Updated: Sep 1, 2022
TW// sexual assault, r*pe
We don’t talk enough about when you’re getting to know someone and you want it to work out so badly that the first time you meet them and they make advances more aggressive than you were prepared for, you say nothing.
When you go along with it despite feeling like you’re compromising your boundaries. When you say “no” a few times because you want him to hear you but you acquiesce when he’s persistent because you don’t want to ruin it. Because you don’t want to be difficult. Because you don’t want to be a “bitch.” Because…
We don’t talk enough about the times you say “no,” but maybe kinda said yes, too. Out of exhaustion. Or obligation. Or guilt. Or survival. The times when you recognized under different circumstances you would have said “yes” but …it definitely wasn’t that circumstance. The times when you weren’t quite sure how to say “no” because a space to say “no” was never created.
I mean, you were hesitant at first but eventually agreed, so …how can you even be upset? You could have been clearer. You could have said “no” again. You could have communicated, why didn’t you communicate? But it all happened so fast and somehow how he was equally aggressive as he was charming. How can someone make you feel safe and threatened at the same time?
We don’t talk enough about regret or feeling stupid or being confused or unsure or guilty because …sometimes those things mean assault.
And those assaults (can) look different than the blatant ones. I mean, no, he didn’t push you up against the wall, you didn’t cry, he wasn’t a stranger, he didn’t use physical force… all of the telltale signs? Missing. You know rape when you see it and this is unrecognizable. This wasn’t that. So, why do you feel like shit?
Coercion hits different.
Coercion is a guy you’re dating simultaneously showing you how much he cares and reminding you how much he’s owed for that care. Coercion is your partner trying to be adorable while asking you to have sex and making puppy dog eyes even though you’ve already said “no.” Coercion is someone telling you, “it’s no pressure” while their hand is ever so gently gripping the back of your neck. Coercion is a date asking you out for drinks and inviting themselves over afterwards because they know your decision-making will be impaired. Coercion is subtle jokes: “you scared lol?” “you nervous?” “I thought you were a freak…” “I thought you liked me…” “Well, we fucked last time.”
Coercion can be unrecognizable because sometimes it feels like your own decision. You initiated it. You changed your mind. You went on that date. You made an exception. You made them your partner. You wanted to have sex. Those were your decisions, right?
But let’s look at the context of your decisions. Were you persuaded? Did you feel obligated? How ‘bout guilty? Or did you think, “well, this is what I’m supposed to do.” This is what I have to do. Were those circumstances really ethical, did they feel good, did they feel authentic, were you really even given a choice?
What’s worse is coercion can come from people who are actually nice. And actually caring. People we love and admire; people who have good reputations. And you want to believe they are the person they’ve shown you they can be. Coercion is using that against you.
Coercion is speaking a promise aloud with the intent to get you to do something even though they have no desire to follow through. It’s subtle threats of changing how they see you based on a decision you may or may not make. It’s asserting that you’re attempting to sabotage the situation with your actions. It’s reacting in an extreme manner to show you that next time, you’re better off making a decision that’s in their favor. It’s your partner pretending your silence is a “yes” even though your body language is clearly a “no.”
Coercion hits different.
And sometimes, you don’t even know it’s happening. You don’t even recognize you’re being manipulated. Sometimes it takes years to process it was forced. You didn’t want it. You didn’t like it. It was rape. So, now what? Perhaps you’re still cordial with that person. Perhaps you’re still friends. Perhaps you carried on a relationship with that person. Perhaps you married that person. Perhaps the person became a co-parent to your children.
So, now what?
Is it your fault? How could you have missed this? Why did you let this go on for so long? Why do you still like this person? You’re smart, usually you avoid shit like this. But not this time. Because the reality is: you cannot out-smart people’s harm. You are not so smart that you’re immune to predators. And that isn’t a dig on your intelligence, it’s acknowledging the reality that abusers are insidious and perceptive and seductive and manipulative and there is no template for this shit; there is no “here is how you can avoid harm” because you can’t.
All you can do is your best.
And sometimes your best is finally connecting the dots. Sometimes it’s saying out loud, “he is not the person he says he is.” Sometimes it’s forgiving yourself for acting out of character and compromising your values and making exceptions. Sometimes it’s ghosting people because that’s literally the only way you’ll stop contacting them. Sometimes it’s, years later, writing the facts down on paper, reading it aloud and seeing things clearly for the first time. But it’s cool. It’s your process.
Take your time.
We don’t talk enough about coercion but, today we will.