Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sexual Assault: Stories of Survival, Strength, and Courage

After the rousingly mediocre success of my last contributor-generated blog, I was talking with a  friend about the ever-serious topic of sexual assault. This friend is a survivor of sexual assault, and wanted to share her story with others, and given my recent attempt at a contributor generated blog format, I suggested that if she wanted, she could use me as a platform for her thoughts and feelings on this subject. She, of course, graciously accepted, and we set out on the journey to find other survivors of sexual assault to share their experiences, thoughts, and struggles with us. As always, comfort, safety, honesty, and anonymity are my highest priorities with issues like this, so all submissions are anonymous and unedited unless otherwise requested by the individual submitting.

Also, as a warning: Some of these stories contain graphic depictions and explicit content, and may serve as a trigger. Please be careful and mindful of your well-being while reading. 

Now I'm going to let the others take over take over.



As I was getting dressed a few weeks ago, I found myself concerned that my shirt was too snug for the errands I would be running that evening. I just wouldn't feel safe walking across a parking lot at night with a tight shirt on. That realization stopped me cold. I, of all people, should know better. After all, I was wearing jeans, a baggy sweater, and sneakers when I was attacked. Even I had fallen into the thought process that the victim’s clothing could play a role in their assault. The idea to write about the realities of sexual assault and rape that had been floating around in my head for several months was now front and center. I reached out to my friend here and he offered up his blog as a means to do so. I am so grateful for this platform and for the others who so bravely share their experiences, as well.

My story begins on a cold Friday night in November 16 years ago. My crush called. His friend was having a party at his house and he wanted to invite me. I was excited. I really liked this guy. He came and picked me up at about 9:30 that night. When we walked into his friend's house, the first thing I noticed was the loud music. The second thing I noticed was that I was the only female there. I became nervous, but I trusted the guy I was there with. He immediately offered me a drink. Feeling uneasy and already wanting to leave, I requested only water. But he laughed and insisted I have something stronger and brought me a rum and coke. I felt every eye on me as we stood in the living room. After a while, he asked me if I wanted to go somewhere more private. I nodded yes, eager to get away from all the stares. He led me down a hallway to a darkened room with only a couch and a floor lamp, which he didn't turn on. I was suddenly not feeling very well. I wanted to leave. But he told me to sit on the floor and he would rub my shoulders for me. I know I did. Then it all gets a bit hazy. The next thing I remember, I opened my eyes and a stranger was hovering above me. I was lying on my back on the floor with no pants on. I frantically pushed away with my feet until my head hit a wall and I had nowhere else to go. He grabbed my shoulders and told me it wasn't going to hurt that much and I should just enjoy it. I looked around. There were three other men in the room, watching us. One of which was the boy I'd come there with. As the stranger pushed himself into me, I remember yelling and feeling dread. Were they all going to take turns? I started to cry. "No no no no no no..." I repeated over and over and over, while trying to get out from under him. He put his hands over my mouth and nose and leaned his weight on me. I struggled to breathe. I weakly slapped at his hands.

"Shut the fuck up and take it." He said.

I was afraid. I don't really remember everything. Part of me is grateful for that. I do remember trying to fight him off and also just lying there in defeat and fear. I went in and out of consciousness. When I awoke the last time, I was alone in the room. I put my clothes back on and sat down on the couch. I was afraid to go out there. But I desperately wanted to get away.

There were three of them in the living room when I stumbled out. One of them was the stranger who had forced himself on me. They laughed when they saw me. "Want to cuddle now, bitch?" my rapist asked. I ran out the door and just kept running. I didn't even know where I was. I ran until I reached a street I recognized. I called a friend and while sobbing, asked her to come pick me up. She begged me to let her take me to the police. But all I wanted to do was take a shower and forget anything had ever happened.
I never reported it to the police. I never told anyone the whole story, until now. I felt embarrassed. I felt that if I had been smarter, it wouldn't have happened. I felt somehow at fault for what happened to me.


