Maybe I smiled too much.
That, I am ashamed to say, was what went through my mind as I pulled my head back and stilled my lips as a man who I had not danced with specifically, whose drink offers I had refused, and whose name I did not know stood directly in front of me, placed his hands on either side of my body, and put his mouth on mine.
My friend had run elsewhere to get something. It was dark. We were alone. At 5 feet 2 inches tall and an undisclosed but relatively low number of pounds, I was much smaller than him and, sitting on a wall, my feet did not touch the ground. He was much older. Behind me was a certain fall to concrete. He was on every other side. We were both drunk. I did not want him. When he put his mouth on mine and kept going despite my withdrawn head and unmoving lips, I could have pushed him away, but it seemed, perhaps, an overreaction and I didn't want to make him mad or cause any trouble and, besides, maybe I had in fact smiled too much.
Here's the thing — I don't think he knew that I was uncomfortable. I don't think he meant to surround me so that I couldn't get away without force. I don't think he noticed the disparity between our respective sizes and strengths. I think he just wanted to get laid.
Women are taught from the time we are young that we must always be on the defensive, that we can trust no man, and that prevention of sexual assault is our responsibility. At the same time, we are taught that it ought to be our mission to please and that we really shouldn't make so much noise.
Men are taught to go get some, that sometimes women play hard to get, and that it's all just a matter of convincing.
This all coalesces into a gray area that goes beyond the simplicity of "no means no" and even "only yes means yes," because sometimes "yes" just seems like the safest option.
After all, you can't rape the willing.
Women operate with the potential of rape nearly always in the backs of our minds. We shouldn't drink too much. We shouldn't wear revealing clothes. We shouldn't leave our drinks alone. We shouldn't ever be alone. And, sadly, we are taught to think like this for good reason.
Gentlemen, if you would like to understand this mindset, imagine for a second how defensive you would feel going to prison, because here's a fun fact: as a woman in the U.S. social system, you are twice as likely to be raped than a person in the U.S. penitentiary system.
That night, I had made some prevention mistakes — I had consumed alcohol, I had gone out late at night and I had allowed myself to get into a situation where I was alone with someone I did not know. However, he, too, was drunk, out late at night and alone with a stranger. Yet only one of us was thinking about preventing sexual assault, and when the night was over, only one of us went home feeling like a piece of shit.
I should have said no. I should have pushed him away. I should have made myself clear and not confused the situation. All of that is true. But it is also true that he should have been thinking about it.
I was lucky that a car came by and interrupted us not long after, giving me the opportunity to break away and find my friend. Yet he took the kisses as encouragement, and even after I had given a more solid no, I still found myself walking home across the streets of a city I did not know at 5 a.m. in order to avoid anything more.
I thought about the potential consequences of leaving by myself, and I left anyway, because it seemed, at the moment, the safer option. And as the men I passed on the street offered high fives or made comments in a language still foreign to me, I pointed my eyes to the ground and quickened my step, alone.
Melissa Lee is a senior in College Scholars. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.