Trigger warning: This post mentions sexual assault. If you are at risk of being triggered or upset by this topic, please do not read any further. For help and support, click here for the NHS page of advice and support services.
Oh and Mum – don’t read this one.
I recently noticed that the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport was trending on Twitter.
Against my better judgment, I decided to have a look.
The stories that people relayed and their reasons for not reporting just broke my heart. The pain was palpable; the shame, overwhelming.
And it hit way too close to home.
It was a pretty average night. I was at the pub on my own and with the usual liquid courage, I had struck up a conversation with several people inside. I was absolutely wasted, but of course, these were the height of my drinking days, so I carried on regardless.
A few of us decided to go outside for a smoke and while we were out there, two more guys showed up. I didn’t know who they were, but they seamlessly joined the group.
The next part goes blank and I have no idea how, but suddenly everyone had gone inside apart from me and one of the new guys.
I don’t know how it started, I only remember it already happening. I froze. It felt like everything was happening in slow motion. Then it was over. He walked away and I was standing outside the pub, alone.
I was dishevelled. So drunk that I couldn’t even comprehend what had just happened. So I straightened my clothes, took a deep breath, and went back into the pub to get another drink.
Thinking back now, I cringe that this was my reaction.
But at the time, my brain somehow rationalised that drunk-me must have been flirting with him. I must have instigated it. I must have wanted it.
I don’t remember his face. Or his name. Or anything about him. Except that he was rough and slobbery and disgusting. In my flashbacks, he’s just a shadowy figure.
I was so convinced the whole thing was my own fault that I didn’t even realise this was a sexual assault until years later. I blamed myself for getting so drunk that I couldn’t keep myself safe. I was ashamed. I felt like if I said anything, I’d just be seen as the drunken, promiscuous slut who was probably asking for it. No one would believe me.
I was victim-blaming. And the victim was me.
I still hold a lot of shame about that night. I still blame myself for being drunk. I blame myself for going out alone. I blame myself for not telling anyone what had happened at the time.
But as the years have gone on, I’ve started to experience cognitive dissonance.
When it comes to sexual assault, I’m vocal about believing and supporting survivors; about placing the blame for sexual assault squarely on the one who assaults, not the one who is assaulted. But I realised that no matter how much I genuinely believed these things to be true for other people, I just couldn’t accept it for myself.
I would never dream of telling a sexual assault survivor that they were to blame. That they shouldn’t have been so drunk. That they were probably asking for it. So why did I so ardently believe those things about myself?
I’ve never talked about that night to anyone. Not a single soul. Until now, I guess. Part of me wanted to just keep it buried. I mean, what’s the point of bringing it up? I don’t remember the date it happened. I don’t remember anything about him. There will be no justice for this.
But then I realised, as long as I kept this buried, I would continue to blame myself. It would be my dirty little secret, rotting away at the back of my mind.
I thought maybe if I wrote it down, if I really admitted to myself that this happened, maybe I could start to heal. Maybe I could learn not to flinch whenever someone touches me unexpectedly. Maybe I could get through consensual sex without crying. Maybe the nightmares would start to fade away.
Yes, I was drunk. Yes, I was alone. Yes, I failed to adequately protect myself. But even though all those things are true, it still wasn’t my fault. I’m not to blame for being assaulted. He’s to blame for assaulting me.
I made some bad choices, but those bad choices don’t mean I deserved it.
I’m only now starting out on the path to finding peace about that night and I know it’s not going to be easy.
Wish me luck.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this post, the following organisations/support services may be useful:
- NHS (Help after rape and sexual assault)
- ITV (List of rape and sexual abuse helplines)
- Victim Support (Rape and sexual assault)