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)
I certainly didn’t stay for the sex. I no longer wanted sex, not with him, not with anyone, and my reluctance to put out grated on him. He accused me of sleeping with other men and refused to believe that I just didn’t want sex. I found myself agreeing to let him fuck me just to shut him up. I would cry afterwards. I cried because I hated being with him, sexually and otherwise. I would cry because his inability to accept a simple “no” spoke volumes about how he thought of me. I cried because I hated myself for being too weak to just go home.
I don’t know what to call all those times he fucked me when I didn’t want it. They weren’t rape, exactly, after all I did consent–but they weren’t not-rape either. I wasn’t forced per se, but if someone systematically breaks you down over the course of three years and brings you to the point where you are no longer completely sure who you are as an individual, and you forget how to say “no, fuck you, I don’t want you,” I don’t think your consent can be considered entirely voluntary. I guess it was inevitable that after treading the fragile line between rape and sex for months, Stanley would rape-rape me.
We were lying in bed together the night it happened. For once I had found my voice and asked him to please not have sex with me, to just hold me. He agreed, but as I lay in his arms I couldn’t relax. He showered me with abuse. He told me I was immature, selfish, and self-involved, that I was shallow and thoughtless, that I was a coward, too scared to allow myself to see things for what they were. He told me that my love of art and literature was pointless, stupid, that it was just getting in the way of reality, or his version of reality, an ugly landscape of corruption and conspiracy he swore was the true face of the world.
It was then, I think, that I knew the magic I had convinced myself lay in our refusal to put a title to our relationship was gone, if it had ever been there in the first place. I started crying. I didn’t want to cry, I didn’t want to show how much his words hurt me, but I couldn’t help myself. I begged him to stop yelling at me, to let me sleep, to leave me be. I had resolved to go home the next day and never come back, but at the moment I didn’t have the energy for that. I just wanted to be left alone so I could go to sleep and gather my energy for the next day. But Stanley did not leave me alone; in fact he decided this was the moment to fuck me.
Any sane person knows, you should not try to stick your dick in your ex-girlfriend when you have just made her cry. But Stanley was not a sane person and he decided that he and the hard-on poking me in the back really wanted sex. Stanley tugged my underwear down. I could have resisted, I guess. I was physically capable of resisting, but I didn’t, I just lay there saying “No.”
It was so hard to believe what was happening, what Stanley was doing; it all seemed to be occurring in some hazy, false reality. All I could feel at first was disbelief, and you can’t resist something you aren’t fully convinced is happening. Supposedly he loved me so much, at least he was always saying he did. So why would he do this to me? Even as he stuck his cock in me, I couldn’t really comprehend the enormity of this horrible thing that was happening; I couldn’t even comprehend that something wasn’t just happening to me, it was being done to me. It was as if my brain was trying to protect me by refusing to acknowledge the violation.
I didn’t leave my body the way a lot of rape victims talk about, if anything I retreated further into myself and something in me sort of slid down and locked around my perception; it was like shields were dropping into place. I knew this thing that was happening and that I couldn’t name was bad and I knew it needed to stop, but I was, for the moment at least, partially sheltered from the horrible reality of the total violation that is rape.
Even as I was begging him to stop, I was blessedly unable to comprehend that I was being invaded on the most basic level. Even when I started crying and pleading with him to stop, I was mercifully incapable of taking in the full inhumanity of what was being done to me. I considered trying to push him off me, but didn’t. If I tried to push him off me and he didn’t stop, I thought hazily, it would really be rape, there would be no two ways about it and I would have to deal with the fact that I was being raped. This was unthinkable. I knew I couldn’t possibly process such a thing at that moment, as it was happening to me, and so I hoped my tears alone would be enough to make him stop thrusting into me, and therefore somehow make it okay. It can’t be rape if the rapist eventually listens to and obeys the ‘no,’ right?
Finally Stanley stopped, pulled out, and moved to sit on the edge of his bed, his back to me.
“Why do you have to ruin everything?” he asked, as if a sensible person would have let him have a nice rape in peace, without the tears and the cries of, “Stop.”
