A "friend" tried to assault me when I was drunk

I woke up and found him taking off my bra -- but nobody seems to think it's such a big deal!

By Cary Tennis
March 4, 2005 1:00AM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

Last January, one of my close friends (I shall call him M) tried to sexually assault me. I, drunk and passed out, awoke to find him removing my bra. Needless to say, we have not been friends since. I tried to confront him about his behavior, but he blew me off. I have been pretty successful at avoiding him in social situations (we attend the same college and have many mutual friends), and I'm pretty certain that, once we graduate in June, I will never have to see him again.

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My problem lies in the way my best friend (whom I refer to as B) treats the situation. B, who is also friends with M, chides me for not being polite to M when we pass him on campus. B tells me that I should "forgive" M even though he has never apologized and has gone so far as to deny the entire situation. I reply to B by saying exactly that. He says M has apologized. I ask when this happened. The conversation stops.

Every time this happens (like earlier this afternoon), I get upset. B knows how much this bothers me, and yet he still persists in doing it. It infuriates me that M is the one who did something wrong, and I am the one who gets lectured on being polite.

I don't understand how someone who is so amazing and understanding in every other way could fail to see why this is a big deal to me. Are men just incapable of comprehending how horrible it is to have someone (especially a friend) reduce you to nothing more than body? Is it just impossible for him to imagine a friend of his behaving so poorly? How can I make him understand how much his disregard for my feelings hurts me? Or, how can I get over it? I just don't want to be reduced to an unproductive mass of wretched feelings every time this happens.

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Violated

Dear Violated,

I think there should be some kind of formal action on this matter. Whether that means taking up a process within the university, pressing formal charges, or involving some kind of counseling or dispute resolution, I think it ought to be dealt with formally, as an antisocial act whose repercussions concern more than just you and your two friends. Such a formal process would reinforce and validate your personal sense that an act was committed against you. It would provide a medium through which you could gain closure. It would say that yes, the consensus of civilized people is that such an act is reprehensible and should be punished. And it would act as a deterrent to others who may think that such acts are harmless and should be forgotten.

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So I urge you to pursue this as a formal grievance in whatever venue is available to you. The American Association of University Women has some excellent resources on this issue. These statistics can place what happened to you in some perspective. I suggest you contact the AAUW's Legal Advocacy Fund to learn about ways you might pursue this as a formal grievance. You might also consider hosting some campus outreach at your school.

I understand that there may be limits to what you want to do publicly regarding this. But at the very least, I would contact someone and talk through what happened. As the statistics referenced above indicate, very few women walk away from such an experience without suffering some kind of lingering harm.

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As to your question about your friend: He may be a nice guy, but he obviously doesn't know anything about the serious effects of sexual assault. How can you make him know? Well, he's in school, isn't he? Aren't you supposed to learn things in school? Aren't you supposed to read the results of studies and the considered opinions of wise and learned people, digest them, and allow them to change your view of society? If he studied this issue with any energy at all, he would have to realize that, frankly, he's being a real asshole about this. Sure, it's tough to admit that you've been completely wrong about something, and that a friend of yours, much as you might like him as a friend, was also completely wrong. Sure it takes courage to defy your peer group and stand up for what is right. But if he actually reads the abundant literature on sexual assault's long-term effects and still can't understand what you're going through, I'd say you need to find a new friend.

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