A Very Bad Year

It only struck me recently that it all happened in the space of one academic year. Less, even, but I cannot remember the exact dates. Why would I want to?

I had finally escaped the place my counsellors and therapists had been telling me to leave for years. I had finally moved away. Things were supposed to get better. But they didn’t. Instead, I had a very bad year.

I was vulnerable. I was younger than my years. And someone decided to take advantage of that fact. The typical story. It all started because he was put in a position of power. Someone else entrusted him to take care of me when I was in a vulnerable state. But instead of doing what had been requested of him, he insisted on following me home. He forced himself on me on a bus. Just kissing at first. I was too shocked to do anything. I didn’t know what to do. I told him I had a boyfriend, but he didn’t care. Looking back on it now I’m surprised by how much he tried to do to me in public. Picking me up, pushing me up against a wall, touching me in places I’d never been touched before. He talked his way into the house, not caring that it wasn’t empty, so cocky that he didn’t seem to care about getting caught. I eventually managed to force him back out the door. But it was too late. He’d already got his claws into me by then. I wish I’d given him a fake number. But I was too stupid, too naive, too innocent.

The aforementioned boyfriend broke up with me not long after that, and I became even more vulnerable than before. He didn’t care. He didn’t show me any sympathy, it wasn’t that kind of relationship.

The timeline is somewhat confused in my head. At some point he started harassing & stalking me online, finding out as much information about me as he could. I wince when I think about how stupid and naive I was back then. I didn’t know anything about ‘privacy settings’ or protecting myself from predators like him. He taught me that lesson.

I feel so ashamed when I think that a part of me liked the attention. No one had ever shown so much interest in me before, in doing these things to me. I should have ignored him. I should have told someone, and got help. But I didn’t. I lost track of the amount of times he tried to instigate something. He was so pathetically desperate he even offered to fly me to a different country, just so he could fuck me.

I said no. I said no so often that it lost all meaning. Eventually he took to lying to me, tricking me into seeing him. He would make promises not to try anything, that we would just have a drink or two, and that there was ‘no pressure’. He would ply me with drinks and then lure me to his room. He didn’t seem to care how many times I said no. I could say no until my throat was raw, and it wouldn’t stop him from pressuring me. Eventually I said yes, just so that he would stop asking. I was stupid enough to think that if I said yes just once then he’d be satisfied and leave me alone.

I was wrong.

I guess he made himself believe I was just playing hard to get. This is what happens when people think that ‘no’ really means ‘yes’.

I only saw him a handful of times. He only succeeded in wearing down and luring me to his hotel room twice. But those 2 nights have left me with enough experiences to last me a lifetime. It’s been 5 or 6 years now, and still it plagues me. It has coloured all of my subsequent sexual experiences, however much I try to not let it. There are still things I cannot do without getting flashbacks.

Later on in that academic year I was raped again. In comparison it was more of a mere technicality. I was on some strong medication at the time, and I suffered a blackout as a result. This one has been easier to make peace with, although the fact that this was the 2nd time, the 2nd person I’d woken up to on top of me has left me some fairly understandable issues.

When I look back on that time all I can see is darkness and pain. To top it all off, in between all the rape, my physical health started to worsen, so the pain became both physical and emotional. For the first time in my life, I failed something that year. I guess it’s understandable after such a traumatic year that I would suffer academically as well.

I have only recently sought help for this trauma. It never even occurred to me talk to a therapist about it, or to report it to the police. What would be the point. But now, years later, I am finally at a point in my life where I can start to deal with it. I am finally in a healthy relationship, with a supportive partner, in a safe space where I can start to process the complex feelings that surround my experiences. When I saw that my local rape crisis centre was going to start running support groups for survivors of sexual abuse, I barely had to think twice about it, I signed myself up.

It’s not a cure-all. I’m not going to magically be all better when the group comes to an end. But the simple act of walking into a room where every single other person there has been through similar experiences and know already the secret feelings you try to keep hidden from the outside world… It is reassuring and liberating and validating. No two people there have been through the exact same thing. Some were abused as children, some raped as adults, but we all share hideous bond and can understand one another better than those who have never had to suffer through these kind of experiences.

One of the things that comes up in the group time and again, something that I have struggled with for a long time, is the idea that there’s small details of my experience that I will never reveal, because those small things would set me apart and make it all my fault. There is such a horrible culture of victim-blaming, the idea that one’s clothes or behaviour or age or body size or a bunch of other irrelevant aspects were responsible for one’s assault, and that therefore it was the victim’s fault. It is this poisonous attitude that keeps us silent. It is this that prevents us from even telling other survivors the full details of our stories.

Honestly, I don’t remember what I was wearing the first time my rapist set his eyes on me, but I have a strong suspicion that it was jeans and a t-shirt. But it doesn’t matter. There are other details that I don’t like to admit to, like the fact that I was stupid enough to give him my real number, and respond to his text messages; that I went to his hotel, not just once, but twice. But, what I am gradually learning to accept is that it still wasn’t my fault. He still coerced me, tricked me, lied to me. No, there was no threat of violence. I never feared for my life. But I still believe with all my heart that he took advantage of a vulnerable woman, several years younger than himself, and that it was rape. It might not stand up in a court of law, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I was barely more than a child, barely legal, and he repeatedly bullied me into letting him have sex with me.

If you have to ask someone 10 times before they say ‘yes’ out of sheer exhaustion, then the answer is NO. This is what should be taught in schools. It had nothing to do with what I was wearing, whether or not I had been drinking, the size of my breasts. It had everything to do with him. It was his choice.

It was not my fault that I was raped.

It was not my fault that I had a very bad year.

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