Archive for category Dealing with trauma
Apologies that it’s been a while since my last post, and that this interrupts my promised series on gay marriage – which I promise I do want to continue!
I just wanted to write about something that I’ve been thinking about off and on for ages and have never actually written down. I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear that I don’t think there are different degrees of rape – I think a trusted friend raping you ‘non-violently’ (sure… because that’s how it feels) is any better than a stranger attacking you with a knife. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that I don’t think there’s any excuse for someone who has raped. These people have done something horrific.
But one of the rape scenarios that people so delicately want to term ‘grey areas’ is where a man and woman have been getting together, enjoying some sexy time, and then she changes her mind. In this situation, we are told, it’s really difficult for a man to control his natural sexual urges. Now, whilst I personally think all that is nonsense, and that both men and women have big sexual urges, and that both sexes are highly-evolved enough to be able to control them, let us pretend for a moment that I buy it.
Let’s imagine the situation that is most generous to our would-be rapist: heavy petting has reached a high point, clothes have been stripped off, both have been writhing away with pleasure up until now, and the basilisk is about to enter the Chamber of Secrets, as it were. Then, right at the last second, the woman changes her mind and squeals “No!”. I can just about, conceivably, forgive a man for one quick poke where something hasn’t registered, followed by effusive apology and immediate backing off. If you sell that to me as a man being unable to control his sexual urges, I will listen. But here’s why I don’t buy the rest of it…
If the guy has been really turned on, the girl then changes her mind, and he then proceeds to rape her in a way that lasts any longer than what I described above, the problem is that he has carried on. These ‘grey areas’ of rape are occurring over a period of minutes – as few as two, as many as thirty or more. And what is the woman doing whilst all this is going on?
It might be that she’s screaming and clawing at him. It might be that she’s just sobbing and turning her head, refusing to look at him. It might just be that she’s lying there mute, unresponsive and incredibly uncomfortable. But what she is definitely not doing is encouraging him or responding to him in a normal, healthy, fun or romantic sexual way. Any guy that continues sex under those circumstances has not been temporarily blinded by a sexual urge – he is wilfully ignoring another human being’s distress for seconds, minutes or hours at a time, whilst she is lying 10 centimetres away from his face.
Grey area? Don’t be stupid. This is obvious.
When I turned eighteen, my lovely aunt gave me a necklace from which a gold cross hung. It was about a year after I had been baptised, and two years after I had first become a Christian. I loved it, and what it represented.
But I stopped wearing it at the end of my first week of university.
In fact, I put it away in a safe, and I didn’t think about it, or God, for years. But when, six months ago, circumstances combined to return me to my home county of Surrey to both live and work, it turned out to be surprisingly difficult to walk past the church that I had once attended and loved. And after finally securing a job and returning to a state of relative normalcy, it turned out that there were no more excuses to hide behind either. It was time to think about why I left my church and my faith, and perhaps explore whether they were things I wanted to return to.
My decision to leave the Church was very tied up with Malta. Not because I hated God, or because I thought he had failed to protect me – free will having played a blinder where my attacker was concerned – but because my failure to admit that I had been raped meant that my radical behavioural shift to alcoholic nymphomaniac was utterly inexplicable to me. All I knew was that I was, almost nightly, doing things that I knew were both totally against my beliefs, and opposed to the beliefs and lifestyles of some of my closest friends – and that I woke up every morning hating myself, and being continually wracked with guilt at how bad a Christian I was being.
An extract from my journal during that unhappy time:
It’s lunchtime and I’m sitting with the most gorgeous view – a stunning lake with mountains in glorious sunshine. I still feel disgusting. I feel on the verge of tears, I have a churning in my stomach, and I feel so guilty.
The simple truth is that I stopped praying and going to church because the guilt became too much for me; I hadn’t ‘behaved like a Christian’ for months, and the daily struggle between my actions and my faith was destroying me. Since it was easier to walk away from the Church than it was to face up to what had happened, I chose to give up my faith.
