I’m 22 years old and I still have to sleep with a lamp on at night; if I don’t, I end up having massive panic attacks. I have to sit at the very back of any lecture hall I’m in as I struggle having people behind me. My flat mates laugh at me for being so jumpy, but the slightest noise or movement I’m not expecting puts me on edge. I physically can’t be in big crowds, and if I’m ever caught up in one I forget how to breathe properly. Sometimes the idea of leaving my room leaves me so terrified I throw up and can’t physically leave without having to calm down to the point of breathing exercises.
Sometimes I can’t leave my bed.
I would love to be able to just leave the house and walk up to the shop without having to distract myself by either playing on my phone or twizzling my hair, or having to pretend I forgot something and returning home 5 steps into my journey if I can feel myself beginning to freak out. I would love to be able to wear sleeveless dresses and t-shirts, but instead I suffer through sweltering heat during the summer with jackets on because I can’t stand the thought of people seeing my self-made scars up my arms. I would love to be able to meet new people without over thinking the social situation to the point of not knowing what to say. I often come across as miserable and separate from everyone else, but the problem is – This isn’t me. This is not who I was meant to be.
This has been my life for the 8 years. This is my everyday reality. From the age of 14 I have suffered with PTSD, anxiety and depression, all of which combined created a person I should not be today. Being 14 is a hard age – You’re trying to find out who you are, what you want to do career-wise, friendships get tested and new ones are formed from different social groups, and you begin to experience the wider world on several different platforms. My time became all the more harder, after I was attacked and raped.
He wasn’t a complete stranger; granted, I had met him that night and didn’t know him completely, but I knew his friend rather well and they all seemed lovely. I was at a party with a friend. She knew them better than me, and we had gone together. I had never drunk before, and she disappeared. This man told me he’d spoken to her on the phone and she was at his place. My phone was dead. I knew no one else, so I went with him, trusting his words – Why wouldn’t I? Why would he lie to me?
The moment he shut his front door I knew I was in trouble; he proceeded to attack me, ignoring my ‘No’s’, my pleas and tears, telling me to ‘Trust him’. He was too strong to push off me, and I could barley breath under his weight, but my fear grew as he proceeded to produce his phone and film the attack. It didn’t feel real. Eventually it was over, and I tried to get away, but could not unlock the front door. Instead, I hid in the bathroom, locking the door and praying for a miracle – That the police would somehow know I was here, that my dad would appear at the door demanding for me to come home. But nothing. Instead, he returned again, breaking down the door and attacking me again in the bathtub. I lay there until morning, too scared and in too much pain to move.
Eventually, I got out – My clothes and hair were covered in blood, so I washed off what I could, and asked him to unlock the front door so I could leave. He walked me to the station, in view of everyone, insisting on holding hands. I felt numb, like reality wasn’t there anymore. I was struggling to walk properly, I was wincing with every step, but I just wanted to get home. That train journey was the longest of my life. I don’t know what people thought of me, sat in the corner with my hood up, shaking and crying. No one asked me if I was okay. No one sat next to me. They avoided me and the awkward conversation so obviously attached.
The hardest parts about being attacked are the days after. You don’t know how to be, how to act, how to sleep. It’s adapting to a whole new you, a you that you never saw coming. It’s getting used to your new life and discovering what you can and cant do anymore. People around you are continuing their normal lives, and that hurts. You are mad at those closest to you for not understanding what they can’t possibly understand, especially when you haven’t said a word to anyone. You go through the motions of living, learning to adapt and smile so no one knows that you feel dead inside.
You don’t want to think about it, but its always present; the worst time is when you’re trying to sleep, your thoughts running wild with the memories and questions rolling around your mind. Even now, I struggle to fall asleep most nights, frequently having to sit up and double check there isn’t someone lurking in the corner of my bedroom. It’s a living nightmare that you know in a way isn’t going to end, its attached to you forever, no matter what you do.
