Posts Tagged: rape

Boats that Pass in the Day

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Today in the park I saw the man who raped me.

He was the first man who had sex with me. I don’t phrase it as the first man I had sex with because that makes me sound like I was an active participant and I wasn’t really. And on a warm September day more than 10 years after he raped me, he walked past me. He was with his dad – yep, weird to remember that he has a family and they knew him as a tiny child and his history extends so far beyond how I know him – and I was on my own and there he was. Just…there. He’s not even supposed to be in this country.

I don’t know if he saw me. We walked past each other as if we didn’t know each other, like ships that pass in the night. Or in this case, like boats that pass in the day. But we did know each other. We definitely did.

I’ve been listening to The Archers as they went through Helen and Rob’s trial dealing with domestic abuse. Despite the fact that it’s Helen on trial for the attempted murder of her husband Rob, during the court proceedings it comes out that he raped her on a regular basis. She talks about how she switched off and became numb in the end and something struck a chord. I know that feeling.

I remember being raped like an out of body experience. I don’t remember it happening to me – it’s more like I was hovering above watching as it happened. I remember the conversation and the instructions he gave but I don’t remember….

I remember it not hurting and being confused that it didn’t hurt because the first time is supposed to hurt isn’t it? Why didn’t it hurt? But I don’t remember how it actually felt.

I remember him commanding me to tell him I love him even though I didn’t.

I remember crying after and not knowing why.

I remember but I don’t remember.

He looks exactly the same. I don’t think I do. I don’t feel the same – I can’t possibly look it. I’ve grown outward and upward and inward and in all the directions a person can grow. I have expanded to fit myself in ways that I never thought I would.

Three thoughts went through my head as we walked past each other.

1 – No. That’s him. Why is he here?

2 – Thank God he didn’t see me.

3 – Nothing. I feel nothing.

And after the initial shock it was strangely liberating to know that 10.5 years on, walking past him I felt nothing.

And yet I know on a different day I might have felt something.

On neither of these days would I be able to talk to him. To look at him properly, hear his voice; speak to him without fury and pain and questions that I don’t believe he’d ever answer. I wouldn’t want to meet his eye. I wouldn’t want to try because I don’t believe he’d ever see that what he did was wrong. He remembers it differently. His story will never be, “I raped that 17 year old girl”.

And that’s such a big part of the problem.

One of the other things The Archers dealt with was the shame. The shame of admitting it happened. The thought of talking to my family about it fills me with terror and dread and an intense desire to hide or run away because I don’t want them to carry that knowledge around. I don’t want their picture of me to be this picture of me. It’s not shame for me but the thought of giving them that pain…I couldn’t look at them. They don’t need to be hurt like that. They can’t un-know it once they know.

I didn’t – couldn’t – tell anyone for 8 years because I didn’t acknowledge it myself. And just like Helen in The Archers, I knew it wasn’t right. I didn’t say anything to anyone about it. If I talked about losing my virginity I lied. I said it was when I was 18 over Christmas with the next guy I dated.

I suppose what I want to say is this:

It’s not ok. It is horrible and awful and violating. It’s not ok that it happened to me or to you or to anyone you know.

It’s not ok that I didn’t really know what it was. That I didn’t report it. That I didn’t even know what had happened to report. It’s not ok that when rape is shown on TV or in films it’s nearly always violent and angry and down a back alley. It’s not sneaky and manipulative and on your boyfriend’s bedroom floor. How can we recognise it in reality if we don’t know the most common forms it can take?

It’s not ok that there are men manipulating, taking and violating women. It’s not ok that people like Brock Turner aren’t being punished severely for this because they can swim really well guys so yeah it doesn’t matter how they treat women because whatever it’s just a woman right? Those people are making the world less safe for everyone. They’re doing a disservice to all the men who respectfully don’t go around raping women and then denying responsibility for it after the fact. They’re sullying your reputation and what it means to be a man. And what they’re doing to women is much, much worse.

But I’m ok.

And it’s ok that it took me a long time to acknowledge it.

It’s ok that I didn’t know how to talk about it, that I felt nothing for 8 years because I didn’t allow myself to think about it for that long.

It’s ok that I cry now when someone talks seriously about rape, fictionally, a book, an article, on the radio, in reality…anywhere really.

It’s ok that I find it hard to say that I was raped, that what happened to me was rape, that the man I saw in the park is the rapist who raped me. My mouth sort of gets stuck around the words and they stop in my throat and they choke me a bit but I feel like I have to force them out. It’s hard to say it out loud.

