He was chasing me. I didn’t remember how I had gotten there; I just knew I had to run. As I went out the door, I was almost paralysed by the realisation of how different the staircase looked: scarier, darker and seemingly endless. Fortunately, my fear was overtaken by pure survival instinct as I managed to get away.
All of a sudden, I woke up. My body was still shaking and my heart was racing, but looking around my bedroom – my music sheets scattered over my piano keyboard, some unfinished paintings and my grandpa’s guitar in its corner – made me feel safe. “It was just a dream,” I whispered to myself.
Except it was not. The setting, with its frightening darkness and infinite staircase, might have been a product of my unconscious mind (perhaps a metaphor of my feelings); but then there were the fear, the guilt, the overwhelming anger and the inexplicable confusion. None of that had been a dream. It was a memory.
We had been seeing each other for a couple of months, and I had been having a good time so far. He was easy-going and confident; he had these two awesome dogs with which I loved to play and he did not seem to be intimidated by my sarcastic sense of humour or annoyed by my undeniable trust issues. What’s more, I thought his level of maturity could be higher than that of other guys I had met; after all, he was six years older than me.
Once these two months had passed, however, his true colors started to show, and I did not like what I saw. He became demanding and sometimes implied that I was his property. He even blurted out misogynistic comments occasionally. We had had consensual sex before, but he started suggesting we did things I was not comfortable with. Needless to say I was done and ready to move on.
I went to his house to tell him in person that we would not be seeing each other anymore, but he refused to let me go. He kept dismissing my opinions, saying they were all nonsense and instead kept asking me to give him oral sex while he removed his clothes. Since I was obviously not being heard and definitely not being taken seriously, I decided to leave, only for him to grab me, push me onto his bed and force himself into my mouth.
I was trapped. My ability to throw a good punch became useless; there was no way my small body could have overpowered his tall, muscular frame. I managed to move my head to the side, but by then he was already removing my pants and asking to have intercourse. I felt angry and defeated, so I just uttered “Whatever,” and decided not to fight. I figured it would be worse if I tried to resist. Therefore, I did my best to focus on my breathing – slow, deep breaths – in order to relax my body so it wouldn’t hurt too much.
Nevertheless, I reached a point where the pain was too much to bear. I withdrew consent – in case “whatever” counts as consenting to sex – and asked him to stop. He did not. In fact, my tears only seemed to encourage him further.
It is impossible to describe accurately what I was feeling at that moment. Shame, guilt, disorientation, fear… What I do remember perfectly, though, was rage. Oddly, it was mostly towards myself. I felt like an idiot. Especially because, passionate feminist that I am, I spend a lot of my time ranting and spreading awareness about situations like this. Oh the irony…
I couldn’t help but to torture myself with endless questions and reprimands: “How were you not able to see who he really is?” “Why were you not careful enough?” “There’s a reason you don’t trust men, you should have known something like this was going to happen” “You shouldn’t have let your guard down”, “Stupid, stupid, stupid…”
Contrary to what I would have thought, my reaction was not violent or vengeful. I had always imagined that if I were ever sexually abused, I would at least break the guy’s nose and press charges against him; yet when it was over, the only thing I said was “I want to go home.”
Legally, the definition for “rape” is narrow. You have to pass a series of tests as rigorous and exhausting as if you were applying to join NASA. In my case, my only proof was a collection of inner bruises I didn’t know I had until it was too late. I thought it would have been my word against his. And I was so confused. For months, I spent my days being haunted and obsessing over one single question: “Was it rape?”
It is time to face what rape really is. We cannot keep walking around on eggshells trying to evade using the word and justifying its avoidance. So did you replace the word “no” with silence? Doesn’t mean it’s not rape. Had you had consensual sex with that person before? Doesn’t mean it’s not rape. Were you under the influence of alcohol or any other substance? Doesn’t mean it’s not rape. Did you not resist physically? Doesn’t mean it’s not rape. Furthermore, if you have to ask yourself and wonder whether it was rape or not, it probably was.
I am still furious, but the reasons are different now. What angers me is the fact that his actions made me feel like I had something to be ashamed of. The situation had nothing to do with me being careless. I am not responsible for my bruises. I did nothing to facilitate the abuse. My rape was not my fault.
To those who have been abused:
What happened to us in no way diminishes our worth. The scars will remain but the pain will become strength. We might have been victims once, but today we are survivors.