On Gaslighting, Rape Culture And Consent

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse “in which information is twisted, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.” Essentially, gaslighting is a tactic used to destabilize a victim’s understanding of reality, making the individual constantly doubt their own experiences.

Most of the time, this tactic is used to further uneven power balances with abusive partners, making victims second guess themselves when they feel they are being abused or attacked. Even if a relationship seems otherwise non-abusive, gaslighting is emotional and mental violence. This process in and of itself is toxic and unhealthy, regardless of whether there are other abusive behaviors taking place within the relationship.

The thing about gaslighting is that it’s an especially terrifying tactic because it makes the victim feel they cannot trust their own mind, that their memories and experiences are not valid or trustworthy, that their reactions are illogical and irrational. For people who already have a fluid perception of reality, this can make them feel like nothing they take in is real or can be trusted; and this mistrust in themselves also makes it extremely difficult to identify when they are the victim of gaslighting.

Take the story of this survivor, for example:

I think I might have been raped 10 years ago. I had a good first date with the guy and on the second when we were kissing, he got handsy. Before the third, I told him the limits of how far I wanted to go (and before, I practiced what I was going to say so many times) and he agreed. Half an hour later, he starts doing the things I said I wasn’t ready to do. I kinda froze and became compliant. I partly wanted to just get it over with since it was obvious he wanted it so much. Also, I thought that since I’d gained a lot of weight since the last time I had a boyfriend, I wasn’t going to do any better. I wasn’t scared or threatened, I just felt like I couldn’t say no.

That’s what makes me so unsure, because many years ago when I was 10, my cousin tried to rape me and I fought back and got away. Of course, he was obviously violent in his attempt. But with this other guy I wasn’t frightened so I don’t get why I didn’t just tell him to stop. I’ve thought about this before though I used the terms that he pressured me into sex. But the more I’ve read about consent, the more I wonder if there are stronger words to describe it. The thing is, I don’t really know what he would’ve done if I said no. He might have stopped completely. So I blame myself. I don’t know what to think. On one hand, there were times I could’ve said no and asked him to take me home, but on the other, I felt like I just couldn’t say no. I don’t think I have PTSD from it, per se (I did after the rape attempt when I was 10) but my depression did get dramatically worse right after. But then he dumped me soon after and I was begging him to take me back so maybe I’m doing the scorned woman thing. All I know is that I haven’t dated since then and the idea of me having sex really grosses me out. It’s like I’m tainted everywhere he touched me. – Cardinal Rules (21st Century Advice On Life, Love and Sundry)

A very important tool of rape culture is gaslighting, which is where a victim is made to doubt their own experience of assault. Rape culture gaslights victims by teaching the mythology that rape must always happen in a certain way for it to be real. There has to be violence. The victim has to say “no” at least once. The victim must be afraid. No one is drunk, especially the victim. No one knows each other. The victim said “no” loud and clear, right at the beginning. The victim screamed and cried out for help. The victim fought back, but was held down. The victim has visible bruises. The perpetrator used force. There were witnesses. And on and on.

So, when an individual is raped, and it doesn’t fit the rape culture narrative of what rape is, victims doubt and blame themselves, and nobody believes the account should they ever speak out. They get confused, and try to rationalize it in their minds, sometimes the perpetrator is the one who gaslights the victim based on knowledge from rape culture, and so the rape incident is called something else.

Many rape victims, like the one in the story, still go on to experience aftereffects that can be classically linked to sexual assault. After-effects like; depression, feeling dirty or tainted, anger, confusion, etc. In trying to determine what constitutes rape, harassment, and other forms of assault, it is crucial that the key perspective is that of the recipient of the behaviour, the victim – based on the level of violation the individual felt. Reminder: Sexual activity without active, voluntary, and enthusiastic consent is sexual assault. Yes, and only yes, means yes. Most especially “Yes” gotten without coercion and/or manipulation. Consent is a question, and an answer, with all parties involved able to freely give either “Yes” or “no” as both equals. Consent can be revoked or given at any time. “Giving in” is not consent. Consent is an enthusiastic “YES!”

For signs of gaslighting, click: http://www.shareanonymousng.com/11-signs-gaslighting-relationship/

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Priscilla Joy

A well meaning Nigerian.
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    If a salesman keeps perstering you to buy their product and you did just to shut them up. Could you in hindsight say he stole from you?