It’s ok that I feel a bit weird when someone talks about the statistics around rape and women because I slot myself into them and I don’t like it but I know I’m there. And there are so many of us. We are an ocean of faces. And those are just the ones on the surface – the ones you can see.

It’s ok that I felt nothing when I walked past him. It’s ok that on a different day I might have felt everything. Because I did my best and I’m always doing my best to deal with it. I’m lucky it doesn’t haunt me every day of my life. But it sneaks up on me and surprises me with its impact sometimes.

I went and sat on the grass in the sun for 45 minutes before I went back to work. Everything carried on as normal around me.

This boat is still afloat, sailing strong and beautiful. Today I am OK.

 

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– Rikki Rogers

 

What I’d Really Like To Reply To A Rape Joke

The ever-important context bit  – I’m allergic to alcohol. It comes up a lot as a conversation topic because we live in a culture where drinking is a huge part of socialising and people get weird when you tell them you really won’t be having even one drink. It comes up a lot on dates because we rely on alcohol to loosen us up and get through that initial god-help-me-this-is-so-fricking-awkward-why-won’t-it-end stage. I went on a first date with a guy and the not drinking thing came up.

The next day I got these messages, apropos of nothing. We weren’t chatting about my socially unacceptable allergy, just out of the blue this arrived:

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For those of you wondering what comes after what the size of my iPhone screen allows in one shot, that last message reads:

Now slow down with all this rape talk. Its putting me off a bit….It’s totally not rape if you agree to drink it.

Unsurprisingly we haven’t been on a second date.

(Side note: At this point I ask you to excuse my misspelling of rohypnol. It’s not a word the iPhone likes, whichever way you spell it and I wasn’t really focused on that element of the conversation. That being said, grammar and spelling are always important.)

So this was December 23rd and I’ve been thinking about it since then. Wondering whether what I said was enough, if I should further explain why I feel so strongly about the situation. I’ve gone over and over it, wondering if I’m making too much of a stupid comment, doubting my gut instincts and then wondering why I’m tarring myself with the “hysterical woman” brush I hate so much. So before I change my mind, I’d like to speak it.

If I were brave enough, if I thought it would do any good, if I thought it would change anything, this is what I’d like to say:

Hey,

I wanted to talk to you about the last time we chatted. I thought about doing it at the time, but I didn’t think I’d say the right things and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to say anything at all or if I would be wasting my time.

I don’t know why you thought it was OK to make a rape joke. We even had a conversation on our date about how a guy had made rape jokes on a previous first date I’d been on and how unacceptable I found it and how it was weird and a turn off for me. So that’s why I thought you just didn’t want to see me again and said “if you didn’t want to see me again you could have just said so.” Because I couldn’t think of a reason why you would decide that was a good line of conversation, why you would think that after making those jokes, I’d want to see you again.

Aside from that, there’s the much more important fact that you don’t really know me. Let’s be clear – I don’t have a blanket ban on joke topics. Adrienne Truscott had a whole hour of jokes about rape, naked, and did it so brilliantly, making such a blatantly necessary point that she won an award for it.

But you met me once. You don’t know me. You don’t know what might have happened to me and yes that’s true of everything before you know someone and you could put your foot in it with anything…but rape? Really? I made it pretty clear that I wasn’t finding it funny but you kept going with it anyway. And maybe I’m reading too much into things, but why choose to ask me if I’m allergic to rohypnol – a drug pretty much entirely known for its use for rape? Why not any of the other hundreds of drugs you could have chosen that don’t have rape connotations?

I don’t think anything is off limits to joke about on a stage providing it is done to make a point, with at least some semblance of an original take and in the right way. I also think this no limits thing applies to long-standing couples or old friends who know each other well enough to understand what issues really mean to each other. Context is everything right? But you continuing to make light of the idea of raping me after I’d clearly expressed discomfort…? Somewhat aptly, forcing the joke on me anyway? To me that is horrible and insensitive at best.

That’s really not a great best.

You seemed kind of OK when we met and maybe it was just a bad judgment call on your part. But even when you apologised you just said you were “sorry for making me feel uncomfortable”…but you didn’t say you were sorry for making jokes about raping me. Like the problem is me being upset, not you making the joke. Just another woman overreacting to a harmless joke about rape right?

