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Rape or cheating?
May 3, 2010 6:14 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend confided in my yesterday that she cheated on me with an exboyfriend almost exactly a year ago and kept it secret from me. This explains a lot of her overemotional behaviour and the tumult in our relationship over the past while, I think. But when she elaborated on the circumstances what happened sounded more like rape than anything.

A year ago the two of us had been living together in a foreign country. I moved home to take a good job. She lived alone in that foreign country for two months before moving back home (still several hours' trip from where I was living and working then.) When she got home, she learned that her mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness while she was gone. She went out for a night with some friends and got shitface wasted. She has an inclination to drink too much and act irresponsibly and generally not herself when she gets drunk. She often can't stop when she's had too much.She followed a friend to another house because her friend wanted to see a boy who lived there. Apparently this was also the home of my girlfriend's ex-boyfriend, something she either wasn't privy to, or forgot because she was drunk. Once there, she and her female friend spent the night talking and drinking with this guy, unloading her loneliness and emotion regarding her mom's condition. Her female friend passed out. My girlfriend at some point went to bed on a couch, and remembers this guy coming over to her. He had sex with her. She says she hated it, hated that it was happening but didn't say no or physically resist it.

I'm angry she took so long to tell me, and I'm angry she let herself be put in that position in the first place. As I said, she has a problem with drinking. She doesn't get drunk too often but she cannot handle her liquor, and she knows that when she starts to get drunk, she's out of control. She could have avoided the situation and shouldn't have wound up in the home of her ex-boyfriend to begin with. But this sounds like rape, and more than anything I'm angry with this predaceous stranger. She feels very guilty about it, but I think she doesn't understand that she'd been raped, or she's been repressing it. Friends she spoke to recommended hiding the story from me and just getting over it. I think those friends were at the least very unhelpful.

I love her, and I think I can forgive her fully. I'm not exactly sure what I mean to ask here. How do I help her? How do I overcome my anger to help her overcome the realization that she's been victimized? This is rape, isn't it? We're in Ontario. Should she press charges? Could she? Would it be worth it? Am I an asshole for thinking I'm going to have a hard time trusting her to go out on her own in the future? Ugh.

I hope I've worded this coherently. I'm out of sorts on this. Thanks for your responses. If you have any questions about the situation I could answer them through one of the admins.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
One thing a rape counselor once told me... that it's rape if the victim classifies it as rape... for the victim. And if and when the "victim" is ready to reframe the incident is when you can start calling it rape.... unless you're a counselor. You could frame it in terms of your concerns about consent... but you should not be calling this a rape unless she is.
posted by taff at 6:32 AM on May 3, 2010


By all means encourage her to talk to the appropriate law enforcement agency, etc. This is a big problem, but doesn't reflect on you in any way. Help her hand it off to people with the skills and resources to investigate and fix it.

Long-term, consider whether you can continue to see someone with a recurring issue with drinking and bad judgment (blacking out) as an entirely separate issue.

She doesn't get drunk too often but she cannot handle her liquor, and she knows that when she starts to get drunk, she's out of control.

In my mind this sort of shit stops being entertaining at around freshman year of college. IMO somebody that won't sack up and be an adult about drinking just isn't worth the time.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:33 AM on May 3, 2010


She probably can't press charges since it was a year ago and a he said, she said situation. Kind of the same thing happened to my roommate's girlfriend in college. I had to stop him from going to the guys house and beating shit out of him. I guess the best thing you could do is be supportive and help her avoid this situation in the future.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 6:36 AM on May 3, 2010


It sounds like rape, or at least sexual assault. I think BOTH of you should talk to a rape crisis center, which helps both the direct victim (her) and the indirect victim (you) deal with it -- because whether it makes you an asshole or not to have a hard time trusting her, it's very, very common for the indirect victim to have confused thoughts and feelings after a sexual assault. They can also help her make decisions about pressing charges.

And, yes, she has a drinking problem, and should probably deal with that too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:38 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anonymous said: "She says she hated it, hated that it was happening but didn't say no or physically resist it."

Why didn't she do either of those things? The onus is at least partially on her to say "stop" or to in some other way let the guy know that what he was doing was unwelcome. How else is he supposed to know to stop?

At the risk of playing devil's advocate, is it possible that she consented to sex with this guy, didn't tell you at the time and then later gave you a different version of events to cover up the fact that she cheated? Is this what you suspect and is in fact what you're upset about?

