The last post seemed to have touched a nerve. Already, within a few hours of posting it, I have had two emails from readers with similar stories. Their tales are heart rending, and rage inducing. And very thought provoking.
How many women have a “sexual encounter” in their past that they have put chalked up to naivety and inexperience, or to a bad decision? How many of us look back and think, “Actually, that was not a consensual encounter. He *knew* I did not want sex”, but at the time were pressured into it. How many were made to feel guilty, that they had led him on? How many were taken advantage of by more experienced men? It might not fit the traditional idea of what rape is, but we have learned that women don’t always fight back.
The journalist Bidisha busted that myth on Mumsnet this week. We have learned that rapists do not all lurk in dark alleys, as LittleMeFrance explained. We know that if a woman has drunk alcohol or taken drugs, she has not given consent for her body to be violated, as InsideTheWendyHouse knows all too well.
These stories make it clear that as important as #WeBelieveYou, we also need to help women say #IbelieveMe
Before I start. I’m not a writer, it’s not something that comes naturally to me. I’ve tried a blog before and failed miserably, but I just feel I need to share this.
I was 18, half way across the world and living the proper gap year student life. I was working in a school by day and partying hard in the evenings and weekends. One night the girl who I had been paired with for the project was out when one of her new local friends arrived to take her to a party. I was bored, they invited me along instead so I went. What was not to like – free booze and mbanje (cannabis) something that featured at every single party I attended.
I’d drunk a fair bit before arriving out there, but the cigarette and mbanje smoking were new activities of mine. Nevertheless it would be available at the party.
I got into the car and drove to a suburb quite some drive from where I was staying near the city centre. I have no idea where it was, and even in broad daylight later on I was never able to figure out where. It was a typical party, lots of cane spirit – a drink I had become accustomed too.
I’m not really entirely sure of the evenings events, I do know that I seemed to lose track of what was going on much much earlier than I would usually have done, and ever did again despite some equally heavy drinking sessions since. There were of course other drugs around as well as the commonplace mbanje – and I never once collected my own drink from the improvised bar. Whether something was put into my drink, or whether for some reason my body reacted very differently from what is has even done to the drinks it was accustomed I will never know.
What I do know is that at some point in the evening I went back and sat in the car, still drinking, and smoking, and that some time later the “friend” came back to the car and asked me something about what I wanted to do next. This is where I have often wondered, was I, did it count, maybe it wasn’t. I told him I wanted to sleep with him, at that time still a virgin, despite “nearly” having had intercourse before I had backed off with two boyfriends years before and they had both respected that decision. He asked if I was sure, drink, drugs, I don’t know – I said yes.
We then drove, a long long drive, back into the city centre to a late night/24hr (I don’t know which) chemist where he bought condoms. By this time I was thinking much more clearly, a good 45 minutes must have passed by this stage, and I was having second thoughts. “Who was this man”. “I’m a virgin, I don’t want to sleep with him”. I said nothing, until he’d taken me back to where I was staying. I suppose at some point I had to weight up the risks of him being “led on” ,with the risk of me walking back at some unknown hour of the night through a city centre where a lone white woman would have been an easy target….
Once back at the place I was staying at he started to come onto me, and at that point I spoke out and told him I wasn’t sure anymore, it wasn’t a “no” I suppose, but I know, as I’d sobered up enormously, that I did make it clear I no longer wanted sex. At this point we were both still clothed, but he managed to convince, talk, guilt trip me into agreeing to going through with it. “I’d told him I was going to sleep with him, led him on now I had to follow through or it wasn’t fair” (or words to that effect) – he was convincing anyhow.
And so, reluctantly, and hating every single minute of it I lost my virginity to a man who I had known for only a few hours. It hurt, but I didn’t fight him, how could I – I’d told him an hour or so earlier that it was what I wanted. The fact that I’d changed my mind made little odds to him.
He fell asleep in my bed with me, I slept too, exhaustion, alcohol. He woke me in the middle of the night demanding more sex, well more forcing himself onto me. Again – I didn’t fight, how could I? He was a big man, I am short and at that time was extremely slight too.
The following morning he left with barely a word. I got up and carried on my day as normal. Well almost as normal, I was sore, hurting, I had been a virgin the previous night, and the man who took that away from me wasn’t particularly gentle. My friends and colleagues laughed a little at my slightly odd walk, I couldn’t totally hide how painful it was. “Good night was it”, “you scored a big ‘un then” among the comments. I just smiled and carried on.
And then I put it behind me. For years, probably a decade I thought of it as nothing more than a foolish decision on an alcohol and drug fuelled night. After all – I HAD told the man he could get what he eventually took. I mentioned the incident on an online forum on a thread about sexual assault and rape and was brushed off. Told it wasn’t really either because I’d invited him.
Then one day I realised, actually no – that man took something I would never get back. He DID know that I no longer wanted sex, even before any clothes were removed. He’d had to drop me back home , at the very least as a common courtesy given that he’d picked me up. But there his courtesy ended, he guilted me into sex the first time, and forced himself on me during the night a second time. Two other men previously had respected my changed of heart even though we were totally naked when I said no. But this man didn’t.
It’s strange, I’ve never really been sure how I feel about it. For 10yrs I thought little of it, only coming back to mind with, what I now know are called “triggers”. It was a post with a trigger warning on it tonight that brought it all back again. Even now, with so much more knowledge and understanding of sexual assault and rape I still can’t quite get it into my head that it was either. But it is what it is and I hope that sharing my story helps. I’ve never shared it all before, even in that anonymous online discussion, I’d glossed over some of the details. Maybe that’s why they brushed me off. I don’t know.
Though even as I finish writing I sit and wonder if it really falls under rape or sexual assault, or whether it was just one of those many things that we all have regrets over. Self doubt – it can eat you up, but life carries on and so shall I.