"You can't tell me I wasn't raped"
by Lisie Sabbag and Verde Magazine
Published April 8, 2013
The following story appeared in Verde Magazine, published on April 9, 2013. The views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily representative of that of The Paly Voice or any of its staff members. This story appears on The Paly Voice per the request of Verde Magazine.
Please read the Verde editors’ introduction to their story here.
WARNING: This cover package deals with accounts of sexual assault, and may be a trigger for some people. Please read on cautiously.
“I’m asleep, but the kind of asleep where an alarm is going off in my head,” junior Tina says.
“I’m only semi-conscious.” Tina is in the back of the car with a senior guy she barely knows.
Despite her earlier protests, now she is too drunk to object and he is on top of her.
She can’t stop him as he undresses her and takes full advantage.
“When I wake up again and I realize what’s happening … I start crying.
I’m just staring out the back window of the car, silently crying.”
Reacting to Rape
Tina, whose name has been changed like all students in this story, was incoherent and taciturn in the days that followed. She couldn’t talk to her family or friends and spent the weekend lying in bed. She didn’t want to even think about what had happened.
“I couldn’t eat or sleep or do anything,” she says. She told her parents who immediately took action. They brought her to a therapist, who told her she was in a state of shock, and tried their best to support her in every way. The Palo Alto High School Adolescent Counseling Services, after talking with Tina and her family, filed a police report on her behalf but she chose not to press charges.
But many of her peers didn’t respond like her parents did.
After telling a few friends, she started to get texts and calls from the people who were there that night. They told her to stop talking about it, told her it was her fault.
Then she started hearing from the rest of her circle of friends, who only made the situation worse.
“Everyone was making me feel like just a lying slut who got herself in this situation,” she says. “Even though I knew that’s not what happened, that’s how people were making me feel.”
Names like “attention whore,” “liar,” “drunk” and “slut” were thrown around in the gossip that surrounded her as she walked across the quad at school. Tina had a bit of a reputation, and the classic “slut-shaming” came into full effect as soon as people learned she had been drunk that night.
“These are people I used to consider my best friends,” she says. “[They] treated me like a crazy person.”
She needed a break from school to deal with her shock, and the time away from her peers didn’t hurt either. But when she left, they followed her using the anonymity of social media. She received a barrage of Facebook messages and Tumblr posts telling her that she was just looking for attention.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) says the majority of sexual assault survivors don’t report their rapes and Tina started to think she should have just kept quiet as well.
“If I could go back, I don’t think I would have said anything,” Tina says. “The reactions I got were so horrible and awful. I don’t think I could handle hearing all those horrible things being said about me.”
RAINN says the kind of treatment Tina received from her peers will only make matters worse for rape victims.
Kerry Kulstad-Thomas, an Assault Prevention Intervention Specialist at the Rape Crisis Center of the YWCA in Silicon Valley, stresses the importance of a good support base.
“Loved ones play a large part in a survivor’s healing process,” she says. “It’s really important that they get support from the beginning.”
RAINN offers the following advice for family and friends of sexual violence survivors: “Listen. Be there. Don’t be judgmental.”
Tina says that’s not at all the kind of support she received from her peers.
“It wasn’t even what happened, it was more people’s reactions that’s made this so hard,” Tina says. “When there’s support it doesn’t matter how awful things are, you can get through it, but when there’s not it makes it 100 times harder.”
With all the backlash and rejection Tina received, she wanted to stop sharing her story and give in to the pressure others put on her to forget the rape.
But she hasn’t, because she thinks that’s exactly the kind of attitude keeping rape culture alive.
“I hope that speaking up, saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t okay’ will make someone change their minds, and then maybe something will change,” Tina says. “Even if rapes don’t stop happening, I hope the support afterwards will [improve].”
Kulstad-Thomas says developing real support for the victim is exactly what our community needs.
“The first step is realizing that it is an issue our entire community needs to come together on,” she says. “[We can do this] by fostering a really honest and more open communication between women.”
The source of rape culture
Palo Alto High School teacher Letitia Burton says addressing the influence of gender stereotypes on sexuality and rape is her main focus when she teaches about rape in Living Skills.
“We talk about the importance of boys understanding the ways they’re socialized to be more aggressive and the ways girls are socialized to be more passive,” she says. “We as a culture don’t necessarily raise girls to have a voice and be assertive, so women smile and nod their heads and they may not speak up against a man.”
This “assertive socialization” as Burton puts it, shows itself through a belief that boys should be sexually experienced to be considered manly. “Passively socialized” girls comply with the idea that boys should be having sex with them, and make themselves into an appealing sexual object.
Teen boys are expected to take advantage of the opportunities at all costs, or else face the ire of their friends, according to Amy, a senior who has experienced this first-hand.
“They [Paly guys] would say, ‘Oh you didn’t want to have sex with her because she’s drunk? You’re such a fag,’” Amy says. “Not that that’s excusable, but there is just as much pressure on guys to have sex and f— everything that moves as there is on girls to be that girl that sleeps with them.”
This stereotype of high school as an experience filled with alcohol and hook-ups is perpetuated by social media, popular movies like “Project X” and music like 50 Cent’s track “In Da Club.” Their popularity drives teens to replicate risky behaviors, according to Burton.
Senior Seth realizes Palo Alto isn’t magically exempt from these influences.
“The fact remains that high school students are high school students and they are the same foolish people everywhere,” Seth says, “There is no escaping poor judgment no matter how educated or forward-thinking one is.”
Not just Steubenville
Though it’s hard to admit these things are affecting students so greatly, students aren’t as immune to rape culture as they think. While no one would come out and post a Facebook status in favor of rape, behind closed doors things aren’t strictly p.c.