I think you should take your cue from what your girlfriend wants. Does she want to press charges? Assuming that she was indeed raped, then she should probably speak to the police, at least. They will be best placed to give her info on the statute of limitations that is in place.

Keep in mind that she might have consented. I don't know whether she did or not, and neither do you. She is the only person who knows. This is about her, so let her deal with it.
posted by Solomon at 6:41 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


She probably can't press charges since it was a year ago...

The statute of limitations for rape is ten years in many states. But I agree that it may not yield results.
posted by dd42 at 6:43 AM on May 3, 2010


Why don't you start out by reading up on date rape? It's extensively discussed on lots of feminist blogs. Reading about other women's experience might help put what happened to your girlfriend into perspective, and especially to rethink the way you're kinda blaming her for what happened. But you also have to drop the issue of your girlfriend labeling this "rape" and reacting the way you think she should. Instead, it seems more to the point to open communications about her broader emotional state, her guilt, and her drinking.
posted by yarly at 6:44 AM on May 3, 2010


--Whether or not she presses charges, goes to a crisis center, all of those are her decisions. Focus on what you can do for yourself.

--Love and affection are always good, so is erring on the side of trust

--Couples counseling might be a good idea
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:48 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's up to her.

But if I were on the jury, and she told me what you said here, I wouldn't vote to convict the guy. There's too much doubt both about exactly what happened and her motives for telling you that she didn't want to have sex with him, which might be her way of alleviating her guilt for cheating on you or minimizing your anger. And she didn't tell the guy "no." Maybe it was rape, but I'm not convinced.

That said, I agree with everyone else that she has a drinking problem and needs to deal with it so that she doesn't get into these situations in the first place.
posted by smorange at 7:07 AM on May 3, 2010


"Rape or cheating" is not something you're going to be able to hash out on the internet with a bunch of strangers....in fact, it's a terrible, touchy issue all around to try to have third parties second guess consent issues like this. The only person whose opinion matters on this (within your relationship, not within a court of law) is your girlfriend's. If she's having trouble hashing this out, she needs and deserves to receive counseling from someone trained in this sort of thing. If you're having trouble with it, you have counseling options as well at many of those same organizations.

I have an opinion on the issue, but it's just that, and I'm deeply uncomfortable with telling any woman that she either has or hasn't been raped, if she hasn't asked me directly. You'd be better off making it safe for her to discuss consent issues with you in a non-judgmental, supportive way and allow her to reach her own conclusion.
posted by availablelight at 7:07 AM on May 3, 2010 [18 favorites]


Why didn't she do either of those things?
Not fighting back during rape is extremely common. Although we'd all think we'd fight back tooth and nail, no human being on Earth can predict how they'd react. It's instinctual to freeze up in some situations of grave danger, like when a tiger gnaws on you, play dead and it will think you are sick and will leave you alone.
Look up the Tenerife plane crash, it's a good example of when this happened on a large scale. (most could not have left the plane, survivors' accounts show that way more could have saved themselves)
posted by Neekee at 7:15 AM on May 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


if she was that drunk, she was probably not legally able to give consent - which means even if she didn't say "no" or try to stop it, it was rape.

whether or not it's something she wishes to pursue, or can successfully prosecute, is a different matter.
posted by wayward vagabond at 7:16 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


The onus is at least partially on her to say "stop" or to in some other way let the guy know that what he was doing was unwelcome. How else is he supposed to know to stop? (Solomon)

I dunno, maybe because he never explicitly got her consent? The onus is on him as the person who initiated sexual contact to ask if it's okay to have sex. It is not okay to assume implied consent. It is particularly not okay to assume implied consent with someone who has been drinking.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:16 AM on May 3, 2010 [56 favorites]


Why didn't she do either of those things? The onus is at least partially on her to say "stop" or to in some other way let the guy know that what he was doing was unwelcome. How else is he supposed to know to stop?
Consent is about actively saying yes, actually consenting, not just not saying no. In this case, the woman was drunk and sleeping and not really in a position to give consent. The question isn't how else is he supposed to know to stop, but how did he know it was ok to start?
posted by peacheater at 7:17 AM on May 3, 2010 [33 favorites]


"Rape or cheating" is not something you're going to be able to hash out on the internet with a bunch of strangers....in fact, it's a terrible, touchy issue all around to try to have third parties second guess consent issues like this. The only person whose opinion matters on this (within your relationship, not within a court of law) is your girlfriend's. If she's having trouble hashing this out, she needs and deserves to receive counseling from someone trained in this sort of thing. If you're having trouble with it, you have counseling options as well at many of those same organizations.

