Sexual assault, consent and #yesallwomen

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*Trigger warning for rape, sexual assault* I’m really nervous about posting this. It’s sat for weeks on my computer unpublished but here goes nothing.

I read the #yesallwomen tweets with a sinking feeling. If you’d asked me a month ago if I’d ever experienced anything like that I’d have shaken my head. I mean I’d had some bad experiences but I just thought that was the cost of having a vagina. I scanned my way through the tweets:

Girls grow up knowing it’s a safer to give a fake phone number than turn a guy down. YES!

Because every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One.  YES!

In college, a police officer told us to scream FIRE if we were in danger of being assaulted otherwise people won’t get involved. YES!

The first time I was sexually assaulted I was sleeping over at my best friends house in a gaggle of boys and girl on her sitting room floor. I was fast asleep. When I was woken by something heavy on top of me pressing my bones into the floor. A tongue thick and sluglike jabbing between my lips. I knew who it was even in the pitch darkness of the sitting room. He’d been watching me earlier, in a way that made me want to scrunch into a little ball and hide. I’d set my sleeping bag as far away from him as I could get near the windows. But now he was on top of me and I realised I was very far away from everybody else. There were eight other people in that room but I didn’t have the voice to call out. I lay frozen in utter panic as his hands slithered over my body.

Then I pushed him away hard. And left the darkened sitting room and stumbled into the hall. There was no locks downstairs. I went into the study and pushed a cabinet in front of the door. It was 2am. I stayed there shaking with fear until I heard her mum get up hours later.

‘You’re up early?’

‘Yes, I couldn’t sleep.’ I mumbled.

‘Can I stay in here with you?’

I saw him afterwards but I made sure that we were never, ever alone again.

I’ve never told anybody about this experience: not my friend or my mum or years later HWSNBN. I felt ashamed. I was sure there was something I had done wrong somehow. Maybe I’d looked at him in a way he’d misinterpreted. I hadn’t been hurt just a little scared, OK a lot scared. I just had to be careful in future I told myself.

I was 14 years old.

There were other experiences. I was groped in clubs. Followed on the way home by a man who hissed ‘I can smell your pussy.’ I said ‘No!’ loudly and empathically and was ignored as I wrestled my way free of cars and bedrooms. And when three years later I woke up at a party with another man attached to my face and spent another evening locked in a bathroom it seemed almost ‘normal’.

No, no, NO!

It was only after reading the yesallwomen posts that something old was triggered for me and I realised that what happened then wasn’t OK. Not even a little bit. Not at all. That nobody no matter what they might have done or said or drunk or wore should be woken up like that not without their explicit consent. There is nothing wrong with me (apart from an obsession with reality tv and sugary foods). But because most of these things happened when I was really young. I’ve been feeling like I was somehow to blame and deeply, deeply ashamed. It’s only now that I can claim those experiences and label them what they were: assault, misogyny in action. Welcome to being a women kid, it sucks.

I know I have been very, very lucky. My story is trivial really. A bruise instead of a scar. Many of my friends and those closest to me have experienced rape and serious sexual assault. Far too many friends to count. I am priveledged and I acknowledge that. Women of colour and trans friends are subject to much worse discrimination. I am lucky. I am very, very lucky.

Even saying that, no person should go through what I went through. Or the other more horrendous acts that happen every minute, every hour of every day. It’s only now that I’m able to feel sorrow for that 14-year old girl who at a time she should have been exploring her sexuality and having fun instead was terrified of what might happen to her if she was alone with men. For a long time I was too shamed and frightened to talk about these experiences. Not anymore

What makes it worse was although some of these men were strangers, others were friends, ‘nice’ guys who left bruises who laughed at me when I punched them in the chest to get the ‘fuck off me’. And if these guys some of whom I’d known for years could laugh at me, their hands still moving over me when I pushed them away – how could I tell who was safe and who was a rapist. At age 14 I realised that sex could be a battleground where some men where the enemy.

I want to make it explicitly clear that I know many men who believe in the importance of consent, who are feminists through and through. I married one after all. Plus men can also be victims of sexual assaults, rape and sexual violence. And not all of my experiences were as traumatic as the ones I described. There were lovely men who did listen to my no. But those early experiences left a mark in how I express my sexuality and the fear I still retain when I say no that I won’t be listened to. When I speak to my girl friends about this I know I am not alone.

Let’s not bullshit around, we live in a world where men are the biggest killer of women (the biggest killer of men heartdisease). I was right to be afraid at 14. And I’m right to be cautious in certain situations now. As Elliot Rodger’s killing spree starkly shows the world is not always a safe place for women.

How can we make it safer? I think we start by telling our stories. We talk  about fear and shame and the ‘no’s’ that were not heard. We listen, stop bonerjacking and STFU when necessary. We talk about consent not just before but during and afterwards. We start not by telling our daughters to not get raped but by telling our sons to not rape.

This is my yesallwomen story, what’s yours?

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