Last weekend my best friend date raped me. We were both drinking — he more than I — and he verbally pressured me to have sex. I said I didn’t want to, but he didn’t listen. Afterward I cried. He went downstairs and we both fell asleep. I’m utterly devastated. Eventually I brought it up; I’m not very brave, and it took a lot to confront him. He’s apologized profusely and generously, but it still happened.
Some background: We became friends while dealing with heartbreak. My marriage fell apart, and his engagement ended. He’s been there for me during the most difficult time of my life. Where many others have abandoned me, he’s nurtured me, even during some pretty bad behavior on my part.
We’ve also had an off-and-on sexual relationship. I wanted to date him in the beginning, but he always told me his heart was with his ex. My desire to have more with him slowly evaporated, and we settled into a friendship. I’ve shared dark secrets with him: that I was molested as a kid, that my ex-boyfriend physically injured me. Things I haven’t been able to admit to many others. He was always understanding, and he advised me to remove the toxic people in my life and seek my own happiness. I felt blessed to have him as a friend. Until last weekend.
How can I trust him anymore? Do I have to cut him out of my life? Am I a victim who also lost my friend? The injury seems too deep to process alone.
Taken Advantage Of
Steve Almond: You’ve suffered a devastating betrayal, an assault not just on your body but on your selfhood. You told this man you didn’t want to have sex, and he didn’t listen. No apology will undo his actions. He behaved not like a friend, but a predator. And he even did so, most disturbingly, knowing your history as a victim of sexual and physical abuse. What’s important here is that you confronted him, which took tremendous courage. It would have been a lot easier to chalk this assault up to the booze, to mixed signals, to that great fraudulent catchall: a misunderstanding. But this was a violation, and one you shouldn’t try to process alone. As a first step, I’d advise calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visiting the website for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, at www.rainn.org.
This man was right about one thing: You should banish the toxic people from your life. The “best friend” who just date raped you tops that list.
Cheryl Strayed: I’m sorry this happened to you, Taken. You were raped by a man you considered to be your best friend. It’s no wonder that you’re devastated. I echo Steve’s advice that you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline. They will help you begin to heal the harm this assault caused you and they will also remind you that in this experience, you’re sadly not alone. Approximately seven out of 10 victims of sexual violence know their perpetrators, according to studies by the Department of Justice, and in many cases — like yours — the perpetrators were not only known by the victim but loved. The fact of the prior relationship adds another layer of complexity because very often the victim of such a crime feels as you do — injured by both the assault and the betrayal of trust that it signifies.
SA: Our culture is only now beginning to reckon with the stark fact that Cheryl notes: Most perpetrators of sexual assault are not strangers, but people we know and often cherish. This may be why there’s so much missing in your description of the events, as you move from “I said I didn’t want to and he didn’t listen” to “Afterward I cried.” A lot happened in between those two sentences. Painful as these moments will be to revisit, doing so is vital to your healing. To what extent did this man willfully disregard your stated desires? To what extent did he choose to overlook obvious nonverbal cues? To what extent did you silence yourself and go along with his agenda, and why? Working to sort all of this out — with help from the folks at RAINN, trusted friends, a therapist — will help you find clarity about the precise nature of this man’s actions, and your own. I certainly understand your desire to minimize what happened, because the truth is so upsetting. This is why victims so often convince themselves that they are to blame for the crimes committed against them. But by your own description, your friend sexually assaulted you. No apology undoes that violation. It’s O.K. to acknowledge the parts of him that you loved and trusted, and to mourn the loss of his friendship. But it’s even more necessary that you recognize why the friendship is ending: because he made choices that were negligent, hurtful and possibly criminal.
CS: Your profound bewilderment — that a man who was a supportive friend that you felt blessed to have in your life was also capable of raping you — is evident to me in the questions you ask. Should you continue to trust this man? Should you cut him out of your life? Those questions tell me that, as devastated as you are, a part of you isn’t convinced that what he did was so bad, probably because you know parts of him that are so good. Perhaps the most important thing you can do as you begin to recover from this experience is to accept the difficult truth that even good people can do terrible things. Your friend committed a sexual crime against you — one that I suggest you consider reporting to the police. He is no longer worthy of your trust or your regard. You’re wrong when you write of yourself that you aren’t “very brave,” Taken. It took a lot of courage to confront him as you did. It was a courage you mustered because you knew what he’d done to you was wrong. Harness that as you take these next steps away from him.