No. Not right. I’m not overreacting and it isn’t harmless. Because it’s indicative of a wider attitude, that these things are totally fine to casually joke about in any context. And to me at least, it’s indicative of what might be at your core. Do you also make racist jokes? How about the occasional homophobic pop? I’m speculating of course, but suddenly these things that I loathe, these ideas that stand against equality, that silence people or belittle them or their experiences, their very real, hateful and violating experiences…they’re brought into the light and mocked and I have to tell you, they’re not funny. Rape is not funny. And your apology isn’t good enough.

What you should be apologising for is the fact that you persisted with a line of conversation that went beyond disrespectful and became creepy, bordering on threatening. What you should be apologising for is your attitude to something that is a horrible ordeal, that more women (and occasionally men) face than should ever have to. Oh, what’s that? It was “obviously a joke”?

Of course! Because the way to make me laugh is to talk about a horrific violation that you could commit if only I’d agree to take rohypnol. You’re right. That is just *hilarious*.

Someone pointed out to me that you clearly have no actual intention to rape me. I know that. I’m not an idiot. It was a bad joke in poor taste. But we let casual racism slide and incrementally, without us noticing, it becomes racism. We let casual sexism slide and slowly, without us noticing, it is sexism. We let jokes about rape slide and I dread to think what they actually become.

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There were 22,116 recorded rapes in England and Wales from June 2013 – June 2014. This is 29% higher than the year before, despite a general fall in crime by approximately 16%. This could well be down to people feeling more able to come forward and report that they’ve been a victim of rape, but that’s still a shocking statistic. And those are just the ones that are reported. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29642455)

In 2005 the U.S. Department of Justice conducted a study called the National Crime Victimization Study. The results showed that approximately 2/3 of victims / survivors (however you want to think of it) of rape knew the rapist.

My worry is that maybe you’re the kind of person who one day won’t take no for an answer, who’ll think that some women are asking for it, who victim blames and who thinks casually misogynistic thoughts and secretly (or not so secretly) believes those thoughts to be true. My concern is that if we were together you’d expect me to put out when you want it even if I don’t, you’d ignore it when I’m uncomfortable because it suits you. You’d apologise for how I feel, not what you’ve said or done. You won’t open your mind and reevaluate your opinions or why you have them. You won’t question the effect society and ingrained attitudes to women have on you. You won’t ever fully respect me or how I might feel about something.

You said something on our date that made that ringing alarm bell thing happen for me. You said that women are physically built less funny than men. I don’t think that’s true because boobs are clearly hilarious and also because it’s a ridiculous thing to say as a generalisation. Ultimately there are lots of reasons why you might try to veil your “women aren’t as funny as men” opinions when faced with a feminist woman who does comedy. But I guess that conversation should have tipped me off. In at least one societally reinforced area, you think women are less able than men. In your eyes that must make us less than men. And that means you won’t respect us as much as you should. You’ll be surprised when we succeed but not pleasantly. You’ll enjoy it less – not more – because it proves you wrong.

I’ve done that thing that I do where I’ve over analysed something someone has done. I know that. But my gut instincts are pretty good about people and they’re telling me I’m onto something here. I can’t ignore that. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could comfortably see you again. Because you made a rape joke at my expense. Because you showed something true about yourself when you thought it was safe. Because you made it not safe for me.

So for future reference: rape jokes? Not OK. Apologies? Need sincerity. And women? Women are your equals and deserve your respect. It shouldn’t have to be said. It shouldn’t be allowed to slip under the radar and it hasn’t slipped under mine. You’re 35. You have no excuse. Grow up and start treating us better.

Abi

How I lost My Virginity

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There was once a girl…let’s call her Abi.

Abi was 17 years old and thought she was pretty cool. You see she had this boyfriend and he was a bit older than her. Not *loads* older. Just a few years. She was 17 and he was 21. That’s not that much is it? OK, he was nearly 22. So the best part of 5 years between them. That’s still not that much is it?

Spoiler alert: It is.

But we’ll talk about that more later.

Abi was a little bit (a lot) infatuated with this guy. He was older and weird and a bit messed up and mysterious and wrote poetry and played the guitar (of course he played the guitar. At 17 if he doesn’t play the guitar, he’s basically not human).  She was also kind of afraid of him because he was older and weird and a bit messed up and mysterious. The poetry and the guitar weren’t scary.  The mix was heady and intoxicating. He was wild and she could tame him. Heathcliff and Cathy but in real life and without knowing each other as children or living together.  It’s like the vampire fantasy. The whole thing hinges on there being this creature, like human but not human, of immense power, physical and mental strength. The vampire is dangerous and could easily kill you. Why is that sexy? Because it chooses not to kill you. It’s sexy because however strong it is, the vampire is weak for you. And that’s just gorgeous isn’t it? We all want to be someone’s weakness. The exception to their rules.

