You may not be sure that what happened to you "counts" as rape. You may also not be sure exactly what happened. This is particularly common if you were drunk or drugged at the time of the assault. It can also be the result of trauma alone. Trauma can really affect your memory. Rape Trauma Syndrome, Acute Stress Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are some common reactions to sexual assault. So you're not at all alone if you're not too sure what happened.
If you're not sure what happened to you was rape, you're not stupid. It can be confusing, especially if you know and trusted the person who hurt you. It's possible for you to be raped even if the person who raped you doesn't think that's what they did. They mightn't have meant to hurt you, but they did. An apology's a good start but it can't erase the consequences of having your boundaries violated. No one should expect an apology to make those consequences disappear, any more than they would expect an apology for running over your foot with a car to instantly reset all the bones! So don't be hard on yourself if the person who raped you said sorry, but you still feel hurt. Here's some information about acquaintance rape you might find useful.
If you don't want to think about it, you're not being weak. No one wants this kind of thing to be real! That's a normal human reaction. You might not want to call what happened rape. It's up to you what you call it - after all, it's your experience you're naming. I've usually referred to rape, sexual assault or sexual violence here (which needn't involve physical violence) but I've tried to keep the focus on you. Whatever your experience is, I hope you'll find some useful information here. Take your time and be gentle with yourself - it's a lot to go through all at once.If you can't remember exactly what happened, you're not stupid and you're not to blame. If you were drunk or drugged it's not surprising you can't remember precisely. Often that's intended by the person who hurt you. But if you just can't remember, your mind is protecting you. Be gentle with yourself about this. You're not any less believable because you can't say exactly what happened. Anyone who understands trauma will know this is a common reaction. Anyone who doesn't, doesn't understand - yet! There's nothing wrong with you.
Photo by Lisa McDonald, Free Digital Photos
According to most definitions, you were raped if you didn't give free, willing and informed consent to intercourse involving penetration of your mouth, anus or vagina. You may have been sexually assaulted without being raped. Attempted rape or sexual assault is also a crime. You can't give consent if you're drunk, drugged, under the age of consent, or intellectually disabled. If you didn't willingly say, "yes!" to something you wanted, what happened to you was wrong and I'm very sorry for it.
If you were the victim of an attempted rape or a sexual assault that didn't involve full penetration then you may not be sure whether it's possible for you to be pregnant. This page about Activities That Can Cause Pregnancy might help. Basically, sperm can survive outside the body for some time, but not if they're dry. Sperm are small enough to get through clothing, so being fully clothed is not the same as being fully protected. Pre-cum can contain sperm, so full ejaculation isn't necessary for sperm to get into the vagina. Ejaculation near the vagina, or onto hands which then touch the vagina, may lead to sperm getting into the vagina. None of these things make pregnancy very likely, but it is still possible and, if any of these things has happened to you, you'll need to assume you could be pregnant.
You'll find more information about how to find out if you're pregnant and some common reactions and thoughts on the Not Sure if You're Pregnant page here.
Feelings and Thoughts:
Please be aware that this section may be upsetting and contain graphic details.
Questions I asked:
1. Were you not sure what happened or not sure if it "counted" as rape?
2. What were your thoughts and feelings when you weren't sure if you'd been raped?
3. How did you realize or find out that you were (or weren't)?
4. How did you feel then?
1. Both. I had traumatic amnesia for almost all the abuse I experienced as a child, till I was 31 and memories started coming back to me. Then it was clear that I'd been raped. But at the time I couldn't accept it and I didn't understand that it mattered. I very much minimized even that because I was used to "just getting on with it anyway".
2. I felt very ashamed about what had happened and that it was all my fault. I felt like I was making a fuss about nothing. I felt like I should be stronger and just not care. I felt like no one could believe me because I didn't know what had happened and couldn't tell them properly.
3. Through talking to people and realizing that what happened was a big deal after all. Also through having flashbacks that made it intensely obvious that I'd been raped.
4. Shocked. World turned upside down. Ashamed I hadn't remembered before. Very, very scared of what else I might remember or I might have misinterpreted. Bad about anyone else who might have been hurt while I was figuring it all out. I felt really stupid.
