This is a post I have wanted to write for a long time. Since I started blogging a year ago if the truth be told.
It isn't a nice word is it? It conjures up images of violence, threatening behaviour, of a weak woman and a strong man.
Yes I am using stereotypical imagery and for that I don't apologise because, you see, I've experienced rape. First hand.
Like most survivors (no, I am not a victim and refuse to be one) I knew my attacker. Although I use the word "knew" loosely. I didn't really know him. He was an acquaintance. Someone I would bump into when on a night out. Over the course of a couple of months, during which I averaged 3 or 4 nights out a week as a lot of students did, we'd dance together, drink together, go to after parties. We weren't a couple but it was almost assumed that if we happened to chance upon the same club, we'd be together.
So, naively as I now know, I felt safe around him. Even more so because I thought I had a good relationship with the security at the club we frequented.
Yes I had a few drinks, and yes sometimes I did wear skirts too short, or tops showing a bit more cleavage but you know what? I was 19! At that age I had never got drunk to the point of not being aware of myself or my safety. In fact, I would go so far as to say it was only once I was attacked and went into a blind oblivion when I did start drinking to excess. I was young and whilst I have no idea what the clubbing culture is like now, (becoming a parent does that to you) back then you could pay £10 to get into a club and drink as much as you wanted.
My problem back then? Low self-esteem. My girlfriends had a certain aura of confidence about them. I didn't. So of COURSE I basked in the attention I was given. Whilst my friends were "pulling" guys left, right and centre, I was lucky enough to have one guy who persistently wanted my attention. He just wanted a couple of dances each night, maybe the odd kiss.
How wrong was I?
One night he asked if we could go and sit on the beach. How many times have I kicked myself for agreeing? But I thought I could trust him. I thought, well, if he wanted to just get into my knickers, he would have tried a long time ago. And besides, I told my friends (and my younger brother you has looked out for me since we were pre-schoolers) I was going to get some fresh air with him, I'd wait for them outside as it was only under an hour until closing.
Then the inevitable happened.
All I could think about after was "No one will believe me". My dress wasn't particularly short (knee-length) or low-cut that night. I was tipsy but I've been in more drunken states since. I "knew" him. Rapists are strangers aren't they? They are violent.
Not in my case.
I didn't get a single mark on my body. I didn't get a black eye. What I did get was my virginity robbed. Yes, I may well have been a dancing, drinking 19-year-old but I still wanted to wait for someone special. What I did get was what little self-confidence I had knocked. I wasn't just robbed of my virginity but of something I held dear, for me at that time, it was a gift I wanted to give to, not necessarily my future husband, but someone I at least cared about.
I remember going to my GP, asking for the morning after pill. I was already on contraception and had been since I was 14 due to heavy periods but when I tried telling her (yes, a female) that I had been raped, I felt broken by her saying "Well if you are sure you didn't consent..." I blurred the rest of the appointment out and took my prescription to the chemist.
For a while I turned into someone even I didn't recognise. I guess I thought "Well he has taken that away, what's the point in waiting now? No one will want me." because that is what I believed. You know, having been brought up as a Christian and all. I was a youth leader for a church youth group and subsequently asked to leave. After all, I brought it on myself, didn't I?
Then I met my husband.
The first night I met him, my life changed. We stayed up talking to each other from 4pm in the afternoon until 8am the following morning. We just talked and talked and talked. That night I told him what had happened to me. He told me about the abuse he had experienced growing up. And we talked some more.
Our first date only happened after he had stood me up several times but when it did happen, I saw him. That man, not that he deserves to be called a man. And my now husband knew. In his gut he knew from my subconscious reaction that I had seen someone or something I didn't like. And he asked me "Where is he?" I knew in that moment that if I was to tell him, actually he would most likely get in a lot of trouble. And besides, he didn't know me then. It wasn't his fight. And in that moment, I knew this person had taken enough of me. He wasn't about to ruin my future.
So I let go.
Later that year there was another occasion we went to, where he was there, in the VIP crowd as we were. The husband again knew yet didn't know who it was so said he wanted to leave. And that's when I told him. When I told my husband that this person had already taken enough from me, let's just move to a different area and stay, enjoy ourselves still.
Similar incidents happened over the course of our first couple of years as a couple and I know D found it hard. He wanted to protect me from hurt but for me, it was about proving myself, moving on.
And it is my experience that makes me so cross about the articles I see in the media recently. Maybe they have always been there but instead of telling women they shouldn't drink too much, shouldn't walk home alone, should always leave money for a registered taxi home (all advice I agree with by the way) why don't we concentrate on telling boys and men that they can't always get their own way? They can't just rape women? Yes, women do have a responsibility for their own safety, I thought I was safe. But why is the focus on them all the time? After all, most survivors (or victims) know their attackers.