For me, growing up in the 1980s, rape was defined by what I saw on television–a man in black mask attacking a woman in a dark alley. It was always a stranger, a criminal, “the bad guy.”
But 72% of sexual assaults are committed by people who know the victim.
One category of this is partner rape, a much-misunderstood phenomenon that occurs when one member of a committed relationship commits sexual assault upon the other.
According to the Rape Prevention Education network of New Zealand, partner rape occurs when your spouse or partner “has sex with you without your consent.” This can mean “if you feel pressured, threatened, or coerced into participating in…sex when you don’t want to.”
I was in a relationship such as this for four years. The relationship was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive. My partner used threats of violence and coercion to force me to have sex with him.
I did not truly realize this was rape until twenty years later.
At the time, I thought, “He always wants to have sex, and I never want to have sex. But we do it anyway.”
It was painful, but he always blamed me. I wasn’t “doing it right,” or some other nonsense. I was young and scared and believed him. After all, everything in the relationship was my fault.
The only time I had the conscious thought that I had been physically violated was when I woke up one morning and he was having sex with me. I hadn’t consented. That was clearly rape.
But I came of age in the 1980s, the era of TV rapists in black masks in dark alleys. No one ever told me my partner could rape me–such a concept didn’t exist in the early 1990s.
But now I know. Now I know that I spent four years in a relationship where I was raped dozens of times. And it has affected my life in the extreme. I am terrified of intimate relationships–after all, if the man who said he loved me and wanted to spend his life with me could treat me that way, how could I trust any other man to treat me well?
This past week has been tough. I did not watch the Kavanaugh hearings–I knew I would become too upset. I have been having vivid memories of my time with my ex-boyfriend, memories which I would rather leave buried.
But I am glad men are finally being called out for sexual assaults they perpetrated years ago. I know I will never be able to gain recourse for what happened to me, but perhaps other women can. And women like Dr. Ford, who step forward with courage and patriotism, are a role model for us all.
When I think, “I can’t do this anymore,” I think of Dr. Ford.
She’s doing it. And so can I.