Now let me briefly share some statistics with you. 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, there is an average of 237,868 victims of sexual crimes (over the age of 12) in the U.S. each year. 44% are under the age of 18. 38% of sexual assaults are committed by a friend or acquaintance or family member. Less than half of them are ever reported to the police. About 25% of reported rapes lead to an arrest. Only about 4% result in a felony conviction, with only 3% of assailants ever actually spending a day in jail. Why is it that people are so afraid to come forward when they are sexually assaulted? Is it fear of retaliation? Not being believed? Shame? Being somehow blamed for inciting the attack? There is a way of thinking out there that a person’s actions or clothing or sexual history can play a role in the crime.

“Well, what was she wearing?”
“How much had he had to drink?”
“I heard they sleep around.”

So many suffer in silence because of these stigmas. Too afraid or ashamed to say anything. Many blame themselves, at least in part, for what happened to them. The crime committed against them will have a long-lasting impact on their lives. A large percentage will suffer from PTSD. Relationships can be difficult to maintain. Trusting anyone becomes a terrifying, daunting task. Many will have issues with anxiety and depression.

A sexual assault is something that the victim will often relive over and over in their head. Triggered by a name or a place or a song or for no tangible reason at all. Your body was defiled and you can never leave the scene of the crime. To anyone reading this that was the victim of any type of sexual crime: You are not to blame. And you are certainly not alone.


***

Our next submission reminds us that sexual assault doesn't always take the form of rape, and discusses misconceptions of sexual assault.



When I was 11, a neighborhood boy came over to swim with my brother & I in our pool. He was a couple years older than me, maybe 13. He was cute I thought, but because I was so young the thought very quickly left my mind; I was too focused on normal kid things to think any more of it. We swam for quite some time, the water began to get cold as it progressed into the evening & I began to shiver. He came up to me & said, "You look cold." He pulled me close to him, which was strange but I was young & naive so I just thought he was being kind, & I let it go. A few minutes later he began coming up behind me frequently & rubbing his hand against my lower back, it made me a little uncomfortable, but again I let it go. Then he said, "Let's have a contest to see who can hold their breath the longest under the water." Sounded fun, I thought. But right before we began this contest, my brother said, "I'll be back, I'm going to go see what's for dinner." I was alone with him now. So I figured if we quickly began our contest, it would last as long as my brother was inside, & nothing eventful would be able to happen. I was very wrong. As soon as we dipped our heads below the water he grabbed my head & forced a kiss on me. I quickly came up, but my brother was walking towards the pool. I was afraid I would get in trouble over it if my mom found out, (why I thought this, I have no idea) so I just pretended nothing had happened. I would later come to regret this. My brother had brought some water guns out with him when he came back to the pool. The boy quickly grabbed me & said "You're on my team." We went to opposite ends of the pool, & he & my brother began to squirt one another with the guns while I sat & laughed at them. I was more of a spectator than anything but I was okay with that; we only had two water guns after all. But then, what I thought at the time to be the most terrifying thing of my life, (I would soon find to be the second most terrifying thing in my life) happened. He began operating the water gun with one hand instead of two. His other hand slipped beneath the water & made it's way down to my leg. I wasn't sure what to do, so again, I did nothing. Then, the next thing I knew, he was forcing his hand down my swimsuit bottoms. I jumped up & said, "I think my stepdad is home!" & I got out of the pool and ran to the driveway to pretend to check for him. Later in the evening we went inside to eat dinner. I learned then that this boy was staying the night at our house, because my brother had asked if he could. My brothers room was right next to mine. We ate dinner & it was about 8pm when it was all said & done. I was tired from a long day of swimming so I went to lay down in my room & watch tv. The boy, who I had now learned went by the name of James, went with my little brother into his room. A little later in the night, he crept into my room while my parents were in the living room watching tv. I began to sweat. He made his way over to my bed & he began to touch my face, tracing it with his fingers; he then got into bed with me, under my covers. I heard my brother yell from his room "James come look at this!" He was referring to something on his video game. I felt so relieved. But before he left he whispered in my ear, "I'll be right back." I quickly tucked my covers underneath of me as tightly as I could, hoping if he had to put up too much of a struggle to get under them again that he just wouldn't bother. When I heard him making his way back to my room I pretended to be asleep, hoping he'd leave. He didn't. I heard him coming towards my bed. I shut my eyes tight. He didn't even seem to notice, or care, that I was asleep. He got back into my bed & began aggressively yanking the covers out from underneath me. I tried pressing my back down on them but it was no use. "How is no one realizing what's going on right now?!" I thought to myself. Of course, my brother was only 8, he didn't understand. My mother, always so protective, was no where to be found. James made his way under my covers, & I felt his hand caressing my lower stomach. He then forced his hand into my pants, & thus began the most terrifying, painful, thing I had ever endured. He did not rape me, but he did assault me. I felt raped, nonetheless. It felt like a century before he finally left my room, the entire time I had pretended to be asleep. I let a little time pass after he left before I got up. I closed my door & began to put on layers & layers of clothes. I still felt naked. I went into my bathroom, where I began sobbing & vomiting uncontrollably; I let the water run so no one could hear. I felt so disgustingly dirty. I never even thought about telling my parents, or anyone else. I was utterly ashamed. I felt like it was my fault, because I never once fought back or told him no. I never wanted to have to explain to anyone why I didn't just yell for help, or tell him no, because to be quite honest, I wasn't sure myself why I didn't do those things. It's 6 years later, & I'm 17 now. This is the first time I have ever told my story to anyone.