I have an opinion on the issue, but it's just that, and I'm deeply uncomfortable with telling any woman that she either has or hasn't been raped, if she hasn't asked me directly. You'd be better off making it safe for her to discuss consent issues with you in a non-judgmental, supportive way and allow her to reach her own conclusion.


I just wanted to repeat this. It is eloquently saying exactly what needs to be said.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:18 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


[folks, this needs to not turn into a debate about what consent means, please direct answers towards the OP and MeMail others or take it to MeTa. Rape questions are difficult, please treat this one with care.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:27 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


She has a very serious drinking problem that makes her vulnerable to physical dangers and bad decision making. Semi-conscious sex where you can't tell whether or not you were raped is a pretty major problem, particularly when you say the drinking 'too much' is not uncommon.

As for the police, no -- and I wouldn't try to push her in that direction. I would try to push her in the 'you need to address your drinking problem' direction. If she addresses the problem, you can trust her. If she doesn't, you can't, because she's out of control when she drinks.

I don't want to wade into the muck of who's at fault when two people who are hammered have sex and are both so dumb and clumsy it's hard to tell who's on board, especially combined with the blank spots in memory that come with being really drunk--and if the participants can't figure it out (and it sounds like she can't) people who weren't there are certainly in no better position to do so.

Anyway -- she has a drinking problem that puts her (and you) in danger, and she needs to address it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:28 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


i'd like to clarify that while drinking to excess and passing out on a couch may not be a great decision, that in NO WAY makes her responsible for the actions of someone who had sex with her without her explicit, willing consent.

that individual alone is responsible for the bad/potentially illegal decision to have sex with someone who was possibly incapacitated.
posted by wayward vagabond at 7:37 AM on May 3, 2010 [12 favorites]


I can't say for sure what it was or wasn't, and my opinion doesn't matter much. What I would say is that you should listen to what people actually tell you about themselves. She thinks she cheated and she feels guilty, and maybe that colors the way the story plays in her head now and maybe it doesn't. And you are looking for a way to make this okay in your head.

I think you start to make this better by talking to her about it - about how you feel and about how she feels, about the incident, about your relationship, about just finding out about it, about her drinking, etc.

No matter how you classify what happened, you need to deal with where you and she are now, and I think that how you work through this together is important. If you have the resources to go to counseling as a couple and individually, I think that would be helpful - if you can't make a long term commitment to it, you might try to swing a couple of sessions to get some help framing how to talk about it with each other.
posted by mrs. taters at 7:50 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rape or cheating? Does it matter?

I think you need to reframe your issues. It would be nice if we were all so understanding that we could simply forgive anything that wasn't a person's fault simply because it falls on one side or the other of a blame line. Hell, it would be nice if we were all capable of simply forgiving, period.

But it doesn't work that way so the categorization doesn't seem like it's going to be helpful. It might allow you to decide this is all on the ex-bf and direct all your issues and animosity his direction, but would that really accomplish anything for you long term?

As others have said, you should encourage her to get the help she needs and determine for herself what happened and who has what culpability. I'd go so far as to say it's really not your business beyond supporting her if you stay together.

I think the bigger issue is this one: Am I an asshole for thinking I'm going to have a hard time trusting her to go out on her own in the future?

If you want absolution then I'll be happy to give it to you: no, you are not an asshole for being concerned with whether your partner makes healthy life choices. When we partner up we hitch out wagon to another person's life and all their good and bad choices.

For most of us it means that we're bound to them financially and if they spend impulsively or gamble irresponsibly that can really alter how our life goes. If they drink to excess or irresponsibly it can mean dangerous or illegal behavior - which may only harm them or may harm you and innocents - as well as short and long term health issues. Bad eating habits, poorly controlled temper, risk-seeking leisure activities, poor career choices....

Our partners choices and behaviors impact us and there's nothing wrong with being concerned by them, particularly when they have a proven historical pattern. That's not a license to drop someone at every bump or a reason to meddle intrusively, but you don't have to feel bad about asking yourself "is the lifestyle this person chooses to live one I am willing to be attached to forever?"
posted by phearlez at 7:55 AM on May 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


At the risk of playing devil's advocate, is it possible that she consented to sex with this guy, didn't tell you at the time and then later gave you a different version of events to cover up the fact that she cheated? Is this what you suspect and is in fact what you're upset about?