1. It's funny, when what happened to me first happened, I didn't think of it as rape, I didn't think that people got raped when they were married, yeah I know I am naive, and I definitely didn't think that I would be raped by my husband's friend.
2. I felt awful, and dirty, I felt I had betrayed my husband. Just thinking about it now makes me sick to my stomach
3. Went to therapy, and talked with my husband about it, and realized that it didn't matter that i had been married, and that the man was a friend, he took advantage of me and hurt me because I was niaeve and dumb, and for him it didn't matter that I said no, he did what he wanted to.
4. Well, I still feel responsible, I feel that I should have seen that man for what he was, I also feel like I attract scum bags. Except my husband, the one and only man that has ever truly treated me with love and respect. I got lucky with him. I still struggle with feelings I blame and guilt for what happened. I wish I had told my husband sooner, I wish that I had been stronger, I wish that I had been better.
1. Subconsciously I was aware of being in danger........mine wasn't violent like some but forceful, coercive manipulative and very psychological and I was made to participate to make me feel i consented...so I ended up confused and in shock.
2. Shock, denial, thought I was over-reacting, being dramatic. I minimised and normalised it so i could accept it as a misunderstanding
3. The police validated it to me along with friends I told. Everyone knew and saw it for what it was except me...it was a coping mechanism.
4. Shocked that I was unable to recognise what was abnormal and shocking to others, like I had spent my whole life normalising abnormal events, forsaking myself for others, not being able to read the red flags early enough......self-blame set in and PTSD and I then had resurfacing of childhood stuff which compounded everything. Felt i was going crazy.
1. I wasn't sure it 'counted'.
2. So confused. Hurting and betrayed (as it was my boyfriend who raped me), but also very self-critical, blaming myself and scared that I was over-reacting and being unfair to my boyfriend.
3. He raped me again and again over the course of the relationship, eventually I broke down and told a friend what happened and that I was confused, he was very shocked and angry. I didn't fully realise how bad it was until I found out he'd told his girlfriend not to talk to my then-boyfriend.
4. Shocked, full of self-blame and feeling stupid for not realising and for making excuses for my boyfriend, alternating with numb. Ashamed to realise how much I'd let him do (I realise I didn't LET him do anything but I felt like I had). Scared to realise I'd been bringing a rapist into my home for over a year. I still feel doubts about our relationship being abuse and that I was raped. I struggle to accept that as fact, even though I know logically that it was. I was just a child and she was so manipulative and held so much power over me. If I were reading someone else's story I would have no doubts about it being abuse/rape, but I just don't feel the same about myself.
Answering for a friend (with her permission):
When she was 15 she started dating a guy. On the third date he pressurized her for sex. She said no, especially because she had the catholic ideal of no sex before marriage. He didn't listen and raped her. She didn't class it as rape, thought it was her fault because she was 'dating' him.
Her cousin (my then girlfriend) noticed that she had changed and asked me to talk to her as she thought she may have been abused. I talked to her and she told me what happened and how guilty and ashamed she was. She refused to accept that it had been rape, and continued to think it was her fault. A few days later she came round and was even more subdued then she had been. She told me she thought she was pregnant, she was so frightened even thinking she might be was too traumatic for her. I eventually persuaded her to take a pregnancy test.
1. I wasn't sure that it counted.
2. Self-blaming, depressed, alternating with rage. It was my boyfriend who raped me, and it happened repeatedly. I blamed myself for "giving in" to his coercive tactics, such as screaming at me for hours or not letting me sleep after having taken my nighttime meds which knock me out. I reasoned that by giving in I was encouraging this behavior, and that meant it was my fault that it kept happening. I somehow dropped the fact that I was drugged out of my skull every night from the sedating properties of my meds from the equation completely.
3. He raped me in a way that I recognized "counted" as rape- by getting angry refusing to stop after I'd clearly withdrawn consent rather than relying on me being too drugged up and beaten down by his behavior to resist much. Even then it took me a long time to use the word, but I could manage "assault" and "non-consensual." He actually used the word rape before I did, when I confronted him about what had happened and how I was suffering because of it. He acknowledged what he had done, but not really its seriousness or importance.
