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“Should I have been more cautious?”: The dichotomy of being a survivor

Content warning: This article contains details of sexual assault.

UN Women say that globally, an estimated 736 million women—almost one in three—have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their lifetime. At least once, but usually more. These statistics flow in streams through our society so freely that it is a given fact that the vast majority of women will fall victim to abuse. If this is the case, then why is it that I feel that I must accept fault for it? I watch men accept their Oscars, sign their book deals, and live adoringly upon their unshakable pedestals, yet I am the proverbial Icarus that has fallen from beneath a man-painted sky. 

I was nine the first time it happened. I was sharing an inflatable mattress with my abuser when I felt his hand snaking into my pyjama bottoms in the middle of the night. I awoke to the devastating normality of the next day.

My abuser was in every sense a product of his father. He was the kind of disproportionately confident man who got a massive kick out of controlling women physically and psychologically, whether it was with a punch to the wall or a demand being spat in my direction. The times that I asked for pocket money to go to the corner shop were met with an order to kneel down and kiss his feet first. If I ever requested to walk to the park to meet my friends, he insisted that I hold Listerine in my mouth until my gums bled.

I had told my friends at school; I had told my teachers, people whom I trusted and thought would whisk me away and place me within the safety of their pockets, tell me it’s not my fault and that it would never be allowed to happen again. The headteacher called my parents into a meeting to discuss the vicious and inappropriate lies I’d been spreading.

I don’t remember most of it, though. My memory has been tactful in protecting me from remembering the worst of my early childhood, although I often find myself wondering how bad it really was.

“Children who’ve been genuinely abused would never talk about it so openly.” 

My childhood abuse had thrust a sexual awareness upon me that I hadn’t invited. When the cool, 19-year-old goth who lived over the road began showing an interest in me, it felt dangerous and thrilling. I had been initiated into the virile land of womanhood too soon. Now, I was a 13-year-old girl getting fucked by a man for the first time. I remember the conversation we had mid-sex; 

Shall we do missionary?” 

“I don’t know what that means.” 

It hurt, and I bled. I left his house the next morning, contemplating if I’d I’d feel grown up and confident with my newly established desirability to older men, but the apathy was palpable on the walk back to my home. 

My further teenage years were spent in the company of adult men who were nearly always old enough to be my father (very a lá Freud, I know). I’m still hesitant to call it rape, and I don’t know why because that’s exactly what it was. 13, 14, 15, a babe in the arms of 35-year-olds. There’s a quantifiable chunk of my being that, in spite of my usually unwavering sense of self, feels that all-familiar pang of shame when reminiscing. I suppose it’s because I’ve been branded as a slut for the past 17 years because of ‘my behaviour’. Not that the men who bedded me will have shared any of this shame, sex and promiscuity are only ever badges pinned upon a woman’s collar.

Suddenly I’m 17 and at my friend’s house party. I’ve known him for years and we’ve always gotten on well, we spend a lot of time together but we have only ever had a platonic friendship. We spend the night listening to My Chemical Romance and chortling at Charlie the Unicorn on YouTube. We’d shared a bed before, so when we eventually went upstairs together, I didn’t think anything of it as I nestled underneath the duvet and fell asleep. 

I awoke to bright flashes ricocheting around the room, and as my eyes adjusted in the darkness, I couldn’t make out what they were or where they were coming from. It was only when I’d fully woken up that I noticed a tugging sensation at my underwear. He was pulling my knickers to the side and photographing me. I pretended to snore and give him the impression that I was still sleeping because I was afraid that if he were aware I knew what was happening, he’d force me into an even worse situation. I lay as still as possible, not daring to move an inch, let alone fight back. The illuminated clock on the wall told me that it was 3.45 am. I lay like a corpse in his bed as he continued to photograph me and then as he masturbated next to me. I lay there, wide awake, until 6 am when I felt I could pretend to wake up. I gave some meek excuse that I needed to get home ASAP and ran the whole way there. 

Today I am 29. I am writing this essay on my 29th birthday. I’m sitting having a coffee in bed next to my husband whilst we are watching the news. A celebrity has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, another predatory man who probably won’t receive any repercussions, much like the men I’ve met throughout my life. I begin scrolling through my phone to read more articles about the unfolding case, aware that I am startlingly not shocked by the stories. Stories of women summoning some otherworldly strength to challenge their abusers, only to be met with doubt and critique. However, one comment in particular really gathers underneath my skin.

He’s famously a womaniser; she knew exactly what she was in for.”

It triggers a mental domino effect in my mind, and I begin to question the legitimacy of my past experiences. Should I have been more cautious as a girl? Must I live with the assumption that all men pose a natural threat to me? I absorb the idea of this and bundle it into the other burdens I shoulder. 

I am 29 and have lived the lives of 4 girls. The 9-year-old afraid to lock eyes with her abuser, the 13-year-old squashing her blood-stained pants into the bathroom bin, the 17-year-old running away from a friend, and me today. I’ve decided I don’t want to walk alongside them anymore. Why should I? 

Myself and innumerable other women have been blamed for the abuse they’ve endured, but I’m sure the men who contributed to their suffering aren’t lumbered with any concern. I have lived enough lives, and I’m finished with trying to convince people that the things that happened to me aren’t my responsibility or my cross to bear. Please allow me to place the ghosts of these girls in your hands; I can’t carry them anymore. It’s your turn. 


If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, support is available. In the UK, you can contact Rape Crisis on 0808 802 9999 for confidential support and advice. Additionally, the National Rape Crisis Helpline can be reached at 0808 802 9999, operating daily from 12:00 to 14:30 and from 19:00 to 21:30. More resources and information are available at their website, rapecrisis.org.uk.

For emotional support, you can reach out to Samaritans at any time. Call them for free at 116 123 or email [email protected] for a safe space to talk about anything that’s troubling you.

For those seeking help with the aftermath of sexual violence, the Survivors Trust offers a range of services. Contact them at 08088 010 818 or visit thesurvivorstrust.org for more information and support.

Remember, it’s important to take care of your mental health and seek professional help if you’re struggling with the impact of sexual assault.

Comments

  • Kilan
    January 18, 2024

    Hi, Victoria, Thank you for sharing your story. It was painful to read it and I bet for you to experience these abuses must have have been even tougher.
    But I believe that sharing and being open about it is the first step towards the prevention. As a woman and a mother of another woman, I feel hopeful with how the society has changed in recent years with the movements like #metoo popping up in every corner of the world. We are still far from the safe society that we all deserve but hopefully voices like yours would change it. Thank you!

    • Victoria
      January 18, 2024

      Hi Kilan!

      Thank you so much for you comment, I truly appreciate it ❤️

      I completely agree with you, I think we have a long way to go, but we’re heading in the right direction.

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