In Spain, there is a narrative of sexual assault that positions women as weak, incautious at least, surrendering to the bodily force of man or men in plural. She is a poor little thing. So when I heard the rape story (which wasn’t exactly “rape” as I knew it) of a friend of mine, a sexually liberated woman in her late twenties already with her MBA degree and financial independence, I had to redefine rape, and accept the limitations of my previous understanding which made vulnerable and castigated especially the most empowered women amongst us.
Irene is from a small town nearby Alicante. She was a virgin before she moved to Barcelona for the university. In campus, she met an older guy and started a serious relationship with him for three years. She said he loved and cared for her even more than she loved him. When they broke up – while still remaining friends – a year before her graduation, my friend didn’t rush into yet another serious relationship but instead explored sex with different partners. In our decade long friendship, I think Irene must have had approximately twenty sexual partners. Some of her affairs were with random guys she met in parties, others were from Tinder. Never have I heard her saying that she felt she was used by men during or after her sexual encounters. As far as I understood, she eventually approached sex with a sense of humor and curiosity, the way that the contemporary western culture lay down for us contemporary women.
Last August, Irene went on a road trip to Italy with her friend. This woman Irene vacationed with was single recently after being separated from her partner so essentially she wanted to meet new guys to forget about her ex, relax, and have fun. So when her colleague picked up a guy from a bar in Trastevere, Rome – where they had gone to grab a drink – and rushed to take him to the hotel room she was sharing with my friend, Irene didn’t contest. She was left with the friend of the dude her friend took to the hotel room Irene was supposed to sleep that night. Although she didn’t particularly feel attracted to that guy – and she told she wouldn’t have sex with him under other circumstances – Irene said “Why not?! One more, one less. Doesn’t matter much. Won’t be my first one-night-stand. I am on holiday.”
She was drunk but not drunk enough to forget to stop by a pharmacy with this guy to get condoms before heading to his hotel room. The whole time she was acting to avoid feeling guilty – in the case of saying no— and ruin her friend’s plans to have holiday sex with a guy she was attracted. In the last two years, due to working extra hours and stress, Irene has gained almost 10 kg. She was feeling unconfident, insecure, and preferred having sex in the dark. But before the intercourse, she made sure that this guy had put on the condom and she checked that it was correctly placed. A few minutes after their changing positions, she noticed that he no longer has his condom on. Turns out, he threw it on the side when his back was against her. Being in the dark, and being drunk, Irene hadn’t noticed it.
She screamed. She yelled. She cried.
The guy who had removed the condom without her consent just said: “I am sorry.”
Having nowhere else to go, she went to the hotel room she shared with her friend. Luckily, Irene’s friend and the guy she was with were done. Irene told her friend what happened but this only made the other woman confused. “So what, you could’ve continued”. Her friend didn’t see what the big deal was for Irene: that she risked being transmitted STDs, unwanted pregnancy, even violence.
What’s worse, the medical professionals she went – the well-trusted ones she had been seeing for years in Barcelona— weren’t so much better than her friend in understanding Irene’s trauma. All the medical professionals she met told her just to be careful next time after they found out that she knew nothing more than the offender’s first name, nationality, and the hotel he stayed in Rome. As Irene explains –– which is to her as heartbreaking as the sexual assault she suffered— nobody told her “I’m sorry for what happened to you”. Neither her friend who partially witnessed her suffering, nor the medical personnel said they were sorry for what happened, and helped her to take care of herself.
In Spain, when the public discussion is dominated by absurd questions such as if a woman’s eyes were open during rape, if she was saying no and screaming or trying to get away at the risk of her life in order to prove that her rape was legitimately wrong, it is too much of a stretch to seek understanding and provide help in cases such as that of Irene. It looks like it is not quite a sexual assault by our society’s standards unless a woman is walking down a street, crossing a park, or entering to a metro station and a guy jumps from behind a tree and rapes her. But Irene still couldn’t recover from the rape she suffered, and the lack of empathy and resourcefulness from those who were suited to help her. If we continue to define “consensual sex” only as “consent to begin to have sex” without looking into the conditions with which both parties have consented (e.g with the use of a condom), we fail to see that rape could take place within consensual sex. Then, the only window opened to those who are not raped under the societally accepted form of rape is to be sluts who just gotta be careful next time.
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Note: The original version of this piece is published at Pikara Magazine: https://www.pikaramagazine.com/2019/02/quitarse-el-condon/ on 27.02.2019