Hmm, what did I do last night? Oh my god! I remember now! Wow, I can’t believe I did that. Did s/he rape me? Was I assaulted? Or was it all a mistake? I don’t know what to think. I kinda wanted it, but I was drunk. Well legally, that’s rape. But is it?

The answer is whatever you want it to be. If you were confused and a little bit nervous, it very well could be. But don’t jump to conclusions. Just because people have horror stories doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have one too. Trust in your heart, not a slogan. If you feel confused, get professional help. Don’t talk to a friend who doesn’t know what to think, either, because you both could end up hurting worse than you did at the beginning. Thing’s aren’t that cut and dried, and often, it’s hard to know what we’re thinking. The choice of what to think is yours. You can call it a mistake. You can call it a wonderful night. The choice is up to you, not a yellow sign.


11 thoughts on “Confused?

  1. This goes the other way too, though. I’ve heard too many stories of people who experience something that is legally rape or sexual assault, but they don’t know what to call it.

    I agree that the label you choose is entirely up to you. If it doesn’t help you, we have no interest in pressuring you to call it assault. But the legal definitions (along with support) can also help people who are struggling to understand what happened. The posters are absolutely not supposed to tell you what you experienced. They are part of an awareness raising campaign to make you aware that rape and sexual assault happen here–not that they happened to you.

    In my experience, talking to friends has been great. As has going to SOAR and talking to CAPS. Sometimes it’s easier to start a conversation with someone you already know. I’m really nervous about telling people not to talk to their friends if they’re confused, because that might make them not talk at all.

    We’ll be talking more about enthusiastic consent (and how it can make the morning after less confusing for both parties) over the next week, and I hope you’ll continue to be part of the conversation.

  2. I agree with what Christine said, and I agree with you that what you call your own encounters is completely up to you – not what a yellow sign says, not what your friends think, not what the other person thinks, and honestly, sometimes not even what a legal definition says (because legal definitions don’t talk about enthusiastic consent). However, I do disagree with a few aspects of your post. First of all, if someone is calling what happened to them “rape” or “sexual assault,” it’s probably because what happened can be defined that way, and because they’re feeling the implications of that act, and not because they’re “jumping to conclusions” or because they’ve heard other people’s horror stories…I don’t really see why that’s a loop that someone would want to be part of. And as Christine mentioned, things sometimes happen that could be construed or defined as sexual assault or rape without any of the parties involved considering it as such – which is fine, because it’s up to the people involved what to call it and how to think of it. I also disagree with the implication that a label of rape or sexual assault causes the pain that follows; at least for me, the pain came long before I acknowledged a label for what had happened, and then that label helped me make sense of the pain. If the pain is there, it was probably going to be there anyway, not because someone “jumped to conclusions” and “decided” to call what happened to them sexual assault or rape. And like Christine, I disagree with the sentiment that people shouldn’t talk to their friends – they should, if they want to, but I would caution any friends in that position against imposing any sort of their own views/judgments on what happened or even pushing advice on the survivor – presenting options, definitely, but every decision after that is up to the survivor. And as I said, I wholeheartedly believe and agree with you that the choice is yours…and I also agree that things aren’t cut and dried, and if someone is confused about something that happened, they can and absolutely should, if they want to, reach out for help in making sense of what happened and figuring out what they want to call it. I just don’t think calling it a certain thing implies that they’ve jumped to conclusions, or that it causes pain that wouldn’t otherwise have been there. OP, if you’re reading, I’d be interested to hear what you think.

