Ask Professor Foxy: What Did My Friend Do To Me?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Dear Professor Foxy,
Recently I went on a trip with a group of friends. There were a half-dozen of us staying in a room together, and I was sharing a bed with a friend of mine. My friend and I are very touchy and often sleep beside each other, but I’ve always felt our interaction was purely platonic, and she has expressed the same.
One night during our trip, I dozed off in bed and woke up to my friend unclipping my bra and fondling my breasts. I didn’t respond in any way until she put her hand in my underwear. At this point I edged away from her, but she continued. Eventually I turned around to touch her in the hopes of shortening our encounter, but when this didn’t work, I asked her to stop. After repeating this a few times, she did. I wish I has given a more vocal ‘no’ but I didn’t want anyone else in the room to know what she was doing.
The next day she apologised. I’m sure she doesn’t understand how much I wish she hadn’t done it, but I’m really upset with her. I feel very uncomfortable with her now, but I feel guilty because I gave her mixed signals.
What do I do? Am I overreacting?

Dear D –
You are not overreacting at all. Your signals were certainly clear enough. You made it clear that you were not comfortable. And even as you became more direct and said “no,” she still did not stop.
Sexual assault is often thought of as when a penis is forced into a vagina and men are the attackers and women as the victims. That is not always this case, women can assault men, men can assault men, and women can assault women. Your friend assaulted you.
What you do next is up to you. I cannot tell you what to do, I can tell you your options. You have a lot of things to think about.
First, how are you taking care of yourself? Do you have friends you can talk to? Have you spoken to a counselor? RAINN offers free online or telephone help: 800/656-Hope or check them out here.
You need to decide if you want to talk with the police. You may be able to press charges. A counselor can also talk you through your options and about local laws.
After you take care of yourself, you need to decide what you want to say to her. You don’t have to be friends with her. You don’t have to be around her. But you do need to decide what you want to do. You can also decide one course of action and then change your mind. This is about how you feel best/safe.
You need to begin to heal from this event and that is going to take time. Decide what feels best for you and move from there.
Professor Foxy
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

Join the Conversation

  • cattrack2

    Sometimes people do give ‘mixed signals’. If I understand the writer correctly, in this case unfortunately the ‘mixed signals’ involved reciprocation of affection. Its important to reinforce that when people make unwanted advances its best to be upfront and direct and let them know the attention is unwanted. If you don’t want to ‘make noise’ forcefully removing their hands is a pretty strong signal that their affection is unwanted. Most people, male or female, interpret passivity as consent, so if we are subject to unwanted advances we should clearly signal that its unwanted.
    Romance and relationships are hard. Marriages and friendships alike die everyday because of poor communication. You shouldn’t beat yourself up over this. Feel free to tell your friend how her advances make you feel–she’ll be less likely to do it in the future. Likewise, feel free to say, ‘Screw you’, and leave her behind.
    This won’t be the last time someone makes a pass at you before they’re 100% certain you’ll reciprocate. Next time you’ll be more aware & confident of how to communicate and enforce boundaries beforehand, or quickly thereafter once their intentions are known.