1. I wasn't sure what happened. I couldn't remember everything, even though I wasn't drugged or drunk or anything. It just... didn't stay in my head.
2. Umm... I was confused. I got very clingy to my boyfriend but if he tried to touch me, instead of me instigating the contact, I got really upset. But I didn't show it, because I didn't want him to think I was making a big deal over nothing... and I kept crying and felt very emotional, and in pain physically, but I didn't really have an explanation why... he asked if I was upset "Because of what he did? Or what he could have done?" and I didn't know, because I didn't see how I could be upset over nothing.
3. When I realised that I couldn't be pregnant by my boyfriend. I thought maybe it was possible that during the attack I'd been raped and not noticed, but I didn't see how because, as I said to my friend (who was there that night and saved me) that I was only in the carpark for five minutes, not long enough to be raped. And he started to cry and said no, it was more like twenty minutes before he got around to coming out to see where I was. Then I realised that that meant I didn't just not know exactly what happened, but I didn't remember a whole chunk of time. So I went to the doctor and she did an internal examination, and I had internal bruising and things that suggested rape.
4. Glad that I had a reason for how I was feeling... and that I could say to my boyfriend 'this is what happened and this is why I'm upset'. Except he broke up for not telling him sooner and for saying the baby must be his when it wasn't, even though I thought it was. But I was scared too, because the memories started coming back, and I remembered the attacker saying that if I told he'd do it again. And I had told, lots of people - the hospital, the police, my mum, my boyfriend, my friend who was there... so I was scared. And very, very alone. And I wasn't sure if it would have been better not to have known at all, or if knowing was a good thing. Guilty that I couldn't remember too, because while I was going around saying he hadn't raped me, he hurt somebody else also. And then like nobody would believe me, and maybe somehow I was wrong, because my boyfriend said that it wasn't possible to not remember rape. He said "that only happens if you're drugged or if it's something like childhood abuse." So I thought perhaps he was right, and everybody else would agree with him. And also later, after I remembered, I wasn't sure if it was rape or not. Because he'd told me that he wouldn't go away until I let him do what he wanted, and I did want him to go away, didn't I? And I said yes, and then he told me that was consent. So I was horribly ashamed that I said yes, and still am really, but I at least know now that I didn't consent, and it was rape.
1. I wasn't sure if it counted as rape. I actually asked several people, but they all assured me (perhaps due to my poor storytelling?) that while it wasn't my fault what had happened, it wasn't his fault, either (he was my boyfriend/fiance).
2. I felt like there must be something wrong with me because I had had no prior experience whatsoever. I thought that maybe all relationships were supposed to be like that, and if that were the case, something was really wrong with me because I was feeling so awful about it. I thought it must be all my fault.
3. I realized that I was when I told my friend what my ex did when I was upset and remembering it. I still remember how surprised I was that he was so furious about it. I hadn't realized it at all consciously, although I suppose that I must have subconsciously, at least a little bit.
4. I felt awful. I cried and cried and cried. I couldn't believe that he had done that to me, and that it wasn't supposed to happen. I guess I also felt a little bit of relief, because it meant that I had been right, it wasn't normal, and he had done awful things to me. And then I just felt angry that he had done that. How dare he?
1, I was not sure what happened, actually I had no idea at first. I was not really there, I was there physically but that was it. I knew I had been missing time with him and I was aware of something happening, but thought it was just normal sex and since I wasn't comfortable with sex at all and yet the part that was out was definitely OK with sex, I just thought it was normal.
2. When I came back and had a funny feeling, I wasn't sure what to think or feel, I was confused, I still didn't even know at that point I had been raped. I didn't know the extent of what happened, since I didn't remember any of it anyway. I left myself fine and then I came back with a then friend in the room with another guy and the guy who raped me who was my boyfriend.
