CONTENT WARNING: Mentions of sexual assault
I was 18 and I was a victim that did everything wrong- at least, in the eyes of those who judge women for being assaulted.
I was very intoxicated when it happened. I went into a bedroom at a party with a close friend and an older man I had just met. When my friend left, I stayed with no regard for my safety. I was wearing a short dress, had been drinking all day and was flattered that someone older was interested in talking to me. I was also in a relationship at the time.
When my friend left, he turned off the lights and put on an album from a band I liked. He told me he wanted to listen to music with me. We lay there in the dark, talking quietly. Then, he started touching me.
I can't remember much, but I do remember that when I got up and tried to leave, I started crying because I couldn't get his door open. He refused to help me. When I finally got out, his friends were lined up against the wall. I don't remember much. But I do remember how they laughed at me.
I spent the rest of the party sleeping in the back of my car. He messaged me and told me that he was worried about me, that he hoped I hadn't tried to drive home. He said sorry if he'd done anything wrong and asked if we could talk about it. To my eternal shame and regret, I accepted his apology. I went back in to see him. And under the pretext of watching a movie together – an act that was meant to comfort me – he did it again. Only this time, it went further. Much further.
By the time the movie finished, I had decided I was complicit in my own assault. I hadn’t left the room, so it had to my fault. I must have wanted it because I was bad and selfish.
The closer I get in age to my abuser, the more I realise how incredibly wrong it was that he did what he did. I was so young, hopelessly insecure and already vulnerable to being taken advantage of due to my history of family violence. He was ten years older than me. I, at that point, had only had one sexual partner and was completely clueless to how sexual intimacy could be so horrifyingly misused.
I was not a “good” victim. I didn’t even realise I was a victim at the time. Years of social conditioning had made me believe that as a woman, it was my duty to be the gatekeeper of my own sexuality. Instead of wearing modest clothing and isolating myself, instead of endlessly crying, instead of doing all the things we are taught that “true victims” do, I entered a period of wilful self-destruction.
I got black-out drunk and kissed people I didn’t care about. I started sleeping with my abuser, in order to reclaim the control I felt had been lost to me. I did not tell my boyfriend, and when he found out, he (rightfully) dumped me. Although I am not proud of this behaviour, years of therapy have helped me to understand that this was a normal response to sexual trauma.
My abuser was also quick to dispose of me. In our brief relationship, he demanded that I send him pictures of my genitals and ignored me when I refused. He pressured me for anal sex when I said it wasn’t something I wanted to do. He fucked me without a condom and refused to help me pay for the morning after pill. When I bought it anyway, he said if he had known I was going to still buy it, he would have finished inside of me.
Although he had no problems talking about the girls he was currently sleeping with in front of me, he dumped me because I had drunkenly kissed someone else. This was after a conversation we had about not being exclusive. Now, I realise the real reason he dumped me was because I was too difficult to control.
Once he was no longer in my life, I spiralled into a pit of self-loathing. Through instant messenger, I learned that my abuser had told our shared friends that I was a “slut”. I also learned that these so-called male “friends” were trading stories about the advances I had made towards them – advances that had never actually happened. My best friend at the time, who had been there when the initial assault happened, asked me why I had lied to him about it.
It was a complex and brutal character assassination, which was so thorough and so damning that I eventually moved states to start afresh.
If I had made a report to the police about my assault, what on earth could I have said? I don’t believe, not even for a single moment, that I would have been taken seriously. Like many women who report their assaults, I would have been told that I was “crying rape” because I got too drunk and regretted my actions. That I must have really wanted it, because I went back to his room. What did I think was going to happen? According to our society, I have a duty to protect myself from older men, and I failed catastrophically in every single one of my actions.
And yet, this memory still fills me with panic and shame. Sometimes, when my partner comes to bed and I am already asleep, I scream at him not to touch me.
The last time I heard anything about my abuser, I found out that he was engaged. Briefly, I wondered if his new partner knew anything about me. Had he told I was an unhinged, immature party-girl? Did she know I was 18 at the time? I thought about reaching out, but in the end decided it would not be worth the fall-out. I had closed off that chapter of my life and did not feel capable of opening it again.
Only a handful of people in my life know about my assault. Too often, people have reacted with disbelief and discomfort. They have questioned me on finer details, even going as far to compare my experience with the legal definition of what constitutes as rape. If my loved ones can cross-examine me like this, what hope in hell would I ever have of bringing my abuser to justice?
The older I get, the surer I am that what he did was wrong. I know that I did not do anything to deserve what happened. But in the eyes of my patriarchal society, I will never be the victim, because I did not act in the acceptable ways.
Phoebe is a 24 year old, proudly bisexual woman from South Australia. Currently, she is completing her Honours thesis in History on the subject of art, trauma and the Holodomor (a famine that devastated Ukraine in 1931-1932).