But what had I really given up? Until recently, I thought I knew. But as I have re-examined the core principles of Christianity in the last few months, I’ve come to realise that five years ago, I walked away from a religion that didn’t actually exist.
I was convinced that I could no longer be a Christian because I was failing to be the kind of person I thought God wanted me to be. But Christianity actually teaches that Jesus helps those who are struggling (and failing), not those who are tootling along just fine. Mark 2:17 quotes Jesus: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.” I had become so obsessed by the ‘rules’ and my guilt that I’d totally lost sight of what my faith was really about – admitting that I was a person making all kinds of mistakes, and that I needed God to help put me right. Had I really understood the faith I declared by the cross around my neck, I would have clung to it as tightly as possible.
Rape isn’t the only thing I’ve come to terms with in the last five years. I finally came out as bisexual to my friends and family, went on dates with women, and slept with women. Being gay is something that forms a real part of my identity, and that I will fiercely defend. I resolutely ignored this truth when I first joined the Church, but it’s not something I can sweep under the carpet now: I love boobs.
Along with the Church’s attitude to women, it was the biggest obstacle to my return to Christianity. I had to confront Christian homophobia, and decide if the Church that caused it was something I could bear to be a part of. I needed to understand the parts of the bible that apparently condemned homosexuality. I needed to confront my Christian friends and ask them if they found me unnatural, or wrong.
Because Christianity does so much damage in this area. In America, one school district’s “Christian” homophobic policy contributed to the suicides of seven students in one year, and in the UK, “Christians” held a seminar on gays titled ‘The Lepers Amongst Us’. This stuff is huge, and it fundamentally damages people.
Well, it took a while, but I did confront it. If you would like to ask me about it then contact me and I will happily have a chat – and if there’s enough interest then I will post something about it – but the upshot is that I have spent months reading, thinking and talking about homosexuality and the Church, and I’m in a place where I’ve figured out my position and I’m happy. Yes, stories like the ones mentioned above make me batshit crazy, but in terms of my personal response to gays and the Church, I’m content.
Getting over theological obstacles is one thing, but actually regaining faith in God is something very different. And it started to return to me a few months ago when a very wise friend asked me the following question:
“Do you want to get your faith back?”
I thought for a beat, and then responded: “Yes”.
He leaned back in his chair, shrugged, and said, with a relaxed smile on his face, “Okay then. God’s in your heart, if he’s what you want. You can get there.”
One of my favourite poems is ‘Little Gidding’ by T.S. Eliot. And the part of that poem that I – literally – carry around with me, in my great-grandmother’s locket, is this:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
I have been forever changed by my rape. It fundamentally changed me. But I’ve spent five years coming to terms with what happened to me, and I feel like for the first time, maybe I have finally arrived back where I started: with self respect and confidence, and with faith. Eliot was right when he wrote that we might truly know the place for the first time.
Last Sunday, I put the gold cross back around my neck.
Mumsnet (a huge social website for parents, especially women, based in the UK) did an informal survey about rape and sexual assault following Ken Clarke’s disgraceful comments a couple of months ago. Click here to read the results – and make sure you read the testimonies.
There are no words. Just read it, and feel your heart ache.
When you start a blog, you realise you can become incredibly narcissistic – you get given a page full of statistics where you can see how many people have been reading your thoughts, which posts they choose to read, and all other sorts of interesting data. It’s fascinating, but be reassured – there is no way to find out who these readers actually are. Most fascinating – and heartbreaking – for me is that WordPress also tells me which search engine terms brought readers to the site. The terms that I see most often are about women trying to understand their own behaviour following a rape:
“Why promiscuous after rape?”
“Freak promiscuity after rape”
“Abnormal rape promiscuity”
are just some of the terms I had yesterday. As we all know by now, these women are not abnormal freaks – they’re reacting in a really common way. Indulging in promiscuity is absolutely one of the most common ways to respond to sexual abuse, and the reasons why women do so can vary: trying to turn sex into a meaningless act, attempting to regain control over men or their own sexuality or – as I think was the case for me – as a method of self harm. A book I read once noted that a rape victim sleeping around is like a victim of knife crime repeatedly stabbing themselves in the thigh. When you factor in how many survivors have physical pain in their pelvic region after an attack, you really start to understand the point.
