Justice and Advocacy · Sexuality and Sex Education

February 21 – A Letter to Anastasia Steele

“Emotions aren’t that hard to borrow
When love’s a word you never learned…” –Avril Lavigne, Give You What You Like, 50 Shades of Grey Soundtrack

Dear Ana,

I won’t say that I know how you feel. I won’t say that I’ve been where you’ve been. I haven’t. I just want someone to say some things to you, because I can’t find anyone else who’s said them.

You didn’t do anything to deserve this.

I have the dialogue running over in my head – he said something vague, and you took that as a challenge. You were curious, you wanted more information. Sure, you could look it up for yourself, but there was allure in the way he took interest in you, the way he kept you guessing.

It felt real. It felt good to be pursued. He was baiting you, and taking advantage of your naivety. It wasn’t your fault that you fell for it. It wasn’t your choice. You didn’t see the whole picture. I’m sorry he did that to you. You didn’t do anything wrong.

People are saying you were stupid, you were immature, that you made a mistake. The smartest of us make mistakes when treading unfamiliar waters, Ana. He was in the wrong. Not you.

You have a right to be curious. You have a right to your naivety and your curiosity. You had a right to decide to leave and to say no. You had a right to have him respect you when you did that. When he didn’t, it wasn’t your fault.

Now, in book time, you’re married to the man who stalked you, tortured you, ignored what you wanted, and trained your body to like pain – a body that didn’t like pain at first. We’re wired with our pain and pleasure receptors very close together in our brains, and it’s possible to rewire you into a masochist. That’s what he did to you, and you didn’t know that from the beginning.

Sadism and masochism is about understanding the terms and conditions. He didn’t give direct answers to your questions. He did things without asking you, without being concerned about your safety and comfort, without allowing you to process and heal and learn and grow – all the beautiful things that such relationships bring. You asked, you asserted, you were curious. He didn’t listen, he kept baiting. You didn’t do anything wrong.

They’re saying you asked for it, that you ignored the red flags. They’re not saying he was wrong to manipulate you. I think maybe that’s because you’re telling the story before you’ve realized it for yourself. They are, after all, reading the story from your perspective.

Ana, I want to hold you, be gentle to you, and tell you that getting special attention doesn’t have to mean suffering. Some of us like pain, but we’d never force it on someone who isn’t sure, especially not on someone who doesn’t like pain. You were forced – pushed, controlled, trapped, lured. This is not your fault.

When I say it’s not your fault, I’m also saying it’s not your doing. You didn’t choose this. Since you didn’t choose it, you don’t get to take credit for it. Your attempt to brag as you tell your story sounds disjointed. There’s pain and confusion, because you’re trying to take credit for what felt like a choice, when you were just surviving in a situation you didn’t control.

I’m not saying I get it, or that I’ve been there. I haven’t. See, I’ve heard many victims who didn’t realize they were coerced. Some carry shame – they tell their daughters, “don’t make the same mistake I did.” Others carry pride – they say, “I was the queen, the dirty-minded one, I had no limits.”

They don’t realize that the mistake wasn’t theirs. The limits they set were disregarded, so they decided it was their own choice. Sometimes we don’t know our own limits, because we’re never given a chance to reconsider, and for our conclusion to be respected.

You didn’t do anything wrong. He did.

I’m writing to you, Ana, because nobody is saying this about you – your naivety was a vulnerability, and it was not your fault that you were vulnerable. It was his fault that he exploited that vulnerability.

You deserved to learn and to grow at your own pace. Not with enduring what you didn’t want. Not with being harassed and manipulated, until you believed you loved him back, when you had no other choice. Not with drawing you into a mysterious world where you weren’t informed, and withholding information to control you. Not with confusing your emotions and memories and physical feelings until you mistook it for love.

Ana, you have a right to be curious and naïve. You have a right to live in a world where it’s safe to be vulnerable, a world where abusers know better than to take advantage of you.

I’m sorry that world doesn’t exist yet.


~ Links ~

National Sexual Assault Online Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

Why Domestic Violence Victims Don’t Leave

I Dated Christian Grey: How Women Are Groomed For Abuse

Planned Parenthood Resources on How to Identify Abusive Relationships