  • ladylicious

    I had something similar happen with my best friend. I was her roommate at the time and she grabbed my breasts without any type of invitation from me- once at home and once on a street corner in full view of other people.
    Looking back on the years of our friendship there were other forms of unwanted physical contact from her before that. She sometimes would pin me down so that I couldn’t move or like, she would get inbetween my boyfriend or me. If I got mad she would turn it around on me and make it seem like I was over reacting or being childish or stupid. She was also very possessive- I just didn’t recognize it at the time because I was very young and naive, and I also wasn’t expecting anything like that from a female friend.
    I’m bi-curious, so another factor was that it was such a grey area with her for awhile. I wasn’t really sure what to make of it, because sometimes there did seem to be sexual tension between us. On the other hand, we were very close friends and I thought of her like a sister and not as a potential lover. I was curious about experimenting with women- just not her. It was very hard to define what she was doing that made me uncomfortable, because I was thinking like, ok, but I am kind of curious. Maybe I really wanted it. It’s not until things got much, much, much worse that I finally like, got it or even understood that she did something wrong.
    It was really hard for me to label what she did. If a guy grabbed my breasts the way she did, it would have been an automatic red flag. But because we had been friends since we were 12, I just didn’t react until things escalated and more abuse occurred. Most of the abuse was emotional rather than physical, in the form of being put down or manipulated. But make no mistake if she is willing to cross that line,while you are sleeping, she won’t respect your other boundaries either.
    Being assaulted by a female friend was way more confusing than anything any male friend has ever attemped to get over on me. Even writing this now, 5 years after I lived with her and her abuse, it’s hard for me to call it assault- although that is technically what she did when she grabbed my breasts. She and I used to play around a lot, sometimes flashing eachother- I thought we were just kidding around, but I guess she really did want to make it sexual. She has a drinking problem too, so that only compounded things. Most of the time when she would push me around, I would just make excuses, like, well, she was drunk. It’s not her, it’s her drinking. I always made excuses for her because of her drinking. Then I lived with her for a year and quickly found out how much worse it was than I actually realized.
    Please get help right away. Talk to a counselor and if you can talk to someone else you trust and get all the support you can. You shouldn’t be friends with this person anymore after what she did. Just think of it this way- if guy did that, you would automatically have a reaction to it. It would automatically register as a sexual assault. You were asleep and there is no way you could have consented to what she did to you. As females, we’re taught from a young age that men are dangerous and women are safe. As feminists we sometimes rally against men and claim women as our natural sisterhood. You have to think of your friend as no more safe to be around than a man who did the same thing to you. Your friend may have psychological or other health issues, but it’s not your job to fix her and she has already proved to you that she doesn’t deserve your trust or friendship. Walk away immediately and don’t look back.
    I’ve been in therapy for awhile now and a lot of what I’ve been dealing with is because of her. Don’t give her another opportunity to abuse your trust or hurt you. She might seem like she’s normal otherwise, but people like that sometimes are good at manipulating. She’s going to make it seem like it’s your fault or you asked for it. She’s also probably going to act like it’s not a big deal that she violated you. That’s how my friend was. For awhile I really thought it was my fault that she was abusive to me. She’s an asshole and a creep- a wolf in sheep’s clothing masking herself as your friend.

  • Surfin3rdWave

    I am sorry that this happened to you, but it DOES sound to me like there were a few mixed signals. When you moved closer to her, she probably believed that you were reciprocating her interest (that’s how I would have interpreted it under the circumstances).
    I wasn’t there, so I don’t know that I can make a judgment about whether or not her behavior constituted assault. If she didn’t stop immediately after you said “stop” very quietly, she might not have heard ro understood you properly. She at least DID stop when you made your discomfort clear.
    That isn’t to undermine your experience. If you feel violated, that’s a valid feeling. If you feel uncomfortable around her, that’s valid, too. And if you’re willing to forgive her and move on with your friendship, that is also valid.
    From what I can tell, it doesn’t sound like she deserves to be put behind bars and dubbed a sex offender for this– because it really does sound like there was a misunderstanding.
    But, again, I wasn’t there.
    Best of luck.

  • jdv1984

    This is tantamount to victim blaming. And undressing and groping someone who is asleep can hardly be written off as a misunderstanding caused by mixed signals.
    Sometimes its not clear whether or not your affections are reciprocated. You handle that by ASKING before engaging in sexual activity.
    It’s NOT hard.

  • Comrade Kevin

    What a wonderful world it would be if women didn’t automatically see men as dangerous and women as safe. As Feminists, I hope we continue to fight for a world like that.
    I hope the person dealing with this assault doesn’t feel as though now she has no safe place to be. Trauma has a way of creating fear and anxiety in ways that aren’t rational. Once it’s been shattered it’s so tough to embrace a sense of safety again.
    To me, my sisterhood has no gender distinctions, though I understand also that we’ve all been indoctrinated in ways that, while might be different are identical in how they shortchange and limit us.

  • daveNYC

    “This won’t be the last time someone makes a pass at you before they’re 100% certain you’ll reciprocate.”
    Unhooking the bra and groping both upstairs and downstairs counds as making a pass? Guess tonight at the bar is going to be more fun than usual.
    Seriously, who are you? Glen Quagmire?

  • Unequivocal

    Sometimes people do give ‘mixed signals’. If I understand the writer correctly, in this case unfortunately the ‘mixed signals’ involved reciprocation of affection.
    cattrack2, I honestly don’t know what to say to this, so I’m going to assume that you didn’t read the OP carefully:
    One night during our trip, I dozed off in bed and woke up to my friend unclipping my bra and fondling my breasts.
    There were no mixed signals; she was asleep when sexual contact was initiated. With the (possible) exception of partners in a long-term, well-negotiated relationship, initiating sex with someone who is incapacitated, intoxicated or unconscious is predatory and abusive and absolutely meets the definition of assault.
    It wouldn’t matter if the OP had explicitly told her friend that she was sexually interested, it would still not be remotely acceptable for the friend to initiate while the OP was asleep.
    In general I am inclined to agree that it is better to be very clear about whether someone’s advances are welcome or not, but claiming that the OP is remotely culpable for sending “mixed signals” when she was molested in her sleep is unconscionable.
    I know that you’re a regular poster, and I’ve “liked” more than one of your comments in the past, so I’m inclined to assume that you missed the part about the OP being asleep. Please tell me that’s the case.

  • kerofish

    While I agree with you–passivity is sadly interpreted as consent–I feel that a few points mark this more as an assault and less as a failure in communication. The writer woke up to being touched, and that alone is assault. I feel like nothing else really matters in this situation. There was no way that the writer could have consented or given a firm objection. Yes, after waking up, perhaps, but then the damage is already done.
    The writer also mentions that the friend “had expressed the same” in regards to their relationship being platonic. It sounds like the topic has come up in the past and they were both in agreement–I could be wrong.
    To the writer–definitely get help and talk it over with someone. It might be best to break contact with this friend; you might be dodging a bullet.

  • joanna

    This is deeply troubling to me that we are not calling this rape. The writer–our sister–WOKE UP to being assaulted by someone she trusted. We know the statistics: victims of rape more than naught know their perps. She did not give “mixed- signals,” she wanted it to be over; and, this is where the mind takes over to protect the soul from the abuse taking place.
    This is an act of violence that our sister will heal from (as a survivor of rape who knew her abuser I can attest to this TRUTH). To place this assault into the context of being viewed merely as “a pass” is sickening. If this were a male perp would we be explaining away this violence?
    Thank you Prof Foxy for seeing this act for what it is.
    Dear “D” : no you are NOT overreacting. I am so deeply saddened by what happened to you and to your heart/soul. Please know that there are people who understand EXACTLY what you went through and your trauma. I know you will soar again.
    Blessings to you!

  • ccotting

    You can’t give consent in your sleep — she shouldn’t have touched you sexually when you were not awake. Even if you sent “mixed signals,” the minute you said “no” or asked her to stop, she should have stopped. Don’t blame yourself for being unsure of what to stay to stop her, or for doing whatever you needed to prevent the situation from escalating. You shouldn’t carry around that guilt — you did nothing wrong.
    I, too, was in a similar situation once… except I blacked out from drinking. When I came to, my close friend (who was not drinking) had his hands all over me. Either he raped me or sexually assaulted me in the 2 hours I missed, but he would never tell me the truth. It took me well into 5 minutes after waking up to clearly understand the situation, push him away, and get out of the room as he continued to try to pursue me. 5 minutes that felt much longer. For years, I wrote it off as a crappy hook up. It didn’t click for me until until I was in college and saw a skit explaining how rape and sexual assault are when a person performs a sexual act without the other person’s clear consent. I realized that blacking out did not give him consent to touch me — just like being asleep did not give your friend consent to touch you.
    It has been a journey for me to come to terms with how to express consent and how to deal with the memories, hurt, and frustration from someone touching my body without my permission. It hurt me so much to know a close friend could violate my trust in that way. I wish you the best as you heal. Please don’t hesitate to ask for help — from a trusted friend/family member, from RAINN, from us at Feministing, from where ever you feel comfortable.

  • Mytrr

    I don’t think it’s mixed signals if D never originally consented to sexual contact because she was sleeping, and when she woke up, she was unresponsive and moved away from the contact. This happened before D fondled back, which could be construed as a mixed signal or could be interpreted as participation under coercion. D then AGAIN asserted her non-consent, this time vocally, and was forced to repeat herself several times before her wishes were respected. The fact is consent was never obtained to begin with and D did originally deny consent, but her boundaries simply weren’t respected. I can see the argument that maybe D was too subtle, but even toward the end of the encounter, she had to repeat herself before she was left alone.
    I wonder, if this situation involved a man unhooking the bra and fondling a sleeping woman, and that woman moving away once she was aware of what was happening WITHOUT her consent, would there be an issue of mixed signals? I’m a fan of affirmative consent, so in my mind, male or female, this situation was assault from the beginning. A lot of assault victims go along with the assault because they don’t want to upset the other person or make a bad situation worse, but it doesn’t change the fact that lack of consent, or lack of respect when consent is denied or revoked, still makes it a form of assault.

  • Tracey T

    “From what I can tell, it doesn’t sound like she deserves to be put behind bars and dubbed a sex offender for this– because it really does sound like there was a misunderstanding.”
    No,no no!! How can anyone possibly think that it is okay to initiate sexual conduct while someone is sleep w/o prior consent? Any “misunderstanding” could have been avoided by, you know, waking the writer up. And not only did she not consent, but the attacker didn’t stop til asked repeatedly to do so. I am convinced that a woman who WOKE UP to being fondled by a man who didn’t stop until repeatedly asked, would not be being treated the same way.

  • qtiger

    These comments would be completely different if D had omitted gender in her question. That really upsets me.
    If the first sexual contact between two people happens when one of them is asleep, that’s clearly assault and a warning sign about the person initiating the contact. If the two had some kind of relationship or sex in the past, then maybe you could introduce the ‘mixed signals’ argument, and say that the initiator had used a bit of poor judgment.
    D: How you reacted when you woke has no relation to the colossal breach of your trust of groping you in the first place. Even if there were ‘mixed signals,’ even if she had stopped the first time you asked her to, she had already violated your trust by that point and I think any reasonable person would be uncomfortable around her from then on. That discomfort comes from knowing that she will put her desires ahead of your desires, your rights, and your friendship.
    I would stay far, far away from her from now on.

  • lgm

    Anger yes. Police no.

  • Honeybee

    But the author does say they’ve always been very touchy in the past and slept in the same bed numerous times, and that they were on a trip together, a time when people are more likely to seek out fun or think the person they are with will be interested in it.
    She did stop once told No and she apologized the next day. So I can see why people would say this.
    Relationships and sexual encounters are hard. People don’t know what others are thinking and struggle with how to initiate sexual encounters. Not everyone has the confidence and social skills to do everything by the book.
    I dunno maybe this comment won’t be posted but honestly despite the problematic nature of the encounter, the whole thing just sounds like a misunderstanding to me. It doesn’t sound malicious and I’m sure she feels bad about it.
    If it were me I’d go alot by how this person acts after the encounter, that is, if she is given the opportunity.

  • paperispatient

    There are friends with whom I have a flirty and touchy relationship. I would never just start undressing and doing sexual things to them, especially while they were asleep.
    Relationships and sexual encounters are hard. People don’t know what others are thinking and struggle with how to initiate sexual encounters.
    If you don’t know that someone is thinking, “Yes, I want to have sex with you right now,” you don’t put your hand in their pants while they’re asleep. I don’t see any ambiguity here. Whether or not D’s friend misinterpreted the situation or decided to do what she wanted regardless, what she did was wrong and it’s on her (D’s friend).

  • Tracey T

    “I asked her to stop. After repeating this a few times, she did.”
    She didn’t stop when told to the first time.
    What kind of person honestly makes excuses for initiating sexual contact without someone’s consent and when they are unable to give consent? Oh, I know… molesters and rapists. I don’t care what your intent is, if you have sex with someone w/o their consent or when they are unable to give consent that is rape. If you initiate sexual contact with someone unable to give consent or without their prior consent, that is molestation.
    Let’s see, your argument goes the same for parties where there is alcohol. As far as I’m concerned, your apology for the molester’s behavior is no different than the people who suggest being drunk at a party and making out with someone equals consent. Consent to prior intimate engagements does not mean consent to future ones, and being on vacation and sleeping in the same bed is not an invitation to being fondled in your sleep.

  • Miss Caroline

    Anyone who says there were “mixed signals” is attempting to side-step the unfortunate truth. She woke up to someone taking off her clothing. Shame on anyone who tries to blame her for the mess that followed.
    D has been assaulted and is reaching out to a community that should know better. I sincerely hope that these comments don’t do more harm than good.

  • Honeybee

    Oh I agree this woman messed up bigtime. She never should have done this. I’m just posting as to WHY someone might do this and why not everyone sees this as a clear case of assault. To me it was a mis-understanding but maybe I just have too much faith in humanity. But I prefer to live like that rather then assuming that everyone is a malicious rapist out to get me. That’s what works best for me and makes it easiest for me to accept things like this. But hey others are free to think differently.

  • Heina

    This is kind of a meta-comment, but it seems to me like a lot of Professor Foxy’s posts are on topics that a lot of other sex and feminist blogs cover (Go Ask Alice! is an excellent resource, as are others). I don’t mean to trivialize anyone’s personal issues, of course, but I think it would be interesting and more helpful overall to see more questions that are a bit harder to Google.

  • AMM

    This is deeply troubling to me that we are not calling this rape.
    Perhaps because, for many of us, the word “rape” has at least a connotation of coercion, and the situation didn’t seem to include that. This is not to say it wasn’t sexual assault[*], just that there are sexual assaults that people might not call rape. It’s sort of like the difference between burglary and robbery.
    By the way, I think one reason people would be more likely to judge this as assault or rape if a man does it is because when a man does this, especially to a woman, there is always the suspicion that he might resort to violence if you don’t give in. (One might or might not make an exception if it were the Dalai Lama :-) ) Sort of like when a police officer tells you to do something, there’s always going to be a feeling of “or else” in it, regardless of how he/she phrases it.
    [*] To split a few more semantic hairs here: the legal term “assault” doesn’t have to involve threat or violence. Pretty much any unwanted and unauthorized physical contact counts as “assault.”

  • paperispatient

    Thanks for the clarification. I read your comment as trying to defend D’s friend; I do still think, though, that describing it as a misunderstanding makes it seem as if D shares some of the blame.

  • Sloppy Sandwich

    This has been an interesting post. Everything else Prof Foxy has done have been 80 mph fastballs lobbed over the center of the plate.

  • Heina

    I’m not putting down Professor Foxy’s answers nor the entries themselves as a whole. I think you might have missed my point: that many of the issues are ones that are already covered by many excellent resources.
    Full disclosure: I have submitted questions that are not so easy to Google/look up and they’ve never been answered, and I am a bit confused as to why questions that are relatively easy to answer with a bit of research are being chosen above mine.

  • Sloppy Sandwich

    I probably shouldn’t have chosen that metaphor. I am agreeing with you. Prof Foxy is not bad, just uninteresting. She always has good answers, but almost every issue I’ve seen her take on is very easy to answer because it’s obvious or very easy to research. I would be interested in more difficult questions.

  • agreyowl

    It’s not just women who see men as dangerous and women as safe–it’s society as a whole. We’re all conditioned to view things this way. But I agree with you, hopefully we will be successful in our fight to change it.

  • agreyowl

    I don’t think that’s for you to decide. If she feels truly assaulted and/or maliciously violated, she has every right to involve the police. It’s entirely her decision. Attitudes like yours are part of the reason rape and sexual assault are so underreported–women have to worry and wonder whether their situation will be considered “bad enough” or “serious enough” that it’s worth reporting. She has the right to be angry, AND the right to involve the police, if she feels that’s necessary. You and I weren’t there. She was there. It happened to her. It’s HER call.