Julianna Notten

Julianna Notten

I was 19 when I was raped by a friend who also happened to be a former boyfriend of mine. However, it wasn’t until almost a year later that I knew to label it as such. 

I grew up fairly sheltered in the Ontario Catholic School system and barely understood how sex worked at 19, let alone the nuances of sexual assault. To me, rape was something that only happened in back alleyways with total strangers while the victim screamed and fought. I am well-aware that this kind of sexual violence still does happen, but I was less aware at the time that it is even more common for victims to already know their attacker. I was far less familiar with the nuances of sexual violence.  

We were in film school at the time and part of me was still in love with him – which is maybe, in part, why I had such a hard time identifying what happened as assault. We were working on a set together in the summer between first and second year and were working very long days. One night we were sleeping at the house of a friend who was close to our filming location. We had to sleep in the same room – me on the bed, him on an air mattress. As we were going to bed, he invited me to join him on the air mattress which I did. As I was falling asleep, I felt him start to get on top of me like he wanted to have sex. I was paralyzed because I knew he had a girlfriend and just shook my head “no.” He understood and got off. We fell asleep shortly after that. I woke up a little while later with him inside me. At that point I just let it happen. I figured I must have signaled that somehow, I wanted this. 

The next day I felt gross and distracted, but I didn’t know why. He acted like nothing happened and everything was fine, so I pushed down any feelings of discomfort and violation. It wasn’t until a year later when I was playing a game of “Never Have I Ever” that I began to label what happened to me as an assault. After one of the prompts, I did a sort of half sip of my drink and my friends were surprised and asked for details. I told them I didn’t know if it counted because I was half asleep when it happened. They just stared at me horrified until one of them said plainly “that’s rape.”  

It took me some time to fully digest the truth of that and eventually grieve for myself and what happened to me. There was also a lot of emotional abuse during and after the relationship I was coming to terms with at the same time. We were both in the same small film program of about 60 people, so I still saw him regularly for years. I ended up telling a few classmates and friends what happened to me. I could tell some of them questioned the validity of the claim. Some of them straight up said it was hard to believe and didn’t sound like him. Some who wanted to be a bit more generous said maybe he hadn’t realized I didn’t want it. Those who were less, suggested I probably gave him signs.  

After sharing my story with a handful of people in his circles and watching them continue to interact and associate with him, I began to start to doubt myself. Maybe I was being dramatic. Maybe I did want it. Maybe I was asking for it. I stopped talking about it for a long time. The message I was receiving was this wasn’t the violation I was saying it was, or worse, it was, and people just didn’t care. 

Even now I’m still scared people might read what happened to me and question the validity of my rape. Perhaps even other survivors who feel I haven’t earned the right to call it as such. I know that’s a lot of my own internal shame and bias being projected, but after years of not being believed, it’s hard to trust people to handle my story with care.  

I will say that if you are one of those people still questioning what to call what happened to me, this isn’t for you, and you can keep your opinions to yourself. But if you are someone who has a story similar to mine, whose assault has gray areas, if you’re someone who wasn’t “the perfect victim” they tell us we need to be to be believed, then this is for you. If you see yourself in this story, first of all, I’m sorry, but know I stand with you and I believe you.