    If persistence is an indication of assault then I am very guilty. The amount of times I have lobbied and convinced dear hubby to have sex (mostly because he hasn’t recovered from the last round) and succeeded. It sounds like whenever the reverse happens, it is assault.

    They say even if a woman gave consent in the past (e.g. she promised to have sex when next she sees you) and decides not to when she sees (perhaps you smell lol), then consider her final/ latest response your answer. If that is true, shouldn’t the reverse be the case? Just because the lady in the story said a few days prior that they wont be having sex doesn’t mean that it applies anymore. I know the lady in the question said “I kinda froze and became compliant” but it doesn’t necessarily mean he noticed. Sometimes we overestimate our reaction because we understand our own mind more than the other.

    I appreciate the lady in question feels horrible about this and I feel for her. But my question is this, can we honestly say that the guy understood that in that moment, she was withdrawing consent or not interested in sex with me. FYI- I am basing my assumption that in her being “compliant”, she was acting willing to the intercourse with him.

    May 25, 2018
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      Thank you Larz. I’m a female and I really don’t understand this matter anymore. I’m too irritated by the ludicrous angles people are taking this subject from I can’t even shout again.

      May 28, 2018
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        I feel sad that two women will make these comments. We’re truly our own worst enemies. Having been in a gas-lighting situation before (I didn’t know what it was called then), I can totally relate to this article. Please don’t make light of situations people go through just because you can’t understand it.
        I remember where I worked before, there was this colleague I was attracted to. The feeling was mutual. One day I was heading home after work and he happened to be leaving at the same time. Our work place was in a little isolated area. A bike came along and it seemed the best option was to up on together at the time (who knew when the next one will come along). I hesitated, expecting him to climb first and let me stay at the back. But then he had a really large frame compared to mine so he “jokingly” asked me to “climb joor”. I felt a little comfortable after since I was sure he had seen my discomfort and would act accordingly. We both got on the bike and half way, I felt this guy behind me. I was disgusted and irritated. But guess what was running through my mind:
        1. Maybe it’s the buckle of his belt pressing against me.
        2. Maybe he was forced to move closer and couldn’t control himself because of how the bike man entered that ditch.
        3. How do I get out of this situation without embarrassing him in front of the bike man?
        4. Do I ask to get down in the middle of nowhere when he clearly knew where I was headed?
        5. Do I make a scene? But won’t people ask why I chose to sit in his front?
        6. Should I laugh it off like it’s no big deal (when it clearly was) or do I bone face?
        Eventually, I tilted my head towards him and said softly “stop what you’re doing”. He replied in a mischievous tone and with a smirk, “what I’m I doing?”
        That did it for me. It didn’t matter that I liked him, I still felt violated and he had just confirmed that he took advantage of that situation to harass me.
        So Miss Stella and Larz, I’m sorry you can’t relate but please don’t make light of this. Thank you.

        May 30, 2018
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    @tizzle So let me be clear, the guy in your story is a pervert and what he did was sexual harassment if not assault.

    If you can’t see the difference between your actions and hers then I don’t know what else to say.

    Did you notice how she said she might be raped. Have you read the Aziz Ansari story. I remembered a older celebrity lady (might have been Whoop Goldberg but not 100% sure) say that if we are not careful, me too will be all noise and there nothing to show for it. If we are trying to win the war on rape, we cant tell the world to prioritise rape alongside a ladies inability to say NO. It becomes confusing. We can’t say to men that NO means NO and then tell them that btw, sometimes NO can be a woman being compliant during sex. We can’t tell men that being persistent is a form of sexual assault but then pissed off when they leave if they didn’t succeed with us as first. Be honest, tell me you don’t know anyone that has been offended by a guy only trying once and giving up. I have dated guys that were out of my league that I crossed the line I didn’t wanna cross with them because of their persistence but that was MY choice so I take responsibility for giving in to their persistence.

    The way our anatomy work is that men gives and women takes. Unless Someone takes away the ability from a woman to choose, (ignored her NO, blackmailed her, force her, or impair her judgement through drugs or whatver) I don’t think the word “rape” should even be uttered.

    So let me be clear again, I feel sorry for the lady and what she went through, if she was my friend I will console her as a lady that has been through a bad break up but NOT as someone who has been raped.

    PS: I am basing this only on the story which was narrated from the lady’s perspective and my understanding of it. Who knows maybe in reality, there is more to the story, maybe something was missing, maybe I misinterpreted her story but I can’t cover all maybe but can only go by the story I have read.

    May 30, 2018
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