“No” – a simple two-letter word that we use on a daily basis. “No,” just like “yes,” is a clearly understood term. We are all too familiar with asking our parents for extensions on our curfew or money for useless things (that we did not see as useless at the time), and their expected response of “No.” We would argue back, believing they were wrong, but that no still meant no. I always understood, growing up, that when someone said no, that is exactly what it meant. My rapist did not seem to have the same thought process. Apparently “no” actually meant “okay.”
I said no. I made it very clear that I meant it. Yet it didn’t seem to matter. I’ll never forget it. I consistently repeated, “No, no, no. I don’t want to.” Nothing seemed to work. I remember wondering why this was happening, why “no” was not enough for him to stop. It had never failed me before, so why this time? Was it because we had both been drinking? Was it because I allowed him to come on to me? Was it what I was wearing? I said no and it didn’t matter.
Rape is an enormous problem in our culture. According to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes, and each year there are about 290,000 victims in the U.S. alone. Forty-four percent of those victims are under 18. I am a part of that 44 percent. I said no. The others said no, and it didn’t matter.
I remember the next day. Oh, the next day. The humiliation and disgust I felt toward myself was appalling. My neck was covered in hickies. Who should I tell? Do I tell anyone? How am I going to hide these marks from my mother and my friends? Disgusting. I am disgusting.
I didn’t eat or talk to anyone for days. I didn’t want anyone to see me – this new, repulsive version of me. I decided to keep it to myself. It wasn’t that important anyway, right? I asked for it. I was drunk. I was leading him on. We were friends, kind of. We had class together. I couldn’t do that to him. It was my mistake to live with. Yet I said no, and it didn’t matter.
This disgusting, shameful aberration began to tear me from the inside out. I had to tell someone. I turned to someone I knew I could trust: my best friend. What will she think? Will she think I am disgusting too? When I finished explaining, she said, “That is rape.” I argued, saying that it was my fault. Then she asked if I had said no. I had. I said no, and it didn’t matter.
I said no. My “no” wasn’t enough. Nor was it for the other victims – 290,000 a year. Of these 290,000, 60 percent didn’t report their assault. Two-thirds of rapists are known to their victims, and 38 percent of rapists are friends or acquaintances of their victims. We said no and it didn’t matter.
Why isn’t “no” enough to make someone stop? As women, we are exploited and judged by how we look, how we dress, how we act. We are blamed. We are told that we “asked for it.” We are taught that sexy is the ideal, but when we act on what we have been fooled into believing, we are asking for it. How does that make sense? It doesn’t.
It should only take one clear response. “No,” this simple two-letter word that we use on a daily basis, is not as well understood as we think. I said no. They said no. We said no, and it should matter.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.