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


  1. When I was 21 years old my best friends partner came into my room late one night. I was living with them for 3 weeks over the summer break from my first year in university to visit my best friend and meet her new baby. She was young and so was I . He was older , a self taught musician and seemed like a very nice person. I was taken aback when he showed up in my room late at night but he came in saying he would like to read my poetry and possibly set it to music. I was writing in my journal and in my nightie lying in bed. I sat up and he sat on the bed. We talked for some length of time, not that long, and then the next thing I remember he crawled on top of me – not forcefully, but on top of me . I was so shocked and so I froze and said nothing. The word or idea of consent was not in our language or our lives yet. I should have said NO! DON’t ! Stop! I don’t want this! But no words came out . He put his penis inside me and I found myself saying some minutes later – “come ! Come! ” I was desperate for it to be over. I think the whole process was 3 minutes long. Later I knew how short a time had elapsed. When he pulled out and sat there. I said to him : “oh my god! I have made love ( yes I said made love !) with my best friends partner. Please you must take this to your grave! ” He said he would and left the room. I kept wondering if I had flirted with him or liked him in some way and just not known it. When I checked in with myself the answer was no absolutely no. He told my best friend the next year I think and I received a horrifying phone call that began the next decades of deep and fierce apology to her. She did her very best to get over it and forgive me. She retaliated once by coming on to my live in partner a few years later which how could I blame her for that! I was so profoundly grateful that she seemed to find forgiveness. She and that partner broke up a few years after the incident with me, over other infidelities and different values. I always felt such enormous guilt for “sleeping with him” as if I contributed to the end of that union. I felt so much guilt I think I apologized at least every 2 years to her for making love /having sex with her partner at that time. Our childhood friendship of over 50 years ended eventually with this history ( and trust ) being a part of the reason. I never understood what happened to me (except for some reason I was a despicable person
    then ) those few minutes in that room, until I told a therapist how I had “slept with my BF partner ” and she asked me to describe the sex when I admitted to not having any attraction to him whatsoever and being taken aback he was in my room late at night then on my bed etc. before the sex occurred. She calmly told me that I had experienced acquaintance rape. It was a moment I will never forget. When the light dawned after so many many years that I wasn’t a horrible person and horrible friend – but I had experienced a form of “acquaintance rape”. This has liberated me in ways I cannot describe. Allowed me to forgive myself and love myself so much more. When I attempted to share this realization with my oldest friend she got very angry thinking I was lying now, using it as an excuse and “calling it rape! ” It was one of the darkest moments of my life. She has ended our friendship now and I go on knowing I was and am a very good friend and a great person. That we were both too young to understand. I will always love her.

  2. Jennifer,

    Thank you for sharing a piece of your story. I am so sorry this happened to you. Your ability to find light in the darkest of experiences and continue to love your friend is inspiring. That is true strength and so powerful.

    Wishing you many more years of lightness,

  3. Thank you for sharing this truth. I am sorry this happened to you. Bless you.

    When I was young, I experienced it as the men around me being empowered to define everything and, when they casually assaulted me, it was my urge to resist it or escape that felt like the transgression. I felt that I was the one who had behaved wrongly, by not “being into it,” being available, being “up for anything” and not pleasing them. I felt that it was me who had grossly misunderstood the situation and that, by consenting to hanging out with them, I had failed to read the fine print of what they were up to and it was my mistake, my “own darn fault.” I felt that, by having a will of my own, I deserved every violence men perpetrated against me, because that was the highest level of transgression I could possibly commit. Wanting agency.

    This is what the world teaches women. It normalizes male – female subject/object relationships and then it acts all surprised at what results from it. Of course we “act like everything is normal” after being assaulted. Standing up against someone so familiar and so darkly cruel is a terrifying thing. Standing up against a culture that normalizes it is a terrifying thing. “Acting like everything is okay” is the “freeze” reaction in the “fight, flight, freeze” response to trauma. Facing the things about humanity that we cannot unsee once we have seen them, that is too huge a mess when we have experienced trauma. It takes years to process all of the ways that changes the world for us, before we can come out of the frozen place and begin to move around again in ways that move us forward. “Freeze” is the only response that doesn’t expose us before we have the resources to handle that exposure. We still live in a world where we are punished for resisting, and that is why we are showing strength and courage by choosing to speak out. We have a very long way to go.

  4. I hear what you are trying to explain, the need to be understood and cared for just being afraid and confused, understand that it is not about you might help the grief.

    Love & Blessings,

  5. Maree,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. The way society has historically (and contemporarily) relegated women to the role of object has led to the normalization of violent behaviors, and essentially bred the perfect victim – the one who feels guilty about even wanting the agency that would prevent their own victimization. It is a sad and messy world we live in, but the conversations happening are heartening and I sincerely hope, even if we have a long way to go – that we are well on our way.


  6. Brianne,
    Thank you so, so much for sharing your experience. Your story is not my story but it is close and your words resonate with me so strongly. I’m still searching for what it means to feel safe and how to feel real again after it was taken from me (the next morning over breakfast I said he was “sweet but too pushy and doesn’t understand no” when my friend asked me if I’d been okay with how her friend had acted). I spent the next weeks trying to fit myself into a narrative where I wasn’t assaulted until I couldn’t do it anymore and broke down crying in my car on the side of a mountain road. I’m finding ways to forgive and believe myself. I can’t get back the hours and days lost to my brain screaming about it but I can learn to trust my own narrative. I know what happened. What I did should have been enough. it wasn’t. I’ll never know why he choose (he! chose!) to do that but I still find myself asking why all the time.

  7. I felt like I was reading my own story. I froze and I blamed myself. All those years of theory and working with such issues didnt help me when it happened to me.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I am a man who absolutely hates being lumped in with “men(!)” but I understand that the reason for that is it is all too often true. In an ideal world no one has to worry for their safety simply because of who they are. Stories like yours help us to take one small step towards that world and your courage is an inspiration.

    I am a white male who has occasionally questioned my safety simply because of the usual growing up bullying issues — even the relatively privileged fear violence. I shudder to think of how much worse my life could have been if I was not born a white, heterosexual male. I nearly vomit when I think of how backwards the world has been for thousands of years and how much further it has to go. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

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