So Abi’s there, aged 17 dating this guy who’s 21 and he’s obviously way more experienced than her because she’s a naïve girl from North London who has led a fairly sheltered life mostly consisting of school, summer camp and home. She’s going to go inter-railing through Europe that summer with her best friend and that’s going to make her grow up a bit but that hasn’t happened yet and it’s that pre-summer summer we get in England where it’s sticky and hot and the days smell sweet and it’s that hazy heat, the kind that lingers, heavy in the air and the light makes the green of the grass and the blue of the sky technicolor but conversely when you remember it, it’s like the sun is always just about to set and everything is surrounded by a golden hue.

They’ve been dating since February / March or so. It’s vague because it has been clandestine which has only made it more exciting. She knows her parents would not approve. It’s not been a long time, 3-4 months, but it has been very intense. He’s going away and they’re fooling around, as they do, and he wants her to tell him she loves him. It gets him off. She does, she says “I love you” and then says his name and a small voice in the back of her mind (one that is possibly projected with the benefit of hindsight? Memory is fallible of course) tells her that she feels a little used when he does this, that she’d like it to be more organic and less demanded and an even smaller voice is not 100% sure she means it.  For all the excitement and intensity, she’s not totally sure she trusts him.  She has not had sex with him yet. She has not had sex with anyone yet and she’s not sure she’s ready for it so she’s held off. He’s asked, repeatedly, and each time she has refused.

And so it is June. This is the last time she will see him before he goes away for three weeks but it’s actually not such a bad thing because she has exams and he’s the biggest distraction for her. So they’re fooling around, as they do, and they’ve done the things that lead up to sex, hands and mouths, eyes looking up and breath catching and it’s all been fine. So they’re naked and rubbing and it’s not quite sex but then she feels something that is not his finger just start to slip into her and she jumps back and says “NO.”

And everything is still for a moment as he watches her. He’s impassive and still hard and she’s wary. And he tells her that it’s done. He says

“You know, you basically just had sex.”

Basically?

“Erm…what?”

“We might as well do it now. Because technically you’re not a virgin any more.”

What is he talking about?

“But…you didn’t even…it didn’t hurt or anything, it was a second and I stopped you so…”

“It still counts.”

“How? It was barely…”

Can’t find the words. Still too young to articulate things properly.  He sighs. Exasperated?

“Sex is when a cock goes into a vagina and that’s what happened. I went inside you. So if it’s even for a second, it’s still sex, it counts.”

He’s so matter of fact.

“But how? It didn’t even feel like anything? How is that…that can’t be right?”

Is it right? Is that it? Did I lose my virginity without even noticing? Is that how that just happened? That cannot be right. I’ve had sex education, I know it must be more than that.

“No, it is right. Legally we just had sex.”

Legally? He does seem sure.  And he has had sex and I haven’t and…what if he’s right? He is older than me. He must know what he’s talking about.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course.”

“I’m not.”

“Look, you’ve already done it. What’s not to be sure about now? We might as well carry on and do it properly.”

He must be right. He’s very convincing. I don’t know how to say no to this. He’s made such a strong case, and if I’m already not…

“OK.”

He moves immediately to action, doesn’t ask me if I’m certain or if I’m ok. He positions me, telling me he knows what he’s doing and that it shouldn’t hurt this way as long as I do what he tells me. I don’t say much because there’s a lump in my throat and I’m afraid and I don’t know what I’m doing and it feels wrong but it’s happening now and I don’t know how to stop it. I’m sad because I lost my virginity without even realising it and I wanted it to be special and feel right and this doesn’t but it’s too late now because he’s put on a condom and he’s pushed into me and onto me and he’s right, it doesn’t hurt but I don’t like it either. It’s an alien sensation. Or at least I remember thinking it is. It must have been. I don’t really remember what it felt like, just that I was surprised it didn’t hurt and I thought it felt strange. I can see the picture of us so clearly, imagining the bird’s eye view. I’m on my back on his floor, legs spread wide and he’s on top of me pushing into me over and over.  He tells me to tell him that I love him. I say it. But I know this time that I don’t mean it.

And as he finishes I start to cry. It’s the only time I’ve ever cried after sex.

