SWIPE LEFT: FINDING MY ASSAILANT ON TINDER
I’ve never been in a majority before, but sadly the majority of sexual assault and rapes aren’t reported. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 310 out of 1000 rape and assaults are reported to law enforcement, meaning 2 out of 3 go unreported. Most are also committed by someone the victim knows, with 7 out of 10 victims knowing their perpetrator.
But I wonder what the chances are of a victim later finding the person who sexually assaulted them on Tinder.
There have been moments I swear I’ve seen my assailant in the most random of places when it’s really someone else. My therapist told me this was a result of PTSD. The memories would always surface, even when logic sinks in. Staring at his face on my phone six years later, I was sucked back in.
It was spring, and I was a college sophomore that felt like everything was perfect as I had fun every day while simultaneously working toward a degree. That night my friend and I decided to invite a guy we knew over to her room to watch a movie. We were running down the hall, drunk on Smirnoff and the feeling of invincibility. Full of excitement, we asked him to come back with us once he opened his door. My friend had a crush on him and I was happy to help her try to make something happen.
Barely twenty minutes into the movie, my friend’s anxiety medicine mixed with alcohol pulled her into a sleep like Snow White’s poisoned apple. We were all in her full size bed, a laptop in the middle where her crush sat. Having a boyfriend back home, I tried to wake her back up so I wasn’t stuck alone with him, but she only wanted to sleep. No sooner than that, her crush grabbed my hair, pulling my face to his and kissing me hard.
Immediately pushing him away and saying that I had a boyfriend, I was shocked but not surprised. Days earlier he had flirted with our group of friends while telling us about his country’s culture and the way men would flirt with women. He had said it didn’t matter if someone had a boyfriend or a girlfriend because everyone wanted pleasure. I should’ve realized he might interpret this movie night differently once it was just the two of us. I should’ve left but didn’t.
Stubborn and feeling the buzz, I told him I just wanted to watch the movie. I didn't want to make things even more uncomfortable. But he didn't care about that as he pushed me into the bed’s pillows. Clear as day, my protests turned to begging as he undid his jeans and pinned me down. He was stronger than I thought and it took all my energy to hold his body off of mine just enough that all he could roughly touch me with were his hands.
I was frozen by the extreme opposite of what he was saying and what I was pleading. His words, crooning to me, showed there was absolutely no acknowledgement on his part. Like a nightmarish contradiction, my brain struggled to comprehend that this guy was indeed trying to rape me while at the same time telling my muscles to fight like it was life or death. It felt like I was in some strange limbo for those long minutes until I felt wetness from his body on my leg, the pleasure from the struggle.
I snapped like a rubber band and screamed at him to get out. He left like it was nothing.
I woke my friend up, telling her in a mumble what happened as we changed the bed sheet with the wet spot. We went to bed like it was nothing. The next day my friend acted like I had told her nothing so I pretended like nothing had happened. It was okay until the pressure built up in me, and I couldn’t hold it in anymore. When I finally told our small group of friends days later, I realized I was already on the distorted spectrum of what rape culture is.
I was told that what happened to me was just how men were. I was told that it was just his country’s culture. I was called a liar by my friend who’s room it happened in. She even brought him to my own room a week later, rolling her eyes as she told him that he needed to apologize for “hurting” me. And he did - he told me he didn’t know he hurt me and he was sorry but he was drunk. I couldn’t breathe as he spoke, let alone look at him more than two seconds. He believed there was nothing wrong. And he left as such.
What he did to me, he had done to another girl before. She actually told me a week later but didn’t know the full details of my own experience. Lucky for her, she had been able to call her guy friend for help when he wouldn’t stop trying to kiss her. He had to be thrown out of the room. And yet, everyone had just shrugged it off.
Rape culture was more rampant than I could comprehend. It dragged me into an already tiresome battle with depression, skyrocketed my anxiety, and took away my power. My boyfriend blamed me when I finally told him what happened. He later apologized, but it affected my decision not to report anything. My mom supported me, but told me how the police or a prosecutor might portray things given the fact that I was drinking, dressed in pajamas, and had invited him over. Though there are resources designed to help in cases of rape and assault, society failed to make it feel like such. I ended up leaving that college after struggling through the next semester.
Almost one year ago at an apartment I shared with friends, I was drinking before going out in the city. I started talking about that experience with one of the girls who had been in that group of friends at college. She was also the only one that tried to support me. After finishing a jug of sangria together, she nonchalantly told me that when I left college, my assailant did the same thing to her.
That news crashed into me like a hurricane wave. I was devastated. I never reported it because I was scared I wouldn’t be believed, but I always knew that there was a high chance he would do it again. Even when I didn’t let my mind go there, in my soul, I knew. Her situation mirrored mine, and she hadn’t reported it either.
The memories stopped as I screamed while reading the name under the profile picture that made my stomach churn. I gagged between each shirtless picture I scrolled past. My heart constricted as I dragged my eyes across the words he had typed describing himself as a respectful man who was very kind. I contemplated right swiping and cussing him out if we matched. But another idea popped in my head just as fast as the anger.
Tinder was the last place I expected to ever see him again. I had ended a toxic three-year relationship months earlier and hadn’t been eager to take on a new person’s emotions, let alone step into the dating world again. Online apps were daunting, especially seeing as that last bad relationship had started off of one. So when I finally downloaded Tinder at the suggestions of multiple friends, I was hesitant, knowing that there would be a strong possibility of dealing with people that could have completely different personalities online than in person.
There were many profiles I had come across where the personality statements felt forced or inauthentic. As I stared at the profile of the man who sexually assaulted me, I absolutely knew his to be a lie. I envisioned mirrored situations of what happened to me and my friend happening to someone else who might decide to say no to him, thinking that he is a “respectful man.” How many more like him were there?
Tinder has a certain stigma in the culture of dating apps. It’s thought to be a way for finding sexual hookups and casual dates rather than for serious dating. There have been stories spawned from the app ranging from funny to horrific to murderous. Of all these things though, Tinder will never be automatic consent for sex or sexual activity when an individual has not given it. While I do believe there are profiles of other rapists and assailants on the app, I had a second chance when I found his.
According to RAINN, “Approximately 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.” This past year, there has been an increasing spark that finally ignited a revolution in regards to sexual assault and rape. This revolution has given victims a second chance, freeing many from trauma that took away their voices for so long. I cried several times for and with the brave survivors who told their stories and called for change. Those who had never been able to name their accusers finally had the platforms and support to do so. Inspired and empowered by it all, I made a new Tinder profile and said exactly what I wished I could have all those years ago in hopes that there wouldn't be another girl like me.
It’s been six years since I was sexually assaulted. It’s been a long time, full of changes and growth for me. I’ve been in therapy and worked through the resulting anxiety, depression, and trauma of my experience. Even now I still have to work through it because we’re still living in a rape culture and a society where people don’t understand what consent and harassment are. This April was publicly acknowledged as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month by a man in the White House who has himself been the subject of numerous accusations of sexual misconduct.
Like two magnets, the distorted reality and the desire to right the wrongs continue to push back and forth.
In college, someone told me that it was just the international student’s culture when he sexually assaulted me. I know now that it’s our culture too—not all of it, but still prominent and barely uncovered. The truth is rape, sexual assault, harassment, and rape culture can affect anyone and we have have a long way to go to fix that. For myself and this situation, I still have things to work through. For other victims, I pray that the resources are there when needed the most (I highly recommend visiting RAINN's site). For everyone else on Tinder looking for male matches in our area, they will see my warning about my assailant. They will see his face, read the truth, and hopefully never have to experience a trauma that no one deserves.