3. I finally realized something was wrong when I finally got my friend to leave, since she rode with me and when I felt something run down my legs, I knew something wasn't right. But I thought it was just me. But then when I saw it was blood and it wasn't stopping and went to the ER I still didn't know, but I was upset at this friend for some reason. I found out the next day after surgery at 2 am that there was going to be an investigation and that the doctor had reported this to the police. I didn't find out until a week later, just how serious it was, that I almost died and it was very serious.
4. I felt so powerless, so shocked and numb. I really had no comprehension of my feelings or thoughts, I was almost completely gone for months. I still am in a way. I knew I was scared as I still am of both the guy who was my boyfriend and this so called friend. But felt worse and worthless and ashamed and completely like I was a bad bad person and it was my fault when I found out they wouldn't charge him with sexual assault and even more when I found out he only got one day in jail for regular third degree assault, which he plead guilty.
1. I knew it was "wrong" I knew it was abuse/being taken advantage of, but I didn't want to think of it as rape. I knew legally it was, but I didn't want to accept that about myself. I'd always refer to it as the "thing" that happened, or just as some kind of abuse.
2. I repressed it. I tried to convince myself it was okay and didn't affect me. This in hindsight just made me sad and angry. It skewed my perception of sex, what it means, how it should happen, the feelings associated etc.
3. When talking about it with a friend where I was apologizing for it, he kept saying it's not my part to say sorry, that it wasn't my fault, that it wasn't my place to "know better", I was too young, that I was taken advantage of etc. I started to look back on the events, and it started to click that it was rape. I then started addressing and analyzing it more and discovered new memories that I had repressed and started to deal with them head on.
4. Initially horrified and broken. It pained me to face what happened and acknowledge that I was raped. I felt horribly, cried, had a couple panic attacks when this happened. However, because I started facing it and thinking about it, I was able to start healing. I'm much stronger and self-aware now than I was when I first began trying to heal.
1. I was definitely unsure.
2. I felt like I was crazy. I sought out a friendship and even a relationship with my perpetrator because I thought that what she did was a huge misunderstanding, and that clearing up the misunderstanding would allow me to realize that she was really a nice person and had never meant me any harm. I thought if she could prove to me (or I could prove to myself) once and for all that this silly rape notion of mine wasn't true, that I could forgive her and myself and move on.
3. My friendship with my rapist ended over some trifles that weren't nearly as significant as the rape. A couple months later, I ended up (by chance) in contact with a man who told me that she was definitely a rapist and that he had been her first victim. Other people she had tried to rape stepped forward, and I realized that she had raped multiple other men and women. So my perceptions of her behavior were at least shared by other people.
4. It was the birth of trauma for me. I felt shocked, totally thrown. I never thought it was possible that it would happen to me, and worse I was still in love with my rapist at the time. It was heartbreaking as well as terrifying.
1. By definition I knew it was rape, but the police didn't come breaking down the door to stop the crime (I was 14 at the time, he was 24) so maybe it wasn't. Then all the 'buts' got in the way. But I wasn't forced in the car and house. But I undid my overall strap.
But I thought it was love. he was my 1st boyfriend and more experienced wasn't that how it was supposed to go? I was just overreacting. I wasn't sure what had happened. I was very confused.
2. I was stupid, I was confused and anyone else could see it clearly but me. I thought if I made myself believe I wanted it then it was just sex and that didn't have to be reported. The guy was still around so if it was rape, then he would have been long gone, maybe it was love. I didn't know a thing about him, still I tried to make myself believe I loved him enough to have sex. I put overwhelming pressure on myself to tell someone, but I just couldn't say the words. I wasn't sure. I didn't want to make false accusations, if it wasn't. I just wanted to wait until I got my head-the facts straight.
3. HE called it rape and threatened to do it again.
4. Stupid. Angry. Scared.
He stalked me for 12 years- all but 3 years of my adult life. When I got strong enough to face it and take out a restraining order I found out that not even the name I knew him by was true. I'm just now coming to terms with the knowledge that he from the beginning set out to rape me and control me.
1. I was not sure if it "counted." It happened almost 2 years ago, and I have only recently started to acknowledge that it "counted."