We didn’t sleep together again after that. I didn’t tell anyone it had happened. I didn’t talk about it. I think I was ashamed but I couldn’t identify it. He went away a couple of days later and we broke up the week after he returned. The next person I had sex with was 6 months later and despite my previous experience, neither of us really knew what we were doing. I was his first and as far as he knew, he was mine. I told myself that this was my real first time, because it hurt and that made it real.  It was a discovery together and a bit fumbly and awkward and it hurt and I didn’t cry after and that’s how it was supposed to be so that would be my first time.

But it wasn’t.

I didn’t talk about it for 6 years. Ironically when I did finally tell someone it was a boyfriend who treated me very badly and spent an entire year making me feel like shit. Weird isn’t it? I wonder if my subconscious was trying to draw a link between the terrible romantic decisions I was making. Even he was shocked. It made me shocked. I hadn’t thought about it. I hadn’t thought about the implications of it. He used the word rape. I’ve not told many people about it since I told him.

I don’t think I was raped. I don’t think of myself as a victim. This isn’t a sob story. I don’t have issues with sex now. I was heavily pressured into doing something I didn’t want to do, something I very much wasn’t ready for. You may have gathered by now that “Abi” is me. I mean, I didn’t do a lot to hide it, I GAVE THE GIRL IN THE STORY MY NAME FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, HOW MANY MORE CLUES DO YOU NEED? Also the title of this post is How I Lost My Virginity so really, what did you expect? Come on. Keep up guys.

So why, 9 years on have I decided to write about it? Let’s talk about that age gap.

4-5 years between two people is loads when one of you is under 20. At 17 you’re still at school. I met a 17 year old this year who I became quite fond of in a “let’s adopt a little sister” kind of way. She was up at the Edinburgh fringe for a while and I felt somewhat responsible for her well-being. This wasn’t something she asked of me or expected of me, but something I felt nonetheless. Being the oldest of 3 siblings by quite a few years, it is sometimes difficult to escape that nagging feeling that I am responsible for those around me, especially if they’re younger than I am.

This lovely 17 year old girl told me about an experience she had with a much older man the year before. I was shocked by it. Because she’s 17 now which meant she was 16 then and that is really young. When you’re 17 you don’t think it is, but there is such a huge difference between someone who is 22 and someone who is 17.  And I was looking at her and I was shocked and sad and suddenly I was 17 again and I understood. I understood it all as I had not understood it then and it made me so very sad for me and for her and for all the young girls who are taken advantage of by significantly older men who should not even be talking to them, let alone trying to sleep with them.

I don’t think the girl knew at the time that it was actually a bit strange for a man in his late twenties to be paying attention to her in this way. Maybe she did and it didn’t bother her, but the inference was that now she realises it was a bit weird and then she didn’t. Because it’s slightly overwhelming in a star-struck kind of way, being young and impressionable and having someone who wants to make an impression. Being the recipient of that attention feels good. And you forget about what the intentions behind it might be.

So I suppose the reason I’m writing about this now is that I would never let anything like that happen to me now. I’m outspoken and strong and confident and I know my own mind these days. I was about to have sex with someone recently (oh calm down, I’m 26 years old) and he asked if we needed to use a condom. I told him that although I do use a form of contraceptive (contraception? What’s the difference between the two? Anyone?) that yes, we do need to use a condom for all the STD’s I don’t want to get. And yet, he tried without a condom. But I’m not 17 anymore and I know how to respond in situations like this.

“GET OUT OF MY VAGINA!” I yelled in his face. I shoved his chest, hard. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? I SAID WE ARE USING A CONDOM!”

And that was that. But at 17 I had no idea how to say no to the older, suave man on top of me. I had no idea how to articulate what I wanted to say. I didn’t know that it was fine to be that blunt as long as I got the message across. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. I’m not even sure I was self-aware enough to entirely know what I even wanted to say. But I do know it wasn’t “yes”.

So if you’re in your 20s or older and you’re male and you’re reading this – please don’t hit on girls whose ages end in “teen”. They’re too young. And you might not like who you become if you end up sleeping with them. Don’t kid yourself. However mature they seem, they’re still a teenager and you’re taking advantage of that.

And if you’re a girl of an age that ends in “teen” and you’re reading this, then please don’t be afraid to say no to a man because he’s older and seems wiser. Listen to what your head is telling you. If you don’t feel entirely comfortable doing something, don’t do it. Don’t let someone convince you into something you’re not ready for. Your thoughts and feelings are just as valid as his and you know yourself better than he does. It’s okay to not be ready, and it’s okay to say so.