It gets too much far too often. The struggle to be truly happy and to get the most out of your life is sometimes a genuine effort, when all you truly want to do is stay in a dark room for days on end. I have struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, had countless relationships fail because of my emotional attachments or lack of, I’ve treated those who I know love me the most terribly because I am always so angry and I’ve missed out on countless opportunities in my life because I struggle so much to do simple things. It’s a constant state of limbo that has no end in sight.
I’ve told very few people about my situation, and I’m extremely lucky in the fact that those I have have been nothing but amazing to me, letting me say what I can and hearing me. Being heard is a big deal; it makes you feel less isolated and alone. Many of them have asked me why I’ve never gone to the police. The answer is simple – There is no point. The justice system doesn’t work.
The Brock Turner case is the perfect example of why it is so flawed; a man, who despite attacking an unconscious woman, who was witnessed doing so by two men passing by, and had a log of DNA evidence stacked against him, was only sentenced to 6 months in prison. 6 months. Where as Glynn Judd, a graffiti artist whose work was featured in the Olympics was sentenced to 15 months for producing his artwork on the sides of trains. It makes no sense.
Victims are forced to re-live their experience over and over again. They are ridiculed and questioned, doubted and challenged from every angle, even within the court. The sentencings are poor to say the least, and more often than not, it doesn’t get to the point of court due to lack of evidence etc. Yes, my rape was filmed, but I don’t know what happened to that footage. I do not have any physical evidence to take to the police, only my statement and emotional scars. There is nothing I would love more than to see him locked away, but its simply not going to happen. All it would do would be bringing his attention back onto me, which is something that cannot happen. The idea of that terrifies me.
I wanted to write this paper to raise awareness of these issues. To get people talking about the reality’s of rape and how many problems there are when it comes to tackling it. People seem to think that rape is something that only happens to certain people in certain places, but that is a lie. I come from a small village. I know 4 people who have been attacked. I asked a few of them to help me with writing this article, and they have written a small statement with their experience . . .
“I got assaulted when I was 19. It wasn’t how they portray it in the movies at all. I wasn’t followed down a dark alley; I wasn’t screaming for help, it wasn’t some big burley man. It was someone I knew, someone who I considered a very close friend and it was in my own house. I’d gone for a night out with my friends and I was pretty drunk, but I knew I was fine because my friends were around me. We headed home at about 3am and we stopped at my house – I offered my friend the sofa to crash on because he lives far away. As he’d done it before I didn’t see any problem with it.
“We were curled up next to each other when he started kissing me. It got heated and he started to get my trousers off, but I told him not to. He carried on anyway. I managed to roll myself off the sofa away from him but he quickly followed me to the floor. He crawled on top of me and tried to take my trousers off again. I kept trying to push him off me and kept telling him to stop. I rolled over onto my front and tried to pull myself away from him. He dragged me back to him and got my trousers off. I started to hit him and kept telling him to stop it and that I didn’t want to. I tried crawling away again but he again dragged me back but he held my arms. I just lay there. He went back up onto the sofa and fell asleep. I just stayed on the floor, motionless and crying. Trying to get my head around what had happened.
“He left early in the morning to go home. I spent the day in bed, going over and over what had happened. A lot of people would be like why didn’t you go to the police, why didn’t you say anything to anyone. There’s a multitude of different answers to those questions. I didn’t go to the police because at first I didn’t realise what it was that he did. I didn’t class it as a sexual assault because we had had sex before. I thought I would be laughed at or just called a liar for coming forward because it wasn’t a brutal attack. It wasn’t what someone would look at and call rape. I didn’t go to the police because he was one of my friends and even after everything that happened I didn’t want to ruin his life and jeopardise his future. I didn’t want to mess things up for him. I hate him and want him to pay for what he did to me but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I only told my close friend who helped me through everything and held me while I cried.
