If You Have To Wonder If It Was Rape, It Was

Women's Health

Boy, am I getting up there in age. I say that because when I sat down to write this, one of the first things that came to mind is a commercial I used to see all of the time; one that is at least 35 years old. Emmanuel Lewis was in it talking about how to respond/react when someone tries to molest you. He said that you should "Say 'no', then go and then tell."

As a child (and teen), I was molested by a family member. I did what Emmanuel suggested. It's a long story but let's just say that although that man should be in jail for what he did, folks seemed more concerned with how things looked and opted to protect images more than anything else.

As I've been healing from the abuse of my childhood (and adolescence), I honestly think that is a part of the reason why it took me so long to recognize and then accept that not only was I molested when I was young, I was date raped by two men once I became an adult as well. My a-ha moment is, just like my family member was someone I loved and trusted, so were those two men.

It's not like I didn't grow up understanding what rape was. I always heard that if someone forces you to have sex with them and it's against your will, it's rape. I know a woman who was raped by a stranger in a parking lot. I also know a woman who was gang-raped after being drugged in a bar. I'm very clear on what happened to them. They were raped.

But what about when it's a guy you are attracted to, have great chemistry with and, at one point and time, even had great sex with?

This describes the first man who date raped me. Long story short, we dated for a little over a year, moved on and later reconnected. He asked me to dinner and, afterwards, came back to my place. We started kissing and messing around on my couch. I liked it. But right when his hands went for my panties, something suddenly clicked.

I remembered all of the reasons why I ended things in the first place – other women, giving him tons of money, his constant lying, etc. – and I told him I wanted to stop.

He kept going. The more I pushed him away, the more aggressive he'd become. Full disclosure, we used to get pretty sexually intense in times past, so I actually think my forcefulness was turning him on. But as I kept saying, "No, I don't want to do this with you tonight", tugging at clothes turned into tears and "Girl, stop playin'" turned into—and this is a direct quote—"Don't be mad at me that your other niggas ain't f*ckin' you right." Wow. I had always heard rape was about power, not sex. His words just proved that.

In my totally dark living room, the experience was cold and uncomfortable (borderline painful). I was crying. When he was done, I crawled into a corner, completely shell-shocked and he walked out of the door, not saying a word. When I turned on a lamp, I noticed a few marks on my body. He had never left those before.

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I knew it wasn't the kind of sex I wanted to have, but because we had sex before – and again, sometimes it would get pretty ravenous – I couldn't get a good read on if it was rape or not. Unpleasant? Sure. Out of hand. Yep. But rape? Did this man actually RAPE me?

Fast forward several years later to another guy. I had known him for at least 10 years and he always made it clear that he had a crush on me. I had an odd attraction to him too but always managed to keep him physically and emotionally at arm's length.

He persisted. I broke and one day gave into him wanting to kiss me as we watched a movie up in his bedroom. Honestly, he's one of the best kissers I've experienced to this day. Over the course of a few months, kisses on the mouth turned into kisses other places.


I liked how he made me feel, but I also knew that I didn't want to sleep with him. He had at least six kids at the time. He never used condoms. And there was an entitlement in his attitude towards everything in life that made him seem more like a spoiled child than a grown man. Still, because we were friends and because he was so consistent in his declaration of love for me, I didn't feel unsafe in his presence. Not one time. Not at all.

Then one day, while hanging out, we started kissing. As he started reaching for my clothing, I told him "no". Several times. He said nothing but kept on kissing and reaching. I turned my head, tried moving his arms…he overpowered all of my efforts.

I finally got so tired of squirming and fighting that I stopped and thought to myself, "Please let this end quickly." He was so excited, it did. As he laid on top of me talking about how right it felt (huh?!), something in me snapped. I told him I hated him and I wanted him to get out. He then responded that we probably should've waited because I was being hyper-sensitive. By the way, I later found out that a couple of other women accused him of rape before.

I told him "no" and he persisted. But this was a friend of mine and he admitted himself that he pushed me past my limits. But is that rape? Is it really?

I already know there are going to be people who are immediately going to want to put this on me. What was I doing making out with a guy I didn't want to have sex with? And of course, because I had sex with one of them before and he was in my living room in the dark, he was going to think that he could sleep with me again; that was a poor judgment call on my part. Sure, they might have taken advantage of their opportunities, but rape? If that's what I think happened, I'm not taking ownership and perhaps I'm just being dramatic.

To that, I say two things:

One, I tend to believe that people who think that way either 1) have done what those guys did or 2) have never had my experiences before. Because anytime anyone has sex that results in feelings of violation, on any level, it's a problem. Someone's been victimized.

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Two – and this is something I share even in counseling sessions with married couples – sex is supposed to be beautiful. It's supposed to feel good. Both individuals need to feel desired but also safe and cherished before, during, and after. Neither one should want sex so badly that they don't care how their partner feels (especially if they express it's not something they want to do at that time). Anyone who doesn't believe this to be true also has a problem. Not only that but, whether they want to accept this reality or not, they've probably victimized someone before.

The one word that both of these points have in common is "victimized" and the very definition of rape is 1) someone having sex with another without their consent and 2) someone who violates another individual.

It took quite a while for me to really get that because I said "no" and because I felt unsafe and was violated, it didn't matter what my past experiences with those two men had been. There was a time when each of them raped me. There's nothing "grey" about it.


And you know what? On this side of clarity, because I had to even wonder if that's what happened in the first place, that's my greatest indication that rape is exactly what went down. I say that because no one should EVER have a sexual experience with someone and, after it ends, wonder if they were assaulted or not. If that crosses their mind, I am comfortable enough in knowing what a healthy sexual experience should be like to say that they were.

According to RAINN, someone is raped within the United States every 98 seconds. I know there is someone reading this who's had a sexual experience with someone they don't feel good about but they're not sure if they can call it an assault.

Hopefully, my stories will help to make things clearer. Either way, I can assure you that sex isn't supposed to hurt, harm, or damage you in any way. So, if when you think back on a sexual experience, you have to question if it was rape or not, sis…just in the fact that rape comes to your mind, I'm 99 percent certain that it was. And recognizing that is the first step towards healing.

For more information on sexual assault or if you need assistance in getting the support that you need, contact RAINN.org or call 800-656-HOPE.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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