I will never tell someone what they "should" have done while being assaulted, you never know what it's like until it happens to you. When people think about rape, they often envision a man in a mask jumping out at a woman walking home alone at night, & attacking her. Then, the woman is blamed for walking alone at night.  Or we envision a 21 year old girl, walking home from the bar, dressed in provocative clothing, drunk, when she is attacked. Then, she is blamed for being drunk & dressing provocatively. Or, in the most sickening of cases, where a child is irreparably scarred, they are often blamed for not telling anyone about the abuse. The latter, is my story. I was not a drunk girl; I was not walking home alone in the dark; I was not dressed provocatively. I was an 11 year old little girl. The man who assaulted me was not a man at all, but a boy of 13 years old who lived next door. I hope to teach others that rape is not always black & white. That victims, & rapists, come in all age groups, ethnicities, backgrounds, etc. I want to help stop blaming the victim. It is never a victims fault when they are attacked. Toni Morrison, a famous author, once said: "A woman riding the subway nude is guilty of indecency, but she must not be raped... It doesn't matter if she was selling sex at 9:59 & refuses it at 10, this is still rape."

***


Our next contributor speaks candidly of her experiences with sexual assault while married:


I was sexually abused by an elderly man when I was 8, it happened once and he got arrested and put on trial. I was not affected by it, it didn't affect my relationships with men of any age. I am known as being very sexually open and aware and not at all 'a victim'.

I've been promiscuous, I've been celibate, both were choices made by me and how my life was at the time. I'm however not easy and fussy about who gets into my bed.

I met my husband at 22, he was 25, we married in 2004. I knew I was making a mistake, that I didn't love him but thought we'd still be happy. As the marriage progressed he became more dominant in the bedroom to a point I was uncomfortable with, and he took that control into my whole life, we had a child together in 2006 and I suffered terribly from Post Natal Depression to the point where I wasn't washing, eating or doing housework for days ( our daughter was always cared for, fed and cleaned, by myself I might add).

In 2009 after years of control I made the decision to leave him on my 30th birthday, I was putting plans together so my children would be safe and cared for. He got a job working in Afghanistan, I thought the distance would make the control looser, it didn't, it got tighter, till I was suffocating. In September 2009 he came home from leave and I went to meet him for a city break, we had booked a lovely apartment, went shopping, had a lovely meal together and had fun. It was better than it had been for years, I thought maybe the decision I had made was the wrong one till that night. We went out on the town, we had a lot to drink and when we got back to the apartment I passed out drunk on the sofa. I was awoken with a sharp pain in my rectum, my husband was sodomising me, he knew I was passed out and he knew anal sex had been taken off the menu, I was too shocked to move but I cried and asked him to stop, he got faster, I passed out again, I awoke to him urinating on me, in my hair (I love my hair, it's my identity) and on my face and breasts. He pulled me up and said 'get to bed'.

