whippets. He persisted. And I was raped.

I think about my friend Betty, whose grandfather systematically molested her when she was seven. And about three of my close girlfriends and how they each told me that they “lost” their virginity during a date rape. How another friend was raped by her fencing instructor. And the story my grandmother once told me about how she stopped going to the Catholic Church after she was molested by a priest—in 1926. Just the other day a friend recounted a story about how she was assaulted in the produce aisle of a supermarket when she was a teenager.

There was a night a dozen years ago when I was attacked with a friend. I was knocked unconscious and she was sexually assaulted. The police got there pretty quickly, thanks to a smart neighbor, but two things that happened afterwards still stick with me. One: She didn’t want to file a report because she had been anally penetrated and she didn’t want anyone to know. Two: When she called her mother to tell her what happened, her mother replied, “I always knew this would happen to you.”

Slut-shaming starts at home. The supermarket friend’s mom told her she shouldn’t have been wearing a skirt. The fencing girl’s mom told her that she’d been a salup, what did she expect? The granddaughter shouldn’t have sat on the lap. The date-rape victim shouldn’t have done shots. My grandmother was making it up to get attention. I shouldn’t have trusted my boyfriend and done a drug that’s used to coerce the unwilling. And I guess little girls shouldn’t go into attics with their claustrophobic adopted fathers.

You can call it molestation. Or digital penetration. Or sodomy, or date rape, or soft rape, or whatever you want. But any time a person’s body is violated sexually in a coercive, manipulative, or violent manner by someone who has any kind of power or other undue advantage it is rape, pure and simple. Rape is rape.

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