[Trigger warning: Graphic conversation about Sexual Assault]
I’m sorry to interrupt your Sunday relaxation. If you are uncomfortable with vulnerability, please scroll on past. This may be tough to read.
You know me, probably quite well. You might not know that I was sexually assaulted some time ago. By a boy that I liked, who I was attracted to, who for all intents and purposes is a progressive, kind and respectful person. He probably considers himself a feminist and in some ways he probably is. He works in the community service and health sector. He volunteers often and is well liked by his friends. You or they might say “but he’s not like that“.
I have thought long and hard about making this public knowledge – for years now – and I still want to do it. At least once a week I think about writing a status on Facebook that would get it off my chest – would make it open and light rather than a dark and shameful thing that I carry alone and only speak about with close friends. I don’t want to feel careful about who I tell anymore. I was sexually assaulted. This happens. This happened to me. It happens a lot and it’s not OK.
I don’t want to tell people so they see me as a victim. I am strong and resilient and I think talking about this is evidence of that. This is bravery. Whenever anyone talks about sexual assault, it is incredibly courageous. People want to turn away from the fact that this type of thing happens: the pain of the victim and the realisation that people who are lovely and respectful and not like that can actually very easily do this to others, is much too hard to bear. I understand that. I do not blame you for wanting to turn away. To talk about such trauma for the chance of healing and at the risk of deaf ears is extremely brave. Those who do should be commended for it.
I feel stupid labelling my attacker an attacker. He did not come at me with a knife. We had breakfast with friends the next day as if everything was normal. He texted me for a week before I told him that what had happened was really unacceptable and that I was really upset about it. Some would respond to this amount of time passing as evidence that I’d just changed my mind about wanting it. That’s just not true. I didn’t want this to have happened to me – I didn’t want this to be my truth so I tried to make it not be. Ignoring the truth does not make it any less true.
I did not realise that what had happened was sexual assault. This is a very strange thing – when I look back at the event. It does look plain as day, now. My exact words were: This is not going to happen and his exact words were: I’m going to do it anyway. That is a no. A resounding no and an aggressive reply.
I’m sorry this is hard to read. This is still hard to write about and it has been a couple of years since it happened. I can tell you that I went into shock when I endured it. I could not believe that someone was saying those words to me in response to my words. I could not believe that the man I had kissed just moments before was pulling my pants down whilst I was trying to pull his hand out of them and simultaneously trying to hold the pants up.
In what ways this has affected me is much too much to write about in one little text box. I struggled to trust men in general for a very long time, despite how lovely and trustworthy I knew they were. This went against the deepest of my personal values and made me question whether I was a good person. I struggled to become aroused even with people I loved and was incredibly attracted to, for a very long time. For about a year, I did not want to be touched by anyone which was a shock to my friends who know me as a very affectionate person. I did not want to die, but I did not want to live in a world where this had happened. I was angry and scared, for a very long time. Often I still am.
The worst thing was that I did not trust myself anymore. I’d always thought I knew how I would react if someone tried to assault me. I did not react that way at all. I did not scream and kick and punch – I shut down instead. I thought I was braver than that. Oftentimes I tell myself that shutting down was brave or at least, the only thing possible for me to get through it. I’m holding onto that thought just like I held onto my jeans’ belt hoops – with quiet determination.
I hate that the effort I’m making isn’t so much about forgiving him, but about convincing myself that it was in no way my fault. I thought for a long time that I needed to forgive myself for letting it happen. If only I hadn’t kissed him. If only I hadn’t attended that party. If only I hadn’t been interested in another human being. I don’t know where that line ends.
Today, right now, writing this to you I feel bold, empowered, courageous and unstoppable. I am broken in a way, but I’m not interested in hiding that and somehow, showing the cracks in such a public way feels like relief. In spite of the sexual assault, I am a strong, confident and affectionate person. In spite of the sexual assault I do not default to a distrust of men who could possibly hurt me. In spite of the sexual assault I love and trust deeply. In spite of the sexual assault, I continue to be the person that I always strive to be.
Today, in spite of the sexual assault, I know I’ll be OK.
EDIT: Response to this piece has been incredible. For all of you reading this who are struggling through something similar, I wanted to pass on some resources that have been helpful to me and to remind you that it’s not your fault, you don’t have to do this alone.