I didn't leave, I didn't report it. Who would believe me? I was mentally ill, I was drunk, we'd had anal sex before. But I was angry, angry that someone who loved me would do such a thing, angry that I knew I might not be believed. A month later I left him, he tried to punch me in the face.

Assault in my opinion, done by someone you know is far more damaging than a stranger violating you. I know that it is a personal opinion and every person is different.

5 years later I am still single, not because I am scared of men, but I am scared of how men will react to me telling them. One man who said he loved me I told and he finished it with me 2 days after being told what had happened. Was that the reason? I don't know but I'll forever be cautious of telling anyone else that I'm emotionally close to.



I'm not a man hater, I love men, I've had sex with men since then, some great sex. I guess the moral is don't let someone take you away from yourself. Report it,if I could go back I would have. It may not be too late for you

***

Our next contribution also discusses the use of rape as an exercise of control and power in a relationship and her own personal struggles with sexual assault.

Rape. The word I, for so long, didn't want to use for what had happened to me.
The first time I was raped I was 13 and I was at a party and I had been drinking. I was also a virgin. My more experienced friend was there, flirting with a boy about 3/4 years older than us. His friend was interested in me. The 4 of us were in a room, chatting about teenage stuff. Adults and parents a few rooms away. My friend started kissing the boy that she liked and it soon turned to more. I was terrified. I was soon on my back with a 17 year old boy on top of me. I said no, I said stop, but he carried on. It lasted minutes but felt like years. I lost my virginity that night and also part of my heart was broken forever. I never told anyone till this day.

I've subsequently been raped countless times but this time by 2 ex partners, who were also both physically abusive. I can't count or describe many of these attacks because I zoned out, I mentally went somewhere else whilst they took what they wanted from me. Only one time really stands out as a memory.

I was heavily pregnant. My much older partner didn't care that I felt uncomfortable or unattractive. He didn't care that I worried for my first babies health or that I had no sexual urges, he didn't care that I said no.
That night he forced me to lay on my side, crying while he had sex with me, roughly, painfully, over and over. When my ordeal was done and he'd finally fallen asleep I crept from his room to the kitchen and threw up in the sink. I collapsed into a heap on the floor and sobbed my heart out for hours. Luckily my baby was healthy and I left him soon after she was born, scared of the influence he'd have on her life. Again, I've never told anyone about these rapes.

People know I'm a survivor. They know I'm tough. They know I've been through the mill and made it out the other side, but I'm telling my stories now because we shouldn't be afraid to say "this happened". We have a freedom in our country to speak out against sexual assaults that other people haven't got and we should use that freedom. If my speaking out puts one rapist where they belong, in prison, saves one person from being assaulted or merely helps a victim become a survivor then I've done my part against the weak people who use rape as a weapon of power.

***

Our next contributor, who asked to be referred to only as B. discusses her experiences with rape in marriage as well.

The first time it happened, I was sleeping. I woke up to my husband on top of me, inside me. I yelled at him and tried to push him off, telling him I didn't want to have sex. He held my arms down and told me he was almost finished. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know if what he was doing was "wrong" or not. So I stopped fighting and let him finish. When he was done, he rolled over and went to sleep. I got up and took a shower, crying. That hadn't felt like sex between two people who love each other. This same thing happened several more times, even though I begged him to stop doing it. Finally, I started sleeping in my daughter's room with her. This made my husband furious. One night, he stormed into her room and grabbed me by my arm, roughly dragging me to our bedroom. Once we were in our bedroom, he started yelling at me and I started yelling back. We were getting angrier and angrier, screaming louder and louder. I tried leaving the bedroom but he blocked me. I went into the bathroom instead, and tried shutting the door. He wedged himself in the doorway of course, and I pushed him. He didn't take kindly to me pushing him. He slapped me and pushed me against the sink. He held me there and pulled my nightgown off of me. He took me by my hair into the bed room and threw me face first onto the bed. He pressed my face into the mattress, and pulled my underwear down. I told him this wasn't funny and to please stop, but he held me down and forced himself into me. It was surreal. On a certain level I couldn't believe that what was happening was actually happening. I had a hard time connecting that the man behind me was my husband. This was not sex. It was far more forceful, and therefore far more painful. My vision went spotty and my stomach knotted and my muscles burned. He finished, and I could only lay there, I just couldn't bring myself to move. By the time I managed to get up, he wasn't in the bedroom anymore. I went into the bathroom and took a long bath. When I came out of the bath, he was in bed. I don't know if he was awake or asleep, but I didn't want to sleep next to him. I went back to my daughter's room. The next few days, we avoided having to be alone or have any conversations. When we finally did, he said this: "I make the money. I can take what I want from you when I want it."


