*Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual trauma*
After telling the story of what happened, I’m faced with the reaction “you were raped.” It makes me feel sick and my body freezes still each time I hear this. I can write the words I was raped, and then maybe it could be one of the characters from my imagined stories speaking, I’ve always loved creative writing. But the same words get stuck in my throat if I think about saying them out loud, if I think about them belonging to my own reality. That night he took my voice, and I’ve been slowly learning how to speak about it since.
He’ll probably never accept that what he did was wrong. I’m the only one suffering the consequences for something he decided to do and I blame a culture that taught him to think I, woman, am a disposable object to be used for his male pleasure.
Rape is often assumed to be a monster of a man using physical force against a vulnerable woman. But it’s not always a man raping a woman, it’s not always your typical villain and survivors can be some of the strongest people in the world but when someone decides to rape them, their power is taken in that one moment.
Emotional manipulation, coercion and using alcohol or drugs to have unwanted sexual activity with someone are common tactics used by rapists, none of which require physical force. Many refuse to accept that’s what they’ve done because they think they have some kind of entitlement (like Brock Turner) or because they’ve let themselves believe that there are blurred lines of consent (thanks Robin Thicke).
From the first time we step out of the house alone, women and girls are taught to protect ourselves from the most usually feared rape narrative – a male stranger jumping out and attacking you. We learn early on not to walk through darkly lit areas, to keep keys between our fingers with the sharp bits pointing out, not to wear short skirts, not to drink too much etc. Whilst this does unfortunately happen, according to Rape Crisis England & Wales 90% of rapes are committed by known men and not strangers, which can make spaces as private as the home feel unsafe and not just the streets.
I still have a constant ongoing battle in my head. For some reason the fact my story doesn’t fit the narrative I’ve been scared of for years makes me doubt that I could really have been raped, that I have any reason to feel all these messy emotions.
I was full of shame, sickness and confusion the day after but I just put it down to a bad hangover. I thought it was all my fault, and that if I was to blame I could still trust in the goodness of others.
I realise that I didn’t have much choice in the matter and that he’d preyed on me like a hunter going after his target. I realise that I wasn’t able to consent but I still don’t feel like the words “I was raped” can truly belong to me. Rape victims are treated as the guilty and expected to prove their innocence, as if being raped can ever be their own fault, so it’s no wonder we’re left doubting our own experiences.
That being said, I can’t argue with the psychological after effects, it’s 10 months on and there’s still the flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, jumpiness, days and days of feeling like all the colour in the world has been sucked into grey. But sometimes I feel empowered because I’ve been through this emotional and physical trauma and still found ways to experience true joy at times, despite what happened.
They say this is something that heals but scars and never leaves you entirely. There’s this pressure to grow from it, to be strong, to survive and tell your story and turn it all around and be happy, move on. But sometimes there’s no energy left and sometimes it just hurts or feels numb. And that’s okay, we can’t always be fighters, sometimes we have to stop and breathe and regather.
That’s the stage I’m at now, and that’s why I appreciated it so much when my older brother challenged a guy who said a rape joke the other day. I’m tired of fighting. It means the world to have support in that kind of way, to have men share some of the burden and do their bit to stop rape culture hurting so many people. It all begins somewhere and my rapist didn’t think it was okay to do what he did for no reason.