Several years ago, I dated a man.
He was much older than me; twelve years my senior. I met him at my previous job; we clicked right away like best friends. After I left the company, we began dating. Several months later, we moved in together. For the sake of this story, let’s call him Smith.
It was 4 am, I was dead asleep. I heard Smith come into the room. He climbed on top of me, his 6'4" body pinning me down under the blankets. I groggily woke up and asked what he was doing. Smith shushed me and raised the sheets. I felt his hand slide between my legs.
I told him to stop; I was tired and needed sleep. I could smell the alcohol on Smith’s breath as he told me to be quiet; as he took off my underwear and rubbed himself against me.
I firmly told Smith to get off, but he insisted I lay there and take it from him. We had issues in our relationships, one of them being sex. He told me I should want this, that he was giving me what I asked for.
I didn’t want to start an argument, so I laid there. Let Smith force himself into me and waited for it to be over. I asked him to please be more gentle; he ignored me. I heard his breathing become faster, the groaning more intense. Then he made the familiar sound of a job complete, but still inside me. My heart sunk.
Smith knew I wasn’t on birth control. He knew he had zero permission to finish inside me.
I pushed him off of me, ran to the bathroom, and cried.
By the time I got back to bed, Smith was asleep.
In the morning, he told me I was irrational. “I’m your boyfriend.” It’s his right to have sex with me. Plus, I’d complained we weren’t sexually connected.
I justified Smith’s actions. I told myself he was drunk (and later I found out, on acid). That made him coming into our bedroom at 4 am and finishing inside me against my will ok. I forgave him as I took Plan B and let the situation go as he expected.
Because, after all, he’s my boyfriend. Sex is part of the deal.
It wasn’t until years later that I read an article about sexual assault in a relationship. That, even though you’re regularly having sex with someone, there’s a line that can be crossed. There’s room for non-consent.
Sexual assault is defined as “an act in which a person intentionally sexually touches another person without that person’s consent, or coerces or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will.” It’s a serious issue in many relationships. 1 in 5 women has reported being seriously harmed at one point in a relationship. 9.4% of women have come forth about being raped by their partners.
The signs of sexual assault in a committed relationship include:
- Being forced to dress in a sexual way
- Manipulating you into having sex or performing sexual acts
- Holding you down during sex
- Involving other people in sexual activities against your will
- Demanding sex when you’re tired, hurt or sick
- Insulting you in sexual ways
- Ignoring the victim’s feelings regarding sex
- Purposely trying to impregnate you
The impacts of sexual abuse can be long-lasting: it warps your sense of trust with the gender you date, puts your mental and physical well-being at high risk, and you sacrifice parts of yourself for the relationship.
Having someone take advantage of you sexually has serious physical risks. Internal bleeding, the transmission of STDs, or becoming pregnant are very real possibilities.
But after all of this is said, people still stay. People put up with the abuse because, in the thick of it, the issue doesn’t seem black and white, even though it is.
There are several reasons people stay in these kinds of relationships.
Lack of Self-Esteem
A lack of self-esteem can be hindering for leaving a sexually abusive relationship. This kind of person believes they don’t deserve to be treated better. They think they brought this upon themselves. No one deserves abuse, though. No one deserves physical harm and disrespect for their partner.
Love clouds our minds. It’s confusing where to draw the line between “we’re working through this” and “this is abuse and absolutely not ok.” Denying that the situation happened or was a big deal is one of the most common reasons people stay. But you can only deny actions for so long; they’ll only continue to get worse.
Sexually abusive partners are more likely to be physically abusive, manipulative, or easily angered. A person may fear leaving the relationship because their partner has threatened them. Their overall well-being is at high risk. In this case, it’s essential to reach out to someone that is willing to help, whether that be a friend, family member, or police.
I say this from a women’s perspective: we’ve been taught to put up with a lot. It wasn’t too long ago that men we’re slapping women in movies for merely speaking up. Minimizing sexual abuse works the same way. But just like we no longer see hitting your wife as a commonplace occurrence, the same goes for sexual abuse in a relationship.
Fear of Change
Living together or having children makes a separation a lot more complicated. Or perhaps the mere thought of dating again keeps you frozen. The idea of leaving your partner seems too daunting to fathom. But the risk of staying in the relationship should create a more significant fear than planning a new life without your partner.
It’s hard to admit that you’ve been sexually abused, but when you do, you can begin to take the necessary steps to leave.
For me, I remained stuck in denial and fear for too long. Smith and I talked about getting married and buying a house together. Diverting from that plan seemed terrifying. I worried about how much my life would change. I wanted to believe Smith when he said it wouldn’t happen again.
But now I realize I should’ve left the relationship. Smith’s lack of concern for my sexual well-being extended into disrespect in more areas of our relationship. I didn’t feel comfortable with him. I knew, deep down, I deserved better.
After leaving the relationship, my perspective on everything shifted. I saw a man in pain, a man that took that pain out on me. A man that didn’t deserve my love while he lived in his unacknowledged hurt.
I saw what Smith did for what it was: sexual assault. Boyfriend or not, he acted against my will and put my health at risk.
If you’re in a sexually abusive relationship, your first step should be to cease all communication. If that seems too drastic, at the very least, confide in your family or friend. See a therapist, if that’s available to you. Begin making an exit plan. And if the abuse is life-threatening, do not hesitate to call the police.
You deserve to be cared for and loved. You deserve respect and admiration. You deserve to maintain your sense of physical and mental preservation.
A relationship does not excuse harmful actions; let’s end the idea that sexual abuse and a committed relationship are mutually exclusive.
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