Harlotry: No Means No, Even If You’ve Said Yes Before


Christopher Saunders, White Noise no. 1

Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she is currently employed as a pro-domme but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry. She usually shares her stories each Monday in Harlotry–however, for the next five weeks, she’ll be writing specifically about her experience with domestic abuse and sexual assault. Here is part one and part two.

When Stanley and I finally broke up, it didn’t feel the way I expected it to feel. I had expected freedom, I had expected joy, but I didn’t feel any of those things. Mostly I felt alone and confused and so, so afraid. My identity had been so wrapped up in being Stanley’s Wife that I wasn’t sure who I was without the title. It was over, I knew, but it was easier to cling to him than to be a person again. Besides, he wanted me to keep clinging… Besides, it was easy to pretend it might not be over forever… Besides, for the first time in our relationship, we had some level of communication. I began to really believe that things could go on like this forever, so long as we just never said we were together. The lack of a title was like a kind of magic, I thought. We could grow old together like this, a couple, but not a couple. We could start a family, strange as the arrangement might be, things would work out.

But shortly after I had become really convinced of the viability of our non-relationship things started to fall apart. He started threatening suicide, not seriously, but in order to hurt me. He started invading my privacy again, reading a journal he found hidden among my clothes, getting into my email again, and trying to go through my phone even as he railed against the government for employing similar tactics with its citizens. He began to accuse me of lying and cheating, though how I could cheat on a man I wasn’t officially involved with, I don’t know. He gave cryptic clues about what he knew, or thought he knew, or wanted me to think he knew, trying to trick me into a confession.

It was back to the beginning, and his habits were intensifying.

Once again I began to wonder if he might kill me, but at that point I was so depressed I hardly cared. I knew, on some level, that much of my depression was caused by Stanley, but I clung to him still. Why? Because I still loved him? Because I felt sorry for him? Because I had forgotten how to stand alone? Because I was so depleted that I was no longer sure if I had the energy to go my own way? Because he didn’t have the money to move to an apartment farther away than just downstairs and so it was easy? I can’t say. I ought to have cut and run as soon as I was free.

(Image via Christopher Saunders)

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    • Emily

      I hate Stanley SO much and I’m just reading an account of your experience; I can’t even fathom how you must have felt / still feel. But, I’m glad you’re writing about this and getting this message out – that ‘no’ means ‘no’ even if you’ve said ‘yes’ before. It’s so important for other women (and men) to read this and know that being violated like this is wrong and should not be tolerated.

      • Cate

        You know, I really did hate him for a while. I honestly planned his murder (it would have been flawless)
        But then I realized he will always be miserable and a failure, while my life was getting better and better and I sort of let go of it. He’ll get his, and I don’t have to lift a finger.

      • Tsuna

        I’m really impressed and happy that you are now able to say that he is getting what he deserves now and that you don’t need to avenge yourself and hence ruin your life for good. It’s hard not to harbor criminal thoughts and resentments and not make it happen after so much trauma. Stay strong, your story really helps me, now I know how I can see beforehand if it’s all going wrong, so I can leave before I get too attached, too destroyed. Anyways you’re right, people do get punished for their sins, although we don’t witness these punishments most of the times. Thank you for not putting on a hate message and not telling us all to keep on hating these freaks. You sound cool :)

    • Tallulah

      I have been following your story and find myself in a lot of it, my abusive relationship went very similar. You were a victim of abuse, but I think calling yourself a rape victim is going a little too far. You are hardly a rape victim. You went back to your ex over and over again, back to the abuse, just as I did. You can hardly be surprised that a man like that would fuck you even if you are crying, obviously he not a sane person and you knew that. I have been fucked by my abusive ex while crying and protesting, and it was horrible, but not any worse than the constant abuse I kept going back to anyway. It is horrible that men like this exist and that you endured sex without really wanting it, but you are not a rape victim. You even described how you hardly tried to protest. Take responsibility for your choice to go back to him and stop calling yourself a rape victim. You dis-empower yourself by doing that.

      • Jennifer

        Tallulah, I am so entirely offended by your comment that I hardly know what to say in response to it. RAPE IS NOBODY’S FAULT BUT THE RAPIST’S. Your outright victim-blaming is exactly what allows rape culture to persist and flourish in this country, and it’s even more baffling to consider that you’ve admittedly been in the same situation as Cate. Empowerment doesn’t come from denial of rape. It is not empowering to say, “A person had sex with me against my will, but I’m not a victim because I was there in the first place.” It is Stanley (and your ex, and any other person who has ever violated someone in a sexual manner) who is to blame, and that is that.

      • Cate

        Yes, yes, yes, yes.

