Sexually Assaulted: Am I to Blame?

Ask Demetria: Just because you said yes to sex once doesn't mean you gave up your right to say no.


I was sexually assaulted by a guy I've been dating for the past three months. We had sex once, but he wanted to do a round 2 without a condom, which I expressed to him I didn't want. He kept pinning me down and trying to force himself on me. I got away, but I'm still freaked out. I'm taking steps to try and get past what happened. My friends are trying to convince me that it's not my fault, but it feels like it is anyway. I can't afford a therapist. Advice? --N.H.

I am so sorry that happened to you and am glad you were able to escape without further harm. Nothing about his assault is your fault. It doesn't matter that you said yes to the first round -- only that you said no to the second and he ignored your protests. He is solely responsible for his own actions, and what he did is a criminal act. You should report him to the police.

Since you can't afford a therapist, give a call to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE, which has more than 1,100 trained volunteers available to help. The call is anonymous and confidential unless you choose to share identifying information.

What you're feeling right now -- the self-blame and likely self-doubt -- is a natural consequence of what you've been through. It's a lot to carry, and there's no need to attempt to do so alone. I'm glad that you've opened up to your friends about surviving an assault and that they are being supportive. But what you need is a trained professional who can help you sort through your feelings.

Unfortunately, your story is common. Nearly 20 percent of American women are raped at some point, according to a December study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Like you, most of these women know their attackers. But having a relationship of any sort -- intimate, social, professional, etc.-- is not giving consent to have sex.

Let me repeat: This is not your fault. There is nothing you, or any other woman, did to "ask for it."

That's indisputably true, but it can be hard for rape survivors to believe, often because there is so much in our culture that seeks to alleviate male responsibility, especially when it comes to rape. Women are taught how to take "necessary precautions," to "protect themselves" and "cover up," to remain always hypervigilant to the threat of attack.

Failure to use "common sense" can leave a woman open to being blamed for enticing her attacker. When I was assaulted in 2002 by a long-term mentor and man whom I trusted unconditionally, it was my own father who blamed me for it, saying that by going out to celebrate my move to New York and having too many drinks, I should "look in the mirror, and the person you see there is the one that is at fault." It took the explanations and careful understanding of several close, well-intentioned male friends to convince me that my father was wrong.

Of course, that line of thinking doesn't just belong to him. When it comes to female-male interpersonal relationships, culturally we let men off the hook for nearly everything. So goes popular thinking: If 42 percent of black women don't get married, it's because something is wrong with women, not because men aren't asking or stepping up. If a relationship ends, it's automatically the woman's fault for being unable to keep a man; nothing is said about what he could have contributed or done better.

If a mother raises a child alone, then it's her fault for not picking a mate who would stay -- not the man's shortcoming for abandoning his child. If that child turns out to be a degenerate, it's because the mother raised him that way, not because the father didn't participate in the child's upbringing. If a woman is abused by her partner, it's her fault for not leaving, not his for hitting. If a woman is raped, it's her fault for drinking, dressing too sexy or lapsing in protecting herself from predators who often start out as potential partners. See a theme here yet?