“Three times”

** Trigger Warning: Rape, mention of suicide, eating disorders, self harm and suicide attempts**

I have been raped or sexually assaulted three times in my life. The first was when I was about eight; the second was many years later, by a man I had met the same night, while I was backpacking; and the third was by a friend. None of these incidents fit into overarching narratives of rape as perpetrated by strangers in dark alleyways at night, which has frequently put me in denial over what happened. I didn’t come to terms with the fact that the first time had happened until I was twenty-two, and then the other two both occurred in the twelve months following that realisation. I’m still unsure as to whether there was something about me during that year – a heightened vulnerability, perhaps – that had some kind of causal relation to the fact that I was assaulted twice, or whether it was just a coincidence.

 

For as long as I can remember I have had terrible problems with anxiety and depression. More specifically, I have dealt with a set of eating disorders that nearly killed me, self-harm, suicide attempts, varying levels of gender dysphoria, drug abuse, a strong distrust of men and sometimes of people in general, an inability to articulate my sexual desires, and constant, constant, exhausting body hatred. I very often wonder whether I would have had these problems anyway, or whether they’re down to having been raped.

 

A very few people know that I was raped as a child. Whether or not people know has nothing to do with how close we are; a few of my friends know, but most of them don’t. I haven’t told anyone linked in any way to my family because I don’t ever want them to find out. I told a couple of my sexual partners but the results were pretty negative: most brushed it off and quickly distanced themselves from me, one forgot(!), and one got angry with me for telling him because we had broken up not long before and he thought I was trying to emotionally manipulate him. Nobody knows about the other two times, probably not even the perpetrators. Because that’s the kind of culture we live in – when consent is constructed as so blurry and unimportant an issue that perpetrators can live in blissful ignorance of their actions.

 

I struggle with both ‘survivor’ and ‘victim’ as ways to describe myself. I feel like ‘survivor’ implies some level of strength, and often I just don’t feel strong or necessarily want to appear strong. ‘Victim’ isn’t accurate, either, because I don’t live in a permanent state of victimhood. I am active in intersectional feminist campaigns that aim to end victim-blaming, to fight rape culture, and to educate others about consent, all of which empowers me to overcome my victimhood. But I still don’t feel like a survivor and I’m not sure I ever will.

 

All of this is why I cannot cope with rape apologists or people who tell rape jokes or trivialise sexual violence, and why I’ve begun to take a zero-tolerance policy to such people in my life. I really hope that one day I’ll feel able to talk about it all without worrying about the reaction of individuals or of society as a whole. In the mean time, I’ll keep fighting.


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