Content Warning: in this post I will talk about my own sexual assault (before the age of 18) in detail, and the repercussions it had on my life and psychology, including graphic details of being triggered.
I’ve previously written a detailed post about what happened to me when I was raped and how it affected my sex life shortly after. If you want more context to this post, please read my original post about it here. To summarise that post briefly, I was drugged and raped at a friend’s birthday party when I was 17. I’m now 30, so I’ve had a lot of time to heal and recover from this brutal experience. I find I can think about it with much less resistance than I used to, it still hurts, but I can control it and gently poke at it to test what’s still there.
Since the Sex Bloggers for Mental Health prompt is about Sexual Assault Awareness, I wanted to talk about a few things that happened in my personal experience that people might not necessarily think of, or think are typical of, sexual assault survivors.
1. I didn’t report it to the Police
I don’t think many people will be surprised by that one, as it is so common that sexual assault survivors do not report it to the police, for fear of repercussions, or fear of not being believed, or the fear of having to re-live the horrific experience again and again in front of police officers and doctors and lawyers and courts, jurys, judges.
What might surprise you is I had none of those fears. I didn’t report my rape to the police because it didn’t even for a second cross my mind to do so until years later. I didn’t even use the word rape until months later, because in my 17-year-old brain, rape is what happens when you are jumped in a dark ally by a man with a weapon. Rape isn’t what happens to a teenaged girl by a teenaged boy at a party.
Looking back, horrible as this might sound, I’m glad I didn’t think to go the Police. The local police where I am from did not at the time have a good reputation, and I can imagine all the prodding and questions would have only increased my trauma. I do think I would have won, had it come to that, I was very clearly and visibly hurt, with big bruises on my inner thighs and lower back and a tampon had been forcibly crushed against my cervix. Sadly, visible injury is often taken more seriously in the courts than psychological trauma.
2. I thought I had “let it happen”
This is the first way I described it to the person who found me, naked, hurt and cold in the early hours of the morning. I said “I let him fuck me”. This is how I thought about it in my mind, I felt that I hadn’t done anything to stop it; that because it had happened, I must have allowed it to.
I’m not sure if this was my brain’s feeble attempt at trying to feel in control of the situation, or whether misplaced guilt was just forcing me to load all responsibility on to my own shoulders. I think it was probably the former, given my future attitude. I wouldn’t allow myself to believe that I had been abused against my will, I needed in that moment to feel like I hadn’t been completely powerless. There’s safety in feeling like you have control.
3. I tried to talk to my rapist
This is possibly the strangest thing I have ever done. Still to this day, I don’t feel like the person who tried to contact him was really me. I don’t know what the fuck I was doing, or why I was doing it. I feel so weird about it, I have never talked about this to anyone before.
It was like I wanted to poke the bear, to see if it would maul me again. I wanted to see if what had happened was real. I wasn’t scared of him, I just hadn’t come to terms with what had happened yet, and I think in some twisted, unconscious way I thought he was the only person who could explain it to me.
I didn’t ask him though; I was a shy, confused, traumatised 17 year old. I just once got his number from someone who knew him and called him up, but I hung up before he answered. He called me back but I dumbly pretended I hadn’t called him.
I also met him by accident in a pub, late at night when I’d been out drinking for some hours already with friends. I sat next to him and spoke to him for a little while, I can’t remember what it was about, but I never did bring up that night. Afterwards, I had a complete break down in the taxi home, crying and shaking uncontrollably until my friends took me home and made me cups of tea and put me to bed. I’m not sure how many of them knew what had happened. That was the last time I tried to talk to him.
4. I had more, not less, sex
This is something I focused on in my original post but I think it’s worth repeating because people so often have an image of sexual assault survivors having a fear of sex or shying away from all sexual activities. I know that is true of some people who have been sexually assaulted, but it wasn’t true for me.