    • I’m the OP
      I acknowledge that it’s very possible, even probable, for the hurt to arise before the labels. I also think the opposite is true as well. It depends on the case, and that’s the problem with these strong slogans. I know more than one person who had a sexual experience, and didn’t know what to call it. This is an example of one time. I’ll call them party 1 and party 2, because its confusing. They didn’t think it was assault, just a mistake by both parties. Both people were intoxicated and they both made advances (many witnesses corroborated this), and both admitted feeling very uncomfortable afterwards, without being prompted. Both were confused. Party 2 thought that mistakes happen, so long as everyone is okay, it’ll be alright. S/he made sure that the other party was alright, and engaged in dialogue with him/her. They resumed being friends and were happy. Suddenly, one of party 1’s friends brought up the word “rape.” Party 1 was fine at this point, but suddenly s/he didn’t feel alright. Party 2 was flabbergasted when this accusation was brought to him/her, as was party 1. S/he never consented to any accusation against the other party, but as the process went on, s/he began to realize that legally, it in fact was rape. Both of them were miserable and broken by a caustic and impersonal process. Party 1 did not hold party 2 accountable, yet at that point, s/he had no choice but to make both of them more miserable. Once the ball was rolling, there was no stopping it. I see that you acknowledge in your post people shouldn’t push advice on the survivor. You hit the nail on the head with what I’m trying to illustrate here.

      When I first heard the accusation, I almost fainted and threw up. I had heard what had happened, but I knew both parties very well, and knew they had moved on with mutual care and understanding. What changed this? There was an emphasis on defining and prosecuting assault, rather than treating any underlying feelings. And if there were underlying feelings, than those in and of themselves proved it was assault. S/he was convinced by labels, slogans, and overzealous prosecutors.

      I think the most important thing is treating every case as an individual one, not assuming anything based on previous cases. That’s the problem I have with the signs. They’re too imposing. I’m sure you had a totally different experience, and it’s very probable. This is one example of when sticking to the writ that one side must be accountable turned both sides miserable. No one cared about healing. That’s what I’m afraid of. I hope it won’t happen here, but those signs scare me to death.

      Couldn’t some of the signs be about trying to help people? That’s what I really want. The rest is commentary.

      • I absolutely agree with OP. While I agree with the notion of individual choice of labels, the law has to make certain precidents, and if you don’t know what you’re definition is, how do you expect the other party to know? OP the horror story you just recounted is what I have been fearing was true throughout the discussions which have been occuring on my own campus, with all of my friends and peers using the the definition of consent as something which must be an eager response %100 of the time. I also wish to distinguish between situations of what I’ll vaguely refer to as “ambiguous” rape, and the situation of rape by a stranger in a public place…the traditonal “alleyway rape”. I have been told that statistically that is a much smaller precentage, but I am concerned that we are valuing emotional overpowering and physical overpowering on the same plane. Someone once raised the issue of lack of physical response due to emotional trauma, which I understand, but I do see a difference between that and what the discussion was originally about: a pure sense of confusion over what label should be given.

      • Naomi,
        It sounds like you’re saying that rape by an acquaintance–which you’re calling ambiguous rape–is less traumatic than rape by a stranger. Neither you nor anyone else can make that call. Confusion over a label is one thing. I know that there are also cases where perpetrators do not know they have raped someone. It sounds like you’re trying to resist judgments of the perpetrators. But what you actually said is a judgment about the experiences of survivors, and that’s absolutely not okay.

      • Sorry if I’m sort of repeating what Christine said, but I wrote this out right before she posted.

