15th April 2015
Trigger warning: Some readers may find this article triggering or upsetting.
It’s always the victim’s fault. It’s always ‘why didn’t you go to the police sooner?’ or ‘why didn’t you tell anyone before?’ The thing is, until you’ve been through it yourself, you’ll never be able to know why people don’t report assaults and keep it to themselves for so long.
It happened in my Freshers’ year. Freshers’ year is aptly named: I went to university fresh-faced and ready for the academic and social challenges that lay ahead. I’d only been there for a month or so but I’d talked to a lot of people and made fairly good acquaintances and even some good friends. I’d decided to go to a university 200 miles away from home so I could live completely independently of my family and do some much-needed growing up.
Within a couple of months, nights out were pretty standard and not a big deal. A whole bunch of us from the same halls or same courses would go out, meet up and get drunk. For a change, me and a couple of friends decided to go and explore further afield in the city and ended up at a shisha bar near the edge of town one night. We ordered drinks, smoked shisha, talked and giggled.
The evening was going well. I felt as though I was developing some pretty solid bonds with these girls. Midway through the night, a guy I’d spoken to before in a club and had seen around campus came over and introduced me to his friend. Not to be rude – and wanting to make as many social connections as possible – I enthusiastically reciprocated. He was gorgeous, to be honest. That’s probably why I was so excited to make his acquaintance. He was around 6’4”, slender but muscular with floppy, brown hair reminiscent of popular 90s cuts. He had an attractive Dutch accent. I could tell he was attracted to me too. We exchanged numbers and returned to our respective parties.
I honestly didn’t expect him to text me. I’d never been the most confident of people, so I often doubted it when people were attracted to me – something in the back of my head always told me that I was wrong. But he did text me. We exchanged texts back and forth for about a week and made a plan to go on a night out together with predrinks at my place as I lived practically next door to the club we were planning on going to.
I was slightly nervous beforehand. I made sure I’d dressed comfortably so that when we got to the club, I could dance. Everyone always asks what you were wearing when it happens and I can categorically say I was in a shirt and jeans. The shirt wasn’t low-cut. It was right up to my neckline. The jeans were a little baggy on me as I’d lost weight with the stress of moving so far away from home.
He arrived at my flat. I’d told my flatmates that I had a date. They said that they’d be occupying the common room/kitchen area, so naturally, me and my date stuck to my room. He brought his own booze and I stuck to mine. Soon enough, we were lost in conversation, engrossed in knowing more about each other. We decided to knock clubbing on the head and just stay in, perhaps watch a movie, or just continue talking. He was pretty interesting; he’d travelled all around the Middle East and did some journalism here and there. I was impressed, obviously, but he was mutually impressed with me.
I went to the kitchen to put his empty bottle on the window-sill as my housemates wanted to make a display of bottles (a common thing to do at university). I grabbed some more Diet Coke for myself. I’d only had two drinks as I wasn’t a heavy drinker anyway. He’d had a large alcopop.
When I came back in the room and sat down, he just stared at me. I asked him what was wrong, concerned. He said nothing. He leaned in and kissed me. I was shocked, to say the least. To me and my previous experiences on first dates, kisses happened at the end of the date or somewhere in the middle, not when your date had just walked in with a massive bottle of soda in their hands.
It wasn’t unpleasant as such. I just knew as he was kissing me that I wasn’t attracted to him. Yes, he was an interesting person, but I wouldn’t want him to be anything more than a friend.
I broke off the kiss and said that I was flattered, but I wasn’t interested in anything serious as I wanted to have fun at university and that he wasn’t my type. I reiterated that we could be friends and still hang out, but I didn’t want any more than that. I told him that it was getting late and he should go. He just nodded. He didn’t say anything other than ‘yeah, sure, okay’. I got the impression that he had understood what I was saying, where I was coming from and that he best be off on his way home.
To further the point of him needing going home, I began cleaning up, went to the bathroom to change into my pyjamas, brushed my teeth etc. I expected him to really get the message at that point. When I came out of the bathroom, he had stood up as if to leave.
It all happened so fast. I’m still not sure how he managed to wrestle me onto my bed. I wasn’t even drunk. I hadn’t had enough to be drunk. I wasn’t tipsy. I was sober. The alcohol had almost worn off. I tried fighting him off so much. I kept saying ‘no’ repeatedly. I clearly, fully removed my consent for him to do anything. He overpowered me. I tried kicking and lashing out, but he was just too strong – at one point, he’d pinned down both of my wrists with just one of his hands. He just smiled as if it was all a game.
I ended up lying face down in my pillow. He was strangling my neck from behind as he mercilessly spread my legs open.
He raped me.
I tried screaming but my throat was being crushed. I could feel myself slipping in and out of consciousness. Eventually I gave up fighting. I started crying silently as he pounded into me until he got what he wanted, rolled over, thanked me and fell asleep. All night, until the early hours of the morning, I lay there, frozen.
