A survivor shares her story
The author of this piece prefers to remain anonymous.
Rape. I always felt like it was going to be a case of when it happened to me and not if. I was 11 when I first heard a survivor’s story from a friend the same age. Since that day it feels like the women walking alongside me have been getting flicked over like dominoes. By the age of 18, I couldn’t count on one hand the women who I knew had survived rape, there were too many.
I was waiting for it to be my turn. I’d had enough wandering hands on my body, from strangers in the street, in the metro, in the night club. Street harassment became a ‘normal’, but by no means accepted, part of life from the age of 14. There was that guy who climbed into my bed and tried to have sex with me when I was travelling. Or the one who grabbed my wrist on the bus and wouldn’t let go. It seemed like the natural follow-on step was for someone to actually have sex with me without my consent.
And do you know what the really messed up thing is? I don’t know if I can call what happened rape.
I’m a strong, independent feminist who was brought up with an awareness of women’s rights. I’m educated and surrounded by supportive women. Yet, I didn’t even know the solid facts when it comes to consent. I don’t feel entitled to use the word rape. Despite how much I understand that it’s never the fault of the person acted upon, I can’t stop myself from feeling like I’m to blame.
I was drunk and don’t remember properly what happened. It’s a squeamish patchy memory about something very unpleasant that I could have avoided by not being completely wasted. Apparently I had kissed him back before it happened. We’re told not to get too drunk, not to go anywhere with strangers, not to wear short skirts, not to lead anyone on. I didn’t follow the rules.
I was surprised to find out that people around me, who campaign for a fairer and more equal world, weren’t too sure either. Many didn’t know if it was “rape”, if I was allowed to call it that, if labels would be “helpful”. If even those of us who view feminism as our top priority aren’t clear about what we can and can’t call rape then there is work to be done.
Consent is the most important thing that we need to be talking about and learning about when it comes to sex. We need to start with young people and make sure that they feel empowered and able to be assertive when it comes to their bodies and choosing to engage in sexual activity. They need to know what consent is, how to give it and how to ask for it.
I’ve always told my parents everything. I’m open with the people around me. But with this, I’m deeply ashamed. I didn’t tell some of the people closest to me.
When I go to work and people ask how my New Year was I don’t tell them that I got some bad news, drowned my sorrows with one-too-many glasses of punch and ended up being fucked numerous times by a sober older stranger who saw a vulnerable girl being violently sick and hysterically crying and decided he’d “help her out”. When confronted for taking advantage of a drunken girl who couldn’t give consent, he said he was doing her a favour and giving her the comfort she needed.
I didn’t know comfort was having someone flip you over onto your stomach and getting off inside you when you’re out of your mind drunk, half asleep and confused as hell about how you even ended up naked with a guy on top of you. I remember mumbling about wanting to go to sleep after putting pyjamas on as his hands directly took them off again.
I thought I was fine. I followed my New Year’s resolutions and got on with life. But I saw him in the street, from my window, and immediately ducked down in fear. That was at 5:30am yesterday, it’s now 3am the next night. I haven’t been able to sleep since.
There’s more I could say about how confusing and messed up everything feels. But I’ll end with the simple facts so that we’re all clear. I need to clear it up for myself too.
Having sex without consent is rape. If a person is drunk or passed out or in and out of consciousness then they cannot legally give consent. Consent is the positive decision to have sex, made when you are conscious of the choice you are making.
It was rape.
The image used depicts a person with shoulder-length hair with their back to the camera walking along an urban street.