A personal account of sexual assault
I once was raped last summer.
Just looking at that word hurts, that word which makes me shy away, that word shouts victim, and that word shouts hurt, that word is chained around my thigh, a tangled knot which I can’t untie. That word is my mark, and I bare it wherever I go.
I once was raped last summer. And I shouted. I shouted help and I shouted no and my phone was thrown across a stranger’s room, and no one heard me. I said no but I wasn’t heard, he didn’t hear or chose not to hear, or enjoyed to hear and then to control me, own me and take me. That word gave him power, and he barred the door, and held me down, and threw my phone across a room, and I couldn’t make a sound.
I once was raped last summer, and I think it was my fault.
I once was raped last summer, and I was lost, vanished, an empty space in a busy room. My friends saw that empty space, the void where I should have been, the gap between bodies in a crowded dancing bar. My friends saw where I was not, and they called for help. But you cannot find an empty space.
The police thought I was 5ft 6, when I am only 5ft 3, and I don’t know why, but we found that funny after.
I once was raped last summer and I ran. I ran through echoing London streets, and my feet beat down, and I thought I had got away. But even then I could feel the chain looping round my thigh, pulling me back to a strangers house, even then I could feel the mark that was only just starting to show. But I didn’t care to think, I ran.
A taxi driver found me, and took me in. He didn’t ask and I didn’t tell, but I think that he knew, he saw the smudged make up, the tear streaked face, the chain and mark just starting to settle into their new place. And I wonder now how many girls he might have found like me, running through long London nights, and how many girls he took away, and dropped off where they thought it would be safe, where they could wipe the make up off their face.
I once was raped last summer but I could not go home.
My friend’s mum was dressed in pink pyjamas when she opened the front door. She sat me down and fed me tea and toast, and told me that I’d be okay, and listened to all the things I didn’t say, and told me to stop apologizing. My friend wasn’t there yet, she was still searching for my empty space.
When they did come home, they were only two, and they knew or guessed, it’s hard to tell which. They cried, and I laughed, and then I cried too, and I had a shower and tried to wash away the night. The next day they bought me coffee and we watched a mindless film in bed, and it made me feel real again.
I once was raped last summer and afterwards I was angry, more angry than I’ve ever been. It filled me up and swallowed me whole, and I thought I was nothing but rage. I wanted to be loud, and drunk and to beat my fists on empty London streets and shout into long and strange dark nights. I wanted to be heard like I wasn’t heard before, and I wanted to be seen and I wanted to be known, and I wanted to shout and cry and never be silenced again. I found hate in a bottle of wine.
A boy who I think I could’ve loved spoke to me again. He tried to ask how I was, to show some affection, to care and to want and maybe to be wanted back. He did not deserve me. I had a chain looped around my thigh which I was too ashamed to ever let him see. I was angry. I shouted, and pushed, and shoved, and drove him away. I wanted to prove that I was not an empty space, I was in full possession of myself, that I owned me and could do with me what I wanted. I refused to be a human, who could want and be wanted.
We haven’t spoken since.
And then, I guess, I just burnt out, I had nothing left to shout. All that anger which filled me up left as quickly as it had come, leaving nothing but an empty space.
So I hid, cowering in an empty house. I was safe and I had sound, at least there is an echo in an empty room. I was tangled up in chains and they pulled me down into silence. I drowned myself in bad TV and decided not to think, and decided not to leave. I was cocooned in my own misery, protected by the walls of an empty house. I was a worthless empty space, a burden to the outside world and better kept confined.
When I once was raped last summer I was nearly lost, I nearly let myself sink. I hollowed myself out and crawled inside, dragging my chains behind me, and almost never left. I became an empty space.
But then I went away from those London streets, and moved to another a city. One which was at once strange and not, and I tried to forget, to carry on, to ignore the chain around my thigh. In this new city I feel, at least, that no one can see my mark. If I stay quiet, and don’t make a sound, if I laugh and smile when required, and make friends, and talk, and go about my life, at least, I think, at least I can pretend.
When I once was raped last summer seems so far away, when I look down from the turrets of my new city.
I’ve been quiet now for a long time. My quiet is loud, buzzing and humming, wanting to escape, a fly trapped beneath a glass ceiling. I have a secret, burrowed deep in my chest, looped around my thigh. I have a secret and it’s getting heavier and heavier and I stagger to carry it. I’ve been quiet for a long time, but I don’t think I can anymore.
I need to be heard, but I don’t want to tell.
I need to speak, but I fear I have lost my tongue.
I need to give my secret to someone, but I’m scared that they’d just throw it away.
So, I’m hoping these words will hear me, that these words will take my secret and bare its weight. These words are selfish, and I hoard them. These words will speak for me. These are the words that chased me down London streets, words that were thrown across a strangers room, words that echoed back to me in an empty house, these are the words looped around my thigh, these words are my brand, mark and bruise. These words fill an empty space. These words are mine.
Illustration by Leyla Reynolds