A woman’s interest wasn’t necessarily part of this paradigm (“Close your eyes and think of England”), and if a woman did say no, her partner might treat it as a tease, an expected game of playing hard to get.
Sexual assault was viewed as a rarity and an intrusion from outside—a violent attack by the stereotypical stranger in an alleyway.
“There was a part of me that thought I was supposed to like this and want this.” But she didn’t. “He had a way of almost gently or lightly pushing me,” she says. “I just kind of thought, ‘I’ll let this happen.’ I didn’t know how I could make it not happen.” She remembers the roughness of the motion injured the inside of her cheek.
Pillay was confused by how quickly he was moving and how little her reactions seemed to matter. “Like a gradual erosion of my balance.”Pillay objected, saying they didn’t have a condom, that she didn’t want to do this there, on the sand, in the dark. At some point, there was intercourse—a part she doesn’t remember well. “We basically chatted like old acquaintances,” she says.
As the term “date rape” came into popular parlance in the 1970s, many people sat uncomfortably with the realization that sexual assault was more common than that Bonnie and Clyde scene suggested.
Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony about United States Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas’s “sexual overtures” toward her gave voice to a related epidemic: workplace harassment.“There are a lot of times survivors are like, ‘I didn’t have the language….I had no idea that this was sexual violence….’ It can be so confusing and overwhelming sometimes, especially when [the perpetrator] is…someone that you care about.”Many of these less visible assaults are known to sexual-assault researchers under the name coercion: being verbally, emotionally, or psychologically pressured into unwanted sexual contact.A 2015 survey conducted by Charlene Senn, a professor in the University of Windsor’s psychology department and women’s studies program and an expert on sexual violence, and several colleagues, found that at least 25 percent of 442 first-year female university students had been coerced or faced attempted coercion into penetrative sex by men, through tactics including manipulation and threatening to end a relationship, in a twelve-month study period.The US National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published in 2017 found that 13 percent of American women were victims of coerced penetration, which it defined as unwanted penetration after non-physical pressure, such as being lied to or “being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy.” It also found that perpetrators of coercion were more likely to be current or former intimate partners of their victims and that 6 percent of men had experienced coercion.But what this conversation exposed, too, is a less discussed kind of assault—less discussed not because it is less bad but because it is found within the context of “normal” sexual dynamics.Violations by dates and spouses and boyfriends, in situations where some sort of sexual interaction is part of the relationship. To agree to one act (protected sex) and have your date do another (unprotected sex).A 2007 survey submitted to the US Department of Justice found that 35 percent of sexual-assault survivors who did not report their attacks did not do so because it was “unclear [to them that] a crime was committed or that harm was intended.”The experience of front line workers bears this out.“I’ve had survivors say to me, ‘It was weird because I didn’t feel right—I don’t want to do this, but I still went along with it,’” says Yamikani Msosa, a specialist at Ryerson University’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education in Toronto and an executive member of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres.Pillay had thought an incident could only be called an assault if it matched “the cliché—if you’re violently attacked and restrained.” didn’t discuss whether to have sex; they just looked deeply into each other’s eyes and kissed as the camera panned away.If two people were alone together in a car’s back seat, or in a bedroom, it was generally assumed that sex could follow.