Trigger warning: descriptions of sexual assault, rape culture, street harassment
To the men who have sexually assaulted me,
You are not a monster. You did not come out of nowhere, emerging from the shadows to shatter the life of an innocent girl. You are not unexpected or unique. You were simply following the example of those around you. You are a product of our society.
When you were three, you were forced to hug and kiss people even when you didn’t want to. You learned that it’s okay for people to make you uncomfortable if it makes them happy.
When you were four, your cousin would hold you down and tickle you no matter how much you kicked and screamed at them to stop. Your relatives did nothing.
When you were five, you got too rough when playing with your friends. They told you to stop. You were hurting them. Your parents laughed and said “boys will be boys.”
When you were six, you thought that pulling a girl’s hair and annoying her long after she’s said no is how you get her attention when you like her.
When you were ten, you watched Star Wars for the first time. You saw the scene in which Han makes Leia uncomfortable, traps her and then kisses her, even after she made it abundantly clear that she hated him. They ended up falling in love.
When you were eleven, your friends started yelling at women in the street. You thought, “If she’s dressed so sexy, she must want the attention.” You were confused when they acted angry or uncomfortable.
When you were twelve, you started watching porn. You learned that a man never needs to ask for anything. He can take whatever he likes as long as she doesn’t resist.
When you were thirteen, you had your first kiss. You didn’t ask first. Why would you? It would ruin the moment, right?
When you were fourteen, you heard about girls who get sexually assaulted. You heard people say that it never would’ve happened if she just said no. If she hadn’t walked alone. If she hadn’t dressed like a slut. If she’d just fought back.
You were sure you’d never be like those men. You could never imagine hurting a woman on purpose. But you didn’t know that sexual assault could happen out of negligence.
When you were fifteen, you were in sex-ed. You learned about anatomy, pregnancy, STI’s, perhaps contraception. They never mentioned sexual assault, consent or healthy relationships.
That same year, your parents had “the talk” with you. They didn’t mention sexual assault, consent or healthy relationships either.
When you were sixteen, your best friend had sex with his girlfriend for the first time. He told you that he had to “encourage her” to do it because she was reluctant at first. It didn’t occur to you that this is wrong.
You learned that girlfriends who say “no” are teases and are bitches for giving their boyfriends “blue balls.”
When you were seventeen, you knew that you were one of the good guys. You respected women. You wanted the best for them. You never wanted to hurt someone you loved.
But no one ever taught you what consent means.
And then you met me.