I’ve held off on publishing this post for a long time. It has sat in my drafts folder, waiting to be put out there in the world, waiting for the day I feel brave enough for my story to be told.
You see, the thing is, I applaud and admire other women who tell their story yet keep my own held back and share it only with those who get close enough to uncover that deeply held part of me.
Then this video appeared on my Facebook feed and resonated so loudly within my heart that I knew that it was time.
“I didn’t think I was important enough to draw boundaries around what people could or couldn’t do with my body.”
When I heard those words, it was like someone had switched on a light and given me the words that I could never find before. The words to explain why, 11 years after it happened, I still struggle and blame myself. The words to explain why, 11 years ago, I refused to go to the police. I refused to report what had happened to me. I told my flatmate and my best friend that I just wanted to erase what had happened from my head, my heart and my broken soul.
I didn’t believe that I was important enough to draw boundaries around what people could or couldn’t do with my body. I believed that somehow people would say that I had brought this on myself because I flirted and drank and danced with the stranger. Because I accepted the offer of a drink from him in a dark, smoky nightclub. Because I asked him to walk me home when I started to feel dizzy and unwell.
He walked me home and then, within what should have been the safety of my own bedroom, he took advantage of the effects of the drug he had spiked my drink with, the drug that was now flooding my system.
I didn’t fight back as I couldn’t lift my arms. I asked him to stop in the midst of my drugged and confused state and he ignored me and carried on. It hurt and I cried in pain, feeling frustrated that I had no control. I couldn’t get any control of the situation as I blacked out and came to then blacked out over and over again.
When I woke in the morning to him still in my house, sitting on the edge of my bed, tying his shoes as if it was the most normal morning in the world, I felt such doubt and fear and confusion. Was what had taken place the night before okay? Why is he still here? Did I allow that to happen? Was what he did something I should just accept and let be?
He left and I pulled my aching body out of the blood-soaked sheets of the bed and curled up in the corner of the bathroom. I could smell him on my skin and I could feel the bruises and aching between my legs. I turned on the shower to the highest heat I could cope with and sat on the floor of the shower for what must have been an hour, allowing the scalding water to burn my skin and allow me to feel a different kind of pain. Any other kind of pain.
I called my best friend and cried down the phone the moment I heard her voice. She immediately got on a train and was at my door within a few hours. No matter what was said, I refused to report it. I couldn’t even consider it. I believed, and still do at times, that it was somehow my fault. That what happened could be explained away. That I was not important enough to draw boundaries around what could happen with my body.
11 years later and after 2 years of face-to-face counselling, learning how to cope with my PTSD and learning what my triggers are, I still struggle at times. It still affects everything. My relationships, my social life, my coping mechanisms – every aspect of my life has been impacted by this one night in September 2005.
But I never once wish that I had reported it. Reliving the experience is hard enough when it happens in flashbacks and nightmares – I can’t imagine reliving it under interrogation from a judge and jury with his face looking back at me. I don’t know that I made the right choice. Sometimes I wonder if he went on to do the same to other women and if reporting him to the police would have prevented it. Unfortunately we do not live in a world where a rape victim is treated with the same amount of empathy as a mugging victim. In these past 11 years I have discovered inner strength that I would never have imagined. But that inner strength would be destroyed by a legal system that victim-blames and sympathises with the perpetrator.
Instead, I did what many sexual assault survivors choose to do – I tried to move on with my life. There’s no single thing all assault survivors should do after their attack — we all respond differently, and we all heal differently. And, as the survivors in the video make clear, we need to be trusted to choose the response that is right for us
As for me, I fight in my own way. I found an inner strength and purpose that kept me focused and motivated. I involve myself heavily in the V-Day movement. I talk to people about victim blaming and rape culture. I almost never tell my own story but I findways to influence and talk. I get proudly labelled a feminist and call people out on their hypocrisies. I educate myself and I listen and support and care when another woman tells her story – it has taken me so long to tell my own, they are my heroes .
I used my pain and brokenness as a catalyst for making change and a difference in my own tiny corner of the world because my story is one of millions. One of millions.
Most importantly, I now know just how I important I am and how completely in control I am of what happens with my body.