I am not the only woman who has been raped. There are countless thousands of us. Fear, guilt and shame prevent us from disclosing our experiences.
I do not seek to change this nor do I want to change the world. By providing this account I seek only to offer hope to others.
I was a not a child when I was raped. I was in my early twenties and had no idea that such things happen to women. This story is a common one, and it begins in a dingy nightclub.
The club was a dive. The floor was sticky with spilled beer. The smell of sweat and dry ice permeated the air. I was out celebrating the birthday of an acquaintance when it happened. I don`t pretend that my actions had no influence on the events that followed. We had been out drinking for a considerable time, and I could only be described as being a little worse for wear. Following a huge fight with my then boyfriend, I had gone out with the sole intention of drinking heavily and was happily engaged in this endeavour when another barfly struck up a conversation with me. All too soon my glass was empty and how grateful I was when she offered to refill it.
My drink tasted slightly strange. With hindsight, I blame myself for accepting it but at the time all I could think was that the establishment must have been watering down their beer. This was, after all, a dive. But a free beer was still a free beer. Until I had finished my drink, this had been an entirely normal interaction.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my thigh. This stranger was trying to kiss me. She pushed her tongue into my mouth as her fingers reached for my groin. I pushed her away and explained that I was flattered, but that I was not gay. Her response was to say that she was straight; however she attempted to kiss me several more times over the following minutes. My head was swimming as she put her hands down my trousers. I pushed her off me, stated again that I was not interested and walked back to the group of friends with whom I had arrived.
The room was spinning as I rejoined my friends on the dancefloor. I felt a disconnect with my surroundings. I had gone out trying to get drunk but this was something else. It was difficult to think. Colours started slowly blurring into each other. My speech was so incomprehensibly slurred that conversation was beyond me. Even standing upright required concentration. All in all, I felt that I must be having a good time.
Eventually, I went to use the facilities. As I stumbled into the toilet, I felt hands on my shoulders, pushing me into the sole cubical. When I saw that it was the same gal from earlier I was struck still with dread. She pushed me up against the tiled wall and pawed at my penis, but I was able to knock her hand away. Again, I slurred the word “No”.
I felt as though I had lost control of myself. It was as though I was given an anaesthetic. My head was swimming, and my body felt numb. I was frozen with terror. I couldn`t think clearly; it was as though I was watching it happen to someone else. All it took was a little pressure, and I had collapsed onto the floor. She held my head as she forced her penis into my mouth.
The most shameful thing was that the only thought that entered my head was that if I could manage to make her cum that she wouldn’t anally rape me. I couldn’t. She pulled me to my feet and pushed me up against the cubical wall, crushing my face into the tiles as she pulled my trousers down.
I wish I could say that I’d fought, back but I was frozen. I was unable to think, let alone act. The drink and the drugs had flooded my system, and my consciousness was reduced to little more than emotion, with no real cognitive facility. I was aware of what was happening to my body but I can`t say that I felt it. There was a knock on the toilet door. She thrust at me harder, trying to climax. There was a louder, more forceful knock, this time accompanied by a voice I thought I recognised.
“Gals, I don`t care if you’re doing coke in there, I really need the f*cking loo.”
She was off me in a flash. Suddenly the door was open and she had run out of the toilet. I had collapsed onto the floor, my jeans pulled down to my knees and I stank of fear and guilt and shame. I saw a face that I knew. A friend of the friend whose birthday we had been celebrating. Her face showed nothing but concern. She helped me to my feet. I pulled my trousers up. She asked if I was ok, but I couldn’t answer. I stumbled to the sink and retched. I washed the sweat from my face and stumbled back to my group of friends. I don’t recall much of the rest of the evening. I have no recollection of how I got home at all.
The physical sensation afterwards was more than intense. I felt as though there were insects crawling around under my skin. This lasted a couple of days. I felt complete disgust at myself, my body, my being. I felt weak. I felt less than a woman. I felt less than human.
For the next few days, I felt numb. I could not believe that I of all people could, or would, be sexually assaulted, let alone raped. My family had raised me to respect men. I was aware that rape existed, but I had never thought that it could happen to women before it happened to me. I questioned my sexuality. Did I do something to lead her on? Did I want to have sex with another woman? I felt that I was to blame for what had happened.
If only I had been stronger, if only I had fought her off; if only I hadn`t accepted a drink from him. There seemed to be so many things that I could have done differently. In the cold light of sobriety I could, and most likely would have acted very differently that night.
