During the discussions on Mumsnet over the past few weeks, as the #WeBelieveYou campaign got under way, many many women posted their story online. Some of them were telling their story for the very first time, while others had talked to friends and family, or seen a rape counsellor. Some were still scared and wary of starting a new relationship, others were happily married or co-habiting.
Every story is different, and every story deserves to be heard and to be believed.
Many women have returned to say that being told “I believe you” has helped them immensely. Tears have been shed, on both sides of the computer screen, writers and readers virtually holding hands and finding comfort and understanding.
Even today, women are still finding the courage to stand up and tell their story. It may be anonymously on the blog of a stranger, or under a newly assumed username on a parenting website, but even without revealing their names they are showing their strength.
Several men have commented, here and on Twitter, to tell of surviving rape. Note that I do not write “a victim” of rape. That is something I have learned this past month. They are SURVIVORS. Not victims.
Today, this message reached me, from a brave woman who writes so eloquently. I cried as I read of her confusion, her fear, her hurt.
And I believed her.
Okay this has taken a week for me to get my head together to write. Use it if you think it would help. I don’t think my story is that unusual, but it’s very seldom talked about because either it’s nice to pretend it didn’t happen/couldn’t have happened or because sometimes having a big blank in your memory is a good thing…..
For some rape victims the biggest problem isn’t getting others to beleive you, it’s you believing others. To believe what you’re being told is to accept that you were completely out of control, that someone has used and abused you in the most intimate way possible and that you didn’t even know it was happening.
I sometimes wish it had been a stranger in a dark alley. Or a boyfriend who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Not because it’s any less serious but because at least then I would know what had happened for sure. In my case only one person knows, and it isn’t me.
One balmy summer evening in my nineteenth year I went to the pub with friends. We sat outside and smoked, we drank and laughed, joked and flirted, enjoying each other’s company. I started with a glass of white wine, feeling grown up and sophisticated, but quickly progressed to sugary alcopops which went down quicker. I think I only bought my first drink, the rest were got in by friends arriving and insisting on buying a round or guys who everyone insisted fancied me. Strike one. At some point I was introduced to WKD, which tasted of bubblegum ratger than wickedness, and Apple sours, which were at least identifiably sour. It was a heady mix of sugar, youth and alcohol. And something else.
By 10pm I was feeling distinctly woozy, perhaps a bit too much to drink and not quite enough to eat. As it was still fairly light I planned to walk home, not far, just up the hill from the town centre. A friend insisted he accompany me. It makes me sick now to think I could only see chivalry and a protective instinct at the time. He wasn’t even a particularly close friend, just someone I knew, someone my girlfriends and I giggled over and flirted with knowing full well it wasn’t really going to go anyway. A bit geeky – headed for Oxbridge – and not one of the rowers or rugby players we had our sights set on. Still the company was welcome and I slipped my arm around him as we lef tthe pub to whistles and saucy comments. Strike two.
My memory fades out around here. We went by the park and swang on the swings pretending to be children, he made a pass at me, I brushed him off, we went on, laughing.
I feel dizzy, thirsty, sore. The lights are birght, people are talking, I’m wearing some kind of loose gown and the world is out of focus. A female police officer is asking me questions about who I am and where I’ve been. I keep asking what happened. She goes to fetch someone eventually.
I notice my best friend is sitting in an uncomfortable looking plastic chair in the corner. She looks tense and worried. The air smells of hospital. A nurse doing something on a trolley. The clock says four o’clock but there are no windows to tell me if it’s night or day outside. The curtains are a greyish-blue. The bed I’m sitting on is plastic and uncomfortable with a paper sheet twisted beneath me. I need the loo so I try to stand and I notice I’ve left a smear of blood on the sheet. I must have started my period and feel embarassed. The nurse wants to know where I’m going so I tell her I need to pee. Where are the toilets? She hands me a bedpan. I try to refuse, saying I’d rather go to a real toilet, that I can walk. She tells me I have to use the bedpan. It’s evidence.
I have to ask my friend to leave as I work out how to use the bedpan. The nurse, unsmiling, tells me I’m not allowed to wipe. A doctor flings the door wide open, without knocking. I don’t like him from the start.
“We need to examine you.”
I don’t understand. Or maybe I don’t want to. They’re speaking and I hear them talk but I’m not really listening. They attach what I know to be stirrups to the bed. Too much ER. The female police officer comes back with a bag and a clipboard. The doctor is putting on gloves. The nurse folds up the old sheet carefully which strikes me as odd and puts a clean one over the bed. Outside I can hear my friend talking to a man.
“I was in my way home from babysitting when I saw the light was on in the hall and the kitchen and her room. I assumed she was home so I knocked.”
The man mumbles.
“I suppose it was about 1am”
He mumbles again.
“She seemed tired, maybe a bit drunk. I thought maybe I’d woken her up because she was just wearing a dressing gown…”
The nurse is telling me to sit down, that they need to do this now. I perch on the end of the bed. The doctor tells me to put my legs in the stirrups but I don’t want to. There are too many people in the room. Anyone could walk in because there isn’t a screen between me and the door, although the blinds are shut.
The doctor is talking. The police officer is writing. He’s touching me. I stare at the fluorescent light and swallow hard, trying not to cry. I feel confused and humiliated. It hurts. I feel combing, swabbing, prodding. Apparently I need stitches. The anaesthetic stings.
Once it’s all over they go away except the female police officer. She wants to talk to me. I tell her I’m tired and I’m thirsty. I want to get dressed and go home. She says my clothes are evidence. I have only the hospital gown. I ask her to fetch my friend.
Later my friend’s dad arrives. I Try to pretend he doesn’t know anything about this. He brings me clothes. Jeans. A bright pink top. We all go home to her house. I don’t want to be alone. My parents were visiting my grandfather with my younger siblings. They come back and leave the others behind.
My mother and I go to John Lewis to get some clean sheets. Neither of us say why.
That night I try to sleep in my bed, in the spare room, on the sofa but I can’t. Eventually I fall asleep in my sister’s child sized bed, cuddling my stuffed rabbit.
The next day my parents take me To the police station. They tell me what they know but it all feels topsy turvy. They want to know who took me home. They want to know if I want to press charges even though the evidence is inconclusive.
I tell them there must have been a misunderstanding. They don’t seem to care really.
On Monday I go to work. Afterwards I go home and I stay there. I don’t want to see my friends any more. I don’t want to be in the house either.
A few months later the nightmares start. I reorganise the furniture in my room. I find a pair of knickers down the side of my bedside cabinet. White with turquoise hearts. Cute. Ripped.
My next boyfriend complains that I never do anything. That I’m frigid. We part ways.
Eventually I get an appointment with a counsellor. By now my mind is filling in the gaps but I can’t tell truth from fiction. Certain smells, certain sensations, certain words make me panic. I beg my GP to help me sleep and give me something to stop the panic attacks. He prescribes temazepam and beta-blockers.
After a while I can acknowledge what has happened enough to be angry but my friends don’t remember that evening and I’ve never pushed it. I don’t think I’ll tell them.
After all, who will believe me if I don’t even believe myself?