The problem is that we’re still not very good at talking about it, and that is phenomenally isolating. One of the panic attacks I had was brought on when I was trying to find out – just like the women above – if I was a freak for having lots of sex after being raped. Other aspects of my sexual experience changed too; my turn-ons were different and my body responded differently. I searched and searched and searched and couldn’t find the answers that I was looking for. I got so frustrated and felt so alone that I ended up hyperventilating and calling a friend to help calm me down.
We need to be better at providing information about this sort of thing – and not just clinical facts (although that is desperately needed) but also anecdotes and personal testimonies. That panic attack was one of the driving forces behind me starting this blog – so that women who google in despair can feel less alone. And that’s why it’s fantastic when I come across blogs by amazing women writing about their own experiences of rape and recovery. So this post is, if you like, the WordPress equivalent of a Twitter #ff (That’s Follow Friday, for those not in the know).
Healing Wounds is a great new blog being written by someone I’ve come to know as a friend in the online world. Her strides in recovery have grown hugely in the last year – and her writing’s pretty ace too.
Life in a Pickle is written by another phenomenal woman. She writes about her own experiences and how rape is treated in the media, as well as taking a look at police and legal processes. Funny and moving, you should check it out.
Finally, I suggest you take a look at the message boards at After Silence. This charity was started to give women a forum to speak to other survivors, and it’s a great way to connect with people or start talking about your experiences that might be less scary than telling close friends or relatives.
On the topic of not being alone… I’m just about to complete my training on a scheme where sexual abuse victims support other survivors, and the women I train alongside are fabulous. Yesterday, I had a crappy day with crappy news. But last night I stood on the corner of a south London street with some of these amazing survivors, and we laughed until we cried – and then I danced the whole way home. Gosh, life can be good.
Let me say at the outset that I’m glad I’m alive. For me, being alive is a Very Good Thing. Nevertheless, there is a question that swirls around my mind sometimes. And it’s the sort of question that is quite difficult to ask out loud, because it makes me sound terribly morbid. But I think it might be an important one, so here goes.
Why didn’t he kill me?
I mean this totally seriously. Think about it: he raped me in his place of employment. I was staying at his place of employment. It would not have been the Maltese police’s hardest case to crack, had I reported it. So in the interest of self-preservation, why didn’t he just slit my throat and be done with it? Or at the very least, why didn’t he threaten to kill me if I said anything? Because he didn’t – he threw me out of the back office and that was that. He didn’t even bother to take the next few days off work until I’d left the country.
The only conclusion that I am able to draw is that he knew I wouldn’t report him, that I wouldn’t say a word to anyone. And how worrying is that? Rapists know that the stigma and suspicion that surround a rape victim are so great – and that the psychological trauma they personally inflict is so huge – that they feel confident enough to let someone who could clearly identify them walk away.
I’ve been sitting looking at this screen now for ten minutes, trying to find a conclusion to this post. I don’t think I have one. It’s just something I wanted to point out.
I’m very glad I’m alive – but the fact that he felt he could allow that paints a troubling picture of society.
I’ve been thinking recently about survivors’ attitudes to their own rapes. There seems to be a real range of ways in which people look back on their experiences – unsurprisingly – from those like Alyssa Royce who don’t see it as anything of real consequence to those women from the Telegraph who have found it has profoundly shaped their lives for decades. So whilst my own attitude is no more valid than theirs (and mine may well change in the years to come), I thought I would lay out my thoughts.
You’re blue in the face from reading about how important I think it is to talk about rape. But the other thing that I do think is really important is to own your rape experience – even if you do it privately, with no one else involved. By that, I mean that rather than attempt to hide the fact that you were raped, or push the memory far into the recesses of your mind, you admit to yourself that yup, I was raped. Is that morbid? Possibly. But mostly I see it as affirming. For a few reasons:
1. You survived
Here you are. You had a horrific experience, someone attempted to break your spirit, and yet here you stand. And for a while, your existence may have been undignified. But you’re still here.
