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The “grey area” of consent persists despite #MeToo

Approximately four years ago, I was raped. But up until this year, I had never labelled my experience as rape. Unfortunately, the question of what constitutes consent is not as simple as “no means no.” There is still a grey area that seems to exist in some people’s minds when talking about a sexual experience that results in a person feeling harmed.

My story will be familiar to those of us living through the #MeToo era, particularly to women who have had their actions and feelings questioned: I voluntarily went home with a man. He made sexual advances at me and I said “no” … three times. He didn’t listen.

You may think to yourself that my story seems pretty straightforward, but I’ll remind you that I went on a date… voluntarily… and went to his home and laid in his bed…. voluntarily.  This is where the confusion started for me. I left his home first thing the next morning, feeling sick, disgusting, dirty, and violated. I felt as though I had betrayed myself, and everything I believed in morally because I had slept with this man the first night that I met him. I later ended up in the hospital that same night from abdominal cramping and pain radiating from my pelvic area, so intense that I could hardly move. The doctors ran tests and did ultrasounds but found nothing physical that would cause the pain I was experiencing. I didn’t tell them what had happened just 12 hours prior, because I didn’t even make the connection.

Looking back, I realize my body was reacting to the trauma I’d experienced.  But at the time, I just didn’t understand.

A few days later, I received a text message from an ex-boyfriend stating that his friends had told him that I had slept with their friend – my rapist. I told my ex-boyfriend what happened. I told him it wasn’t consensual and that I had said “no” three times. I trusted him. But his response was something along the lines of, “I know you, you’re stronger than that, you would never let someone do that to you.” And I believed him.

For the next four years I told myself things like “I didn’t say no loud enough,” “I could have fought back,” “If I really didn’t want it to happen, why didn’t I just leave?” and, worst of all: “Maybe he’s actually a good person, maybe he didn’t hear me, maybe he just doesn’t understand. I don’t want to ruin his life over a little mistake, he was probably just… confused.”

In other words, I let this “grey area” colour my own knowledge of what was true.

The University of Michigan Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Centre defines consent as "a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed outwardly through mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in a particular activity." Consent should never be assumed, debated, or negotiated. If you are in a consensual relationship, but your partner performs sexual acts on you when you don’t want to, this is rape. If you have to be persuaded or manipulated into sex, this is rape. If you voluntarily go home with someone when you’re intoxicated, but you’re in and out of consciousness the whole time – the earlier consent no longer counts. If you say yes, but then change your mind later, this is rape.  

We as a society owe it to victims to be more open-minded, and to understand that consent isn’t as confusing as some seem to think it is. According to the SACHA Sexual Assault Centre in Hamilton, Ont., one in three women and one in six men in Canada will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.

This is for anyone who, like me, has ever felt as though they have been raped or sexually assaulted. Listen to your body, listen to your gut. Your body will never lie to you. If you leave a situation feeling vulnerable, abused, taken advantage of, or violated, there is something wrong. People may want to dismiss your concerns for reasons that fall within this “grey area”, but remember: No one is allowed to tell you what did and did not happen to your body.

- submitted by Jade Boudreau