Was I raped?

Dear Alice,

In the beginning, I told my boyfriend that I don't want to have sex outside of marriage and he accepted that.

But then, about a week ago, I made a very big mistake and allowed him to take my clothes off completely and enter my vagina slightly. I know it was wrong and the following day I told him that I didn't feel right about it and I didn't want us to do that again.

Unfortunately, the very next day, we were alone together, and we got a bit carried away again. But when he tried to "enter" me, I said: "I think we should stop now, let's stop — ok? Please, let's stop now. I don't feel right about this." But he didn't... he spread my legs anyway and got on top of me. And he penetrated me quite deeply. As he was doing it, I was saying, "Stop, please, I really think we should stop," but I didn't push him away. I didn't physically PUSH him or something to make him stop.

I was quite shook up afterwards but I didn't know if I should be angry with him or not. We are still together and I don't even think he thinks he did anything wrong... DID he do anything wrong? Or is what he did alright because my body wasn't saying "no"? I didn't fight him physically. Do you think I was raped? I'm so confused and I've lost all my self-respect!

Dear Reader, 

It's never okay for someone to pressure or force another person to have sex. After an experience like the one you had, it's understandable that you feel confused about your feelings and how you see yourself. Based on your description of events, your boyfriend didn't have your consent for his actions.  Just because you didn't physically protest, doesn't make your words any less explicit in advocating for what you wanted. While no one can define your experience except for you, it might be helpful to know that you are not alone and there are resources and support available to help you navigate this situation. If you feel that you have been raped or sexually assaulted, don't doubt or discount your feelings. You've taken an important first step by reaching out to ask for help in understanding the experience and hopefully it will help you to gain more clarity on the situation and decide what actions, if any, you would like to take next. 

You alone have the power to define your experience in your own way. Although inappropriate and non-consensual sexual conduct can often legally be defined as rape, many people do not define their experiences as such. A person may be reluctant to define their experience as rape for several reasons, including, but not limited to: pressure from the perpetrator to chalk the experience up to "a misunderstanding"; societal messages about gender roles and expectations; and a survivor's discomfort with accepting that they’ve been victimized–which can change as time goes on. Sexual assault committed by someone the survivor is familiar with is sometimes referred to as acquaintance rape or date rape. Around 80 percent of rapes can be categorized as acquaintance rape. Many who commit acquaintance rape or date rape may not define it as wrong; however, ignorance or lack of intent on the part of the assaulter is not an excuse. 

You mention that you didn't physically push your partner away. There are many reasons why a person might not physically resist or push someone away during an assault. They may be scared, shocked, or numb, since it's difficult to comprehend that anyone would coerce–forcefully, subtly, or otherwise–another person into having sex, especially when that person is someone whom they care for, trust, or depend on. There can be risks involved for victims who speak up which can include losing the person they may be dependent on for shelter or rely on financially, losing their immigration status or custody of their children, etc. In some circumstances, they may also fear escalating the violence they are currently experiencing and therefore comply to reduce injury or further harm–this can include verbal threats to one's life. It's not your behavior that determines whether or not this was an assault—it's theirs. 

Defining what happened and taking care of yourself are crucial parts of the healing process. Only you can define the experience. To begin the healing process, you might employ some of these strategies: 

  • Remember that it wasn't your fault. Survivors might blame themselves following an assault. Some people feel guilty and harshly judge their own behavior. What’s important to remember is that it wasn't your fault. You said, using your words, that you did not want to have intercourse. Your partner chose to violate that boundary. Everyone has the right to say "stop" or "no" to any form of sexual activity, even if you are naked, have done it before, or are in a relationship. 
  • Find a safe, trusting environment. You might try to give yourself space to sort things out by distancing yourself physically from the situation. Additionally, you might find safety in a specific person such as a trusted friend, family member, clergyperson, or school staff member who can keep you company, listen to you, and lend support. 
  • Call a mental health professional or sexual assault advocate. Someone trained in supporting survivors of sexual assault such as a sexual assault advocate or mental health professional can help you understand your feelings and guide you to make informed decisions about next steps. They can also help you explore your options concerning reporting and any legal action you might take. They may even be able to accompany you if you choose to report this incident to the criminal justice system. 
  • See a health care provider as soon as possible after the event. Seeking medical attention is strongly recommended following a sexual assault to address any risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and potential pregnancy (for people with uteruses). For example, emergency contraception (EC) may be taken within 72-120 hours of unprotected, unanticipated intercourse to help prevent pregnancy. Sexual assault that involves any form of penetration may result in injuries that are not immediately apparent, so medical attention is encouraged. A health care provider can also document injuries and collect any forensic evidence. 

Planned Parenthood also has some resources for next steps. Processing what happened to you can be a turbulent process. Hopefully, this information will help you to make the best decision for yourself, whatever that may look like. 

Last updated Apr 07, 2023
Originally published Aug 22, 2003