I am always hesitant to bring this up because blaming the victim is the last thing in the world I would want to do, but... I have known women who have redirected their partners into raging at the "rapist" to avoid taking responsibility for something that happened consentually. That is an ugly and hard thing to think about, and no one wants to doubt their partner when it comes to something like this, but I have seen it happen.

Regardless, and as hard as it may be to accept this, it is not your place to push. The victim in a rape or sex assault/abuse case is always the final word on what happens; if she wants to go to the cops, support that, but don't push her into something she doesn't want to do. You will only hurt her and betray her trust if you try to force her to recount this to who knows how many strangers (cops, jury, etc.) and drag her through a long legal process that may last years, with no guarantee at the end of a conviction (and after a year with no physical evidence? Very hard to prosecute).
posted by Menthol at 8:03 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Would it help you to reframe it as "my partner has experienced trauma" and allow her to define the specifics of that trauma? Would you find it helpful to speak to a rape crisis counselor about your understandable confusion and anger, even if your partner did not?

None of us can answer your questions as definitively as you can, yourself, working with professionals who comprehend the scope and impact of what you're going through. We can help you clarify your thought process, though, and maybe get you into a place where you can reach out to local resources for yourself.

Your partner needs to make some tough choices on her own. This incident has undoubtedly made her very painfully aware of that. Hopefully, any assistance you receive will enable you to support her own decisions.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:16 AM on May 3, 2010


Did she make great decisions that night? No. Was she too drunk to give consent? Yes. What that man currently in a sexual relationship with her, such that he had reason to think he had "standing" consent? No. Did he knowingly have sex with a barely-conscious woman on a couch? Yes.

This was rape. As others have said, it's up to her what she wants to do about that. But that's what it was.

You should absolutely talk to her about avoiding this kind of vulnerability in the future, but what happened was not her fault. Whatever you decide to do, please don't shame her for being taken advantage of when she was ill-equipped to prevent it.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:45 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


At the risk of playing devil's advocate, is it possible that she consented to sex with this guy, didn't tell you at the time and then later gave you a different version of events to cover up the fact that she cheated? Is this what you suspect and is in fact what you're upset about?

Seconding this.

If she was as drunk as she says she was, and has the alcohol/self-control issues you say she does, chances are she isn't remembering the incident with 100% clarity. So really, nobody knows or can know what her level of consent was.

But that's not altogether relevant to your issues.

I wonder if you are sort of hoping it was rape, giving her a sort of excuse for cheating, which is what you really think happened? Or somewhere on that continuum?

Ultimately, it sounds like you believe that she cheated to some extent, even if she didn't fully consent to the sex.

You can be angry about all of those different things at once. What matters is how you and she intend to go forward.
posted by gjc at 9:32 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


How drunk was the guy? What if he was more drunk than her? Who initiated what? Pushing this could backfire in so many ways.
posted by chinabound at 10:03 AM on May 3, 2010


gjc, if she "was as drunk as she says she was" she could not have consented to sex, period. You can't "not fully consent to the sex." It's not a continuum, you're either consenting, or you aren't, and being black-out drunk precludes informed consent from the get go.

OP, you are not an indirect victim, here. Your girlfriend needs a stable, supportive environment to figure out how she feels about what happened and what she wants to do about it. You need to decide whether you can be there for her without resenting her. Do not push her, do not define the experience for her, do not name it, do not in any way own it.
posted by lydhre at 10:10 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
I want to emphasize that I haven't pushed her to relabel the even on different terms. I listened to her story, told her she should try to re-evaluate whether she thought he had her consent, or whether she was in any state to give it, and then said I wanted time to myself to think it over. I haven't spoken to her since then except for a few text messages and emails. Apparently she's talked it over with her sister since we talked, and decided that, "it was not consentual," but that whether or not she brought it upon herself is debatable (paraphrasing).
I can't afford counselling and don't think I need it, but I would be willing to go with her some time, I guess. I'm pretty pissed she waited this long to tell me, but then her mom was slowly dying this whole year. Don't think she wanted to lose me immediately before or after her mother had died, and now that it's happened she's snapping out of it.

Thanks for the advice. Any more would be wonderful.
posted by jessamyn at 10:12 AM on May 3, 2010


I can't afford counselling and don't think I need it...

