I Said “No” But Did I Deserve It? The Confused Mess Of Emotions That Stands Between Wanting To Speak Out & Wanting To Stay Silent.
The Harvey Weinstein sexual allegations and subsequent #metoo campaign have had me thinking a lot the past week about why it is that women (and men for that matter) feel so afraid to come forward with their stories of sexual abuse and misconduct.
I am guilty of this and have always been somewhat hesitant to use the word ‘abuse’ around my own experiences. However, whenever anyone talks about any form of sexual abuse, be it someone I know personally or in the media, I think back to one particular incident that happened to me when I was 22 years old.
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I am actually very fortunate in that I lost my virginity to someone I loved and who loved me back. I was 18 and with him for a total of approximately 4 years. I feel very lucky in this way. After my dad passed away however, this relationship suffered somewhat and 18 months later I left him, unable to emotionally cope with being an 'adult'. I went through a phase in life not long after this where I simply tried to escape from reality. I stayed away from my family and avoided connections that brought me back to reality. I made some new friends who knew little about my past, I quit the degree I was studying at the time, I worked in hospitality and was introduced to the world of drinking and eventually, being single. With this came casual sex - usually alcohol fuelled. I typically attracted the ‘wrong’ type and thrived off being desired. I had never experienced this temporary feeling of sexual empowerment before and based my entire worth around it, whilst running from much deeper demons inside. It was the superficial Band-Aid if you will – one which only perpetuated the real issues at hand further.
It must have been very challenging to be an old friend or family member through this time in my life. I am not proud of these days, but I also need to accept them for what they were – why I behaved as I did, what they taught me about myself and how I grew from them.
One incident brought this phase in my life to a crashing and crushing holt.
Walking home from the local pub one night, I heard my name called out and turned around to find one of the locals who I had previously been intimate with following me. He preyed on women like me and didn’t have much of a soul - he was certainly one of the men I had regretted being with in the past. I told him to go away and that I was going home, however when he caught up to me he pulled me into the parkland we were walking alongside and, without going into too much detail, he forced himself on me. I don’t recall all the finer details, perhaps because I was a little drunk at the time and perhaps because I have blocked it out, but what I do know is that as horrible as I felt afterwards, I also felt that I must’ve deserved it because I had been with him before. I remember realising the next day that through his rough actions, my favourite watch from my ex had come off. A further 'sign' that I deserved it to happen.
The story deepens.
Shortly after he’d had his way with me, we were walking back to the road to a bus full of his mates, most of whom I knew, who were calling out and telling us to jump in and that they’d drop me back home. Numbly I obliged. However, instead of ending up back home, I ended up at one of their homes. It was here that I had another man, a well-known football coach visiting the area at the time, also force themselves on me. The truth is that I eventually just gave in to his requests. He later told me he was married with young children and they were all staying nearby on a family holiday. He just spoke to me like nothing had happened.
Everything was fine.
My most vivid memory after all of this is sitting in a corner of the house as the sun was coming up - shaking uncontrollably and feeling completely violated and embarrassed. All the boys knew I had been with two men in one night and respect was lost.
To the two ‘men’, it was simply bragging rights. I, on the other hand, was humiliated and ashamed. I just wanted to crawl into a hole.
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I lived in a small town at the time and it didn’t take long for word to spread amongst my social circle and a consequent reputation as being "easy” began to evolve. Consequently, I sunk into a deep depression and contemplated taking my own life. I didn’t want to discuss any of it with anyone and I allowed the reputation to take hold. I never told anyone the full details. I have never talked about it with my family. I never shared the trauma of having to go and get tested for STDs. I just allowed myself to believe that it was my doing. I deserved it.
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I don’t share this story for sympathy. People have been through far worse. I share it because it raises the repeated question of “why?”
Why do women in situations like this feel so afraid to speak up?
I’ve been thinking about my own answer to this question and these are my responses:
Ø I still question whether it was my fault. Was I too drunk? Did I ask for it? Was I not forceful enough when I said “no!”
Ø I spent YEARS after this incident feeling embarrassed and ashamed. The local guy involved? Everyone knew he slept around and people generally accepted him for it. He wasn’t respected, but there was such a boy’s club and culture that existed and almost encouraged his behaviour. I, on the other hand, became juicy gossip and “used goods”, as I once heard myself referred to as.
Ø I was afraid of the repercussions. I didn’t want to ruffle feathers.
Ø I didn’t think (and still wonder if) anyone would believe me.
Ø Consequently, I felt (and still do to an extent) that I can’t say I was raped.
I suppose I have spent the past 14 years second guessing myself and what happened. My thoughts and emotions are still blurred and confused.
Confused by my own insecurities and fears.
Confused by the media.
Confused by there not being a definitive ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ message about consensual sex.
Regardless of this confusion and whether you want to label it as rape, sexual abuse, misconduct, or not... there are some things I am no longer questioning:
Ø I am NOT the one who should have come out of that situation feeling ashamed and embarrassed.
Ø I am NOT confused about the long-term damage it did to my mental and emotional health.
Ø I did NOT deserve it.
Ø It does NOT make me a lesser human being.
Ø I am NOT the one to blame.
To this day I have not wanted to share this story, however, the #metoo campaign is encouraging women to be strong and make a stand, so I feel I have a responsibility to say, “Hey, me too!”
My story may be very different to the victims of Harvey Weinstein, but the emotions of inadequacy, confusion, embarrassment, fear…they were and are for me also. It is always sad and makes me ashamed that it takes atrocious behaviour to empower women to stand strong and rally together, however if some good can come from it that stops such behaviour being accepted, then it’s worth speaking out.
I simply write this as a small contribution to the #metoo campaign and with the hope that it helps make for some positive change.