I was a little over a month into my study abroad program in a big European city. I’d lived my whole life in a big American city, so I figured they must be pretty similar, especially in terms of safety. Perhaps they are, and perhaps my luck just ran out.
I went out by myself every weekend to bars, clubs, or shows. Everyone – my mother, friends from back home, the program’s directors, the other students in the program, the people I met at these venues – seemed unable to decide whether they thought I was doing something pathetic, brave, or dangerous. I think it was all of those at one point or another.
In any case, one night I went out to some fairly large club – I waited half an hour in line, so I drank the alcohol I’d poured into a water bottle and brought with me. I met “natives” in line who offered to buy me drinks, so I drank those too. And then I randomly bumped into a few students from the program, so I drank with them. The guys I’d met while waiting in line found me and invited me to join them in their VIP section, so I drank their alcohol. The music was Top 40 crap I had no intention of dancing to, so I drank some more. Maybe a lot more.
I am no stranger to “binge” drinking (considered to be 4 or more drinks for women). I’d been drinking regularly for years, and barring a couple of vomit-filled, fuzzy-memoried nights followed by I’d-rather-die-than-deal-with-this-hangover mornings when I first started drinking, I generally pride myself on knowing my limits and sticking to them. I suppose all the bouncing between groups and loud music and blushing with pride when people told me how perfect my accent was distracted me – or perhaps propelled me – to drink significantly more than I normally do. I started to feel woozy, and left.
I remember sitting somewhere not too far from the club, trying to keep myself awake, and the world from spinning. The metro was closed for another two hours, and I had sworn to myself that I would never take a cab (missing out on people-watching on the metro, hearing the language, and all that). I don’t know how much time passed while I was sitting there, but at some point, two men, probably in their thirties, approached me and started talking to me. I don’t remember what we talked about. I remember we went to a café that was open all night, and that I was struggling to stay conscious. I remember my head’s feeling too heavy for me to keep it upright, so I didn’t. I remember their voices sounding distant; some sort of echo from miles away, when in reality we were all barely a foot apart from each other. I remember that when I checked my phone and saw that it was finally time for the metro to open, I managed to stumble my way out the door, without a word to either of them. One of them followed me outside and grabbed me, asked me where I was going and why I hadn’t said goodbye. It wasn’t aggressive, I would have remembered had it been. I know because I remember what happened next. He put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me into the corner of some building. I was so inebriated that I was stumbling, and although I tried to turn around to go in the direction of the metro, he was too strong, or I was too weak. To be honest, I was so fucked up and lacking of limb control that a three-year-old child could probably have beaten me up. He started trying to kiss me, and I remember turning my head from side to side and whining, whimpering, trying to avoid his lips. At some points, I think I stopped moving because I was just so dizzy and energy-deprived. But then I’d resume, trying to get away from him. I remember his grabbing both my wrists and shoving them against the wall with one hand, while his other groped me. The escalation of his actions eventually prompted me to find my voice. “Stop…Stop,” I whispered, pleaded. He didn’t. My voice wasn’t strong enough to yell for help, either. “Stop…stop…stop…stop.” He didn’t.
I remember only one thing he said to me that entire night. “Stop saying stop.” But it wasn’t a threat. It was annoyance. Annoyance that I was playing hard to get. Annoyance that I wasn’t kissing him back, that he wasn’t making me wet. When I finally managed to wriggle away from him and half ran, half stumbled to the metro, I was fully expecting him to run after me and chase me down. He didn’t. The station was large, and I was drunk, confused, exhausted, and scared. It took me a few minutes to find where I needed to go, and as I passed through the turnstile and looked behind me, there he was. He smiled cheerfully, waved goodbye, and headed in the opposite direction for the metro line he needed.
This didn’t happen at Middlebury, but it affects me at Middlebury. It affects me wherever I go, and it affects the interactions I have with people. I am not afraid that it will happen again. It may or it may not, and I refuse to treat cities or clubs or schools like warzones and vow to take “all precautions necessary” to ensure my safety. But it has contributed to making me even more irrationally hateful and afraid of weakness. I felt utterly helpless that night, and I despise myself – and him – for it. I have become painfully sensitive to discussions about sexual assault. When I’ve heard people say – even in different contexts – things along the lines of “stop saying stop,” or “you know you want it,” I freeze or I break down or I shake with anger. Obviously, Blurred Lines was not my summer anthem. I am increasingly intolerant of the tolerance of rape culture. Rape culture exists when a person who, for all intents and purposes, is probably not a sadistic, sociopathic rapist-murderer, after having violated another person’s body – a person who was (temporarily) physically incapacitated and giving clear, verbal non-consent – can smile and wave to said person as though it had been a typical night. And you know what, for scumbags like him, it probably was. And that’s fucking scary.
Author: Anonymous Middlebury College Student