I was raped twice within four months of my first year at university. What a way to start a blog post lol. But by God’s grace, I’m writing this as someone that’s doing pretty well on my journey of healing from trauma.
Consent is something I’ve been wanting to raise awareness about for a while. A person’s lack of knowledge on consent (or simply not considering it at all) lead me into a very deep depression and a diagnosis of PTSD. Sharing my experiences has also made me realise just how common rape and sexual assault are. And it’s vital that serious conversations are had. I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through even half of what I did. And knowing so many people have had similar experiences motivates me even more to do whatever I can to continue raising awareness.
I won’t go into great detail about my experiences. There are no words that can really portray all that occurred on those two separate occasions. All I will say is that I’ve never felt so worthless before. I hated myself for not being able to stop it. For not being able to just say no. I hated how powerless I was. I was disgusted by my body. I struggled to process everything, and my decision-making skills were non-existent. I spent the next two years in a cycle of self-hatred and punishing myself for allowing that to happen to me.
The recent trend of exposing rapists and perpetrators of other kinds of sexual assault on social media led me to reflect on my own experiences even more. I completely understand the thought process behind exposing people – warning others to stay away, taking back control of the situation, ruining their life in the same way they did yours. To name a few reasons. I’ll be honest though, I personally find it quite pointless. Social media sites like Twitter are constantly moving onto the next trend. 99% of the time when people are exposed for the wrongs they’ve done, by the next week (or even the next day), it’s forgotten about.
I have no intention of ever exposing anyone myself. Even in my own situation, my biggest regret is letting people know who it was. Because it never changed anything. People felt awkward for a day or two, but continued life as normal. And on top of that he apologised, and I forgave him. My goal has never been to punish or ruin anyone’s life. As long as I never see his face, hear his voice or see him on my social media, I’m good. I decided to focus on healing rather than dealing with a constant state of anger caused by the sheer level of disrespectful behaviour shown towards me.
The other thing I noticed with the recent trend of exposing is that these people aren’t just creeps touching girls in night clubs and alleyways. They’re normal. They’re your friends. Your brothers. They live normal lives. I remember someone telling me it would be difficult to distance themselves from him because they had such great conversations. He’s funny, sociable, the life of the party. And I think that’s what makes a lot of these conversations very difficult to have. Because it makes people feel uncomfortable. And it’s a lot closer to home than we’d like. But if these conversations aren’t had, these things will just continue to happen. With more lives ruined because of someone else’s stupid, selfish decisions. With more voices unheard or simply dismissed, because how can such a cool, fun guy do something like that. ‘He’s always been nice to me lol’
And I think the main thing people often fail to understand is that consent is a very simple concept. UK law describes consent as agreeing to do something when you have the freedom and capacity to choose to do the activity (Sexual Offences Act 2003). Put simply that’s having the mental capacity to choose to do it (e.g. not being too drunk to understand) and the freedom to choose whether you do it or not (i.e. no is an option).
In my first experience, I was a virgin. I met up with a boy that introduced themselves to me two weeks prior during freshers’ week at university. All of a sudden, clothes were being taken off and I was just lying there. I was confused and scared. I couldn’t think straight. It’s like I was watching the scenario from elsewhere. And in the second experience, I said from the start that I didn’t want to have sex. But nothing I said was being heard. No wasn’t really an option. He left straight after and the rest of that evening was spent crying on the floor. I was too scared to sleep in my own bed. I’ll never forget how traumatised I was. Even now being in a much better place mentally, it still haunts me.
There are a number of ways being violated like that can affect your life, and it affects different people in different ways. Not just the obvious psychological effects. But your whole outlook on life changes. For me, I ended up questioning my existence a lot. I didn’t value myself at all and started to do a lot of unnecessary things in hopes that they’d be able to numb the pain. I began to isolate myself more and more, because I only truly felt safe in my own company. Till now I have not had sex or been that physically close to anyone, and the thought alone just scares me. Other people with similar experiences may do the complete opposite and become hypersexual, and that’s completely justified as well. There are so many other ways people may consciously or unconsciously deal with such a traumatic event. The main thing to note is that each person’s experiences are unique and there is no set way to deal with things. Not everyone will be angry and run straight to the police screaming ‘rape’. Not everyone will shut themselves away from the world with depression. And no person’s experiences can be described as more severe or more ‘realistic’ than others’.
So, what can actually be done about all of this? Starting and having conversations centred around consent is so important but I also think just simply being self-aware whilst in these situations can make a huge difference. I was told that the circumstances I was placed in were accidental. Nobody had any intentions of raping me. But there was an intention to have sex. And nothing I said or did made any difference to what occurred. There is no grey area with consent. But I understand that some people get a little bit confused. So, I’ll try and make it clear. If someone says they don’t want to have sex, it usually means they don’t want to have sex. If someone is just lying there in silence like they’re not really there, or their body language isn’t responding in a positive way – it probably means they don’t want to have sex. I know especially with people you’re just having sex with outside of a relationship, it’s easy to only focus on yourself and your pleasure. But please be aware of the person next to you. What are they saying? What is their body language saying? You have no idea how much selfish decisions in that moment can completely mess someone up.
And I know some people will question the stories they hear. ‘Why didn’t they just say something?’ ‘Why did they put themselves in that position in the first place?’. Trust me, I have asked myself similar questions about a million and one times in the last two years. Part of my process of healing has involved learning about the ways our unconscious bodies act when they are under attack. There’s the fight or flight response. And there’s also a freeze response. The body does what it thinks is best to protect the victim from the trauma that’s occurring. By freezing in that moment, pain and fear are felt less intensely. But afterwards people are often left feeling guilt or shame for not doing more to help themselves out of the situation.
So, I guess the other thing that could be done is simply showing more compassion to people that open up about their experiences. I see it more times than not where people are questioned over and over and asked for more ‘valid’ evidence. Rather than just being shown care and understanding. It takes a lot to share such traumatic experiences. It can leave you feeling just as vulnerable as you were at the time. Dealing with the effects of rape and sexual assault can be very isolating and will leave you feeling worthless. But choosing to share these experiences takes so much strength and bravery. Just being able to pick yourself back up after being violated and disrespected in such a way takes a lot of courage. And I think it’s important to remember that next time you come across someone sharing what has happened to them. Because unfortunately, there probably will be a next time.
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