Consent and consequences
How one person’s choice resulted in my leaving MIT
“But you like Sarah.”
Behind us was a mostly-deserted Tavern in the Square, where empty seats outnumbered patrons. An exhausted bar staff was anxious to go home after spending all night softening customers’ worries with liquids. Alcohol is one of the puzzling poisons of our culture — we bring to it such a myriad of emotions: success, trouble, boredom, friendship, and sadness. Tonight, the emotion of choice was friendship. Though Derek and I had only know each other for a few hours, we had an almost instantaneous feeling of intimacy and trust — the kind you get after quickly finding many things in common with another person. I felt, strangely, like we had been friends for years. Aided by multiple drinks, we had spilled the secrets of our personalities. I was genuinely excited about this new, intelligent friend, who seemed to understand me in a place where I didn't quite fit in.
I distinctly remember thinking that all I wanted, even in my intoxicated state, was to be friends. Derek had showed no interest in me romantically during the evening. Instead, he had spent a good portion of our time talking about how he had just started dating another graduate student, Sarah. I was thrilled for him. Sarah was an incredibly brilliant and kind person, one of those genuine, universally-liked human beings.
So when Derek kept buying me drinks after I said I already had enough, I thought nothing of it. Anyone could see how smitten he was with Sarah. Why think otherwise?
“But you like Sarah.”
It started raining, and I could barely walk. My veins flowed with alcohol consumed under the pretense of strangers becoming friends. We had chatted over drinks on topics ranging from the signal processing properties of the Bose speakers in the Muddy Charles to the weekly fashion show at the Liberty Hotel. After leaving the second bar of the night, we cheerfully stumbled down Mass Ave as he walked me back to my dorm.
But then, quickly and completely unexpectedly, he began persuading me to go back to his place.
Even in my hazed state, I was dumbfounded by this advance. We had just finished talking about his newly-formed relationship with Sarah. She even lived in the same dorm as I did. He could easily walk me home and then collapse into bed with her. What possible motivation could he have for taking me home with him?
“But you like Sarah.”
I repeated this phrase over and over again, not understanding why his obviously brilliant mind could not grasp this very simple concept. All the while, a Taylor Swift lyric about how he had “a girl at home” kept swimming around in my head.
“But you like Sarah.”
How often does one attempting to cheat get reminded multiple times that he likes another girl? Not a mutual, clandestine agreement to do something “we really shouldn’t” but this blunt phrase that I kept saying over and over — that he already had someone else.
I don't know how we ended up back at his apartment. On the way there, he said, “I haven't had sex in a week.” That phrase really struck me as odd, especially since I had never mentioned, much less committed to, sex. But my brain was drowning in alcohol, and I could barely stand.
Yes, on the way back to his place, we kissed. I don't remember who kissed whom, but I know that I did not initiate going home with him. Who wants to go home with a guy who spent half the evening talking about his infatuation with another girl? When we finally reached his place, I fell onto his bed, and we began kissing, a level of contact I was comfortable with.
But then he yanked off my jeans and forced himself inside of me as I said no.
Everything after that was hazy. All my brain could think was, “Well I guess that’s it. My virginity is gone.” The culture I grew up in drew a razor sharp line between the pure virgins and the sexually immoral. I was raised on stories about how those who lose their virginity before marriage are less than whole. But no one had taught me how to react when it was stolen from you.
Before I left the next morning, Derek had me shower, to wash away any evidence, I guess. After the alcohol started to wear off and reason came back into my head, I went straight to MIT Medical and got Plan B — Derek hadn’t thought it was necessary to use protection. It’s a special type of monster who rapes a girl without a condom, leaving her to deal with the possibility of pregnancy or an STD.
They asked if it was consensual. I said yes because I didn't know what consent was. I thought you had to be held down — biting, kicking and screaming — to be raped. I thought I had, in some twisted way, given consent, since I didn’t fight or run away. Only later did I find out that in the state of Massachusetts, you cannot give consent if you are so intoxicated you can't stand up. Even if I hadn't said no, this encounter still would not have been consensual.
But I had said no. And still someone took something that wasn’t theirs.
Some people think, in a case like this, the girl claims rape because she regrets it. Let me be very clear: I have gone home with guys that I regretted. But the simple fact is, with those guys, I had a choice. They asked for consent. In this case, a choice was made for me, yanked from me.
Some of you reading this might say, “It's your own fault for getting drunk.” Would you say the same thing if Derek had murdered me? Why is rape a crime where we try to split equal blame between the victim and the criminal? You might counter, “But he was drunk too.” Well, if alcohol causes you to rape someone, to have sex with someone without their consent — don't fucking drink.
I spiraled after that night. How else was I supposed to react? I got raped at 24, and my virginity was snatched from me. Some people never recover from something like that. But I had to try to continue grad school at one of the toughest universities in the world, while the guy who raped me worked one floor above me. I went from getting an A in my advisor's class one semester to getting a “gentleman's B” the next. I couldn't think, couldn't function, could barely get out of bed, and was depressed all summer. And the worst part is, I suffered on my own and didn't say anything. I have a close, personal relationship with Derek's research advisor, and Derek was his favorite student. I thought if I said something, Derek would get kicked out, and the professor I adored so much would hate me. So I fell apart and eventually had to take a leave of absence with no Masters or PhD.
Derek graduated a couple of years later with a PhD and married Sarah.
Somehow, with therapy and an incredible amount of strength, I pulled myself out of the hole that Derek shoved me into. Now I have an unbelievably amazing job, an incredible boyfriend, and a renewed passion for my field. I managed to crawl out of a dark place that some people never get to leave. And I'm happy. Well, sort of. In addition to my virginity, I lost my dream of completing a PhD at a top-tier university … all because someone hadn't “had sex in a week.”
This experience made me feel so powerless. I found myself getting unreasonably upset with other situations in my life where I felt helpless and mistreated. Then, I wrote this story, and I found that there is power in telling the truth. I’m hoping that maybe someone reading this will do what I didn't and say something. Maybe sharing my nightmare will allow someone to reach out, ask for help, and, instead of leaving, get to finish their education at MIT. Or, at the very least, maybe it will just help someone feel like they aren't alone.
Editor’s Note: the author remains anonymous and all names of people associated with this article have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
MIT’s Violence Prevention & Response (VPR) is a confidential, on-campus resource for issues pertaining to sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment and domestic/dating violence. VPR can be reached at any time on their 24/7 hotline: (617) 253-2300. For information about MIT’s Title IX reporting options and procedures please contact the Title IX and Bias Response Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit titleix.mit.edu.