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Thursday, December 20, 2007


When I was 17 I was raped.

I had only lost my virginity a couple of months’ prior with my then-boyfriend; I had only had intercourse twice. Sadly we broke up soon after and upset, newly single and out with my friends at a nightclub I occasionally frequented, I got chatting to a boy I had seen around; but I had no plans or desire to sleep with him.

I had harboured a teenage crush on 24-year old Jim for a few weeks, so when he asked me if I wanted to go back to his place after the club finished “for a smoke”, I readily agreed, happy that he fancied me too. Soon after we bundled into a taxi together, and I waved goodbye to my friends with a smile on my face.

I mistakenly thought he lived in Clapton, which was not far from me, but it turned out it was Croydon we were going to, the arse-end of London, some twenty miles from my home. But I felt happy to be with him and safe, so even with the long journey and the lateness of the hour, I did not question or worry about the situation I was entering into: I just assumed we would spend the night talking and maybe have a snog.

When we arrived at his bed-sit, we shared a joint and chatted a little. He moved towards me to kiss me and I responded by kissing him back. But when he immediately tried to remove my clothes I just shifted uncomfortably. I wasn’t assertive then like I am now. I mean, I told him I only wanted to kiss and not have sex and I asked him to let things be, but I was so insecure doing so: I wanted to please him and I worried he might think me frigid.

So when he ripped off my clothes I didn’t scream.

When he forced his fingers inside me I didn’t shout for help.

When he made me gag and cry as he shoved his cock into my mouth, I didn't punch him in the balls.

I did say no. I did push him away. I did plead with him to stop, but he still forced himself on me, in me.

He didn’t stop when I asked him to.

He penetrated me with such force that he made my vagina bleed.

He raped me throughout the night as I tried to sleep.

He called me a dirty whore, a cunt, a slag.

And when he saw my tears he told me, “You know you want to do it – you wouldn’t have come here otherwise.”

At the time I thought he was right. I had chosen to go back there: he hadn’t held a gun to my head. I hadn’t tried to fight him off me. It was my fault for being there, for letting him do that to me. I hated myself. Even when I was in the bathroom, using toilet paper to soak up the blood dripping between my legs, I blamed myself.

Early the next morning he told me to leave. I walked out into the cold, blinded by the sun, and stunned by the situation. It was a torturous three-hour journey home by bus, and when I arrived I just smiled at my parents and kept up the pretence that I had spent the night at my friend’s. I ran upstairs to shower and I tried to wash him out of me, disappear it all away like the water spiralling down the plughole, but whilst my skin was cleansed, my insides still felt dirty. As I sat slumped and weeping in the shower tray, I swore to myself that I would never tell anyone about what had happened, so ashamed was I.

And for three years I didn’t: it was my dirty secret.

Then at work one day, I got into a conversation with a colleague. She was in her thirties and I looked up to her and trusted her. So when the subject somehow ended up being about women who have been forced into sex, I finally confessed my experience, shrugging it off as some bad sex I had had. I remember her staring at me, shocked, and then saying, gently, “Do you not realise you were raped?” And until that moment I hadn’t.

She explained to me what
date rape was and it suddenly hit home what it was that I had been through, what I had suffered. That just because he wasn’t a stranger dragging me off the street, and just because I had agreed to go back to his place, it didn’t mean that what he did to me wasn’t rape. He sexually violated me without my consent: he raped me. All that time, I had been blaming myself, thinking that perhaps if I had said ‘no’ more, or if I hadn’t gone back there, then it might not have happened; that I got what I deserved. I didn’t for one moment blame him.

I cried for many days after that conversation, but this time the tears were my anger at him rather than directed at myself.

It took me a while before I could pluck up the courage to get tested for HIV and STIs: I had spent three years in denial, what were another few months? So terrified was I that he might have infected me, I couldn’t bear to face the reality that he might have: it was hell waiting those two weeks for my test results to come back. They were all negative and I was relieved, of course, but the internal damage had been done; the rape had affected how I viewed my sexuality – and men’s sexuality – and
although I was guided by a sympathetic therapist it still took me years to work through my self-hatred and anger about it.

Looking back, half my lifetime ago, I can see what a naïve teenager I was; I didn’t for one minute think that going back to his place might put me at risk. But then I was only 17: ignorance comes with the territory. And regardless, I might have agreed to go back with him, but I didn’t agree for him to violate me: that was all his choice. Somewhere along the line, he had learned that it was OK to treat women with disrespect; that it was acceptable to disregard their needs, wishes and wants as irrelevant; and that it was his right to abuse a woman for his pleasure.

I don’t think all men feel like this about women, but hearing male politicians making a mockery of rape by saying, just days ago, “Young men do not want to have to take a consent form and a lawyer on a date” makes me angry.
If men do not take it seriously when a woman says ‘no’, then how can we ensure that rapes do not occur? How can we teach young men like Jim to know that they need to treat women as equals and value their needs? And how can we reassure young women that it is OK to say ‘no’ and that they have nothing to fear?

I don’t know the answers, but rather than stereotyping all men as sexual predators, I’d like to see a more progressive debate around rape occurring. Where men can voice their feelings and concerns about sex, and sexual violence, alongside women. Where there is mutual respect and appreciation between the sexes. And where men and women can learn that with better and more honest communication, it is possible to have safe, sane - and fun - consensual sex.

And if I could go back in time and meet my 17 year-old self, I would say the following:

No man has the right to force himself onto you. And if he does, it is not your fault: it is because he is a prick.

You should never feel pressured to have sex with someone: if you do, then you shouldn’t be having sex with them – even if you do fancy them.

Good sex always involves mutual consent.

Always carry enough money on you to be able to jump into a cab if you need to; always have the means to exit a situation.

‘No’ means no

[If you are under 25 and would like to talk to someone with total confidentiality about sex or sexual health, call (UK-based) Brook on 0800 0185 023. You can get also get free support and advice from their website Ask Brook.]

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