        Naomi, either I don’t get what you’re trying to say, or I wholeheartedly disagree. Are you saying that eager consent doesn’t need to be given 100% of the time? That you’re upset by the idea that people think it does? If that’s true, I’d like to hear why, because that’s exactly the dangerous attitude this campaign is targeting. Also, I disagree with you that legal definitions are the be all end all of determining what was rape or assault. Yes, they facilitate and determine courtroom proceedings if formal charges are pressed (and my opinion on that is a whole other issue). But there are many situations in which people are greatly emotionally harmed by acts in which enthusiastic consent wasn’t given, or which might not legally be considered rape/assault, but someone absolutely does not have to have enough evidence to win a court case to be considered – or to consider him/herself – a survivor. I also don’t see why you’re distinguishing between so-called “ambiguous rape” and “alleyway rape” – or why you’re using the word “ambiguous” for the former because it is absolutely in many cases not ambiguous at all to the person involved. And rapes by strangers don’t always happen in public, much less alleyways, and they’re no better or worse than any other “kind” of rape. I don’t see how emotional overpowering and physical overpowering somehow have two different values when it comes to rape and assault…I don’t get how it’s a dichotomy, or why you’re comparing them, or why you’re concerned that we’re giving them different values. Rape is rape, and it’s awful. It doesn’t matter where, when, who, or how. Emotional overpowering absolutely leads to rape and assault. Agency can be taken away by physical force, but it can be taken away emotionally as well. It’s why people often don’t yell or scream or punch (as you’re probably imagining in your so-called “traditional” rape scenario – an idea that seems ridiculously outdated to me and for good reason); many times survivors don’t even say no because they didn’t feel empowered to or because they honestly didn’t really think to at the time, didn’t realize in the moment that what was happening could even be considered assault, but yet they didn’t give enthusiastic consent, or any consent, and the perpetrator went ahead and did what they wanted to anyway without permission. But, in many cases, survivors realize it was rape or assault later, when they are still hurting over it long after the fact, when they can’t focus on anything, when they’re depressed, even having flashbacks or other symptoms of PTSD – because they didn’t give consent. They’re not wrong. That’s what sexual assault and rape are: situations in which consent (enthusiastic consent, because hesitant or confused or coerced or in many situations under-the-influence consent don’t count) wasn’t given.

      • Christine (and guest)
        You were absolutely right about my concerns about how the survivor’s experiences will affect the perpetrators. And you are right that it is not my place to express what each individual should feel.

        Also, let me clarify: I do not feel that rape is more ambiguous when it is committed by an acquaintance as opposed to a stranger. By ambiguous, I am referring to cases where someone was raped without articulating an explicit ‘no’ or cases of ‘giving in’ rather than ‘enthusiastic consent,’ not that being raped by an acquaintance isn’t rape.

        The point of campaigns like this is to create terminology which allows for multiple experiences and feelings. Cases of rape involving physical threat or force are definite, and may not warrant the same kind of discussion as these differently-defined cases (which, to my knowledge, is what encouraged these campaigns), but I do feel that the conversations solely about these more “ambiguous” cases to the exclusion of cases of physical force or threat diminishes the breadth of this type of conversation.

      • Naomi,

        I still feel that those cases are rape, and I feel that you’re diminishing them by calling them “ambiguous,” whether or not that’s your intention. Also, this conversation is being determined by the voices in it, and the experiences, feelings, and opinions of the people expressing themselves here. As anyone is welcome and invited to write or comment about anything pertinent to rape and sexual assault, especially on Haverford’s campus, I don’t feel that the conversation is being limited to only cases in the category you’re describing, and I hope no one is feeling silenced.

  3. Second commenter here. Thank you for clarifying; I think we agree on more than I’d thought. I don’t want to comment too much on the situation you described, because I feel sort of uncomfortable commenting on a situation like that that I’m not a part of. I hope everyone involved is getting the support they need at this point. I’ll restate and elaborate, in general, that I don’t think it’s a friend’s place to make the call as to what happened or, to use your words, to get any sort of ball rolling. That’s solely up to the people directly involved, as we’ve both said, and figuring out what to do may involve confusion and doubt. I agree with you that healing should be more important than labeling and prosecuting, although those things are all well and good if part of the healing process for the survivor and are what the survivor wants. And again, to be clear, I’m not judging the people in the above situation or their actions; I’m sure people were doing their best in a messy and complicated situation. I’m speaking more generally, for the present and future.