“It’s a scary thing to tell a stranger what happened to you. To know they are silently judging you thinking ‘well what did you do’ ‘did you lead him on’ ‘you were drunk, you probably asked for it’ etc. The amount of false rape claims now a days as well makes it harder and harder for true victims to get their case seen. Kids aren’t taught that sexual assault can come in many forms; they only see what is portrayed in the movies and on TV. So when something like this happens, in their own home with a close friend or relative they don’t think its something they can go to the police with. I deal with this everyday and sometimes its easier than other days, sometimes its all I can think about. The sad thing is it has happened to more people I know, than I’d like to think. It’s sickening and saddening.”
“I was raped when I was 14, at this point I hadn’t even thought about losing my virginity. I was too scared. I Wanted to wait but my ex boyfriend had other ideas. We weren’t together when this happened. He was a few years older than me. And one night we met up at his as friends – He kept suggesting sex. Making little jokes about how I should stop being so frigid, he kissed me and then pinned me down and as much as I shouted no, or tried to get up I couldn’t – he was too strong, he pulled my clothes off as I lay there crying, I asked him to stop but he wouldn’t listen. After it all I got dressed again and ran out, I felt damaged and dirty. I couldn’t stop crying, I remember trying to tell one of my best friends what happened and she didn’t believe me, she said it wouldn’t have been rape because he used to be my boyfriend. Why didn’t I go to the police? Being 14 and your own friend telling you it’s not rape made me think that everyone else would think the same, I was scared, confused, didn’t want anyone to know what I went through and look down on me. I felt like I couldn’t get close to anyone. I still have trouble trusting people to this day and I’ve suffered badly from panic attacks since.”
We’ve been raised within a society that sexualises women from a young age. We are taught to be pretty, to wear revealing clothes, that no one will love us for our minds, but for the size of our chests. Our self worth is the physicality’s of ourselves. We are taught that, ‘boys will be boys’ and that if they are mean to us, it must mean they like you. If you wear revealing clothes, you are a slut and you’re asking for it – If you don’t, you’re frigid, what’s wrong with you? There are constant expectations that women try to uphold themselves too and they cannot win, no matter their choice.
A person told me after my attack that in a way I was lucky, that I had lost my virginity with a no strings-attached deal and there was no heartbreak involved . . . We no longer speak. My body is not on display. I am a person. We all are. Just because I was born a woman should not automatically mean that I am at a constant risk of having to defend myself from being provoked, attacked or degraded. We are taught to always have a buddy with us on a night out, to watch our drinks in case they get spiked, to book a taxi before you leave, to not wear too short a skirts on a night out, that if you drink too much you are asking to be attacked . . . When can we start telling boys to just, not rape women?
Rape is a more common occurrence that most of us would like to think and it can happen to anyone. Madonna, Oprah, and Lady Gaga have all come forward stating they have been attacked. I know so many people, not just women, who have also been assaulted in all kinds of situations and it is scary. We are your mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, neighbours, school mates, work colleagues, your shop assistants, students, bus drivers, nurses, artists, carers . . . So, please, talk to your family and friends, make it a lass taboo subject within your household. One of the reasons I didn’t tell my mother was because we’d never discussed anything like that before. Maybe if we had, I would have told her and things would be a lot different today.
Living with this is harder than anyone who hasn’t been through it themselves can imagine. I think all the time about who I might have been if I hadn’t been attacked. I’ve mourned her. The most frustrating part is that for me, that was my most life altering night, nothings been the same since – but to him, I was just sex. I was and still am insignificant. I doubt he’s given me a second thought, yet he haunts my dreams every night. But, I’ve come through a stronger person. Its made me empathetic, more understanding and has been a driving force behind me wanting to better myself to my full potential, to show the world I am not what my attacker wanted me to be. I am no longer a child, I am a woman, I am educated, and I am a hard worker. He already stole so much of my life; he will not be doing that anymore. I am not a victim, I am a survivor. We all are, and we are going to thrive despite the card we’ve been dealt.
If you or someone you know has been attacked, just know that you’re not alone and there is help out there. I only just recently started seeing a councillor, but it’s the best thing I could’ve done and I wish I had done it sooner. I would recommend it deeply. Speak to your GP for the best route to accessing it.
For online support and information, please see:
Women Against Rape: