not in Primary anymore

why i’m afraid to say “no” when men touch me

CW: This post contains descriptions of sexual assault and domestic violence

I was complaining to a friend about my Friday night. I told him that a guy I knew invited me over to watch a movie, then forced his lips against mine, grabbed my body, and reached between my legs.

My friend said: “Of course you had a bad weekend. That guy sexually assaulted you.”

I protested. It couldn’t be sexual assault, because stuff like this happens all the time. Because I didn’t say “no” until the very end.

I knew from my marriage to an abuser that “no” sometimes carries painful consequences, like yelling, name-calling, and violence. I knew that saying “no” had cost other women their lives. I knew that saying “no” would change the tone of our encounter, but I didn’t know how he would respond.

Social systems teach men and women that female bodies are available for public scrutiny and public consumption. Women are criticized when they age and again when they invest in procedures that disguise aging. Women are mocked for appearing too fat, but also for appearing too thin. Women are objectified and sexualized to sell products, but women who actually have sex are “slutty” or “easy”.

Women are too available, but not available enough. Women are catcalled, harassed, and told to “smile” when they walk down the street, but a woman who rejects unwelcome attention “can’t take a compliment”. Stringent rape and assault laws around the world prevent women from reporting crimes because doing so subjects them to violence by the government and their own families.

It’s a contest that no one can win. What right did I have to choose what happened to a body that didn’t really belong to me?

So I didn’t say “no.” I said “I’m so tired” and “I just want to watch the movie.” I said all those things that weren’t outright rejection, but implied that I wasn’t amenable to being touched.

Instead, he pulled my face toward his and I resisted as gently as I could so it wouldn’t be obvious that I was rejecting him. He wrapped his arms around me, and I was afraid to move in case I offended him. He reached between my thighs, and I pulled him away. When he reached again, I just crossed my legs more tightly. I didn’t expect him to respect my boundaries unless I made it impossible for him to touch me.

Sexual assault happens when someone is forced or coerced to participate in sexual behavior. Legal definitions vary widely, but what they all have in common is a lack of consent. The only true consent is a “yes” without coercion. Not saying “no” does not mean that someone has consented.

If I say “yes” because someone is threatening to hurt me otherwise, then I’m not really consenting. If I say “yes” because my partner is known to call me names and break things if I don’t, then I’m not really consenting. If I stay silent while someone touches me because I’m afraid of the repercussions for speaking up, then I’m not really consenting.

Finally, when he leaned over and whispered “I just really want to make out with you,” I said “no.” He told me he couldn’t be on the couch with me anymore, and I left.


A lot of people are reaching out to me after this post. I am so grateful for the wonderful beings I’m surrounded by.

Things like this happen so many times and in so many different ways that one more drop in the bucket hasn’t made much of a difference.

And it’s not just me, but I’m lucky. I can walk away from an encounter like this confident that I won’t be punished if someone finds out. My friends and family won’t blame me for the bad things that happen. Sexual violence isn’t nearly as difficult for me to talk about as it could be, because there are so many resources available to me. That’s not true for everyone, or even most people.

I’m also part of a privileged demographic. Women of color experience sexual violence in greater numbers than women like me. Poor women experience sexual violence in greater numbers than women like me. And that doesn’t begin to address things like corrective rape, marital rape, sex trafficking, cyber assault, FGM, and the likelihood that most rapes and assaults go unreported.

I’m one of many, but my experience speaks to my privilege.

18 Responses to “why i’m afraid to say “no” when men touch me”

  1. Otto

    Wow…..I’m still reeling from watching the video from the Hollaback webpage, at how many guys on the street catcall and stuff. I’ve never seen anything like it. And now you share this experience and say it happens all the time?!! I’m sorry. Not as guy saying sorry for other guys, but sorry that this kinda stuff happens at all. I just don’t know how I never turned out like these other men. My wife has talked about the same situations as yours, and I’m just shocked at the audacity of the creatures I call men. How does this happen?

    • gracerebeccamiller

      Because we live in a toxic culture that objectifies women and women’s bodies.

      Objects don’t need to be asked whether or not something is okay. Objects don’t need to give consent. Objects are meant for other people to use. Objects don’t have their own will. Objects are valued for their utility because they lack intrinsic worth. Objects are not people.

  2. Juliette

    😦 This hurts my heart to read. You’ve expressed something I’ve thought so often. I’m often afraid to tell men “no”, and wondered what is wrong with me, and though I’m deeply sorry you’ve experienced what you have, it’s nice to see someone say the things I’ve thought so much in my own head.

