[Content warning: rape, victim blaming, abuse, drug mention]
I sit on the couch waiting for a call from my sister. It’s already been quite the week, but I fear more is to come. It’s odd to be awaiting a call from her so anxiously. We never had a good relationship growing up and it’s only within the past year that we have started to develop a sisterly relationship. The truly sad part is what it took for us to get to this place.
A few years ago, my sister got caught up in a bad relationship with a side of drug use. Her ex was a horrible person that I never liked but she was too deep in the relationship to be able to see how bad it was and we weren’t in place where I could have said anything anyway. While they were together, she progressed from abusing prescription pills to eventually doing heroin. It was a nightmarish year that involved theft from my parents totaling in the thousands, grand theft auto, and a lot of burned bridges. During this time, I was angry with her and could barely stand talking to her after the ways she had hurt my family.
Finally, she left the dude and quickly entered into a relationship with a “good church boy” who was almost 10 years her senior. I was skeeved out when they got together but figured it had to be better than the last guy. A month later, she was pregnant. Over the course of the pregnancy, she flitted back and forth between the two guys. It was rough time for everyone involved.
For the next couple years, we didn’t talk much. Too much had happened and I was still hurt and angry. Then, this past summer, we started chatting a bit. First, we kept the conversation light, but then we started talking more and more. As we talked, she began to reveal information about the man who is the father of her children and now her husband. What she divulged pointed to a very unhealthy relationship. It was a relationship that sounded far too similar to ones I had had before. It was abuse.
She described the man who argued with her constantly, told her she was just crazy, tried to convince her that what she had perceived hadn’t actually happened. She talked of waking up to find sex happening to her. She told me that she had already talked to him about how this wasn’t ok but it kept happening. She described instance after instance of degradation and abuse which all sounded far too familiar. As much as I wanted to urge to run, to get away as fast as possible, the situation is complicated and leaving is not that easy.
So it is that we arrive at last week. My mother came to visit to accompany me to the city for a doctor’s appointment. Overall it went well and it was lovely to see her, however, the visit was not without strife. As we traveled for my appointment, my mom was on and off the phone trying to deal with issues back home. Apparently my sister and her husband had gotten into a big fight and it had escalated to threats of cops being called and my sister threatening suicide. That was about all I found out the day of the appointment.
The next day, my mother returned home but we spoke on our ways home from work. The chat was going well until she brought up my sister. This is where my memory gets a bit hazy so I’ll do my best to recount what was said. She brought up that things were going better that day and my sister and her husband seemed to be doing better. However, she said they would be meeting on Saturday to go over things, including the whole “rape thing.” Apparently during the fight, my sister confronted her husband about raping her, and while she probably could have handled things better (like not screaming it outside in the middle of a city), she addressed a serious issue that needs addressing. However, that’s not how my parents saw it.
Apparently the talk they wanted to have was to explain to my sister that what had happened wasn’t rape and that she just needs to forgive her husband and move on. My mother said “she may not have said yes but she didn’t say no either so how was he supposed to know.” When I brought up that most of the times my sister has talked to me about things, she had mentioned that she woke up to sex happening to her. My mother’s response was that “she moves in her sleep so it seemed like she wanted it. How was he supposed to know that she wasn’t awake?” She then proceeded to talk about how my sister is crazy. There were more classy statements that got my blood boiling but this is as much as I can remember clearly.
I was incredibly angry upon ending the phone call, both with my mother and with myself. I was angry with myself for not defending my sister more, for not arguing against the terrible things my mother had said. Yet, as often happens when I am experiencing strong emotions, I had gone partially verbal and struggled to get out more than a couple of words.
While not exactly shocked, I was horrified at the blatant victim blaming that fell out of my mother’s face. I’ve been fairly open with her about my own experiences getting raped and she has been very supportive up until this point. However, now I have to wonder what she really thinks of me. If she knew more of the details of my rapes, would she think that I was making it up as well? Would she think that I hadn’t done enough to stop it?
Talking with my mother was like a course in victim blaming 101. While I know that victim blaming happens and have in fact had it happen to me, it was still like a slap in the face to be confronted with it this directly by someone I care about.
In case any of you reading are unclear about any of this, let’s go over some of the basics of consent and rape culture. The only true consent is affirmative consent, colloquially referred to as “yes mean yes.” In other words, only a yes means yes and anything less than that should be taken as a no. Consent should also be enthusiastic, freely given, and retractable at any point. The only time sex should happen is when both partners give consent without being coerced or guilted into it and, if either partner changes their mind part way through, everything should stop.
Someone who is asleep or intoxicated cannot consent to sex. Even if their body responds to initiated contact, that is not a yes. Not saying no does not equal yes. Not fighting back is not a yes. Rape is not always violent. Rape is not always a show of physical force. Rape can be coercion. Rape can be laying still just waiting for it to be over while not saying anything. Rape is more common between partners than the stereotypical stranger in a dark alley.
Rape culture is the culture that blames victims for their own rapes. It says that it’s because of how she was dressed or how much she drank. It says that she should have fought back harder if she really didn’t want it. It says that she didn’t say no so it must have been ok. Rape culture is a culture that normalizes rape. Rape culture is our culture.
Rape culture hit home for me last week. The intense victim blaming I was witness to was physically painful as it fell so easily from my mother’s mouth. I hurt for my sister. I hurt for what she has to face and the challenges that are nowhere near over. I hurt for my past and the parents I can no longer trust to support me. I hurt for the countless women who will be victimized. I hurt for my disabled siblings who face absurdly high rates of victimization and revictimization.
Today, I hurt, but I will keep fighting back. The fight against rape culture and victim blaming is so important. The fight becomes so much harder when it hits close to home, but it is so important that we keep up the fight no matter how hard it is.