After all, self preservation is the default setting for all living beings.
We stumbled our way across the beach, sinking awkwardly into the sand dunes, with a full sky of stars open above us and a belly full of alcohol moreso than food. The giggles of my friends were drowned out by the throbbing crowd surrounding us; it moved as its own entity, swallowing people along the peripheries, sweeping them up in its path and beating to the rhythm of the party music blasting in the background from the DJ stage. It was Schoolies, and I was an innocent seventeen.
We spent hours swaying to the music, grinding against the mass of people surrounding us, lifting our heads to the stars and dancing away the last five, longest years of our short little lives. We were free.
My friends and I gravitated towards the main street, being beckoned to by a group of guys that were friends through acquaintance. They seemed nice enough; I’d never met any of them before. While my friends gathered to the side to catch up with their buddies, I chatted casually to one of them who, to be fair, caught my eye. He was tall, dark haired, lean, and had a dizzying smile. We were only chatting for two minutes… when I turned around, both his friends and my own had run away. Their intention had been, and had always been, to set us up.
I freaked. Let’s be clear – at this time in my life I could barely talk to anyone of the opposite sex. The only thing in my favour up until this point was the alcohol in my belly removing my inhibition and giving me a fake Superman-like sense of social comfort. Before this moment, the only time I had even kissed a guy was two nights earlier when a guy grabbed me from behind while in the throng, forced my head to the side even though I fought it and threw his tongue down my throat before I could even look at him. His hand tried to grope at my crutch – I attempted to force his hand away without much luck. I broke free after a brief moment, as I had been too shocked to push him away immediately. Even my friends had been too surprised to step in; partly because I didn’t fight him immediately out of shock and partly because making out is to be expected in a teenage party environment like Schoolies. To be honest, in my naïve little head I was a little relieved that someone had taken the social pressure off of me finally… I had finally been kissed. Even though I had no idea who it was. Even though it was sexual assault, I was too young and too naïve to understand this. All I knew was that I was celebrating with a group of people that were charged on alcohol, loaded with drugs and high on the completion of study and the start of life.
So the fact that my friends had run away, especially considering my experience with my first kiss, was terrifying. The guy that I was with, A, was very sweet and said that he would help me find them. We tried calling our friends multiple times, with no avail. We walked the street for 10 minutes with my alcohol wearing off very slightly only to be replaced with anxiety at the fact that I was stranded in the middle of thousands of people with a guy who was a total stranger to me. He suggested that we go back to his hotel room – after all, his friends and my friends may have gone back there. We walked our way back with awkward teenage conversation, and entered the hotel room only to find that even though some people were in a bedroom watching a movie, my friends were not there.
I was drunk, I was tired and I was nervous. I had never been in a room with a guy on my own before, and I was very much influenced at this stage of my life by pressure from people around me. I had not learnt who I was yet; as far as I was concerned, I was only interesting because of the people around me. I couldn’t be social, I could only be book smart. So when this good looking boy turned the lights off in the living room and made a move on me, I did not fight it. I lost my virginity to a boy I did not know, who I don’t believe ever had the intention of finding my friends. I lost it because I felt like I had to, and because I was scared not to; I felt the pressures of my friends around me, the friends who had run off in an attempt to force me to interact with this guy, and the pressures of a society that encourages people to be sexual.
You might be wondering why I’m telling this story… there is a reason to this story and it started on social media when two famous porn stars posted a video detailing horrific sexual assault that they experienced, at a shoot where they report that they provided verbal consent to what was done only because they felt that it would be unsafe for them to not give verbal consent. This in and of itself upset me, but what really triggered me was when people started to begin posting comments like…
“How can you call it rape, when you consented?”
I wish that I could say that it was only people with no experience within the adult world that were saying this… but shockingly, other performers were making public announcements that trivialized the experience of these women and made them out to be attention seekers.
This deeply affected me, as I know all too well what it feels like to consent to sexual acts despite not wishing to. My case was different in many aspects; it was not as violent, not as disrespectful, not as traumatizing as what Leigh Raven and Riley Nixon experienced. A was a nice guy who thought that I was giving consent… after all, I didn’t say no. I didn’t push him away. In other ways though it was very much the same experience, as I participated only because I did not know what else to do. I felt unsafe, I felt insecure; and when you are feeling vulnerable and trapped, there are a multitude of responses that the body can turn to. You can fight… you can flee… and you can freeze. My body chose the latter. Self preservation.
The next day, I wrestled with myself. I was too young to understand that it is possible to be forced into acts that you do not wish to do without explicitly saying no. I experienced blame surrounding what happened. I didn’t blame my friends, and I didn’t blame A… I blamed myself for not saying no. I am sure that if I had said no to A, he would have stopped. I just did not have the confidence to stand up for myself in a situation that involved peer pressure though, and this is the story for many people, whether they be young teens or adults. It took me a long time to realize that the people who were supposed to be there for me in that moment as my “friends” placed me into a situation that I was incapable of dealing with on my own. In the case of these performers, they were placed into a set that left them with no control and they reacted in a way that enabled self preservation. After all, self preservation is the default setting for all living beings.
The whole premise of this complex nature of sexual interactions and peer pressure is why there are laws that denote rape, and at the same time denote date rape. Rape is for the most part understood by the general population; it is, of course, sexual interactions without consent. What people don’t understand though is how date rape can even be possible; how can you be involved with someone sexually one day and then renounce it the next? How can you say no after the fact, and how can that be illegal?
What you have to remind yourself though is that sexual encounters can involve a complex knot of environment, peers, societal pressure, pressure from individuals, alcohol, drugs, past and present relationships, different levels of force whether it be in verbal language, body language or through actions. The way that a person will react in a situation is a summation of their entire life and all of their experiences (or in my case, lack of experience). It took me years to be able to understand that what happened to me wasn’t OK, and more years to know that it wasn’t my fault.
Luckily, the women that were involved in the sexual assault on set of a porn shoot are strong women who can understand that they were wronged and I really hope that they receive justice for what happened to them, without feeling the same guilt that I did for years.
What do I hope for? That if someone reads this who has been within my shoes, they feel some relief and peace that releases them from that guilt. I hope that this story stops that guilt from sucking them in whole, and that the rest of the general public can begin to become more empathetic towards situations that they have not themselves been a part of. I hope that if someone reads this and finds themselves in a similar situation in the future, that they don’t hate themselves for whatever way they or their body chooses to respond within that situation.
Really, I’m just hoping that we wake up to the issues surrounding sex within our society, and stop stigmatizing or dismissing other people’s pain just because we can’t understand. You can say yes when you really mean no.. You can say OK when you are not. Yes is after all just a word. Not a state of mind.