Consent, and lack thereof has been a consistent topic in the media for quite a while. The debate on this topic is one that may not be resolved soon but here’s what we do know: The victim should always be believed and also anyone can be an abuser.
I have two friends, Silvia and Ben. Both of them are friends of mine from different walks of life, brought together by their love for rugby. They met at a rugby game, and after a few introductions from me, they immediately hit it off.
After the game, we all walked towards the after party location. I was chatting with Silvia when I saw a hand smack her butt. It was Ben’s hand. He seemed to be very pleased with himself, and even asked Silvia if she liked it. She just stood there in shock. I told Ben that what he did wasn’t okay, and he asked me, why? He thought all girls like to be smacked. He said this jeeringly as he walked to his friends who were a few steps away from us.
Suffice it to say, Silvia decided not to bother with him, pointing out that he had no right to touch any part of her just because they had shown interest in each other.
This incident passed. Ben had never apologized for it. But they still found their way back to each other. According to Silvia, he was such a nice guy, who was kind and loving to her so she let him into her life. They had about a year of a relationship under their belt when the sex topic started coming up more frequently.
Silvia had always said she wanted to save herself for marriage and was not ready to have sex. Ben had been very understanding about her choice, but after that one year, he changed his tune and stated that he is a man with needs and claimed he could not be in a relationship where his needs were not being met. They argued a lot about it, they had discussions with their close friends and even a counselor and eventually came to an agreement.
Ben would be patient because he loved Silvia and Silvia would do all she could to please him without having to break her vow to herself. This did not last long. Silvia lost her virginity a few months later on her 22nd birthday.
She was elated about it at the time, and told me that she was too old to still be a virgin anyway. A few months later though, her and Ben were fighting again and she moved out of the house they were sharing and came to live with me. She explained to me about the night it happened: the night Ben forced himself on her.
He had told her that her peers were making fun of her and her choice to wait, he told her it would be quick and painless, he told her he really needed this. He told her all sorts of things to get her to agree but she was still not on board. He went ahead anyway. She told me she did not have the strength to fight him off.
She felt ashamed and felt that she had committed the gravest of sins. In retrospect, it was Ben who had done the crime. He knew how she felt and yet still went ahead to manipulate her to ‘agree’ to sleep with him. When the conversation came up between them, he said ‘you let me do it! You should have stopped it if you didn’t want it that badly.’
Silvia and Ben have since broken up. He is now married to someone else. They have a child. In the meantime, she has been living with this trauma for the last three years, fearing getting close to another man because she can never be sure if he’ll gaslight her, or take advantage of her - or if he’ll actually respect her when he says he will.
Consent is a tricky thing for most people. What I had to tell Silvia, as well as myself, is to not hide behind your abuser i.e. defend or protect them to also protect yourself. If you are not comfortable with what someone has done or is doing to you without your consent, no matter how persuasive they get, it’s important to reiterate that consent is always needed before coming into anyone’s personal space.
How do you think Silvia can get over her trauma?