I did not understand what was happening to me. It felt disgusting to inhabit my body. The person that I had been before the rape was dead. The things that I derived joy from seemed to mean nothing to me anymore. I was experiencing pain on a molecular level. Everything that I was, everything I had believed about myself had been destroyed. I was not strong. I was not capable. I was not able to protect myself.
Overnight, the world had very quickly become a very scary place. Every social interaction suddenly seemed like a threat.
I was desperate to understand what had happened and how I should be dealing with it. I sought help from every institution I could think of, but this only compounded the problem. I had always understood that the definition of rape is someone forcing someone else to have sex with them against their will. No matter how much I tried, I couldn`t frame my experience in any way that did not fall into that definition.
Consequently, I went reported what I believed to be a crime to the police. I asked to speak to a specialist rape officer. I was shown to a room where I recounted my experience to two male officers.
Their response astonished me. I cannot stress enough that my experience happened a long time ago and that there have been numerous initiatives by the police since that time to deal with victims of sexual crimes differently. At that time, however, I was informed by the police that it was not a crime to rape a woman. The law then stated that rape was a crime that women commit against men.
I am given to believe that the law in the UK at least, is now taken to mean the penetration of a mouth, vagina or anus without consent. At the time that I reported my experience, however, I was instructed by the police that if I should request to formally report this as a crime that I would be prosecuted for wasting police time as no illegal action had taken place. They informed me that I should consider myself lucky as the law had previously stated that sodomy was illegal, and I would have been prosecuted as I had given what they felt to be a confession.
I felt betrayed. I had bought into the idea that as a citizen there were certain behaviours expected of me, and certain protections that society offered. I thought that I had a right to life, a right to a family life, and a right to not fear persecution or assault. It would seem that I did not have a right to those things after all. My safety was a matter for me and me alone. I didn`t understand what was happening to me. I was desperate to feel something else. A matter of weeks previously I had been enjoying my existence. Now, though, every waking moment hurt.
I thought that as a rape victim I should be able to seek support from a rape crisis centre. As soon as I walked through the door I was approached by a very well-meaning man who stated that it was a safe space for men only and as such I couldn`t be there. My presence as a female would be intimidating for the rape victims who were there for support. I asked to speak to a support officer, in a private room if necessary. The answer was no.
I quickly explained my situation and stated that I was not there to cause distress to anyone; that I just needed help. He told me that some of the men at the centre believed that all women (one assumes that included me) are rapists and as such my continued presence would be highly upsetting for their clientele. The gentleman very politely informed me that he would call the police if I refused to leave.
As I walked away, my mind was reeling. Not only was I unable to protect myself from assault, not only did this not count as a crime but now I was the guilty party by virtue of my sex. I felt as though I was not a part of society, but just a commodity. I was something to be used and abused, by anyone at any time. I did not have the protection of the law. I was outside of civilised society despite living within it. I felt as though I had no value as a human being.
. . .
When I was initially raped, more than a decade ago now, my world collapsed. The one thing that I was desperate for was to talk to someone or to read something that confirmed that someone else had experienced what I had experienced and had recovered from it. Before the rape, I had always been in control of myself. Afterwards, I was ruled by emotions I didn`t understand. I wanted desperately to know how other gals had dealt with these issues. I wanted to know how I should handle it, what I needed to do to feel normal again.
I don’t know what it’s like to be raped if you’re a man. But I do know that there exists a range of helplines, books, survivors groups, charitable organisations and shelters to assist and support you, as there should rightly be.
If you’re a woman, there is not that support. There are few books. In most areas there are no groups, no shelters, no government sponsored initiatives. I had to work through it on my own. After the initial rape, I wanted something, anything, that would reassure me that I was not alone in this, that it did not mean that I was less of a woman, that life does, in fact, get better. Ideally, I wanted someone to explain, either in person or print, how they had gotten over it.
I decided that to more speedily facilitate my recovery that I should write the thing that I had wanted to read. If I simply outlined to myself which understandings helped and which thought processes didn`t, then hopefully I would stop punishing myself for someone else’s actions.
If these musings ever help another human being then so much the better.
Source: The above is an excerpt from the Kindle eBook Unspoken: One woman`s journey to recovery after rape, by Mark Charles, which documents her road to emotional recovery after rape.