If you could email the mods with your general location, a few people here could probably help you find free or reduced counseling.

I think you need counseling, because your anger burns through nearly every comment you've made. Granted, your anger is understandable, but in the interests of not adding fuel to this fire, it would help if you found some way of dealing with instead of potentially dragging it into discussions with her.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:26 AM on May 3, 2010


Almost exactly the same thing happened to me. Let me explain:

My girlfriend was on a business trip, and told me that a coworker had raped her. I came to the airport ready to get arrested, and she had to hold me back.

One year later, she tells me that things were more complicated: She went out drinking with him the whole day, got really drunk, played poker (maybe strip. She doesn't remember) and then passed out. Then he had sex with her, against her wishes, although she did not actively resist.

At the time, I was furious, because I felt like I'd been lied to. Maybe she didn't cheat on me with the sex, maybe that was rape, but she put herself in the position to cheat on me, and then lied to me about it for a year, sending me on a ridiculous rollercoaster.

It took me quite a while to comes to terms with the event and not see it so black and white. She clearly WAS working it out in her head, she WAS very confused as to whether it was rape or not. It was a Big Deal. After a bit, I did my damndest to try to forgive her and support her to help with this assault. It wasn't always easy, but really, I wish I'd done it sooner and better. She wasn't trying to hurt me, she made a mistake that had terrible consequences she hadn't foreseen, and loved me. And really, that was worth trusting her more than being angry or scared.

I'm not saying this is the best way, or trying to label anything rape or not, this is just how I felt, and how I wish I'd acted. I hope it helps.
posted by OrangeDrink at 10:32 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Apparently she's talked it over with her sister since we talked, and decided that, "it was not consentual," but that whether or not she brought it upon herself is debatable (paraphrasing)

And here is where we thank the ever-growing awareness of women's rights when I say: no woman ever brings rape upon herself. Yes, she got drunk, yes, she passed out near an ex-boyfriend, no that doesn't mean she deserved to get raped or in any part bears culpability.

I know you're hurting too, but I think it might be good to offer love and support rather than keeping your distance. A lot of rape victims take a long time, sometimes a few weeks, sometimes a few decades, to process sexual assault and realize what exactly happened. It sounds like she's just coming to terms with its meaning in her life, and you need to be there to let her know that you don't blame her for getting raped.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:40 AM on May 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


I can't afford counselling

Local centers often offer free or low cost counseling


Free online chat with a counselor

posted by availablelight at 10:50 AM on May 3, 2010


"She says she hated it, hated that it was happening but didn't say no or physically resist it."

Solomon: Why didn't she do either of those things?


'Freeze reactions' are very common, especially in people with a past history of abuse. I wouldn't read too much into the "she didn't say no" thing.

On the other hand, she lied to you for a year. Maybe she was raped. Maybe she needs a good story to explain her cheating. Seriously, dump her.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:25 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, it sounds like she has a serious drinking problem. If you don't have a problem with drink or drugs consider attending something like Al-anon; these are meetings for people who are close to someone who has a drinking/substance abuse problem.
posted by mareli at 12:13 PM on May 3, 2010


She got raped. Keep careful not to cause her secondary trauma. Look this stuff up on the internet, especially Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). It's very common with PTSD to avoid talking about the incident for a long time, even years.
posted by Honkshu at 2:54 PM on May 3, 2010


It's fairly common for there to be free or low-cost counseling for sexual trauma.

I call it as rape.
posted by _paegan_ at 7:58 PM on May 3, 2010


coolguymichael:'Freeze reactions' are very common, especially in people with a past history of abuse. I wouldn't read too much into the "she didn't say no" thing.

On the other hand, she lied to you for a year. Maybe she was raped. Maybe she needs a good story to explain her cheating. Seriously, dump her.
"

Good grief. The woman has the courage to be honest with her partner about something as difficult as this & your response is to advocate dumping her on the spot. Nice.
posted by pharm at 2:38 AM on May 4, 2010


Good grief. The woman has the courage to be honest with her partner about something as difficult as this & your response is to advocate dumping her on the spot. Nice.

No, my response is to doubt the word of someone who has admitted to lying to her SO for a year. It is also to sever ties to a liar, and let her work out her issues with her therapist.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:20 PM on May 5, 2010


[seriously can we please keep answers constructive and directed towards the OP? thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:13 PM on May 5, 2010


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