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** Trigger warning **

One of my friends sent me a link this morning to this article: Why Don’t Cops Believe Rape Victims?

It talks about a phenomenon that’s really well known if you’ve received training in rape counselling, but perhaps is much less understood in the wider world: women who have been raped can very rarely recall their attacks in neat, linear narratives, and frequently they have intense sensory memories that interfere with any ‘story arc’ that we might expect to hear. The above article, and many others beside, can tell you far more about the biological basis for those things than I can. But even if you understand the research, I think it’s still tough to grasp what that non-linear narrative means.

So I thought I’d tell you about mine. I remember pretty well how the situation developed – I remember chatting at the front desk, being invited to the back office. After that, I mostly have short flashes of memory, like those sepia flashbacks that action movies are so fond of using. I remember him coming towards me for the first time, grabbing my neck. I can picture his chest above my head and the precise colour of the mahogony desk in that room. I can describe what the booking system on the computer looked like. Those are the sorts of visual memories I have.

Then there are the sensory ones. I can feel being pushed to my knees, the pain when he reached the back of my throat and, later, his hot breath dampening my scalp. I can hear being called a “sick bitch”, the sound of his trousers against the cheap carpet, the hum of the air-conditioning unit, quiet sobs. I can’t really recall any smells – I suppose there weren’t many, in that office.

But those are the sorts of memories I have. They’re disparate, not in any natural order. And it’s why, when a person has ever asked me to tell them “exactly what happened”, I have refused. Because what could I tell them that would satisfy them?

I don’t know if that’s helped understand what it’s like. But it’s the best representation of what my memories are – a jumbled and incomplete mess. And frankly, I don’t really want to sort through them. I suppose that might seem confusing – why wouldn’t you want to really know what happened to you? But one of the reasons I have steered clear of any counselling that might seek to ‘restore’ my memories is that I’m scared. Those things that I remember are unpleasant enough – I don’t feel the need to add to them. And whilst I can hardly claim to speak for every survivor of rape, I think that’s a fairly common thought.

Anyway, I thought this might be helpful 🙂


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The most important sex scene I’ve seen in years

This morning I watched the latest episode of Girls, and it contained the most important sex scene I’ve seen in ages. I know that Girls isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and in truth it’s pretty hit and miss for me too – but I keep watching it because sometimes Lena Dunham’s writing is so incredibly spot on that you find yourself nodding at the screen and saying “Yes” emphatically, out loud.

You can watch the scene in question here. You can watch the whole episode if you want to put it in context, but otherwise, skip to 24.09 – it only lasts about three minutes:

This scene discusses the concept of consent more usefully than any scene that ever depicted rape as violent and black-and-white. For example, the rape scene in Charlize Theron’s Monster made incredibly uncomfortable viewing for me, but it was obvious what the director was saying: “this is wrong.” And people watching it agreed – it didn’t change anyone’s mind about what consent was, or what rape was. 

In this episode of Girls, Dunham depicted a sexual experience that millions of girls, including me, have experienced time and again. And we need to talk about it. Because the jury is out on whether or not that was a consenting sexual moment, and even I haven’t fully decided. Our uncertainty makes it the most important teaching tool about consent I’ve seen in years. Here’s why:

  • It’s about an issue of consent between two adults in a relationship – this is no stranger in a dark alley
  • It’s about whether silence can mean consent – and it’s about whether consent can be withdrawn
  • It’s about saying “This. This is the effect of porn culture on thinking about sexual consent.”

I can’t remember every time I’ve been in a sexual situation where I was unhappy but didn’t say anything – but it’s probably more than ten. On the flipside, I can remember just one time, fairly recently, where I put a stop to it. Where all I was feeling was that I was an object being fucked, and not a participant where my partner cared about respecting me or my level of enjoyment. And I probably only had the strength to do that because of how much I’ve increased my confidence in discussing consent, and because the guy involved was a friend. All over the world, girls are having these experiences, and it’s seen as normal.

