Article by Megan Linton, artwork by Cris Hogarth
Trigger warning: This piece is about sexual assault.

I must preface this by saying I am not a storyteller, I am not a survivor, I am hardly brave, barely strong. I am telling my truth, and am privileged in that. Victims of sexual assault are rarely in a physical place where they have the ground to do that and hardly ever have the opportunity to share, have a voice and continue on. Remember there are thousands and thousands of women, other marginalized groups and silenced victims who have tried to say these words, form these sentences and speak these unfortunate truths.

Oklahoma is a state with familiarity to aggressive acts of thievery. The state, prior to settlers, was home to a large number of Indigenous folks. The land was stolen from each and every one of those people, as it was violently and without warrant taken from them. A state that began on the blood of a group of people is not one that can move forward without proper reconciliation. Although plenty of states have this shared, violent history, the continued celebration of the massacres and the glorification of the white settlers, allows Oklahoma to remain a culture of aggression and violence.

I was a freshman, a virgin and barely 18. It was my seventh week away from home, 10 days after my 18th birthday and my sixth day of fall classes. He was a friend of mine; we had been in a class together and bonded over sitting next to each other and being athletes. I was trying to help him edit a paper, standing at his kitchen counter, adding commas and syntax and a polishing up spelling errors. As he placed his arm around me, I shrugged it off, uneasy over this intimate gesture. And then it proceeded this way, him attempting to begin something and me refusing. I always say I should have left then, but by the time I had realized that, I was being raped, I was being knocked unconscious and then I was waking up. I woke up, hardly able to speak from the pressure on my windpipe, from the aggressive nature of him forcing himself down my throat. Hardly able to speak, I whispered what happened to my friends. They congratulated me, smirked at me for losing my virginity, told me it wasn’t rape, it was very 50 Shades of Grey, very BDSM, very hot. The only thing that felt hot was the tear running down my face. They told me not to cry, to be proud of what happened, told me not to go to the health center because nothing would happen, because it was not rape. That was not when I lost my voice completely.

The next day, going to the women’s clinic, I whispered what happened. The waiting room was filled with folks like me. The nurse blankly handed me a sheet. They told me it was a bit more complicated because I was from another country, because my mom had signed my release forms. They told me they would need to call her to let her know what was going on, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t let the woman who had so recently wept as I left her arms know I had been victimized, I had been raped. I tried again. I tried the police and they scoffed at me, examining my list of antidepressants and doctors, they said, we can’t trust someone with this. They couldn’t have a he said, she said case with the she being a crazy person and the he being a football protégé. And that was when I gave up. That was when my depression and PTSD and eating disorder engulfed me completely. I told no one else. What was I to tell? I had just been told by multiple people that I was merely crazy and not a rape victim. I was crazy, he was football, he was perfect, I was crazy, he was winning, I was crazy, he had blessed me with the gift of nonconsensual sex, I was crazy, he was football, I was a woman, he was a star, he was a man, I was crazy, I was a woman.

The only thing that saved me life was almost dying. After a failed suicide attempt, I was finally able to escape the confines of the campus that seemed to shrink daily, shrink to being only two people left: me and him. It brought me home, brought me to a place where I could eventually reconcile what happened to me and what continues to happen to large numbers of women across the continent. I was raped, I was denied a fair trial, denied a rape kit, denied my rights consistently. Realizing this was traumatizing and, eventually, invigorating. Spending the next many months working on making my world a place without triggers and terror, I began to cope with my loss through as forgiveness and a deep, unmoving anger.

I forgive the man who raped me; I forgave him when I realized it was not simply his actions. Him and men like him, all sons and brothers and dads, are not taught consent. We continue to live in a world where it is not only alright to rape, it is okay to not believe survivors, it is okay for women to continue to be valued less than men, for whole groups of people to be marginalized and valued less. I forgave him because I realized that although it was his actions, it was the culture that allowed him to believe that my no was merely a shy yes, that my sob was a moan, that my physical being as a woman was my consent.

Last week, I filed a human rights complaint against the University of Oklahoma accusing them of lying about the number of reported assaults. It is my belief that they lied then and continue to lie, just like every university and college across the USA and Canada. I believe that what we must do to hold them accountable is to continue educating. Teach all folks consent, consistent consent and active consent. I believe in order for survivors to survive and to be able to reconcile, we must hold our culture accountable.

Cris Hogarth is an up and coming comic book illustrator. Follow them on Twitter, @MsElectricFlame.

Creating consent culture

It’s basically what it sounds like. If were living in a consent culture, ensuring potential sex partners were cool with everything going down would be normal and expected. Obviously, we’re not there. Megan Linton’s story is a prime example.

So, how to we move towards this way of being? Let’s brainstorm together. Add in your ideas in the comments below and then tweet or Instagram a photo to @cockroachmag.

  • Listen to and believe the stories of survivors of sexual assault. Give them support. Stand with them to show this type of violence is not acceptable.
  • Talk about what consent looks like, especially with partners. We weren’t taught how to read the subtle cues of consent, so we need to discuss that and reinforce that only yes means yes.
  • Allow children to decide what hppens to their own body. Don’t make them hug when they’re not up for it. Let them cut their hair how they like. Show them respect for their body, so they grow up respecting others’.
  • Sex is fun, but it’s not a prize or a goal. Stop talking like it is one and instead talk about it as a normal part of the human experience that we should all be allowed to enjoy, how we want.