One thing that has always run through my mind is why was that night so traumatic to me. It wasn't like I was beaten. I didn't catch an STD. And luckily I was on the pill for non-birth control purposes. What was it about my sexual assault that was so traumatic? Why did I feel like a different person? What was it exactly that left me feeling so violated and dirty and used?
I'm not referring to the logical answer in terms of the definition of consent and rape. I can rationalize that (A) he knew my boundaries and that I was a virgin and (B) I was far too intoxicated to give consent. Yes, that's reason enough to feel violated, dirty, and used but you don't wake up the next morning after sexual assault happens thinking in terms of A + B = C. You are left with an empty feeling, images you'd prefer to erase, and your own thoughts that search for evidence that you're the one to blame, not the perpetrator.
During my semester off, more memories from that night started to resurface. Although I had longed to remember exactly what happened, the more I remembered, the more depressed I got. What was it about those memories, those visual images, that left me feeling so depressed and empty?
I think I gained a little clarity regarding this issue during my Autism class today. The topic of the guest lecturer's presentation was obviously not sexual assault. He was talking about what constitutes communication. For example, when a child merely reaches for a glass of milk but doesn't make eye contact with another human being, it is likely that the child is not intentionally communicating that he wants the milk. However, if the child reaches for the glass of milk and looks up at the bystander, he is likely intending to communicate that he needs help getting the milk. The lecturer noted a study that looked at children who were typically developing versus children that had a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although the two groups did not differ in how often they sought the help of an adult bystander, the way they interacted with the bystander greatly differed. For example, the children with ASD tended to use the adult's hand as a tool - that is, the child would go to the adult, grab their wrist and walk over to the door knob, placing the adult's hand on the door knob, never making eye contact. The children without the ASD diagnosis also sought the help of the adult, but using eye contact and establishing joint attention, they pointed to the door or something similar. There was the observable acknowledgment that a request was being made to another human being. The guest lecturer commented that although the children with ASD are likely interacting with their parents as much as other children, the lack of intent to communicate - to connect with others - is very difficult for parents of children with ASD to cope with.
I am not in any form or fashion trying to compare children with ASD to rapists. Absolutely not. The lecture just got me thinking about the importance of intent in human interactions. Two actions can resemble each other on the surface, but the intent behind the action is what's meaningful to us.
For example, if you strip down sex to a purely physical act, my sexual assault shouldn't have been so traumatic. The mechanics of what took place very closely resembled consensual sex. However, there were small differences in the physical act that had huge implications in terms of intent.
I tried to convince myself that it was one big misunderstanding. but the visual memories that resurfaced could not hide the truth. There were no signs of his intent to involve me as a human being in the act that was taking place. There was no eye contact. He hovered over my body away from my face so as to avoid any more physical intimacy than was needed to do what he wanted. Also I suspect that it was also to disguise what was to come.
Sure, I can compare the facts of the night to the definition of rape and classify what happened as rape, but that's not what plagues me. It's the vision and knowledge of having been a means to an end that is painful. Of not being involved in an act that I considered an ultimate sharing of oneself with another. The very act that I had postponed and planned to use to communicate my love to another.
I cannot go back in time and change what happened. I can only hope that by making sense of what took place and its impact on me, I can process it and move on.