In my first year of university I was sexually assaulted.
Since then, a huge development in understanding sexual assault through media outlets has taken place. Stories such as the well-known Brock Turner rape case and the many that were told in the ground-breaking documentary about sexual assault on U.S. college campuses, The Hunting Ground, have helped the world understand that this is not a problem so distant from our own lives, as well as helping survivors feel more confident about sharing their own story.
One of the reasons survivors have started speaking out more recently is due to eradicating the “grey area”, which is a term that was coined to describe when a survivor never explicitly said “no”, something that I myself experienced. There has been lots of clarity on consent and removing the idea that by not saying “no” explicitly, you mean yes. This is not the case – consent is and should always be explicit.
This was something that I really struggled with and without help from Jake*, my best friend at the time of my assault as well as my housemate, I would have been a lot worse off. Although Jake and I had only known each other for a few months, he made sure he was as supportive as he could be. He was there whenever I needed to talk, made sure my feelings felt validated, stopped me from blaming myself and helped me take steps towards seeking professional help when I was too afraid to do so alone.
When his mental health started to deteriorate a year on from my assault, I tried to help him as much as he helped me. One night, when he was at his parent’s home, he felt worse than he ever had before and I bought a train ticket to go and stay with him. The night was no different to how we would usually spend our time together; we bought a bottle of wine each and drank until we could open up properly about our emotions and what was going on inside our heads. As usual we both went to bed side by side. The only difference to this night than the rest before was that in the middle of the night I woke up to find him kissing me.
I was in shock, panicking, and as soon as he realised I had woken up he jumped back and started to apologise. He started crying, saying he didn’t know what he was doing. As he was in such a fragile state that night, I did not want to upset him anymore and told him it was okay. He replied, “I think I only did it because of how much I love you.”
We never spoke about that night again. I didn’t want him to feel guilty for what he had done and it was too awkward to bring up regardless. However, a couple of months later, the same thing happened for the second time.
My brain hid this information from me for a year, a common reaction from the brain after dealing with a traumatic event. From then on my mental health spiralled uncontrollably. I developed insomnia, which lasted for about a year, I struggled to leave my room once again and withdrew myself from my friends. Jake acted stranger and stranger towards me; he would make up lies to tell our housemates, accusing me of doing mean things towards him. At one of the worst moments, I told him that I was afraid I was going to commit suicide and needed someone to be with me, to which he replied “I don’t want to see you right now”, and went on to tell our other housemate that I was sending him messages attacking him.
A year after the first time he assaulted me, our friendship unsurprisingly fell apart, along with the friendships I had with my other housemates. This was when I realised what had happened and started processing what he had done to me properly.
All I could think was, “who is going to believe me?”
I knew then and know now that every person who experiences assault should be heard and supported, however what Jake did to me felt completely unbelievable. Why would a gay guy kiss their female friend? Why would she wait a year to tell anyone? Is it not strange that she opened up about it when he doesn’t want to be her friend anymore? If it had happened, why did she put herself in the same situation again?
These questions haunted me. I still shared a house with Jake and would do so for the next six months, so if I accepted what happened to me, it would make life so much harder. I would have to live with my attacker. At the start, I tried to deny what had happened, as that was easier than having to deal with the truth.
What I learnt from this is that the truth is unconditional, denying what had happened did not change the story but just made me an enemy of myself. I invalidated myself and often it felt like I was keeping myself hostage. This all started to change when I decided that I want to be my friend.
I started treating myself the same way Jake treated me with my first assault; I reminded myself every time I felt guilt or doubt that it was not my fault what happened. I reminded myself every time I cried myself to sleep that it was okay to feel upset. I reminded myself that my truth was the truth, no matter what anyone else would say or think.
I also cared for myself the same way Jake had. Whenever I did not want to get out of bed, I would turn into my own friend and take my own hand and walk with myself to my shower. When I did not eat I would imagine myself as a new friend, leaving upset me in bed to go make food. Although this may sound a strange idea to take on, it made me feel so much less lonely and the thoughts of self doubt and hatred soon became love poems to myself and expressions of pride in my dealing of the situation.
This kept me going until I felt I could finally reach out to some of my other friends. They were confused by the story but did not doubt me for a second, which made me realise that I could flee the trauma and hostility that Jake had given towards me. My friends took care of me and helped me realise that I deserved so much more than what I had experienced, which I had really struggled to overcome. Although my circumstances changed and I had other people showing their love and support, I still turned to myself often and still used techniques I had learned when I kept my story secret when I caught myself having bad days or started to doubt my story again.
Feeling as if no one would believe me was a struggle that I would never wish on anyone, however I know that I am not the only one. I wanted to share my story so anyone who feels they will not be believed can know they are not alone, that it does not matter how believable or unbelievable your experience is, because believability does not alter the truth. I wanted to let people know that there is always someone else there to listen to you. Over the whole of the UK as well as other countries, there are phone services, such as the Samaritans, who listen to what you have to say anonymously. Samaritans have no way to work out your contact details if you email or phone them. It helped me sleep easier knowing that they were there if I ever needed someone external to help.
Whatever you are battling, whether sexual assault or something entirely different, remember to love yourself first and if it seems impossible to do, as often it can feel this way, imagine yourself as two people and give yourself the same love and compassion you would give to your best friend. You are worth all that you give to others.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
Written by Anonymous