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Some victims stayed friends with Harvey Weinstein. I did the same with my rapist. Here’s why.

Rapists who are powerful in their field use favors and guilt to silence victims.

Harvey Weinstein at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

“That’s it. That’s what they’ll bury her for,” was the first thing I thought.

I was reading Ronan Farrow’s excellent New Yorker article on Harvey Weinstein’s alleged history of rape and sexual harassment, when I got to Weinstein’s alleged rape of actress Asia Argento. Argento claims that Weinstein performed oral sex on her, against her will, in a hotel room.

Argento goes on to say that she grew close to Weinstein after he assaulted her — accepting gifts, meeting his mother, and having consensual sex with him.

A familiar sick feeling washed over me. I could understand how Argento could allow the same man who she says forced himself on her to continue to be part of her life. I also knew — just as she did — exactly how this sequence of events would affect her credibility, in the public’s eye, if she came forward about the assault.

“He made it sound like he was my friend and he really appreciated me,” Argento tells Farrow about the relationship she and Weinstein formed after the alleged rape. I shuddered in recognition.

Once upon a time, my rapist, another well-connected and accomplished man, did the same to me. Not only did he encourage me to pretend as though nothing bad had happened between us, but he also made it abundantly clear that he would trade on his privilege to encourage me to stay silent.

“A real rape victim wouldn’t do that”

Among the basic tenets of rape culture is the typecasting of the rapist as an aberrant monster and an outlier. Rape culture does not allow for the possibility that a rapist can be a regular guy with a family, your neighbor or colleague, a trusted friend, or the cute guy smiling from across the room at a party. To allow for that possibility is to admit that none of us are truly safe. It would also mean admitting that the victim could not have predicted the rapist’s behavior.

One rape culture myth is the idea that “a real rape victim” always acts bravely in the aftermath. She would never appear to be on good terms with her rapist — she would only treat him as the monster he revealed himself to be. A famous example of this is the case of Emma Sulkowicz, or “mattress girl,” who famously accused a fellow Columbia University student of rape. Because Sulkowicz sent friendly texts to the student, Paul Nungesser, after the incident, doubt was cast on her story. Nungesser went on to sue Columbia for sexual discrimination and reached a settlement.

“A real rape victim wouldn’t do that,” a male friend told me when we were discussing the controversy.

Yet to cast doubt on this scenario ignores both the power differentials between men and women in society and the self-loathing survivors deal with in the aftermath of rape.

The night that changed me

When I was in my 20s and just starting my writing career, I met a charming fellow writer. He was successful and constantly surrounded by admirers. Meanwhile, I was an unknown.

He was known for being a political progressive. Journalists wrote breathless articles about how reading his work had changed their lives. In spite of all that, he seemed shy, startled by his own fame. That disarming shyness was a good disguise.

When we saw each other again, in a different city where I barely knew anyone, I readily accepted his invitation to a party at his friend’s house. It was there, after lots of laughter and many more drinks, that he leaned in for a kiss — and my world was turned upside down.

He led and I followed willingly into a private room. What started out as consensual turned into something else as he became increasingly violent. Through the haze of alcohol, I remember him gripping me so tightly that I cried out in pain. He clearly liked the sound of me in pain, because things only got worse from there. I could not believe it was happening at first. “You’re hurting me,” I kept saying. “I don’t want this. Please, no.” He apologized — and then he kept going.

“You should have known better.” I heard that refrain many times in the years that followed about what happened after that kiss. I heard it especially loud in my own head. I was young, hopeful, and dazzled by him — but I was also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and violence. How could I not have seen the signs, spotted the fatal flaw? I would later come to realize there was nothing that gave away what would follow.

In the light of dawn, he finally let me go. We could both see the road map of bruises and bloody scratches on my body. I was shaking with horror and disgust. He alternated between begging for forgiveness and insisting that nothing bad had occurred. Then he spoke of his admiration for my talent. He said he felt like I had a bright future but that I still needed to jump through hoops to find success.

My rapist hugged me by the shoulders and offered me writing advice. I sat next to him, wiping away tears, and listened.

We were friends — that was the fiction I created for myself. We’d just had too much to drink. It had been “confusing.” He hadn’t actually meant to hurt me. Forget reporting the rape: Merely admitting it to myself made me want to die.

When enabling a rapist is “good for your career”

Admitting the truth was dangerous to my writing career. When he came up in conversation in my professional circles, I played out the scene in my head. What if I said, “Actually, this guy is a rapist who got off on my helplessness and pain? Stay away from him.” What would his many fans, fans who included mutual friends of ours, say? I would be cast out. I would be branded a hysterical bitch, a liar, and a jealous fraud who wanted to ruin a great man of letters. Who would want to work with me after that?

My rapist, meanwhile, went around introducing me to people, helping me network, pointing me out to his friends whenever we ran into each other. “Natalia is talented; read her plays,” he’d say. Oh, and you also raped me, I would think. The contradictory thoughts would ensue. He feels like he owes me, and that’s why he’s doing this. Or maybe, the bitter voice of my own self-hatred whispered, I owed him. Sexual violence doesn’t just affect the body. It warps and pollutes the mind.

He had already done the bad thing. He had assaulted me. Now the least he could do was make up for it somehow. I’ve heard plenty of women assaulted by their colleagues say the same thing over the years. But the truth is, favors from a rapist become just another sick game the victim is drawn into. It doesn’t make anything better — not on the inside, anyway. It makes things worse.

“When I see him, it makes me feel little and stupid and weak,” Argento said of Weinstein. I know that feeling well. Sexual assault engenders it, and being forced to play nice with your rapist perpetuates it. The guilt of knowing that your silence may have enabled your rapist to harm others sits like a slab of granite on your chest.

In the United States, only about a third of rapes and sexual assaults are reported. It’s not just that rape is a difficult crime to prosecute — it’s that our very attitudes about rape are simplistic. To this day, we still talk more about what women should do to prevent rape as opposed to worrying over how to raise boys not to feel entitled to women’s bodies.

Harvey Weinstein, while admitting some wrongdoing and denying that he raped anyone, has also defended himself by suggesting that he is merely a product of a different time. Yet we recently elected a man who boasts about assaulting women to the highest office in the land. How much has really changed, after all?

As for me, years later, I began trying to rebuild my self-worth against all odds. You are not the thing he did to you, I tell myself these days. You don’t owe him anything. They still occasionally sound hollow, these words.

One day, I hope they will stick.

Natalia Antonova is a writer and journalist. She is the associate editor of openDemocracy Russia and a co-founder of the Anti-Nihilist Institute.

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