2. YOU survived
Yes, you will have changed. Of course rape has changed you. But are you really telling me that you bear no resemblance to the person you were before? Have your tastes in music and books changed, have you drifted from every single one of your friends? Someone tried to break your spirit, but that crucial bit of you, that essence, remains. You’re alive, and you’re still you.
3. You survived, and you got something extra
Trust me, you did. Even if you can’t see it yourself yet. But when someone goes through something as intensely traumatic as sexual abuse, and comes out the other side, they’ve grown. Somewhere is a steely strength that no one will ever be able to rip from you again.
4. You got some shit from it, too
Enough from the mind/spirit section of the bookshop. Obviously rape is not some life-affirming experience, or everyone would want one. It’s painful, it’s tough, it’s humiliating (it shouldn’t be, but we all feel it), and it makes us feel scared. A lot. So yes, we rape survivors can go about feeling proud for having survived, and having some extra confidence. But the problem is that sometimes that confidence is hidden deep. We don’t realise it’s there. Far more often, we’re hurrying down empty streets, or feeling our hearts quicken when there are footsteps behind us, or – as happened to me recently – we completely freak out when friends pin us down in a just joshin’ sort of way.
But here’s the thing: own it. I experienced rape: part of me is a Survivor with a capital S, and part of me is a victim with a timid lower-case v. And whilst it’s hard to think of plus-points of the victim part, we can at least say this. When someone tried to imply that I didn’t deserve to be loved, he fucked up. I happen to know that I’m loved by a number of people, but I also love me. I’m trying to keep this from descending into affirming chants, but I do think that’s important. I love the whole of me, and even the new shitty bits – because they remind me of the strong bits. Yes, I scuttle down too-quiet streets. But I also dare to walk down streets in the first place. So props to me, and props to you. Own it.
So what those little shitty bits tell us is that rape gives us new limits, new things to worry us that never crossed our minds before, at least to any great extent – but those limits are also pretty weak. We can push past our limits. And because of that, I always try to think of myself as a rape survivor – and I say it proudly.
Tonight I’ve been reading Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I watched the film – starring Kristen Stewart, any Twilight fans – a couple of years ago but in a moment of serendipity spotted it on Hodder’s bookshelves earlier today. It’s the fictional tale of Melinda, a fourteen year old girl raped at a house party, and it describes how she descends into a mute shadow of her former self, before very slowly starting to heal, and speak out.
I have a publishing nerd habit, where if a phrase sticks with me in a book, it gets a post-it note on the page so I can find it again if ever it’s on the tip of my tongue. Sometimes you find a character in a book or film that says something, and – to borrow from the fat old teacher in The History Boys – it is like a hand has reached out and taken yours, because the character is finally putting words to something you’ve been trying to describe for years. I have joyous lines from The Time Traveller’s Wife that talk about the immediacy of love, a whole passage from Wuthering Heights that talks about despair. And from Speak, now I have this:
“I just want to sleep. A coma would be nice. Or amnesia. Anything, just to get rid of this, these thoughts, whispers in my mind. Did he rape my head, too?”
The answer, of course, is yes. And I suspect it’s one of the many reasons we don’t often talk about rape – because those thoughts are swirling around in our heads so much of the time, and who wants to think about it more than they have to? After all, that’s the very reason I took a sabbatical from this blog – I was talking about it, and that made me think about it more, and then I talked about it more, and round and round those thoughts swirled.
And let’s not pretend that it’s only your head that gets raped. Your close friends and family are raped in some way, too – thoughts force themselves into loved ones’ heads unwanted, and won’t get out. When I first told my mother, she would wake up panicking that I wasn’t safe. My father later rushed headlong out of the cinema when he realised they were about to depict a rape scene, because he didn’t need anything making his imagination more vivid.
