‘Rape’ is not a word I have ever wanted to associate with myself, but like countless other women and girls, it’s one that has attached itself to me. It hangs over my head like a dark cloud, its sharp claws embedded in my back. It’s written in my skin, in the way I struggle to trust people, in the way I flinch when someone brushes past me in a crowd.
For many people, the word rape conjures up images of violence, masked strangers in dark alleyways, and torn dresses. For many of us, though, it’s a much less graphic but equally traumatic picture. A partner who won’t take no for an answer, a friend who takes advantage, or a guy at the bar who insists on taking you home. In fact, these sorts of scenarios make up the majority of cases of sexual assault in the U.S. But for those who experience rape at the hands of somebody they know, there’s often a reluctance to label it for what it really is.
I am one of a huge number of women for whom facing my trauma meant combating guilt-evoking thoughts about my relationship with the person who raped me and the fact that I didn’t scream or kick or run, even though I never consented.
Feelings of confusion and shame dominated my viewpoint for almost three years as I struggled to come to terms with what had happened. I didn’t feel like I could call myself a victim or a survivor. I didn’t think I could call the experience rape. The words sounded so harsh, so raw that I felt it would be wrong to claim them.
Memories of that night would often bubble to the surface of my mind. I remembered drinking and laughing with my friend, I remembered pushing him away gently as he leaned in to kiss me, and I remembered laying on the ground staring blankly into the night sky, wishing and waiting for it to all be over. I remembered walking home in the dark, washing the mud off my shoes and my clothes in the kitchen sink so as not to wake my mum, and curling up in bed, defeated.
It felt like trauma, but I couldn’t quite convince myself that it was trauma. I kept making excuses to not admit the truth to myself or, worse, to put the blame on my own shoulders. I berated myself for not fighting; until I realized that wasn’t the point at all.
I never should’ve needed to fight. My crime was simply trusting somebody that I should’ve been able to trust.
It shouldn’t be the responsibility of women to cover our drinks and bodies, be skeptical of every man we pass on the street or share our location with a friend every time we go on a date or get in a taxi.
Sadly, in a society that nonchalantly declares “boys will be boys” while judging rape victims for their clothing choices, we have nobody to turn to but ourselves. As women, we must grow and support each other, and it starts with supporting ourselves. It took me far too long to show myself the kindness I needed, to take myself seriously the way ALL women deserve.
Finally, I can look my trauma in the eye and call it by its name. I was raped. And now I can start to heal.