My girlfriends know everything from my bra size and diet habits to what my “number" is. The most iconic women in pop culture — Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Miley Cyrus — are famous for exposing so much of themselves to the world. Still, we marvel every time Lena strips down, Miley smokes a joint on stage or Amy jokes about her sex life.
My friends, coworkers and I find it easy to talk about bad sex and Tinder dates gone horribly awry. And to my own surprise, when I started talking about the blurred line between consensual and nonconsensual sex, nearly every woman had a story to share.
So many of us could recall a time someone thought we meant “yes” when we remembered saying “no,” or when we tried to leave a party and found it extremely difficult to get our foot out the door.
What’s worse? So many of these experiences happen in college, a time for experimentation and self-exploration in an environment that’s meant to be safe and supervised.
The often-disputed statistic claiming one in five women has been a victim of completed or attempted sexual assault on college campuses has been recently reinforced by a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll. According to the poll, 20 percent of young women who attended college during the past four years say they were sexually assaulted.
These assaults can happen either by force or, more often, while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Attacks are also most likely to happen during freshman year, according to a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The first-hand stories below are not meant to scare men and women in or out of college. Rather, they are meant to act as cautionary tales to ensure college students are aware of what can happen on nights out, be alerted to certain dangers and make sound decisions. And they are our ways of finding comfort in solidarity -- a reminder that you are never alone.
Names have been changed to protect the privacy of contributors.
Alcohol isn’t an automatic "yes."
Consent cannot occur when a person does not know what he or she is consenting to. It also can't occur when the person in question won’t be able to remember what he or she said “yes” to the morning after, due to drug or alcohol consumption.
The stats tell us what we already know: According to the Journal of American College Health, men are more likely than women to assume a person who drinks alcohol on a date is a willing sex partner. Shockingly, the study also states 40 percent of men who thought that way also believed it is perfectly acceptable to force sex on an intoxicated woman.
There aren't clear definitions.
We think we have a very clear idea of what rape looks like. The woman is drunk and incapable of making well-thought-out decisions. They’re in a bedroom or walk-in closet or bathroom at a party or a loud bar. The guy looks sketchy.
Rape is not always packaged in clear confines. For example, look no further than the Columbia University rape case. We still do not have a clear answer for what truly happened to Emma Sulkowicz during her sophomore year with Paul Nungesser. Eight months after her alleged attack, Nungesser was ultimately found "not responsible."
Rape, assault and sexual violence are often looped together because the line is so thin we have a hard time deciphering whether a questionable (or hazy) sexual encounter was rape or an uncomfortable situation.
We don't always assume something is wrong. Until it is.
No matter what gender you identify with, you're bombarded with the constant need to act cool. As women, there's pressure to be the one that parties hard, drinks her body weight in tequila and still manages to be totally put-together the next morning. No one wants to be the girl falling over herself after half a shot or the friend telling everyone to go home.
We also tend to put ourselves in situations we know in the back of our minds are dangerous, yet we ignore them in order to appear as though we can handle it. Don't get me wrong, most of the time we can handle ourselves. However, the odds aren't always balanced in our favor, especially if substances are involved. Those seemingly safe situations have the potential to result in being roofied, assaulted or hurt.
What appears as an innocent situation can be the cover for much worse.
We often assume that everyone around us has the best intentions.
While in some cases that can happen, the vast majority of these instances leave women to fend for themselves. Help doesn't always come when we need it.
As much as we'd like to assume a man would leave you alone once he realizes you're not in control or not interested, it doesn't always happen. Other times, we blame ourselves or take all the responsibility for a bad situation. Or maybe we're young, scared and unsure of where to draw the line.
That's precisely why so many stories are kept secret, and why they desperately need to be shared. Because it's not solely your choices. There's always another person involved. And we have the power to learn from each other, listen to ourselves and do something about it.
You didn't do this to yourself and you're not alone.