It seeps into the wider world, too. Even if you don’t know someone who’s been raped – and believe me, even if you don’t realize it, you probably do – distant women’s experiences have made you fearful too. Rape is consistently polled as the event or circumstance that women are most afraid of. And of course we know why. Every woman has at some point realised that – providing she’s not an Olympic weight-lifter – if a man wanted to physically or sexually abuse her, there’s nothing she could do about it. This is discovered in lighthearted circumstances, perhaps having a drunken arm wrestle or a tickling match. And discovering that you are, in a very real sense, powerless, somehow fractures that optimistic lie we were told growing up: that women and men are equal. I’m as big a feminist as they come, but one has to confront the reality that there are physical differences that will not be leveled out.
So how do we, our friends, our family, and even those ‘untouched’ by rape ever summon up the courage to leave the house? Simply because those damaged men are not the majority of men. The world is full of men who would protect you rather than harm you. And those that have harmed you? If you stay indoors, they win. And they don’t deserve to. And – hard as it is sometimes to force the words out from a throat that seems to get ever more constricted – if you stay silent, they win, too. So speak up.
A friend just pointed me in the direction of this article from the Telegraph, and I think it’s brilliant (never thought I’d say that about the Torygraph…). It discusses a lot of the things I talk about on this blog, and best of all, it does a great job of highlighting the many different ways women respond to rape.
I know I’ve been doing a lot of these ‘link-y’ posts recently, but I promise I have some of my own stuff on the way. Someone asked me to write about friends and family post-rape and that’s what’s coming up next. Stay posted!
Three years ago, on 28 December 2007, 47-year-old Susan George was woken by a banging sound. She went downstairs and, as she let the dog out, her ex-boyfriend Michael Thomas forced his way in and viciously raped her twice.
‘If you’d told me before it happened that he was a rapist,’ she says, ‘I would have said you were wrong. However, if you’d said he’d beat me up if I left him, I probably would have agreed. We’d been together for almost three years, and he’d grown increasingly controlling.’
She did eventually leave him but after three months he found her and started stalking her. ‘I remember running and locking the door behind me because he was coming down the road. I’d sit in the dark and daren’t put on the television.’
Now 50, Susan from Gwent says, ‘The night he raped me, it was all premeditated. He came with a knife, hammer and duct tape. He said he was going to kill me then himself.’ She later discovered that he’d been hiding in her shed, watching her for 10 days.
After the rape Susan convinced him to let her drive them to a petrol station to buy cigarettes. She told the petrol station attendant what had happened and before they got home the police intercepted them and Thomas was arrested.
‘Being raped wasn’t just a violation of my body,’ she says, ‘it affected me physically and psychologically, too. Immediately after, I felt as if I was looking in on it, trying to make sense of what had happened. The shock was as if someone had been killed in an accident. I was in a daze, numb.’
Fay Maxted, the chief executive of the Survivors Trust, says these responses are entirely normal. ‘The immediate effects can be shock, disbelief and then possibly anger. There are often parallels with bereavement, because the woman who’s been raped may experience a loss of the life she had before, the trust she had before. The world no longer seems like a place where she can walk to the shops without looking behind her.’
Maxted, who’s counselled for Rape Crisis since 1996, says the aftermath is often wide-reaching. ‘Effects can include persistent fear, which may lead to depression, nightmares, physical ailments and loss of appetite. Rape can disrupt work and destroy current and future relationships. Undoubtedly, it can affect every area of a woman’s life.’
Since the attack Susan has had therapy and seen a clinical psychologist. Today she won’t go out at night and is very vigilant about her safety. ‘I check my locks more than most people, I never go to the cinema because I don’t know who’s behind me and if I’m in a queue and a man stands behind me I have to leave. I’m very frightened of men.’
A relationship with a man right now is out of the question. ‘I’m not at the stage where I’m healed at all.’ She has suffered flashbacks and severe anxiety, and says that, three years on, the psychological and practical impact continues to resonate.