After the rape, my relationship with sex changed. I’d only had consensual sex with one person before it happened, so it wasn’t like I had much of a relationship with sex to begin with, but my attitude towards it changed. I felt like I had something to prove, and I wanted to assert that I was good at sex, and that having sex could be my choice. I think this was also another attempt I made to try to control what had happened. Rather than shy away I wanted to walk straight up to my fear to prove that I could stoically face it and it would not hurt me again, to prove to myself that I was in control.
I really was stoic, I refused to show any emotions towards the people I was having sex with, because I didn’t feel like I was worth any romantic effort. I felt like only my body was of use to anyone, and I would not let my guard down.
5. Three years later, I was furious
That sounds ridiculous, now that I’ve written it down, but it really did take me that long to get mad. Suddenly, I was really fucking furious, so much so that I wanted to seriously hurt the person who has assaulted me. I don’t know why it took me so long to be angry, but I think I needed enough space from the trauma before I could see it clearly and understand that I was a part of it. I think my defences were so strong that I hadn’t allowed myself to process that I had been violated; that my body had been abused. The anger, although not usually a particularly helpful emotion, was empowering for me. Rather than resist my emotions I embraced this anger, and started talking more about what had happened.
6. Five years later, I was triggered during sex
I mention this because it took me completely by surprise. It was the first and only time I’d been triggered during sex. I had been triggered by other things, mainly TV and films and other people talking about sexual assault, but to be triggered during sex was a new and damaging experience for me.
You see, it had been so long. I was 22 or 23 by that point and I felt like I’d grown so much. I barely thought about it anymore, although I was still painfully aware that it affected my behaviour, perhaps more aware than I had been three years previous. I was with one of my close friends, someone I had been regularly having fun sex with for years. He decided he want to have anal sex, we’d already been having other kinds of sex for a while and we’d both been drinking. I consented and everything was fine at first while I was warming up. He was starting to insert just the tip of his penis when I slipped and suddenly too much went in too quickly and a massive bolt of pain shot up through my whole body.
Something about feeling such pain in such a vulnerable moment brought everything flooding back. I couldn’t stop shaking, and reliving the assault over and over again. Just like in the hours after I was found, the urge to scrub my body clean took over and I spent hours just lying in my friends shower shaking uncontrollably, unable to explain properly what was going on.
This just shows that the scars that rape leaves run deep. That you can be safe with someone you love years later and unexpected pain can still take you right back to the moment of assault.
7. I want to protect my parents
I think a lot of people would feel this way, about their parents or their family. Although I know this absolutely awful thing happened to me, not them, I feel like it would hurt them far more to know about it. I hid it from them at the time, and I’ve no reason to believe they know about it now. The idea that they would find it upsets me more than anything. I can’t tell them about this blog for fear they’ll learn about it, or other abuses I’ve suffered. If all I wrote were sex toy reviews I wouldn’t be as concerned to protect my identity as I am.
8. It shaped who I am
I do believe that if I had never been raped I would not be the same person I am today. All our experiences affect us to some degree, and this was a big, traumatic experience that happened quite early in my life. I’d like to tell you that it made me stronger or wiser, but I think that’s just some bullshit people say to try to make themselves feel better. I might have turned out just as strong without having to go through the trauma.
What I do know, though, is that it is a part of me. My personality was shaped by it. My defence mechanisms were built by it. I can’t escape it, but neither do I want to anymore. That might be difficult to understand, but think of it this way: I spent so long trying to control the facts of what had happened, trying to distance myself from it, that the trauma continued to simmer under the surface of my consciousness, bubbling up to hit me with flash backs and extreme anxiety when I let my guard down. By accepting it and allowing myself to realise it’s part of what makes me me, I am freer. I can embrace and sooth myself and look out for potential triggers rather than walking about pretending there is no threat. I can feel safer in my own body and mind, knowing that I know it better and it’s not going to force things on me. Although I can’t see the scars, I accept that they are there.