I thought what had happened was nothing out of the ordinary. We started talking in the club, I woke up with him the next morning with no memories whatsoever of the previous night, accepted his Facebook friend request, went on a terrible date with him and suggested that we just stay friends (he was a twat, but I felt guilty about rejecting him). I thought I’d managed to get a hilarious story out of this disastrous turn of events, and dismissed my flatmate’s suggestion that I might have been drugged on that night out. This was my Hot Girl Michaelmas – at this point in the year I tended to wake up in stranger’s beds after nights out, so how was this any different? This was normal, wasn’t it? I certainly thought so, for a while. It took me a while to work out that this was simply a safety net I’d laid down for myself, to cushion the blow of processing what had actually happened on that night and give myself a soft place to land. It wasn’t until over a week after the incident, in the middle of a catchup with a friend, that the realisation erupted from my mouth out of nowhere.
“I think I was raped.”
All I remember was being unable to stop crying once I’d said it out loud. Even now, I’m hesitant to even use the word “rape” – it felt like such a heavy, dirty word to use, and I had to soften these words to make it easier for me to process them. I thought was savvy enough to understand the reality of sexual violence in university environments, but I didn’t expect to experience it myself. I’d genuinely believed that I was the main character in this story, and that bad things don’t happen to main characters.
The different emotions I experienced came in waves. First came shock; this felt like a punch to the gut. Then came guilt – not only had I let this happen to me, but I’d acted as though he hadn’t done anything wrong, and it had taken me too long to realise the gravity of what had happened. Then came rage; I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to ruin his life, to expose him to all of his friends, to destroy his future.
Then came defeat. I’d heard far too many stories of women with similar experiences who were never taken seriously, who never got the justice they deserved. I couldn’t get the whole world to believe me, nor could I realistically make this man’s life a living hell in the way I so desperately wanted to. Now I know that there are people who know about what he did to me, who have turned a blind eye. Now I know that others who have been accused of assault have not had their pristine “BNOC” reputations tarnished. Now I know that colleges won’t hesitate to completely overlook these allegations in order to preserve their public image. Rapists are in our universities, in our workplaces, even running our countries – what would stop him from doing the same?
I can only compare the experience to a scene in the film Maleficent – not the most sophisticated choice of film, but hear me out. Maleficent is drugged by the man she loves, who cuts off her wings. She awakens to find her wings gone, and lets out an anguished scream. The metaphor is obvious, but powerful – incredibly poignant for a children’s film. In the aftermath of the assault, I felt like this man had ripped off my wings. I couldn’t go into the nightclub where I met him, nor could I go anywhere near his college. If I passed him in the street – even when he didn’t see me – I’d have to stifle a panic attack as I ran away. The “recently deleted” folder on my Notes app largely consists of the same message I’ve hastily typed out and shown my friends over and over to explain why I had suddenly fallen into a trance after catching sight of him: “[NAME] is over there”. While the prospect of going into the city centre alone was enough to make me tremble, he would continue to go about his daily life.
I now refuse to be labelled as a “victim”. Nothing about my experience makes me a victim – not the sleepless nights, or the feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I left my building, not the guilt or self-loathing that I couldn’t shake off even though I knew I did nothing wrong. I am not a victim, not a statistic, but a survivor.