  3. jwtroemner

    I’m so sorry that this happened to you. You deserve to have people in your company who make you feel safe and respect you– what that guy did was beyond unacceptable.

  4. normandiel

    My question is, what if women did say no, and what if more women said no? I understand that it’s a tough battle, but could it make a difference? Do you think most men would respond violently? I think sharing this story is an important place to start. Thank you for being brave!

    • gracerebeccamiller

      I don’t think that most men would respond violently, but violence isn’t the only deterrent to saying “no.”

      The fear I feel is bigger than individual men. It’s the product of social norms that outsource women’s bodies to other people. Women saying “no” more often won’t fix that so long as those social systems are still in place.

  5. whitneyhardie

    Good job bravely adding your voice on this difficult and all-important subject. I am sorry you had this experience (and others like it) and I hope you will feel safe knowing all the people who support you.

  6. Nathaniel Falslev

    As a man who respects women, I’m angry that there are men who would do this. How can you possibly place your will above someone else’s, especially in regard to THEIR body!?

    This low regard for another person is not an attitude I have, nor my friends, so I don’t believe the kind of man described in this article represents the majority of men. All of us, men and women, must make sure men like this get put in their place. It is not cool, it is not socially acceptable.

    For men, if a friend jokes around with this kind of attitude towards a girl, set him straight. Don’t be silent or let your group think you’re okay with it.

    For women, I recognize there can be danger in saying “no” in that situation, so please avoid the situation. If you safely can, don’t hesitate to walk out of that room and literally never contact that excuse for a man again. That is not too strong a message to send, and he doesn’t deserve your company. Do your best to judge his character before you are ever alone with him. If he doesn’t respect you 100%, walk away from him.

    They need to know that attitude and behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. There are better men.

    • gracerebeccamiller

      First, I never asserted that all men were this way.

      Second, how do you suggest that women avoid situations where saying “no” would be dangerous? As I tried to demonstrate in this article, it is often difficult to anticipate whether you CAN “safely” say no.

      There’s no way I could have anticipated that my husband might break things if I told him “no.” And even if I could, that wouldn’t make me responsible for his behavior. You are putting the onus on the victims of sexual violence, and that is not okay.

      Women don’t need men like you to tell us how to navigate these situations. We can handle it. Really.

      • Nate

        Somehow my comment has been interpreted in a way much different than I intended. I’m apologize.

  7. A girl with a past

    I enjoyed reading your post because I could relate to it. I was a 28-year-old returned-missionary virgin before I was date raped by someone who I thought loved me. He was an empty shell when he did it. No life in his eyes – no response to, “no, please!” It took me awhile to realize I was raped. For so long, I felt like it was my fault. But shortly thereafter, I became a “slut.” I let men touch me because I wasn’t worthy of saying no. It was who I was and it defined me as a person. Then I started using men the way I was used. If I found out they were virgins, subconsciously, I’d push harder to have my way with them. I was date raped repeatedly during this time in my life (once by an elder’s quorum president of a ward I was visiting for FHE). It became a spiral that was ever-consuming.

    This whole time, I never stopped going to church. My first bishop was apathetic towards me, so I never did truly confide in him about how it all started. But when I switched wards I found I had a bond with the new bishop and finally confided in him about how it all started. He sent me to a therapist and he, personally, saw me twice a week. Through the bishop, therapy and the Lord I was finally able to mostly rid myself of the toxic shame that created this monster. I still struggle with the guilt, though I am married now to a really wonderful man with whom we have a beautiful 5-year-old son. I still struggle with feeling like I’m less of a person. I still wonder if God loves me as much as he used to.

  8. Cori

    Thank you. I was in a really bad relationship and he was very very verbally abusive and screamed and yelled at me if I disagreed with him or didn’t want to do something, and I was always afraid to say I let him do it and I was so happy after the first time because I thought he would’ve had his fill and finally leave me alone, but all it did was fuel him more (I was also only 15 at the time) and I’ve been tortured for the last two years because I’ve felt alone and violated and I couldn’t find anywhere where someone clearly listed that they knew and agreed that this wasn’t okay is so helpful. It’s nice to know that I haven’t been the only one to say yes because I was afraid of being yelled and screamed at, and because I was afraid of what he’d do or say to and about me. So thank you, so much.

  9. Melissa

    I’m glad I’m not the only one. I’m afraid to say no to guys. I try to tell someone and all they say is I’m stupid. I feel like I deserve it sometimes, I just can’t say it. I can’t say no and I feel so pathetic and stupid like my friends say I am. Even my own uncle has touched me, I try to move away but he gets closer again. I told my mom and she was more pissed at me than him. I feel terrible. Everything I do is a mistake.


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