‘I was raped in my own home, where I thought I was safe. Afterwards I was too frightened to sleep during the day or night. I had to find somewhere else to live. I didn’t have the funds, but I did have a lifeline: my counsellor from the support group, New Pathways, and DC Claire Hopkins of Gwent Police.’
They provided 24-hour care and saw her through some of the darkest times, when she was suicidal. Susan says that this support system was invaluable in giving her the strength to go to court.
‘I kept thinking, “This is my day to tell everyone what that bastard did and put him where he belongs.” I used my anger. Why should I feel ashamed because he’d broken into my house and raped me? Rape victims should be empowered to go into court and testify with screens, like I did, so they don’t have to look at the perpetrator. The jury will see how they’re shaking, how their voices break. You don’t get that impact on a video link. It’s like watching telly.’
Susan waived anonymity to encourage other women who’ve been raped to come forward. She’s now a counsellor, volunteers with Victim Support and works with Gwent Police, advising on interviewing techniques with victims of rape. Her own experience of Gwent Police during the investigation was, she says, exemplary.
Michael Thomas was given an ‘indeterminate’ sentence (the maximum for rape is 16 years). More ex-partners came forward and he was eventually found guilty of seven charges of rape against three women, with offences going back 21 years. ‘He should have got life. Judges have to start giving much harsher sentences for rape, to send a signal. The psychological impact has left me with so many scars. I don’t know when it’s going to end.’
There are as many coping strategies as there are women. And despite the trauma, there are some for whom the effects have faded over the years. Sarah, a 41-year-old mother of three from the Midlands, was raped by four men when she was 15. ‘For me the effects have become a part of what makes me me,’ she says. ‘I live with the mental and physical scars but that’s all they are – a faded line where there was once a gash.’
On a night out with friends in 1985 Sarah got talking to a man in a club. Flattered by the attention, she went outside with him and they started kissing. She suddenly realised he wanted sex. She saw that his three friends had followed them, and the situation quickly got out of control. The four of them raped her.
She never confided in anyone (she told her parents she’d fallen down the stairs of a bus, hence a lost tooth). She was completely distraught, and says that a month later decided she just wanted to ‘disappear’, so she stopped eating and became anorexic. In the years that followed she drank heavily to block out the trauma.
‘I wouldn’t eat all day, would come home and hide whisky in a cup of coffee. Then I’d go to my room. It would knock me out – I didn’t want to be there.’ At 17 she hit her lowest weight of 6st and was admitted to hospital. Sarah says she was an ‘alcoholic anorexic’ for five years, and at university started to use sex as a way to detach. ‘I was promiscuous and held sex-and-drink parties in my room. I was very detached from my body and manipulated others with sex. I loved controlling men. I was more a persona than a person.’
Later she started a relationship with a woman who was to change her life. ‘We became mentally and physically intimate.
It was very difficult at the start, but this was like my head and body finally meeting. She was the first person I told everything to. Looking back on it I realise that that’s when my recovery started – five years after the rape. The warmth, love and companionship from her made me feel as if I was part of the human race again.’
A few months on she met Mark, her future husband and, over a period of a couple of years, she gradually told him about the rape. ‘He’s the only man I’ve told everything to. It took me about 10 years to relax, initiate and enjoy sex with him.’
Today Sarah runs her own PR company and seems an energetic, upbeat person. ‘Immediately after the rape I was scared to tell anyone – I was scared of my mum, getting into trouble, losing my friends – and really embarrassed. I was naive, I’d been drinking, I’d wanted to go “a bit further” with someone, I was dressed provocatively. I thought if I told anyone I’d been gang-raped they’d take one look at me and say, “Really?”‘
It’s these attitudes to sexual violence that Irina Anderson, a principal lecturer in social psychology at the University of East London, has studied for 20 years. ‘Men and woman tend to hold negative, blaming attitudes towards sexual violence that focus on the victim,’ she says. ‘Unfortunately, these attitudes haven’t changed much since the 1970s.’