    As for the signs, I had some mixed feelings about them too, especially the more accusatory ones. Yes, they’re triggering, especially for people who might be confused or having doubts about a situation. Amy commented on another post, though: “However, you are right, there are some that are blunt, negative, and even accusatory. Some reflect anger, but shouldn’t they? These posters were drafted in SOAR meetings, and reflect, at least on my part, some of the things I have always wanted to say to the person who assaulted me, to the administration, to my parents, to some of my peers, and even to the world in general. These are real issues for us. It is pretty hard to sugarcoat something like rape. Rape does happen here, and I want people to talk about it. My goal when I started dreaming all this up was to start a conversation….”

    Her words cleared up a lot for me, and while it’s hard to prioritize those things against their being triggering, I do think the conversation is important. I still hear what you’re saying, though, and so I’ll reiterate that nothing and no one should be “telling” a survivor what happened, how to feel about it, or what to do about it except the survivor him/herself. That includes yellow posters, although as Christine said, that really isn’t their intent. And I think, I hope, that if someone is confused about whether what they experienced was rape or assault, that the signs wouldn’t make them come to a conclusion they otherwise wouldn’t have come to.

  4. I understand and agree with a lot of what the post says, but speaking from my personal experience, the trauma that comes with experiencing sexual assault does not come from the label: the label comes from the trauma. After my experience, I had no idea what to call it or how to feel about it, so I tried to ignore it and forget about it. It wasn’t until many months later when it was keeping me up at night, triggering panic attacks, affecting my relationships with other people, my view of myself, and my attitudes towards sex and trust that I adopted the vocabulary of “survivor.” While I still feel a little uncomfortable with this and am still not entirely sure how to define my experience – I rarely use the phrase “I was sexually assaulted” and usually say “I had sex I did not consent to,” – acknowledging to myself that this experience was more than a friday-night mistake came with my accepting this vocabulary. It was only until I began classifying my experience as “sexual assault” to myself that I could even begin to stop blaming myself for what happened.
    Obviously everyone needs to figure out for themselves how to define (or not define) their own experiences – a poster campaign, a law, or even a friend’s opinion (although I never would have gotten through the immediate aftermath without without my friends so I don’t want to downplay the importance of their support) cannot define your experience for you. However in my experience these terms allowed me to begin the healing process and I now consider my experience “sexual assault” specifically because of the trauma and anxiety it brought me. I took on this terminology myself – no one told me how I should define my experience, and I guess that makes all the difference, but the point is not to pressure people into classifying their experiences as “rape” or “sexual assault” unless this person feels like they truly reflect their experience, but I guess what I want to say is that for the post part, people accept the terms “rape” “sexual assault” and “survivor” because of their trauma – the terms do not lead to the trauma.

  5. I think that Naomi touched on a very important issue, which is that in certain cases, there are obviously wrong intentions on the other side (violent rape), whereas in certain cases, the other party merely did not know. I really don’t see Naomi trying to make judgments on anyone’s experience, or diminish any example of assault, but there are certain cases when one party can and should be held accountable, whereas there are many other times when it was just confusion on one side. To group them into one category diminishes the effect of both.

    Although I know it’s often hard to do, let us consider the side of the accused in this matter. There are certain times when if you tell someone they have committed rape, they know it. There are also many times when if you tell someone they have committed rape, they will probably collapse, be shocked, or somewhere between the two. It is important to distinguish the two categories because explicit and unbending language leaves no room for healing on the part of the either side.” While it is often scarring, what about those people who want to confront the accused? I know they exist. What if they want to hear the person honestly say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I cried because of what you said. I never wanted to hurt you.” The fact of the matter is, I have seen such vitriolic rhetoric here I am scared. People who commit violent, explicit rapes are monsters. Confused teenagers are not.

    As a student of Haverford, I don’t want to live in a community where healing is impossible because someone can be considered a monster for a mistake they made. I want to live in a community where people can stand up and honestly say “I’m sorry! I never wanted to hurt anybody! I am not a monster! I want to help you!” I want to live in a community which encourages dialogue and understanding of all root causes. And this kind of partisan demonization is not going to help anyone. To equate violent rapists and people who wanted to commit no crime is a moral fallacy.

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