Online Reviews and Trauma a.k.a. Wait, That’s What Rape Looks Like?

Online Reviews and Trauma a.k.a. Wait, That’s What Rape Looks Like?

Content Warning: This post contains discussion of rape and abuse. The author has chosen to remain anonymous. I was raped fifteen years ago. It wasn’t a vicious scene. I wasn’t attacked by a stranger. I was not drugged. And it took me a decade to recognize it as rape. I was not the “type of

Content Warning: This post contains discussion of rape and abuse. The author has chosen to remain anonymous.

I was raped fifteen years ago. It wasn’t a vicious scene. I wasn’t attacked by a stranger. I was not drugged. And it took me a decade to recognize it as rape.

I was not the “type of person” to endure an abusive partner. If a man I was dating physically hurt or threatened me, I would have immediately left. Any such attack would have been unacceptable, and I would have dealt with the situation. Or so I thought. I did not recognize the signs of mental or emotional abuse even when they flew in my face, nor did I recognize rape. Because they did not look the way I expected them to look.

I dated a man that constantly pushed my boundaries and ideas about who I was. He was like a caged animal testing a fence for weaknesses, and as soon as he found one, he would tear through it. But he could also be considerate, funny, and empathetic. I didn’t realize that people can be kind and terrible at the same time, and I didn’t have the relationship experience under my belt to understand when I was being manipulated and when he was being genuine.

If my boyfriend called me ugly in front of a group of strangers, I told myself he was joking. Most of the time he would call me beautiful, and that would negate the occasionally cruel things that came out of his mouth. I would convince myself that what he said was taken out of context and was not to be taken seriously.

If he groped me while we were out with friends, I told myself it was a thing that happened with “normal” couples. It wasn’t that he had no respect for how I wanted to be treated, it was that he was in love and wasn’t afraid to show it. These were public displays of affection, and if they made me uncomfortable it was because of my prudishness and was not due to any fault of his.

I would confront him about the things he said and did to embarrass me, but he would react by going on the offense. It was never that he was violating my boundaries, it was that I was wrong to care what other people thought about us. He and I both knew that we were equals in our relationship and that he loved and respected me, so it shouldn’t have mattered if other people didn’t see it that way.

In every moment of sheer mortification that he put me through, I was unable to see myself as the wronged party. I was a strong person and for that very reason could not process that I was in a destructive relationship. “Strong people” don’t have shitty partners. I was a strong person, ergo he was not a shitty partner.

One night we went out with friends, I drank a considerable amount, and woke up in the middle of the night to him fucking me. I was half asleep and he was purposely trying to do it as quietly as possible, but I half woke up and realized what was happening. But I went with it. After all, he was my boyfriend. We had sex all the time and this was just something new he was trying out. In the morning he acknowledged that he had sex with me while I was asleep and said it was “really hot.” I didn’t know what to say and pushed it to the back of my mind. I barely thought about it again from that point forward. It was an instantly repressed memory and it took a very long time to grapple with the realization that I may have been black-out drunk that night rather than just tired. And it was only recently that I was able to admit to myself that he may have contributed to the level I drank with that exact scenario in mind.

Years after that relationship ended, I watched an episode of 30 Rock with my family. It was Season Five, Episode One (The Fabian Strategy), the one where Pete Hornberger has sex with his wife, Paula, while she is asleep. At the time I laughed at it. The gist was that Pete was such a pathetic, desperate man that the only way he could have sex with his wife was to do it quickly before she woke up and could reject him. My mind hopped over the implications in the scene: If Paula were conscious she would not want to have sex with him, and this called for the necessity of having sex while she was unconscious; his wife was not an active sexual participant and was not experiencing any pleasure from the experience; Pete was raping his wife.

I would not have thought about it again and would have dodged from the meaning had my family not said anything, but they were shocked by it. We watched many edgier comedies together in the past (Strangers with Candy, South Park, etc.), so for my parents to be so horrified by anything aired on network TV gave me food for thought.

Throughout the next week I took a look at several online reviews to help metabolize what I had seen. Opinions varied from it purposely portraying rape in a provocative manner to initiate conversation on a global level, to the shows’ writers implicitly condoning rape, to it being nothing more than an innocent joke with no meaning attached to it. There were also multiple comments along the lines of “If a guy I was dating ever had sex with me while I slept I would be out of there.” It made me feel sick to my stomach, but the more I read, the more I saw my past situation being debated on a public forum.

Whatever 30 Rock’s original intention was, watching this scene with my parents was the first step towards exploring what had happened that night. Through analyzing a clip of a widely viewed comedy and then reading how other people interpreted it, I was able to begin processing my own trauma. It was like watching a solar eclipse through a pinhole projector; it was impossible to objectively remember what had happened, but this gave me a miniature look at the issue itself.

My experience is proof of the importance of pop culture analysis. Without the online communities discussing the content of that particular 30 Rock episode I would not have had access to a wide range of opinions on that specific situation. Through having access to thoughtful reviews and the not-so-thoughtful comment sections, it would not have been as easy to begin processing my trauma.

It’s taken me fifteen years to understand what happened that night along with the fact that it has affected my relationships ever since. I have never spoken about it to anyone, and even writing this down is daunting. I still revert to downplaying what happened and telling myself I’m being melodramatic about something that happened a lifetime ago. Then other times I’m filled with a rage that has no outlet. If I were to tell people close to me what happened, all it would accomplish is spreading the same pain within the same vacuum. There is no one to confront and I have no intention of attempting to locate him or file charges.

But what I can do is share this story in the hopes that it may help other people in similar situations. Strong people that cannot see they are being torn apart by a person they love, because “strong people don’t go through that.” That is a lie. Strong people go through terrible experiences, too. And it doesn’t make them weak.


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