This, by the way, isn’t saying that sex as depicted in the above scene is inherently wrong. We’ve seen that character, Adam, having that kind of sex with a girl who was into it, and that was fine. But – and this all comes back to my post The ‘grey area’ of rape – Natalia was clearly not into it. For Adam, this was a moment in which all he cared about was his own sexual gratification and exerting power over his girlfriend – it was about disregarding her dignity and her body language. You can tell from her facial expressions, from her body, from her protestations that she “didn’t shower today” that this was not something she wanted to do.

And where did he learn that behaviour from? That idea that it was acceptable to order his girlfriend of two weeks to crawl on all fours for him, to then ejaculate on her body, against her wishes, as if she was a dumping ground for his sperm? That’s a scene straight out of 90% of web porn, where the woman is dominated and her sexual pleasure becomes secondary, if it even matters at all.

This is what boys as young as twelve are watching on a daily basis. Of course it seeps into their own behaviour. I remember boys pushing my head towards their crotch when I was fourteen – before free porn sites like YouPorn and PornHub made it instantly possible to watch a woman being degraded. I genuinely shudder to think what fourteen-year-old boys think is acceptable sexual etiquette these days, when all they have to teach them is the misogynistic porn that now takes up 70% of the entire content of the Internet.

So that scene. That scene is what parents, feminists, teachers, policemen and politicians need to be talking about. Because whether or not you think that it was rape, I hope you can see that it highlights an area of consent that desperately needs discussing – both around teenagers, and around everybody else. If you can teach people that mutual, explicit consent is important, you can transform how they think about all sexual acts – and ultimately, challenge rape myths around drunkenness, silence and clothing.

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The first of October

Today I stand in front of the mirror of the ladies’ toilet at work, and I stare at the face I see. This week, this month, I don’t recognise it as my own. The hair is the same blonde mess it always is; my face is still carefully painted on. But that hair and face and smile is who I am for eleven months of each year. Now it is the first day of October, and I am the girl I was 6 years ago.

I’m sitting on the toilet having a wee. As I feel the liquid trickle out, I am picturing the fading scars inside me, those pock marks and lines and swells that must linger on my flesh. They will be less obvious than they were last October. But they’re still there.

I’m sitting at my desk thinking about the supermarket. Last week I pushed a trolley down the table sauces aisle, gripping the handle tightly, pleading with myself not to lose it. I closed my eyes, took deep breaths, counted to ten. Rushing past the broccoli and the toothpaste and the liquid detergent, I smiled blandly at the checkout girl and made it to my car, breath ragged. My hands were shaking so much I knew I couldn’t drive home. So I sat outside and tried to calm down by appealing to nicotine. I sat and smoked a rare cigarette, and miraculously it worked. The anxiety attack I had expected to arrive full tilt was held back, and I was pleased about that.

And yet, the panic is still there, threatening me. Six years have gone by and, these days, the trauma of the past is lying just slightly out of reach. I know I should be proud that it does not dominate me any more. But instead I feel it hovering out of sight, threatening this life I have painstakingly built, and I know I have only a slender white and gold cylinder, leaving a foul taste in my mouth, to help keep it at bay.

This is the confirmation I dread every year. It is the first of October, and I’m still not fine.

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The joys of TED

I know I haven’t written a post in a while. To be honest it’s been quite a nice reprieve, because writing about rape makes you think about rape, and people talk to you about what you’ve written, and suddenly my life featured rape really heavily, which I hadn’t intended at all.

But now I’m sitting in the library preparing for an exam tomorrow and it strikes me that now might be the perfect time to write a quick post…!

It will be quick. I just wanted to give you links to some TED talks. If you haven’t discovered TED yet, they put online twenty minute long talks by people talking about all manner of things – be it the latest genetic discovery, or how to live a life. These talks fall more into the second category. The first I want to recommend links in very nicely with my last, ashram-based post, Strength. Brene Brown talks about the power of vulnerability, about letting ourselves be open. The second looks at whether violence towards women is rooted in how we teach boys to be ‘Men’ when they’re young. I’d genuinely be really interested in seeing some debate on this, particularly from male readers – is he right? Do you think he applies brush strokes that are a bit too broad, or do you have similar experiences?

Either way, enjoy discovering TED 🙂

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