March 23rd, 2016
by Brianne N.
A note from the author: The thought of attaching my name to this story makes me feel embarrassed and ashamed—which tells me that it’s important. I shouldn’t have to feel ashamed for the violence someone did to me. I shouldn’t feel ashamed for sharing the unappetizing details. But I choose to share them, because apparently some people have a hard time understanding what is and isn’t assault, and just how deeply it can impact a life.
We need to stop seeing sexual crimes as acts perpetrated by “monsters” that happen to other people. Perpetrators and victims of sexual assault are your friends, your neighbours, your co-workers, your siblings, your spouses, and your children. Statistics tell us that you definitely know someone who has been sexually assaulted—and that you probably know someone who has committed an assault. This is the messy reality we live in.
When I was sexually assaulted after a date, I did not run screaming from his apartment. Nor did I physically or verbally attack him, or call the police.
I did, at one point, kiss him sweetly and softly, thinking that maybe he would stop hurting me if I tried to show him love. Maybe he would remember I was a person, and not a vehicle for his desire. I was afraid of what would happen if I continued to fight. But when that didn’t work, and I finally managed to push him off of me and make it to the door—I froze.
I did pause to catch my breath. I did stop to register that I was still breathing. I was still breathing. I did take stock that I wasn’t physically hurt. I did notice I was close to the exit. I did thank god that he hadn’t raped me, and that he wasn’t moving toward me.
But I did not run away.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
My mind was moving a million miles a minute, and at the same time, not moving at all. Part of me thought I was dreaming, because how could he possibly ask me if I was okay? That would mean that he hadn’t pulled my head back violently by my hair and said degrading things to me, that he didn’t just hold me down on top of him, with a vice grip on my arms, despite my asking to be let go. Repeatedly, I asked to be let go. It would mean that he hadn’t let me up, only to push me down again to get on top of me, grinding against me, telling me how badly I wanted “it,” touching me while he ignored my requests for him to stop, please stop, until I was finally loud enough and pushed hard enough for something to click.
Standing in the hallway by the door, was I okay? No. But I was alive. So I said, “Yes, I’m okay, but I need to go now,” while his dog paced back and forth in front of me nervously. As he walked towards me I told him that he needed to take his dog out, and that he was going to call me a cab and give me a smoke and walk me to that cab. I became demanding in an attempt to regain some control over a situation I couldn’t understand.
“But you don’t smoke?” he said as he handed me one and got the dog leashed.
We walked out of his building, him chattering at me like I wasn’t in a trance, like I wasn’t waiting for the moment I would be out of the violent sphere of space he occupied. When the cab arrived, he said something about having fun and we should do it again.
I think I mumbled yes.
I think I kissed him goodbye.
I can’t remember.
I do remember the shallow breath that overtook me once the cab pulled away, and the tears that ran down my face; the pain, the confusion, the feeling of trying to get out of myself because nothing in me made sense anymore, it was too fractured, too scary in there. Nowhere was safe.
Being the “right kind of victim” would require that at this point in the story, I assure you I never talked to him again, or that I eventually reported the assault to the authorities. I did neither. When I got home, I sat on the edge of my bed and felt anger. How many times had I been through a version of this before? I didn’t want him to think what he did was okay. I was so tired of men thinking it was acceptable to treat me as less than human. I sent him a text message telling him that how he acted was not okay, to which he apologized for being “a bit aggressive.” That was our last communication.
In the weeks after the assault, I had to take time off of work. It felt like I wasn’t living in my body anymore, yet the emotional effects were palpable. I was so anxious that I couldn’t even take the bus. Being in an enclosed space with strangers terrified me. I would cry at the drop of a hat. I was always scared. I couldn’t do anything or see anyone. But, in those first few weeks, I still wanted to talk to him. I wanted to make him say he was sorry and to tell me that it was okay, that it wasn’t my fault. That I was beautiful and worthy and deserved better. That he was sorry to have ruined things for me. Sometimes I wanted him to beg me for a second chance, and I even thought that maybe if he apologized we could give it another try. His actions impacted me so intensely that I could not function in my daily life—yet still, I thought…I want him. I want his approval, his apology, his anything. I wanted him to give me something because he took so much from me.
Over the years, I would think about trying to get back in touch with him. To take some sort of petty revenge, or to find out why he did it: why me, did I in some way ask for it? I want to look him in the eyes and see him as a human being who is a product of an environment that makes what he did normal. I also want to look him in the eyes and hate the hell out of him for forever changing me, against my will. I want to tell him about the other men who have sexually assaulted me, and how I congratulated one of them on completing their PhD, and had a friendship with the other for years until life made it impossible. But that still doesn’t make it okay. It didn’t make me okay.
Each experience with trauma stemming from sexual violence turned my world inside out in its own unique way. One thing was consistent—everything about my world seemed ugly and full of pain. For a while, the lights would dim on my life, and then the point would come where I would reach out in an attempt to turn them back on and try to make the ugly seem beautiful again. Does that mean I wasn’t assaulted?
Image via Flickr