We were divorced two years later. I never told anyone what happened. I'm ashamed that I stayed with him even one day after that happened. I've heard people say that rape within marriage isn't a real thing. I can tell you that it is.


***

This submission comes from a dear friend, about her experiences with sexual assault and the social issues relating to it.


1st rape - I was 19, in college, & worked as a waitress to be able to stay in my own apartment off campus.  I had a boyfriend, who was older & not working at the time... he was 26.  One day in August after working a 16 hour shift, I came home exhausted.  He wanted sex, but I told him no, I was too tired.  He said ok & started rubbing my shoulders.... the next thing I knew, he had torn my dress off & pinned me down on the couch.  I struggled & yelled no, stop... but he didn't stop, & I couldn't get free.  I can't ever forget the look in his eyes, so inhuman & predatory.  I don't know what made him get up & run off, but I gathered what was left of my yellow dress, wrapped it around me, & sat on a chair with my arms wrapped around my legs, rocking & sobbing.  I could only think one thing, over & over, like a broken record - he raped me... he raped me...  He came back, kneeled in front of me, & I whispered what was playing over & over in my head, "You raped me."  He said, "I know.  I'm sorry."  I don't remember what happened after that, just that I woke up at some point later that night.  He had taken all my money & jewelry & left.  I called my mom first, who told me it was my own fault for letting him stay.  Same response from my sister.  I called my doctor next & told the receptionist - she made an appointment 2 weeks from then & told me it was fine.  After I went to the doctor, she said I should have had a rape kit right away... 2 weeks later was too late, that I should file a police report.  So I went to the city police station to file a report, where the officer said he thought I was lying, that I was just a jilted lover.  In the meantime, he called & threatened to kill me if I told... & kept calling.  I went to the county police department, where 3 officers told me they couldn't help me & laughed at me as I left in tears.  1 officer called me later; my boyfriend had a warrant in another state for raping an underage girl, & had served time in his home state for an undisclosed felony.  Later, I found 2 others that he'd raped & warned the one he was heading to next.  I changed my phone number, but had night terrors every night for a year before seeking therapy.   It helped, but I still sometimes have them - wake up so scared that what I dreamed, I can still see.  I still panic if someone tries to hold my hands down, even in play.  No charges were filed by the prosecutor; the thought wasn't even entertained.



2nd rape - 3 years ago, I picked up a male friend & we went to the park to hang out.  He was drunk, an ex-Marine, & had a backpack.  We talked & he continued to drink, & he started showing me some self defense moves that he'd learned.  He grabbed a knife from his bag while he had his arm around my neck (it was military, I think they call them K-Bar or combat knives), to "show me."  He started kissing my neck, with the knife at my throat... then pushed me down in the grass, pulling my jeans & underwear down.  He told me if I screamed, he'd kill me.  He had the same inhuman, predatory look in his eyes... I tried to hold my legs together, but he wrenched them apart & raped me.  I turned my head & stared at a tree until it was over.  Afterwards, I put my clothes back on & he told me to drive him home, so I did.  The next day, I was covered in bruises, took some photos, but later destroyed them.  I didn't bother going to the police this time... he was the son of a prominent local politician,  & I knew I'd be drug through the mud.  No report, no rape kit, no charges.


A lot of people have a lot of theories about why rapists rape - in my experience, & from what I've seen firsthand of others who have been raped, is that it is about power & control.  Make no mistake, it is a weapon, and a powerful one at that.  It dehumanizes, terrifies, traumatizes.  The sex is secondary, if it's honestly even a factor at all.  One of my professors in college had a theory about punishment for rapists & child molesters - "nail his dick to a tree stump, set the tree stump on fire, & give him a rusty butter knife".  While that would personally be satisfactory, I don't believe it would stop either of the men who raped me.  They would just use a tool to rape (broom handles, bottles, etc) or find another way to gain that power & control over another woman (by strangling, etc).

