By Minerva Arias
It was another sweet secret evening between my first boyfriend and I. We lay sharing sweet embraces and passionate kisses as we had always done. Knowing I was a virgin and nowhere near ready to have sex, we always just fooled around never going beyond my comfort level. But that night, he did what he wanted. Before I knew it his passionate kiss turned into him sliding inside of me and in a matter of minutes getting up to shower. It all happened too fast for me to understand in that moment. So I got up and followed him to the bathroom to clean myself up, and as I sat on the toilet, I asked him why did he just do that, his response: Because I wanted to.
And that was that.
He was my boyfriend, I thought I was in love, I mean it’s not like he pushed himself on me, he wasn’t violent, and we were already fooling around. No way was I raped. I didn’t say no. This isn’t what rape looks like. I was not a rape victim. I was 15 when that happened and it wasn’t until my senior year in Undergrad that I was able to admit to myself that indeed I was raped.
The movies, television, books, our own communities, tell us that rape is violent, that rape happens in dark allies by people we don’t know. Rape victims are stigmatized, seen through a lens of pity, as damaged people. I did not want to be put in that box. Plus, who was I to claim such a heavy experience?
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Unpacking my own false ideas around all of this took going to my school’s therapist; when I could no longer bear to carry all the confusion and life choices I had made following that one “sweet secret evening.” Because it was not just me who had a false premise of what rape looked like, so did the rest of my sisters and brothers. When I initially shared my experience with my closest friends in High School, they didn’t consider it rape because he was my boyfriend and we were fooling around and plus “y’all were going to do it eventually anyway.”
While I never said no, I never said yes. If there is one thing I want folks to take away from this is that consent means a solid YES and nothing less.
As a Latina, I was raised watching the women in my life put the needs of the men first. So when my ex-husband expressed to me that “rice, beans and sex” would have saved our marriage, I was grateful for the support I had received in undergrad that helped me to acknowledge that no, that is NOT what would have saved our marriage, NO my body is not here for the use and consumption of whomever pleases, especially in these romantic/intimate relationships where the exchange of sexual pleasure and energy can be grey. Yes means that I want to, Yes means that my body is desiring it, Yes means that emotionally I feel held, Yes means that spiritually I feel safe. Yes means that I have made the decision, on my own, without any pressure from anyone, to share however much of myself I want to share. How powerful would it be if we began to cultivate a sense of what consent and saying YES really means in our communities?
There are places and pockets of communities that have begun to do the work of checking themselves in behaviors of victim blaming/shaming and what proper support looks like without stripping the person of their power and agency, as well as holding the perpetrator accountable. However, there are still too many places that do not. In thinking back to what I needed and what I wish I had in terms of support, the number one thing that comes to mind is having a safe space to discuss what happened to me with the folks closest to me and then finding the proper mental health services so I can unpack the confusion of trying to make sense of the trauma I had experienced and the spiritual pain I had endured from carrying his sexual energy after the experience.
In a judicial system where even the claims of white women aren’t even respected or believed, going that route when things like this happen is not always our first option as women of color. While I am a firm believer in the community holding the perpetrator accountable, I will be the first to admit that I do not have all the answers in the best way to achieve this and actually do not want that to be the focus right now. Instead, how can we, as a community that understands that the system is not on our side, offer support to women like me when sexual assault looks different than we expect. How can we listen openly when these experiences happen, when the perpetrator is a mutual friend? Can we check ourselves when judgment, disbelief, criticism come up? Can we be compassionate and supportive? Can we offer the space needed to heal from this form of sexual violence that happens in our communities?
Minerva is a DominiRican born and raised in the enclave known as “the Heights” in NYC, now thriving in Oakland, CA. Passionately dedicated to creating healing spaces for her people through yoga, activism, and sharing of ideas/stories/truths and she is never shy to offer her compassion, enthusiasm, intelligence or magic to make it possible. A devoted feminist, yoga mat soljah, Minerva believes a new world is possible but it must be born from a place of love, learn more www.RootsHealing.org
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