Warning: This post discusses a sexual assault that occurred during my high school career. There is some graphic descriptions, which could potentially be triggering to some. Read with caution and at your own discretion.
Image Credit: Melanie Tata
Recently, a nail polish has been making headlines because of it’s supposed ability to test for date rape drugs in drinks. It’s being heralded as a breakthrough, and a solution to the epidemic of rape.
Besides the obvious problem that it places the onus on women to protect themselves from rape, is this really a solution, at all? Realistically, this nail polish is only a tool in the massive bag of tricks we women are expected to tote around; it’s one more thing we’re “supposed to do”. It’s also one more thing that will inevitably be used against us.
When women are sexually assaulted or raped, nothing they wear, they did or didn’t do is of much importance. Focusing on these inane details detract from the bigger problem with rape and sexual assault, the fact that rape will happen even if a woman is doing absolutely everything to protect herself. You may wear this polish, find your drink is positive, and decide to leave that location. Success, right? Not exactly. One of two things will happen: Either the rapist will still rape you despite you not being drugged, or he will move on to another victim.
Rape will still happen. Drugs or not, that’s the cold hard truth.
If the nail polish or any of the other products available make your feel more confident when you are out, then by all means, use it. However, we should be aware that this is not a solution. Rape culture goes beyond even the actual act of rape; it’s in how women are treated when they come forward from these traumas.
Part of that includes us not telling women, subtly or not so, that they are the ones that need to protect themselves from rape or sexual assault.
In my senior year of high school, I was sexually assaulted. The response of those around me introduced me without even knowing it existed, to rape culture. Because, they told me, everything I did before, during, and even after, made the assault my fault.
And, it just wasn’t.
When he took the chair next to mine, I didn’t think much of it. We weren’t friends, but we had a lot of mutual friends. I had no reason to suspect that his intentions in sitting next to me were anything but innocent.
It started off as awkward flirting, only from him, and I wasn’t reciprocating. I tried to exclude him from the conversation, especially after he rather disgusting comment about my breasts. While I was somewhat used to the commentary, it still made me wildly uncomfortable. Ignoring his comments did not work to detract him.
There was a lull in the conversation when I first felt his hand on my leg. I pushed it off and slid my chair away. A minute or two later, he slid his chair closer, slowly. I felt his hand again. I moved, he moved. I pushed his hand away, he put it back. I moved, he moved. This went on until I had no where else to move, and when his hand was no longer movable. My only options were now to get up and walk out, but I somehow convinced myself that it wouldn’t go any further.
He knew I was trapped. The girls that were at the table later told me they assumed I was okay with his advances, based on my dating history. They were so wrapped up in their own subtle judgment of me that they couldn’t see I was also as uncomfortable as they were. They witnessed me move away from him. They heard his crass commentary. What they didn’t see though, was his hand sliding up my leg, trying to get into my shorts.
While the clock marched forward toward the end of the school day, as other students talked about weekend plans, and crappy teachers, I was being fingered, against my will, by a Mormon boy. When I attempted to get the attention of the girls at my table, first by kicking my feet, and then by writing them a note, he responded with silent aggression. He even laughed at my attempts to get someone to notice.
Somehow, I managed to get out of the library. That wasn’t even enough for him. He followed me to my locker. As I opened the lock on the metal door, I could feel his breath on my neck. He continued to mock me, saying a string of disgusting words, trying to garner a reaction from me. When none of that worked, he grabbed my ass, causing me to whirl around to face him. In an instant, he moved towards me, expertly. One hand on my breast, the other into my shorts. I tried to pull away, he only became more aggressive, and soon, I was pinned to a locker, completely frozen in fear and shame.
The bell rang, dismissing classes, and as though he’d been asking me to borrow notes for a class, he removed his hands, the smirk still plastered on his face, and said, “Thank you.”
He actually thanked me.
A friend found me crumpled on the floor, my face buried in my locker, sobbing hysterically. Words must have been exchanged because eventually, we weren’t on the floor, we were walking through the hallways to the office that housed the on campus police officer. She remained with me the entire time, offering words of comfort, asking questions of the police officer. As I wrote out the report, no one second guessed me, no one assumed I was lying. Both of these people believed me. They knew I was the victim.
They were the only people that showed me such mercy and compassion.
I expected the same kindness when I told my parents about the assault. Instead I was met with skepticism: Had I encouraged him? Maybe my dating behaviors instigated his behavior? Was I just looking for attention? How would it make them look in their social circles if I pressed charges against a boy who was from a well known Mormon family? The shame they poured on me was like pouring vinegar into an open wound.
The mediation that was scheduled days later was anything but a mediation. It was a trial, and I was not the victim, according to them.
The vice principal used my history of skipping classes against me. My low grades. She said that it was “suspicious” and “hard to believe” that an honor student who participated in many extra curricular activities would do what I was “accusing” him of. I was drilled on why I didn’t yell, or leave the library quicker. Why I didn’t stop him, or try harder, “if” he did it. His parents tore me apart the only way Mormons know how in these situations: I was sexually active (I was), and routinely dated different boys (I did). That made me a liar, obviously. I had asked for it, and then regretted it, they explained. I knew I had done something bad, and this was my way of making myself come to terms with my sins. They wanted to know if I understood the severity of this accusation? I could ruin all his golden opportunities; he could miss out on scholarships, he might not be able to serve a mission, what about his future jobs?
I wept, and occasionally muttered, “What about me? What about what he did?”
When the vice principal, and my perpetrator’s parents decided I wouldn’t press charges, I got up and walked out of the room. The same officer who had taken my statement, and was there explicitly for me, breathlessly ran after me in the hallway of the school.
“I believe you, Danielle. He’s lying, I can tell. If you want to move forward with pressing charges, I’ll help you do it.”
“What’s the point?” I asked angrily.
“He’ll do it again. I’m certain he’s done it before based on the confidence he has. He knows that he’s protected. He’s got the perfect alibi- he’s a good guy on paper. This will only bolster that confidence.”
I shook my head again, “No, I can’t go through that again. He’ll destroy me.”
He nodded as disappointment and understanding overlapped on his face, “I understand. If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
In the weeks after that meeting, as the rumors spread, and people whispered, “slut” or “liar at me in the halls, I had several girls come “out” and admit he’d done the same to them. There was no doubt he’d assaulted and even raped other girls before. Multiple times. All of them said the same thing when I asked them why they hadn’t reported him: “I don’t want to start anything. Who would believe me?” One girl whispered to me during our math class together, “No offense, but look at how everyone is talking about you. I don’t want that.”
You see, nail polish wouldn’t have helped me, nor would it have stopped the slut shaming I was subjected to as a result of coming forward. That’s the rape culture we’re fighting. No amount of sparkly nail polish can cover up the insidious nature of this beast. Perhaps if we find some nail polish that stops sexual predators from being predators we’ll finally be on to something.