I apologized. I didn’t say the things I should have said. I didn’t tell him he was a piece of shit, I didn’t tell him he was no man at all, I didn’t tell him he was nothing more than a savage, dumb animal. I was so used to saying sorry that I, the woman he had pillaged, apologized to him for crying as he raped me. I gathered my things, and dragged myself home, still crying, still unable to name what had happened to me.
Curled up in bed, I remembered there was a four-letter word for fucking people without their consent and I wondered if that was what had just happened to me. Was I suddenly a statistic, that one in four or one in three or whatever the number is of women who have been in some way sexually abused or assaulted?
For a moment I considered calling the police. If I really was a rape victim now, they should probably know, right? Stanley should be on a list of rapists; he should be in jail. But if I couldn’t even be sure if it was actually rape, how would the police respond? I knew what happened to girls like me when we called the police on rapists. If we are very, very lucky we go to the hospital, we are subjected to a frightening and invasive procedure, and then we have to go through a long and anguished court procedure in order to see the monsters who raped us get put away. Most of us are not that lucky.
I knew what would probably happen.
Most likely I would call the police, they would come over, hear my story, and ask me what exactly the problem was. I had been in bed with a man I’d not only dated, but actually lived with and practically been married to, for three years. I had been wearing nothing but a tank top and a pair of underwear, essentially asking for it. What, I was certain the police would ask me, had I expected to happen? If I didn’t want to have sex, why hadn’t I been in my apartment, fully clothed and not dressed like a whore in a man’s bed?
Then there was the small matter of my profession. In the eyes of a lot of the world, sex workers, especially whores, can’t get raped at all, and we certainly can’t be raped by men we were previously involved with. No, there was no hard record of my past profession but Stanley did know about it. What if there was a trial and he brought up what I did when we first met? I knew a rape victim’s previous sexual history is inadmissible as evidence, but that doesn’t mean it can’t sway a verdict. The likelihood of my winning this one was so low as to hardly bear thinking about. And so I took a shower, resisted the temptation to squirt every caustic cleaning product I owned into my vagina, and tried to get some sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I didn’t immediately remember what had happened. As I gradually became more conscious I started to remember why I felt so awful, and the complete confusion and despair of the previous night was replaced by sleek, hard anger. It didn’t matter if Stanley had actually raped me or if he’d violated me on a lesser level, what he had done was not all right. I didn’t know what to do, but I realized that whatever I did, I couldn’t put my life on hold just because something bad had happened to me. To do so would be to let Stanley win, and that was unacceptable to me. I would get on with my life at any cost, and that meant going to visit my sister the next day, as planned.
On my way to the train, I ran into Stanley. I acknowledged him with a nod and kept walking. He caught up to me as I was on the escalator going up to the train platform and immediately began insulting me.
“See how shallow you are?” he said, “You can’t even walk beside me when I’m broke.”
If I hadn’t been so angry I might have laughed, the accusation was so ludicrous. I was legitimately speechless for a moment, before I could reply.
“No,” I said, “I don’t care about your money or lack thereof. What I care about is that you stuck your dick in me when I said I didn’t want you to and then you kept going when I kept protesting and still kept going even when I started crying. There’s a word for that.”
I reached the top of the escalator and walked down to the end of the platform. Stanley didn’t follow me, but when I got on the train and sat down I realized he had been composing an angry text message, accusing me of trying to make my life “into a Lifetime movie” and painting myself as a victim, when in reality, at least in his reality, I was the one who had ruined his life and mistreated him. I didn’t point out that he had raped me, I hadn’t even admitted it to myself yet, but I did tell him what he did was in no way right or good and was, in fact, an enormous violation.
It took me a long, long time to accept the fact that Stanley had raped me at least once, maybe even more than that. I referred to it as “violation” or not at all and I tried my best not to think about it. I didn’t see how I could have been raped if I was still functioning at least fairly well. I didn’t want to be a “rape victim.” I was not a victim. Something horrible had happened to me, yes, but I was not a victim. Victims are broken, I told myself, and while I wasn’t entirely okay, I was not broken.