During therapy (which was in a group - I found that bizarre but oddly comforting), I discussed my molestation by a family member when I was between the ages of 7-12.  Most of the other women had also been molested as children, & the therapist said that rapists tend to look for such women, that they are easy prey.  What this meant to me, is that I'll never be free from my past.  I'll always have to be extra vigilant to ensure that it doesn't happen again... and frankly, that's rather sad & shitty.  I've spent most of my life feeling guilty & being shamed because of crimes committed against me.  Every time I tell someone new about what happened to me, I brace myself for the backlash.  Every time I tell what happened, I live it all over again in my mind.  It gets easier to tell each time, though.  It's like a horror story, that with repetition, it loses its power to scare.


So if you know or suspect someone has been raped, what can you do?  Encourage him/her to tell what happened, don't interrupt, really listen, don't blame/judge/say "well, maybe you should have...", & don't try to force a police report.  I say the last one with some hesitation, because I think the only way we can put a stop to rape as a society is to report it, & it's only helpful if done immediately.  However, it's their journey, not yours.  They are in survival mode, & they don't need someone else trying to take control.  Filing a police report is intrusive, a rape kit even more so, & increases feelings of helplessness if they are done by uneducated, unsympathetic police officers & nurses.  Unfortunately, that's the norm.  Reassure your friend/loved one that it is not his/her fault, do make sure that they know that they only have about 72 hours to receive a rape kit before DNA evidence is destroyed permanently, & get information about local rape crisis centers.  Offer to accompany him/her & offer a hug, but don't be offended if either and/or both are declined.  Don't push, especially physical touch.  Also, don't be surprised if your friend/loved one "changes".  Some won't want to be touched at all, some will crave it & may become promiscuous.  Personally, I felt like sex with me was worthless - who would want damaged goods?  So I gave it away, having sex with men readily so it couldn't be forced from me - after all, if a guy wanted it, he was just going to take it anyway.  I know better now, but don't assume any actions indicate whether a rape happened or not - everyone acts differently, & shock makes him/her go on autopilot.

***


Our final submission discusses date rape, and the impact of guilt on lifestyle, as well as the change which comes with knowledge and empowerment:


It was June 1990 and I was 18. I had just finished my summer exams at the end of my first year in University, and I was out for a big night of celebrations with my friends before we all went our separate ways for the summer. Being a starving student, I had bought a few cheap cans of cider in an off-licence and smuggled them into the student bar on campus. Sometime during my third can of cider, I passed out. Never in my life had I been so drunk on so little alcohol.

Of course, what I didn't know until several days later when a concerned friend told me what he had seen, was that another so-called male friend of mine (I'll call him Pat) had been spiking my drinks whenever my back was turned and I had unknowingly consumed a large quantity of vodka along with my cider.

I remember only snippets for the rest of the night. Falling and hitting my head badly; my friends carrying me outside for fresh air; Pat gallantly saying he'd take me home; ending up with Pat in my bed while I was wearing just my underwear; Pat ripping my knickers off; me crying and saying 'No'; Pat telling me I wasn't a virgin anymore; Pat's two best friends bursting into my room and taking pictures of us in bed.

In some ways I can't tell this story in a linear timeline. The problem was that I was so drunk, I didn't remember any of the above until several days, or even several weeks later. I woke the next morning with a terrible hangover, complete amnesia and a vague sense of unease. Our grotty rented house had become a party zone, and bodies were lying everywhere. Pat and his friends were still downstairs, and I talked to them as though nothing had happened. The following day I even phoned Pat to say goodbye before he went abroad for the summer. He was cold and distant with me on the phone, and I didn't know why.

Then the memories started creeping back. Friends who had witnessed snippets of what had happened phoned to see if I was ok. This is how I learned about the drinks being spiked; it's also how I learned that Pat had done this to me based on a dare from his friends. The picture they took, I assumed, was for proof.

