Writing by Darcy Clifford // Image by Billie Morris
For several months while we were dating, at a point in time when I loved you enough and hated myself enough to be willing to make any sacrifice to protect your ego and preserve your self-image, you assaulted and raped me, not just repeatedly but regularly. It has taken me months of intensive therapy, psychoactive medications, and conversations with caring friends to be able to fully recognize your actions for what they were and to say it out loud. (I still struggle with the latter; I use euphemisms like “what happened when we were together” and “the things he did.” My psychologist is getting increasingly frustrated with me.)
I don’t know whether you have been able to fully recognize it yourself.
You didn’t seem to when you were whispering sharply in my ear (“shhh,” “it’s okay,” “come on,” “it’s fine,” “just hold still,” “shhhhh”) as you forcibly held me down and pulled off my clothes.
You did not seem to recognize it when I flinched at the slightest movement during the night, or when I woke up from nightmares hyperventilating, or when I asked you hesitantly(I didn’t want to hurt your feelings or seem too accusatory) to “please try to be more careful” when it came to consent.
You seemed to recognize only a fraction of it when you told me that you wanted to get back together, and I reiterated more forcefully (though still using gentle, sympathetic tones to try to soften the blow) what you had done. (Do you remember what you said to me, after you apologized? You suggested couples’ therapy.)
I hope you have come to fully recognize it on your own by now, but just in case you still do not totally grasp exactly what you did, I will tell you, without any euphemisms or hedging or reassurances that I know you “probably didn’t mean to hurt me, but”: You assaulted me. And you raped me. Consistently. For ten months. I had a breakdown. I have experienced psychosis, suicidal thoughts and urges, severe depression, and PTSD. I have been in therapy and on various medications for the better part of the past year.
This is heavy stuff to hear, I know. Trust me, I get it—it’s even heavier to actually go through. I know that it is really, really difficult to hear that you have caused someone serious harm, especially when you are invested in thinking of yourself as a Good Guy.
So, here’s some good news: I do not think you are a Bad Guy. I think you are a human being. I think you are generally well-intentioned; complex; flawed; a convoluted product of nature mixed with nurture by a misogynistic and patriarchal social system, capable of committing awful acts, and, most importantly, capable of change for the better. When you said you were sorry, and that you were devastated to think that you had hurt me, I think you meant it.
I am one of the lucky ones: I can afford therapy, psychiatry, and medication; I have supportive friends and family; I have been able to center myself. I am getting better. I am relatively happy. I am moving forward. I forgive you.
But words, you know, are cheap (especially yours, if we’re honest), and the hard truth is that so is unproductive guilt. You can’t take back what’s already done, but unless you want to double down on the harm you’ve already caused, you can do everything you’re capable of to make yourself worthy of my forgiveness.
Stop supporting football teams that employ rapists. Stop worshiping rappers and country singers who make their livings reinforcing gender stereotypes and denigrating women. When a friend, or a friend of a friend, starts talking about how annoying women are, or how crazy they are, or how difficult it is to understand them, do not laugh. Do not ignore it. Make it clear to your friends, and to everyone else you meet, that you think of women as full human beings and that you will not tolerate their being treated as a different or inferior species. When there is a march or a protest for women’s rights or equal treatment, do not sit it out. March. Hold a sign. Amplify women’s voices. Share their articles. Retweet their tweets. Recognize that you live in a society that treats you better than it treats women because you were born a man. Recognize that you have absorbed and learned harmful behaviors and ways of thinking from this society. Recognize that you are going to have to do hard, uncomfortable, even painful work—work that will involve refusing to shield yourself from your deepest flaws and most misogynistic tendencies—to improve your behaviors and ways of thinking and, by extension, improve the world you live in. And then do the work.
And of course, most importantly of all: Never. Do. Anything. Like. That. To. Another. Woman. (Or, you know, any other person at all.)
Do not excuse yourself. Do not count on yourself to feel out anyone else’s boundaries without explicit and affirmative consent. Force yourself to check your more selfish and domineering tendencies. If you do not have full, wide-awake, sober, enthusiastic, and active consent, stop what you are doing, and stop it immediately. If any of this is difficult for you, seek help. If I can spend money on therapy to recover from the trauma of rape, you can spend money on therapy to avoid traumatizing anyone else.
I believe you when you say you are sorry. I believe you when you say you feel awful about what happened. I believe that you, like the rest of us, are only human; I understand that actions born of the most ordinary human failings can have the most devastating consequences; and I do not believe that you truly intended for your actions to have the horrific consequences they did. I do not believe that you are a monster. I believe that you should be allowed redemption—but only if you earn it.
The rest of your life, stretching out ahead of you, is a chance to earn that redemption. Take it.[share]