      • Cate

        Okay, dude. If someone fucks you while you are telling them not to, it is rape. It doesn’t matter if it is the worst thing that ever happens to you and you don’t recover from it or if it’s just a shitty thing you get over in a week or so, it’s still rape. When your ex fucked you while you cried and told him no? He was raping you.
        I dislike the term ‘victim’ as much as I dislike the term ‘survivor’ as it implies that rape always changes people. I’m totally not a victim, nor am I a survivor, and that’s exactly why I didn’t use either term to describe myself in this essay. Rape is just a shitty thing a douchecanoe did to me and to you and, unfortunately to a lot of other women. It isn’t disempowering to say so, nor is it empowering, it just is.

      • Stephanie

        I am so horrified by this comment I don’t even know how to respond, besides to simply say you are wrong. So very, very wrong, and I challenge anyone to argue otherwise

      • anna

        It’s not her place to take responsibility for her actions. It’s his.
        You can expect anyone not to rape you. you have the right not to be raped.

      • sabrina

        god, this is the kind of thing keeping rape culture alive. it is NEVER the victim’s fault. you can waltz into a room buck naked and shaking your tits but unless you say yes it’s rape. what is rape if not “not really wanting it”? kinda rape? a little rape? can you be “a little raped”? no, i don’t think so.
        she ” hardly tried to protest”. So if i don’t scream loud enough I’m not a rape victim? What about everyone who is drugged and unconscious? What about small children who are told to be quiet? What about anyone who is being threatened to be quiet, in that case? Women who obey to save their life aren’t rape victims because they submitted to the large man with the knife?

        So women who go back to abusive husbands can’t be raped victims. They “choose” to be raped. That is essentially what you are saying and it disgusts me.

      • libba

        so it’s her responsibility to recognize when she’s about to get raped? great logic right there. i’ll get to work letting victims know that anytime they trust a man who turns out to be untrustworthy it’s their fault.

    • Andrea

      I’m curious: I know Stanley isn’t his real name, but I can’t remember if you write under your own name either. If you are, are you concerned he might see this and recognize himself?

      • Cate

        I write under my actual middle name (which I use in my normal life) and my mother’s family name, so I’m pretty recognizable to people who know me. I’m not sure if he’s aware I’m writing, but if he is and if he’s reading this, I give nary a fuck.

      • Wendy

        “Nary a fuck.” Best. Quote. Ever.

        And seriously, thanks for sharing your story.

    • anna

      once again you hit home. cried a bit while reading this.

    • Whitney

      Thank you for sharing your story. I don’t think rape, by a previous sexual partner is acknowledged or talked about enough. I admire your strength to write about it and express yourself. I was raped three years ago, and aside from writing that just now, have never talked about it or said it out loud. I still don’t know how to talk about it to anyone because I AM scared the mindset of “You said once before…” will be applied. After all, how can it be rape then? Consent once is consent forever…right?
      Either way, thank you for your article and column in general.

    • http://www.facebook.com/naomi.kashinsky Naomi Kashinsky

      I’m so very very sorry that this happened to you, Cate. I had something sort of similar happen to me, when I was 20. My unconscionable dick of boyfriend (manipulative yet charming, abrasive yet romantic when he wanted to be) had broken up with me and I was in a constant state of emotional collapse as a result, for about a month.

      He would come over under the guise of “checking in to see how I was doing” as if he was a friend who cared about my well-being. And then he would push just the right buttons to get me to allow him to kiss me, preying on the little bit of hope for reconciliation I had, and then keep going even after I told him “No, we shouldn’t, please don’t, I’m really upset.”

      And I didn’t strike him because for some stupid fucking reason, I figured that even though I didn’t want to be used that way, maybe it would make him love me again so I should let him. And then he’d finish and leave, probably chuckling to himself about how he really could get whatever he wanted from me whenever he wanted it.

      And my emotional collapse would start all over again, until the next time he stopped by and it started all over again.

      I know it’s not quite the same as what happened to you in this article, but I had previously also been the survivor of a violent “more traditional” type of rape several years before, and what my ex did to me during that period felt like an even bigger violation in some ways.

      I am sending you so much love right now.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=678834456 Cassandra Merchant

      I will still attempt to kill him if I ever see him again.

    • Reese

      I love that you say “Victims are broken.. and i am not broken”. I too have been “violated” before. Sometimes its not so black and white. sometimes there are those gray areas where you’re not entirely sure what happened but you know you didnt want it and you know you were scared and confused while it was happening and you know that afterwards you felt horrible. And its heartbreaking to think that nearly every woman has had one of those experiences.

    • Raven Skye

      Thanks so much for writing this. I am so sorry that horrible, poor excuse for a man did that to you. I have been reading your articles all day for the past 2 days. You are an amazing writer and amazing woman and thank you for sharing your world with us. I, too, am a sex worker and your words help me feel less alone and stronger as a woman. I wish I could meet you in person to hug you and thank you. Please keep writing.