2. The ambiguity and uncertainty were my own personal hell. I would think things over so much that I couldn't concentrate on anything else. I became extremely focused on certain details that I felt would or would not make the difference between it being rape or not (i.e. degree of penetration). I would do Internet searches to try and clear up these questions from the legal perspective and from the perspective of other survivors. I was always stoic during these searches, as if they were nothing more than research for a school project. I never cried, just thought and researched, thought and researched. And the fact that I didn't cry only added to my uncertainty; surely a rape victim would cry, I thought. In addition, it didn't help that many of my friends who were aware of what happened didn't acknowledge it as rape.
I also tried to convince myself that it wasn't a big deal and not let it spill over into other aspects of my life. This was good at the time because it allowed me to hold my life together, but probably bad in the long run, because repressing my feelings inhibited the healing process. After advancing to the next (extremely difficult) level of my education and starting at a new school, I failed a couple tests and felt like I was losing control. I learned that I couldn't put off dealing with it any longer, and I am now seeing a therapist.
3. I have been very open with my nurse practitioner about what happened, and I remember the first time she suggested I see a therapist and told me to look for someone who specializes in treating rape victims. This was the first time I had ever heard someone refer to me as a rape victim, and that was the moment when it hit me. This was over a year after the incident. Up until this point, I had gone back and forth over whether or not it was really rape, and it took hearing someone else refer to me as a rape victim for it to feel real. Sometimes it still doesn't feel real, and the only thing that can make it real again is hearing somebody else say it. I can go around and around in my head about it, I can write in my journal until my hand aches, but I need to hear it come out of someone else's mouth before I truly believe it. I am seeing a therapist now, and it feels the most real to me during sessions when she says things like, "you were sexually assaulted".
4. I actually feel better now. I guess I'm one of those people who would prefer to just know, even if it's bad news, than to always be guessing. Now that I have realized that it was, in fact, rape, I'm seeing a shift in my reactions. Instead of the obsessive thoughts, I tend toward the more emotional reactions now - sadness, anger, depression. Even though these emotions aren't easy to deal with, at least the uncertainty is cleared up and I can move forward in the healing process. As I said, I'm seeing a therapist so she is helping me through the process of dealing with these new feelings.
1. Both really. I was raped when I was 21 by a guy I met on a night out. I brought him home and slept with him. Later that night he wanted more, I said no but he went ahead anyway. I wasn't sure what happened because I had been drinking - I wondered if I was remembering it properly. I wasn't sure it counted because I had already slept with him
2. Sheer confusion. I was scared of what it would mean if I was raped, the effect it would have on me and my life. I didn't want it to be true. I just kept reliving it in my head hoping I'd come up with some small memory that meant it wasn't so bad. I was scared I was accusing someone of doing something they potentially hadn't done (if that makes sense).
3. I talked it over with my friends. I felt kind of numb, kind of unsure, scared to label it. About a week after it happened I got an appointment with a rape counsellor, I told her my story, and she told me what happened to me was 100% undoubtedly rape. I think I knew deep down the whole time that it was rape. I knew it but I didnt want to believe it. When she said those words, it hit me like a ton of bricks
4. Scared, like my life was over, I felt guilty that I didnt do more, I was angry with myself for putting myself in that situation and letting myself be vulnerable. I felt completely overwhelmed like I was carrying a huge huge weight on my shoulders and I had no idea how to get rid of it. I drank a lot and tried to pretend I was okay but on the inside I was struggling. I was a huge mess of emotions that I couldnt control and it kept bubbling over. I felt pathetic. I feel better now, not entirely 'okay' again but some days are good, others not so good. I realise I have a long journey ahead. It sucks but I'm trying to accept it and move on.
1. I wasn't sure what had happened. I knew that I'd repressed memories after the abuse stopped. I just wasn't sure what I couldn't remember.
2. Confusion, mainly. I felt very alone and very unsteady, and very worried about what it would mean if I ever did find out, because I still had to see him.
3. He attempted to attack me again, after he'd stopped for a while. The memories all came back.
4. Completely and utterly broken. I wanted to die or disappear. I felt like my world had been ripped to shreds, and I thought that I'd asked for it somehow.