This is something I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while – but I keep putting it off. A select few in my life have been privy to hushed conversations and implied sentences, but nothing of depth, because honestly they don’t seem to care. It’s not exactly something I’ve felt able to bring up, or wanted to talk about to begin with. But now I do want to talk about it. I need to talk about it. I’ve experience sexual violence.
I don’t exactly know how to phrase that, because it’s not liked I was raped or that I see myself as a victim. It’s taken me years to realise that I have experienced sexual violence, because “It’s not like I was raped.” Being left bruised and bleeding, and in pain for the following few days was perfectly acceptable because I felt like I had led him on, and it’s not like I was raped. It was something I was ashamed of, hiding my battered body tactically behind high necked clothes, because it was something to be embarrassed of. I had led the poor boy on, I was tease, a slut. No one ever said these labels to me, but they were what I slapped onto myself because I had been conditioned to have these thoughts by society. Kissing a boy I had only met that night is not something I am proud of. It is certainly not something I would want my family knowing, so events ensuing after that are not something I feel comfortable enclosing to them. I don’t want to evoke their shame or disappointment at my “loose morals”. I don’t want them to feel sorry for me.
It was a college night out and I had been drinking. Safe to say I was drunk, but not incoherent drunk. The stage of drunkenness where the night is still fun. Having a stranger show interest in you is flattering – there’s been a shortage of male attention in my life and I haven’t had the best role models. Having a complete stranger want to be with me is flattering – out of all the stunning girls in the club he has eyes for me. It’s not creepy or vain, it’s a confidence booster. Throughout the night we kiss and drift back and forth between our respective friend groups, never just having a conversation. The club turns on the lights, it’s time to go, I invite him to walk me back to the friends’ apartment where I’m staying that night. A group of four of us walk back together, but the other two head into the building while we say goodnight. We’re up against a wall, kissing each other in a residential area on campus. He doesn’t go to the college, he’s up with friends and they’re staying in a hotel together. I commute to college, hence why I’m staying with a friend. She said she was okay if I want to bring him upstairs, but I don’t. The night is ending here, with me going to sleep alone.
We’re still kissing and his hands start to wander. I roll with it, until he’s unwrapping a condom and I tell him to slow down. He doesn’t listen. Trying to redeem the situation, I take the condom out of his hand and playful hold it out of his reach, all the while still kissing. He gets it back, and puts it on. His hands are still wandering. I try to placate him in other ways but he’s a man on a mission. I tell him he’s hurting me. We keep kissing. He’s going in for the kill and I’m trying to delay the situation, unaware that saying no and walking away remains an option to me. My feeble protests finally get through to him, and suddenly says “I’m not a rapist” and walks away from me. He wasn’t a rapist, so I wasn’t just sexually abused. After all, I had asked him did he want to walk back with me.
He wasn’t some stranger in the night jumping on me out of nowhere. He didn’t put me at risk of pregnancy or an STI. I had seemed to have enjoyed his company earlier in the night. Where was the issue exactly? The next day it hurt to urinate, and asking a friend if this was normal she was taken aback, but the matter was left there. The next weekend I’m getting ready to go out. I’m tactically using boob tape to stick my clothes down so they don’t move during the night and reveal the finger print sized bruises all across my chest, but I wasn’t careful enough. My friend and her boyfriend see them, and they know I had an encounter with a boy that didn’t end well, but we leave it at that. I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t know how.
This year I read a powerful letter from a woman who wasn’t as lucky as me – she actually was raped. She had written a letter to her rapist, Brook Turner who went to Stanford. It evoked something inside of me and got me thinking.
I go to America for a year, and have the opportunity to take some Women and Genders studies classes. It opens my eyes on so many levels, and I feel as if up until now I’ve bene blind to the world around me. Overnight I realise that gender is a curse if you’re a female living in the patriarchy, and that I make up part of a statistic now. I’ve experience sexual violence. In a monumental baby step, I have a brief conversation with a friend who had a friend force himself upon her, but stopped only when she was glistening in her own tears. She wasn’t raped, bruised or bleeding, but had openly said no. I finally admit to her and myself, that I have experience sexual violence. We carry on as if this is normality and it never comes up again.
I start to acknowledge the underlying fear I have towards intimacy. I don’t kiss strangers on a night out, unless I’m black out drunk on a rare occasion. When I do, I feel inherently guilty the next day. I’m not a prude, and want to own my sexuality but don’t know how. I only seem to be able to source companionship through reliable sources, like friends of friends who I’ve met sober and feel safe with. An ex-boyfriend makes appearances, he knew what happened, and while we never openly discussed it I feel safe with him. I haven’t had a relationship since, and still insist that my night needs to end with me going to sleep alone. I also realise that walking home alone is safer, and brush up on my self-defence course. Not like the original one I had done had stood to me- but at least I hadn’t been raped.
It’s been nearly three years since I was sexually abused, and I’m only just beginning to process it. Today I read an article where a girl discloses that on two separate occasions she has been raped twice, by separate people. She was raped, and she wasn’t sure at the time if it was rape. This breaks my heart and empowers me at the same time. Knowing other women out there have been sexually abused and have the strength to address it head on makes me feel like I’m not alone. I wasn’t raped, so I don’t know if I fall in the same category as them. Yet I’ve realised that what happened to me was wrong, even if it wasn’t rape.
He walked away from me saying “I’m not a rapist.” but he didn’t say “I don’t sexually abuse people.” It took me two years to realise that he is no better than a rapist. I’m a smart girl on track to graduate with a first class honours degree, I should know better. But I don’t. I don’t know what is classified as sexual violence. I don’t know what the appropriate response to these situations is. I don’t know how to say no in such intimidating situations, and I don’t know to have the expectation that there should be express consent. I don’t know how such vital information has slipped through our education system. I don’t know how our society has shaped such an acceptable rape culture. I don’t know how our country is okay with letting its women down with its support systems and acceptance of such norms. I don’t know how to not feel powerless.