I have been calling myself a feminist since my sister called herself a feminist. Before I knew what it was, I knew I was one. I think of myself as a confident and independent woman, who knew what her boundaries were. I never thought I would put myself in situations where I wasn’t in control.
When I was 17 I started seeing a guy. He was a couple of years older than me and knew all of my friends. We’d only been out a few times but we had fun together and I knew he liked me. We’d been having sex and had started to figure out what each other liked. He was a big, muscly, confident guy and I felt safe with him. I felt like no one could touch me.
During sex one night he wanted to try something that I hadn’t done before and didn’t want to do, but he did it anyway. Even after saying ‘no’, I figured that I had already consented by having sex with him in the first place, so couldn’t really stop now.
Two years later, I was telling my boyfriend about this ‘kind of crappy night with this annoying guy I once dated’ and only then did it hit me. Up until that moment, I didn’t even realize what had happened. My boyfriend couldn’t believe what I was telling him and told me I’d been raped. Even now, having come to terms with what happened, it still doesn’t seem real.
The word ‘rape’ for me was an abstract concept, something that happens in alleyways to people who have nowhere to turn. It seemed too extreme a situation to happen in a small village in England.
I think I had justified it in my head. Because I was seeing him, and because we were already having sex, that meant I had consented to anything he might want to do. Telling someone that you want to stop during sex is one of the hardest things for women, especially young women to do. I was scared he was going to think I was stupid, immature, ‘frigid’ or a tease. I was worried he would tell our friends. Most of all, I was scared he wouldn’t like me anymore.
I am disgusted that this is what I was most scared of; why should I want to be with someone like this? If this happened to a friend, I would tell them to never talk to him again. But I liked him enough to have sex with him and I was scared that this was my fault. Maybe I wasn’t as daring or as exciting as the girls he’d already slept with.
So many women I have spoken to have been through similar situations. People they trusted and felt they could be vulnerable with can turn out to be the most dangerous.
The scariest thing about this situation was that I didn’t think it could happen. No one ever told me that if I didn’t want to have sex with a guy I was seeing, I didn’t have to. Of course people had warned me about guys in clubs or one night stands but no one ever talks about the men you trust.
After 4 years of coming to terms with what happened, I realize I may never be able to rationalize it in my head. I’m afraid I will always be emotionally disconnected with sex and the intimacy surrounding it. I can now have relationships with men and after they’re over, feel no intimate connection to them, no matter how long I was with them for.
I do weird and stupid things like put myself in danger to protect friends from potential creeps in clubs because I feel like it’s already happened to me, so it’s now my job to stop it from happening to others. I feel so protective over my friends and I’m scared it’s happened to them and they haven’t told me, just like it happened to me and I haven’t told them.
I have sex with random people to prove to myself that it didn’t affect me, then lie next to them afterwards and find it wasn’t worth it, and it didn’t change anything.
Seeing the #MeToo campaign was in part so uplifting and comforting. However, for the most part every time I saw that hashtag it was a slap in the face and a reminder of what happened to me and what I couldn’t change. I wanted to be a part of it, to share my story so other women might be able to avoid those situations but I was scared my family would see and worry. I didn’t want my parents to know that I had been through something like that.
For me, talking about these things only makes them more real so if I didn’t tell anyone it meant it was just my imagination or a nightmare I once had. I have only told 4 people, 3 of which are girls and 2 of those have experiences similar situations. One of the scary things is that I don’t think the men who assaulted us realized what they were doing, when they were doing it. For me, I honestly think he thought that he was having consensual sex with the girl that he was dating. Often I think both women and men can think that one ‘yes’ is a blanket ‘yes’ for an entire evening, or even an entire relationship. If we are halfway through having sex and suddenly we don’t want to, we should never, ever have to continue. This is something we must always remind ourselves of.
In the future, I don’t know what or how big the impact will be on me from what happened. However, after slowly opening up to others, it has meant I can start to process it. One of the most helpful things to happen was telling other women who could relate and be with me when I’m reminded of it.
Text by a dear friend of ours who prefers to stay anonymous as opening up and writing this important article was already a difficult first step for her.
Illustration by Hannah Wolny