The Wake Up To Rape survey, commissioned by the Havens charity in 2010, showed that more than 50 per cent of both sexes said there were some circumstances when a victim should accept responsibility for an attack. An earlier study in 2005, by Amnesty International UK, showed that if a woman is raped, 30 per cent of people believe being drunk makes her partially responsible; 28 per cent think if she’s been flirting, she should shoulder some blame; and 20 per cent if she’s wearing sexy or revealing clothes.
Dr Anderson’s own surveys back up these findings. She says, ‘I think these attitudes stem from beliefs about women and sexuality. If a girl is promiscuous she’s considered a “slag”; if it’s a boy it’s a mark of kudos. These beliefs start young; studies on teens show they’ve already taken root. Also, women are meant to be the “gatekeepers” of male sexuality, the ones who are responsible for what happens sexually because men have “urges” and can’t be held responsible for them.’
These attitudes matter, she says, because they relate to the low levels of women willing to report rape (Rape Crisis says 90 per cent of the women who contact them never go to the police). Studies have also found a direct link between a supportive, non-blaming attitude to reporting rape and the woman’s ability to recover.
‘The police have worked very hard in the past few years,’ says Dr Anderson, ‘but because of these attitudes in society, women are still reluctant to report.’ Fay Maxted agrees. She says, ‘If your own understanding is that rape only happens to women who in some way bring it on themselves, if it happens to you you’re likely to blame yourself.’
This mirrors the experience of Rebecca, who was 24 when she was raped. A friend at work had a boyfriend who was often drunk and also took drugs. Rebecca offered her friend an occasional place to stay, but the boyfriend started following them home and making harassing calls. One night he brought his cousin to the house. Rebecca was left alone with him and the man raped her.
Now 50, living in Lewes and mother to two adult sons, Rebecca says, ‘I was a virgin, naive and terrified. He put a knife on the bedside table. I remember it like it was yesterday.’ At the time she told no one, not even her friend. ‘The rape has shaped my life because it’s never out of my head. I still resent it, feel angry about it and, more than anything, feel angry with myself for letting it happen – and for keeping it a secret for so long.
‘After I met my husband I struggled with the physical side of the relationship,’ she says. ‘Sex brought it all back to me. So I told him some of what had happened, but he didn’t want the graphic details. He’s very supportive, but even now it comes between us. I’m not able to initiate sex and I carry a lot of guilt for that. I feel I should be able to show my husband I love him.’
Over the years, Rebecca has suffered a litany of side effects, including migraines, panic attacks, depression and very low self-esteem.
‘I don’t go out, I can’t be alone overnight, I don’t trust men. But one good thing is that I recently got a dog from the Dogs Trust, and having something else to focus on has really been very positive. I still don’t go out at night, but I take him for walks during the day and I’m not looking over my shoulder. Getting Rocco is the best thing I ever did; it’s made me feel a bit stronger in myself and given me confidence for the first time. I think I’m finally at the point where I’m going to turn a corner.’
Rebecca says she regrets keeping silent for so many years. ‘Not telling is a big mistake. It doesn’t matter whom you tell, but just tell one person to get it out. Keeping quiet has led to a lot of my problems. I think if I’d dealt with it sooner my life might have been different. Secrets don’t get easier. They get worse.’
Sarah agrees and says her older self regrets not telling anybody. ‘For many years I thought I made the right decision. Now I know that to keep all that a secret was wrong. But I got through it. I never felt I needed therapy. My spirituality has helped me understand what happened and my behaviour afterwards. I believe that even the bad things happen for a reason – to make us grow, evolve and get stronger.
‘I’m a survivor, not a victim. I don’t want sympathy. Victim is a mindset. I played that role in my head for five years. I hated myself, had no self-respect and really didn’t care if I lived or died. But being a victim means you hand over your power. During the rape everything was completely out of control. I never want to be out of control again. Today I’m a bit of a control freak; for example, I could never even work for someone else.
‘I’m not saying it’s quick or easy to get to a positive frame of mind, but it’s a fact – I was raped. I’ve had to get over it. There’s too much good in the world to live life as a half person.’
See the original article here.