He left early that morning. I woke up and found blood all over my duvet. My flatmates asked me how the date went and I said to them it was fine, except for the fact that we had sex when I said I didn’t want to. No one really said anything to that, although they looked at me strangely. After breakfast, I went back into my room, tore the sheets off my bed and went to the laundrette to wash them. Whilst they were in the washing machine, I scrubbed myself in the shower, replaying what had happened the night before in my head. Did I imagine it? I said no lots of times, didn’t I? I made it clear I wasn’t interested in him, right? I hadn’t consented, right? I hadn’t led him on, had I?
After getting dressed, collecting and painfully shuffling around on my desk chair because my genital area felt it had been ripped apart, I looked online. I typed in the feelings and thoughts I’d had in the shower. The thing is, the morning after the night before, it didn’t feel like I had been raped. I was always taught that rape happens when you’re alone at night or dressed a certain way. At that point in my life, I didn’t know that those rape stereotypes were victim blaming, which is why I asked myself those questions, such as, ‘was I inappropriately dressed?’ The fact is that it doesn’t matter how you’re dressed or how you behave. The rapist makes the choice to ignore your lack of consent and rapes you.
It seems that I wasn’t alone in doubting what had happened to me. Forums on the internet and other social media users had identified with what I was going through. I looked at the legal definition of rape – sex without consent. I had fully and consciously removed my consent by repeatedly saying no, and he had decided to ignore it. It hit home then that I really had been raped. Nothing was my fault. I had said no. He continued doing what he was doing and violently raped me.
That night, he called my mobile phone. I still remember that conversation.
“Hi, it’s me.”
“Oh… look now you’ve called, I think we should talk about last night.”
“Okay, I agree.”
“What you did was wrong. You know I kept saying no. I told you when you kissed me that I didn’t want to get involved with you. And yet you continued. I actually tried to get you off me but you forced yourself on me and overpowered me. You know what? I looked up what ‘rape’ means, legally. You know what it is? It’s when you force someone to have sex with you or you force yourself on someone who has already told you no, they do not want to have sex with you. Isn’t that what you did?”
“… I’m… I’m sorry…”
“So do you agree? Do you agree that you did something wrong?”
“No, it’s a yes or no question. Do you think, according to what I told you, that you raped me?”
“… Yes. I did a very bad thing and I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you. I messed up.”
At that point, I didn’t know what to say. I told him never to contact me again. I hung up the phone, deleted every text and his number. I poured a strong drink, called my mum, told her what happened and cried on the phone to her for hours.
I didn’t go the police straight away. Honestly, I wanted to erase it from my memory forever. I wanted to forget I was a victim. In fact, I didn’t want to define myself as a victim of rape. I didn’t want it to control my life.
However, a sick twist of fate forced my hand. A couple of months after my rape, it happened again. Another girl on campus had been raped. Unlike me, she had had the courage to report her rape immediately. The first thought that went through my head was ‘what if it’s the same guy? How many more women will he violate?’ I believed that if I went to the university’s support centre and the police, they might catch the rapist.
My first port of call was the university’s support centre. ‘Support’ doesn’t do them justice – they went above and beyond the call of duty. They believed me, supported me and gave me a shoulder to cry on as I recounted what had happened to me. They set up counselling at the university’s Wellbeing centre. They called the Devon & Cornwall police to the university, so I could tell them my story in the safe space of the support centre. I told the police everything, trying hard to choke out the words in between tears.
It turned out that the rapist who had attacked the other girl on campus was not the man who had raped me. The police urged me to go forward with my own case and I complied. Despite the negative press that the police get nowadays, the Devon & Cornwall police unit were incredibly supportive and believed every word I said. They even offered me counselling services at the station. They collected my bed sheets and the bottle my rapist had drank from to get evidence.
Eventually, it came down to ‘he said, she said’ and they could not prosecute him. He actually fled the country after I reported the rape to the police, but was questioned by them when he came back months later. He denied everything, despite having privately admitted he had violated me the morning after he had done it. Nothing ever happened. The police apologised that they couldn’t do more to help arrest and convict him.
Although the rape happened almost four years ago, it haunts me to this very day. Luckily, I had an incredible set of friends at university who supported me throughout what happened and beyond. They helped me create positive, fond memories of university that would have been entirely ruined otherwise. I also have an extremely supportive and sympathetic mother who never judged me and only ever held my hand throughout everything.
Rape hasn’t made me who I am today. It has made me stronger and more resilient, of course. It has made me speak out against sexual violence and has awakened the feminist within me, which was already growing before I was raped. It has helped me help other survivors of rape, sexual assault and abuse. I already feel as though I have defeated my rapist by having the conviction to speak out about what happened to me.
What he did to me will always be there. I can’t ever forget that I was raped and violated. But I can use that experience to help others. Speaking out about the rape is the first step to a big ‘fuck you’ to my rapist.
(Originally Published on CultNoise Magazine – currently under reconstruction)