What with the outing of Harvey Weinstein as a complete waste of human skin in recent weeks, along with the rise of #MeToo, I’ve been thinking a lot about past situations, relationships and the way I dealt with them at the time, wondering if I’d react any differently in the present.
The hashtag has done amazing things for survivors of abuse on all levels – I think ‘shocking’ would be the wrong word for the sheer scale of what goes on every single day, and I’m grateful that it’s opened a discussion on abuse and sexual assault – but my word, it’s depressing.
My story comes from four years ago. It’s weird how it creeps up on you suddenly, taking the life out of you.
How it leaves you breathless, your lungs desperate for oxygen. Time slows.
I supposed I’d bottled it up and sent it into the abyss, not wanting to think about what it meant.
Until now. (Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault. I’ve tried my best not to be too graphic.)
It started off consensually. It was my idea to take it to the shower.
But it was also my idea to ask him to stop. I was in too much pain and so I told him to stop. He didn’t listen.
I gritted my teeth between teary gasps, waiting for it to be over. It all happened so quickly, and yet it felt like a lifetime.
I don’t remember much, probably because it was a long time ago, probably because I wanted these moments erased from my memory, but I do remember sobbing in the bathroom, clutching a towel and just wanting to be left alone. I remember him meeting my tear-stained face with a shrug, an awkward apology and asking me what I wanted for dinner.
For many reasons, I never said anything. For one, I was in a relationship with this person. And it was my suggestion that we go to the bathroom, after all..
Were my cries mistaken for positive sounds? Was the water too loud to tell? Was it rape if consent was there at some point? Was I being dramatic?
Maybe if we weren’t in a foreign country, weren’t somewhere where I had to depend on him for company and safety – maybe I’d have done things differently. Maybe I wouldn’t have normalised what happened, wouldn’t have put it to the back of my mind for the sake of getting through the rest of the holiday. Maybe I wouldn’t have stayed with him for as long as I did. It’s so dangerous to hover on the ‘what if’s in those dark moments, but it’s so easy to downplay your experiences, to blame yourself.
I think I always knew what it was, technically. (I really hate quantifiers in instances like this, as it sounds a bit like you’re bargaining with yourself, cushioning the blow.) It was rape. I withdrew my consent. And yet the relationship continued.. for a while. It took a few months to break away from it all, and finally being single was like a breath of fresh air. (Even if he didn’t leave me alone for the best part of a year after that – endless calls, texts, messages across every social media platform.. at one point I got a notification saying he’d listed me as a family member on Facebook. The amount of times I had to threaten to call the police as a way of deterring him from coming over. It was a whole thing.)
It’s funny because I was never afraid of him. I’ve never really felt like a victim. I can’t even say it’s played on my mind – not until recently. It’s not something I feel like I’ve survived, it’s just something that happened.. which when you think about it, is really quite sad.
I’d have urged a friend to get the hell out of that situation in a heartbeat, but I was trapped. I like to pride myself on being a staunch feminist and knowing the red flags of disrespect and abuse, yet I was totally oblivious.
It’s gut wrenching to write this stuff as part of me feels as if it never even happened at all, like I’m making it up and filling in the blanks for the sake of a story. But the way my stomach flips as I type tells me this is real and important and I should talk about it in case I can help just one person see things in a different light for their own sake. The grey area can be so huge and the lines so blurred.
I want to encourage others to share their stories too, if it will help, if you feel strong enough, if you want to.
Like I said – if this helps one person reflect, or take action, or whatever.. it’s been worth it.
And lastly, please share the Solidarity Not Silence crowdfunder far and wide, and donate if you’re able – a group are being sued for defamation, for merely speaking out about a well-known musician and his treatment of women. It’s doing well, but has a way to go before the stretch target is met.