I cannot describe the psychological pain I went through in the weeks after this. Just being alive hurt so much I didn't know how to keep breathing. I couldn't get out of my own head at all, couldn't escape from the memories that went around and around till I thought I'd lose all of my sanity. Pat was a friend, I'd trusted him; even fancied him a little. I couldn't comprehend how any human being could hurt another so badly.

Then my period was late. Very late. Living in a small town (I'd gone home for the summer) I couldn't even buy a pregnancy test without everyone knowing. I contemplated abortion, but had absolutely no money. It would take the whole summer in my summer job to earn enough to take the boat to England, but that was money I needed to support myself in college the following year. The thought that I might have a baby growing inside me, against my will, terrified me. I looked at it as a parasite implanted in my body that I was powerless to remove. Finally my period arrived, or so I thought. Based on what I know now I think I actually had a miscarriage at about seven weeks' gestation. It was a blessing in disguise.

The hardest thing to deal with was not knowing how to quantify my experience. The term 'date rape' had never been heard in Ireland, and rape was still something that a stranger did in a dark alley; it wasn't something that happened when you went home willingly with a friend. I thought maybe I'd been seduced or ravished, but words like that sounded a lot nicer than what I'd experienced; they sounded like something I should have enjoyed, not something that had destroyed me. When I returned to university I spent hours trawling the library stacks looking for an explanation, a definition, a pigeon-hole I could put my experience into. I never found it.

In the early days I reacted by becoming promiscuous, and dropping guys left and right. If they could hurt me, I could hurt them right back. Then I withdrew into myself completely and went the other direction. I became reclusive and scared of spending any time with men. I had panic attacks if I was alone in a room with a man, regardless of who he was. I went nearly three years without any contact with the opposite sex. I was lonely and depressed, and thought I would be that way for the rest of my life. I contemplated suicide many times.

Then in 1992 Mike Tyson was convicted of date rape. It was a lightbulb moment for me, and I devoured newspaper articles outlining what exactly constituted date rape. I learned that it was very common in universities and that various 'date rape' drugs were in use, most commonly alcohol. Most importantly, I now had a label to put on what had happened to me, and I realised that I wasn't alone in being treated this way; in fact, I was pretty much a statistic. Rather than making me feel worse, this news gave me enormous relief. Finally I was able to be angry, which made a very welcome change. I started calling myself a rape survivor, and stopped thinking of myself as a victim.

Everything that happened to me was pre-internet, and in 'holy Catholic Ireland' such topics were seldom discussed. Today, articles about rape and sexual abuse are ten a penny in online newspapers. There are chatrooms, forums and support groups online to help rape survivors, and date rape is well understood. There are occasionally even convictions for it. I've heard people groan at yet another story of rape, yet another awareness campaign about sexual abuse, and so on, wondering why we need to keep repeating these messages over and over. I'm a good example of why we need to keep talking. I lost years of my life to feelings of confusion and guilt about what happened to me, because these forums weren't available then. Every day (sadly) another girl or woman is raped, and this state of being as a rape victim or survivor is new to her. Every day a woman will look for help, or advice, or understanding, or just someone to talk to online; so every day, those articles and forums and support groups need to be there, talking back. Until rape no longer exists (and I'm not holding my breath) they need to continue to be loud and up front.



I'm happily married now with a beautiful, bright, bubbly teenage daughter. I can't tell you how scared I am for her.

***

So we come to the end of this. I'd like to say thank you to everyone who took the time to read this. I would also like to thank all our contributors for the courage and strength it took to share their stories. I am humbled that you chose to use my blog for this opportunity. Thank you for your courage and strength. Stay strong, and be well.

 Now, my friend will see us off.

"My desire is that reading the different experiences that everyone has shared here has helped shed light on some of the many misconceptions about sexual assault and opens up a dialog about the personal and cultural aspects of the issue. Perhaps it will make us think about how we ourselves may be contributing to some of the stigmas that surround the topic. I hope anyone who has been a victim finds some comfort in knowing you're not alone in your experience or how it has affected you. Thank you to Philip (@EmbraceTheCoda) for the use of his blog space and to all of those who shared their stories."