Whilst I was in second and third year of university, I was, as you might say, harassed or assaulted by men in my life on a number of occasions. I was fortunate enough to avoid rape, however I found myself in at least three scary and uncomfortable situations where the man I was with either tried to emotionally, verbally or physically coerce me to engage in sexual activity with him when I didn’t want to. The first time, I had my drink spiked and found myself in a state of undress in an alley way with a guy I did not know. The second time, I was dating a guy who, almost immediately after we started spending time with each other, would quite aggressively try to emotionally and verbally coerce me to have sex with him. Once when we were both drinking at a party he actually tried to drag me to his bedroom when I was clearly resisting and didn’t want to go. On a third occasion, I took a guy home with me, all the while being explicitly clear I did not want to and was not going to have sex with him, who actually tried to trick me into doing things I had made clear I was not going to do. These are the three stand-out instances, but there were plenty of other times, particularly when alcohol was involved, when perfectly ‘normal’ guys would not treat me respectfully, to say the least. None of them seemed to comprehend that they did not have the right to have sex with me, even if I did show interest in them or wanted to engage in any form of relationship with them, and that my own desires and comfort were equal to their own.
After each occasion, even until recently, I did not feel like a victim, nor particularly scarred or damaged, all I felt was anger towards the male population or indeed society that allowed this lack of respect to exist and thrive. After the third occasion, I actually began to pursue women, mainly due to the fact that I felt less threatened by sexual relationships with the same gender. But that’s a story for a different time.
Let’s go back to that word ‘respect’ though. Some of you might feel that my experiences are unfortunate, but extreme. On the other end of the spectrum, some of you might feel I’m making a fuss out of nothing, these things happen all the time, particularly when there has been drinking and maybe a lack of communication. Some of you might even suggest that I had only myself to blame, choosing the ‘wrong’ guys and getting myself into bad situations. Whatever you’re thinking, I want you to disregard it for now and only think about respect. Can you honestly say that you have treated every human being you have been romantically and/or physically involved with with respect? I’m not trying to make this an issue about gender, or say that sex is bad; on the contrary, sex can be fantastic. What I am saying is that every person should be experiencing it in a healthy way, where they can feel safe, comfortable and respected.
Here is what I wish someone had taught all those boys along the way, whose thoughtlessness and lack of understanding left me that tiny bit more broken, bitter and scared each time. If I smile at you, if I engage in conversation, even if I accept that drink you buy for me, you have no right to my body. If I’m all dressed up, if I flirt with you, even if I go home with you, you have no right to my body. If we’ve been dating a night, a week, a month, six months, a year, at no point are you due, nor do you have the right to my body. Believe it or not, even if we are married, you have no right to my body at any point in time. I am another human being, who may be perfectly willing and happy to have sex with you, but deserving of the respect and consideration to not have sex with you at any point in time.
Who knows what might happen if we all started respecting each other a little more.