I went to a party recently where I got talking to a confident and straight-talking Scottish woman. Lord knows why, but somehow we got talking about weakness. She was convinced that the best form of defence was to never show weakness – that to be weak was to be pathetic.
I disagree. I don’t think strength is about the British stiff upper lip – it’s not about never breaking down. I think strength is about having the courage to break down – to have a moment of weakness – and being confident that afterwards you will be able to pick yourself up again.
I have had moments of weakness recently. Not long ago I had one of the panic attacks that strike every few months, and this weekend, having been so unsettled by my recent fit of anger, I essentially ran away to the familiar, my old uni. (And as an aside… my recent wobbly moments are perfect illustrations of what I was talking about in The Five Stages of Absurdity).
Whilst there, I met up with some of the women I know are grappling with horrible memories. It made me think about strength. I have said it before, but I will say it again. We are the strong ones. We are the ones who were attacked, invaded, rendered silent. And we picked ourselves up, and we faced the day. The reason we are strong is not because we are fine (because we’re not), but because we are facing it. Remember: “the brave thing to do is to let your feelings affect you.” Strength is allowing yourself to let your emotions take over, because they need an outlet. And strength is not letting that emotion completely take you over – being able to come back to yourself.
I ran away because I needed to, and now I’m getting back to me. So healing – healing is not about always being kept together. Sometimes it is about being in bits. Don’t be afraid to rage, and don’t be afraid to weep, and don’t be afraid to have moments of vulnerability. These times prove your strength. You are not damaged if you have these moments. Something ugly happened to you. It is normal to have ugly reactions. Don’t believe anybody who says anything different. You are towers of strength.
I haven’t talked about anger much yet. I’m going to talk about it now. The following isn’t pretty, for which I apologise. I promised that this blog would be a truthful account of the aftermath of rape, in all its rationality, terror and bravery. This is me in all my ugliness – but it is the truth.
It took me literally years to realise how angry I was at my rapist. Since starting to address it, I had become so focused on getting back to normal that I hadn’t dealt with a huge ball of feelings that was still inside me, these feelings which marked me out as completely un-normal. It suddenly all tumbled out of me on the last night of my final university exams. I shook with rage – I mean, I was the angriest I have ever been. I shook for hours, into the early hours of the morning. And, as ever, I cried – not pathetic weeping, but loud and angry and fierce tears that burned my face and felt good.
At the time I found it quite difficult to separate out all the reasons for the anger I directed at him. Gradually those reasons have become clearer. I don’t think about the anger much, but sometimes it comes to me again – like it has today – and it consumes me.
I have a fantasy that I have never shared with anyone else. In this fantasy, that man, that Mark, lies in the centre of a darkened room, curled up and naked. He is defenceless, and he is pathetic. And I am circling around him, taking measured steps, as I hold my head high and pull my shoulders back. I am strong. I walk around him, telling him why I am so very angry at him. And with each reason, I kick him hard in the stomach with grim pleasure, and he moans in pain. I enjoy that.
You took something monumental away from me. I will never be able to know what sex could be like without the hang-ups and memories that you gave me. My experience of sex has always, and will always, be affected by your selfishness. Kick. You have made it more complicated for me to have relationships, because I require an understanding and patience from partners that goes beyond the norm. Kick. You have hurt my family, and forever changed how they see me. When you attacked me, you attacked them. My mother wakes up in the middle of the night frightened for me, and you did that to her. Kick. I spend every day more afraid than I should be. Four years on, I take circuitous routes or stay on buses and trains longer than I have to just to avoid streets and alleyways I distrust. Kick. No matter how enjoyable sex is, it is nevertheless always accompanied by a feeling of fear, that feeling of being invaded. You did that to me. Kick.
And you made me this person. This person who could delight in the pain of someone else, even if it is only you. You made me someone who hurt a boyfriend I loved. You made me a person who, for a while, forgot how to respect herself. You made me weak. I kick you, and I spit on you, and I stamp my foot on your face until I break your nose and I see your blood run down. I hate you.
I never used to hate anyone. Kick.