“If she [a girl at a party] is drunk and coming on to him, I can guarantee you’d be hard-pressed to find a male who would say, no, this is not okay,” Seth says. “If the man forces himself on her, that’s another story, but a drunk flirt should hold no grudge against a man who went along with her actions.”
Girls aren’t immune to the influence of the media and have followed trends of skimpier clothing and more alcohol consumption, but most don’t think that should necessarily lead to sex at the end of the night.
“It is just something that you do,” Amy says. “Go get dressed up like sluts, and have fun and be drunk. It’s not like I go out there thinking ‘I’m going to get f—– tonight!’”
Burton says the combined effect of confused teens trying to be the sexualized archetype they see in the media and the lack of open conversation about teen sexual activity creates a culture of adolescents who think this consequence of this party lifestyle is okay.
“It’s easy to go around and not examine the culture that you’re in,” Burton says. “It’s easy to not ask questions because we think it’s normal.”
In an online survey of 250 Paly students, almost 25.7 percent said that they agree that if a woman willingly gets drunk and then gets raped, she is responsible for what happened to her.
“That’s what stupid girls do at that age — they dress up slutty and get drunk and accidentally have sex because that’s what people do, that’s what they’ve been told fun is,” Amy says. “It’s happened to so many people. It happens, so it’s not necessarily a big deal.”
And when it happened to her, Amy was left believing that she should just accept it.
Amy was a sophomore when the incident happened. She had gotten dressed up in mini skirts and sparkles with her friends, passing around some vodka as they did so. They left for a dance at Club Illusions, already thoroughly intoxicated though the stars were just becoming visible.
When Amy made eye contact with a senior from across the dark room, it looked like the night was going to be much more eventful than she had anticipated.
Eventually, they met up on the dance floor, hip on hip, grinding in the dim light. In between sets, they said proper hellos and seemed to hit it off. He was a big jock on campus, fun to dance with, and easy to talk to. He seemed like a nice guy to Amy, although that may have been the vodka talking.
“He asked me if I wanted to get out of there,” she says. To Amy he was older, cooler “and I didn’t really know what else to say besides ‘Sure.’”
He led her away from the party, towards a local park. They walked in an amiable silence under a sky illuminated with stars, a seemingly innocent moment between two new friends as Amy slipped deeper into a drunken haze. When she started walking at a diagonal, he put his hands on her shoulders and steered her toward a dark corner of the park’s field.
When his mouth was suddenly on hers, she finally realized how far from innocent this really was.
“I should have known what was going on,” she says. “I just didn’t think about it.”
Her mind was fuzzy and she was still processing his tongue down her throat when his fingers slipped up her skirt. His hands were everywhere, it seemed, if only to support her as her body started to go limp. He laid her down on the grass, told her he was going to get a condom.
“It occurred to me — wait, this is not what I want to do,” she says.
Then she passed out.
From there, “It got really messy really quick,” she says.
Amy was in and out of consciousness. A flash of the senior, back from getting protection, then black. Another flash and her skirt was around her ankles. Her clothes were completely off now, and she was gone again. Halfway unconscious, she could still feel his weight laying on her. He leaned into her, but she couldn’t find the words to make him stop before fading away. As hard as she tried to stop it, the alcohol took charge of her mind, the senior took charge of her body. She stopped fighting, let her head roll back so she could only see the sky, and allowed the darkness to sweep over her.
“I just remember focusing on the stars whenever I was conscious,” she says. “And trying not to be.”
Expert Kulstad-Thomas says rape is legally considered any sexual intercourse without consent.
“And consent is an active and willing yes,” she says. “Without threat or coercion. So basically that person has to be able to say yes without feeling pressured or manipulated… and that means that the person is not under the influence of alcohol and drugs.”
For a long time, Amy never considered what occurred in the park to be rape.
“Yes, he was older than me, and yes, he was much more conscious than I was,” she says. “But people do that kind of stuff all the time. It happens, it’s not necessarily a big deal.”
That date rape is a just repercussion of high school life which must be endured is an idea prevalent in our culture. In the online survey, 57.5 percent of Paly students said they agree that certain women are more likely to be raped due to their promiscuous behavior. Amy experienced the result of this misconception firsthand when she sat her best friend down at Peet’s and revealed everything, expecting support and sympathy.
“She [my friend] just said, “You shouldn’t have been drunk, you shouldn’t have been wearing slutty clothes, you shouldn’t have gotten yourself into that situation,” Amy says. “And the thing is… she was right.”
Amy avoided telling people what happened, and when the news eventually came out she played it off as simply a drunken escapade, not wanting to be labeled “the poor girl who got raped in a park”.
“I didn’t really want to tell people the truth about it, because I didn’t really like the truth,” she says.
This thinking skewed how Amy thought about the night she was raped for a long time afterwards, and kept her from going to the authorities or even her parents.
“I feel like such a shitty person… and I am embarrassed,” she says to explain why she never told her family.
Kulstad-Thomas says that this is common for sexual violence survivors.
“We live in a sexist society that tends to blame the victim of sexual assault,” she says. “Survivors tend to experience a lot of guilt and shame.”
Amy never thinks of herself as a rape survivor, but then again she never thinks about that night at all if she can help it. Now, telling her story out loud and forced to come face to face with the facts, Amy pauses for a moment of retrospection.
“I guess if you get down to it,” she says finally, “It was rape.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, you don’t have to keep quiet.
Get help by calling RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE,
the local YWCA of Silicon Valley’s crisis hotline 650.493.7273 or
Adolescent Counseling Services at 650.883.4244.
“You can’t tell me I wasn’t raped” by Lisie Sabbag
From a different perspective: a discussion with Paly guys by Lisie Sabbag
Taking it Seriously: Ever made a rape joke? This column is for you by Savannah Cordova
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