I’ve not written in a long time (since life took a turn for the worse) and I’ve been umming and ahhing about whether to write this post, but I can’t move on from the terrible things I’ve read lately, including the furore around the accusation of sexual misconduct concerning Aziz Ansari. I don’t know whether to classify what happened to his accuser as sexual assault but I also can’t figure out why not. I think my reticence to call it out comes from the fact that we’ve normalised such behaviour, with women being trained to accept it. I think we’ve all had situations where we’ve been less than comfortable, pushed into doing things we don’t want to do but feeling like we have no other choice because, at best we’ll be accused of being prudes and overreacting, and at worst, the situation will escalate and we’ll end up being very hurt. By far, the worst reactions to the Aziz Ansari situation all revolve around the way she behaved during and after the event: it couldn’t have been bad because she didn’t get dressed right away. She’s lying because she watched Netflix afterwards. Why would you sit with someone who’d assaulted you? Why didn’t she just leave? Why did she even go back to his flat? Surely she knew that going to his apartment meant that they were going to have sex? It’s clear she consented because she went home with him. She’s clearly ridiculous because she mentioned not liking the wine. Why would you sit naked with someone who’d assaulted you? On and on they go, not examining his behaviour with calm reason, not discussing the highly problematic ubiquity of such behaviour, including amongst male “feminists”, and not saying “Times Up” on male entitlement (despite the ironic wearing of the pin by the likes of James Franco, Gary Oldman, and Aziz Ansari himself). What hurts most is that a lot of these comments are coming from other women, including those who make the statement that it’s normal for guys to act this way. Most of them , as above, focus on her behaviour. I simply replied to one such woman by suggesting she read I Never Called it Rape, a suggestion I would make to those reading this blog. It’s a book which looks at the phenomena of date rape/ acquaintance rape. Though I don’t like these terms, and prefer to simply call it rape, especially as most victims know their attacker, however, it’s clear that we still need to make it clear to people that rape doesn’t just happen with a stranger accosting you in a dark alley, and that you can be raped by a friend/acquaintance, and that your right not be forced into sexual situations, isn’t diminished simply by going back to someone’s house. My conversations with women about this has been very hard for me. It’s been a week of tears and panic that made me question whether I should write this at all, considering the comments it may attract. It’s too important not to say though, and I refuse to be silenced by rape culture. The reason it’s been such a hard week is because I was raped by a friend. We went for a drink and then I went back to his apartment and ate with his flatmates, but then they left, and I was alone with him, and then it happened. My dad gave me a lift home, waiting in a nearby carpark and I had to get there, alone, traumatised and in the dark. It hurts to know that there are people out there who will say I deserve what happened because I went back to his flat. I’d already been blamed for not having my rape alarm with me and my children’s health visitor asked me if I often engaged in such risky behaviour. The day after I was raped I went to Boots for the morning after pill. A pharmacist took me into a booth, and I broke down when she asked me when I had “sex”. I couldn’t answer her. It wasn’t sex. Sex was something you choose, with a partner you’re attracted to, sex is usually nice. In tears, I explained what happened, and she gave me a drink of water, a box of tissues, the pill (for free) and, best of all, sympathy. Then I went to meet a friend and her family, with my kids and my mum. My mum knew what happened, my friend didn’t, and I got to spend the day pretending it didn’t happen, watching my, then, 2 year old playing tennis in a park. The next day I went to a unit where they perform sexual health procedures, not thinking clearly about where I should be. I explained what had happened. The doctor told me to call the police or I would be a victim forever (something I couldn’t do as he knew where I lived, had sent me threatening texts, and I was living alone with three young kids) and then she sent me on my way to the GUM. I had to go in there alone and tell the receptionist, who enquired what I was there for, in a packed waiting area, what had happened to me. The tears and shaking began again as I was led to a quiet waiting area, which I shared with just one other person- a man. When I was finally seen by a nurse, I had to, yet again, explain what I was there for. I was then taken into another room, where an additional nurse waited, to have an internal. I laid there, with no friends or family to make me feel safe, as they placed a speculum inside of me, and nurse one insensitively described to me how bad it looked down there, whilst nurse two held my hand and stroked me. It was almost as traumatising as being attacked by my friend. I was supposed to return some time later to be checked again- I couldn’t go. It’s 10 years on and even now, when I pass that building, I fall apart. When I got home I thought the worst was behind me. I’d tried to protect myself against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and now I could try to forget and move on with my life, Life had other plans though. One friend told me that, in not going to the police, other people would be raped and it was all my fault, someone else told a friend, behind my back, that they didn’t believe me because I wasn’t acting like a rape victim. And that’s what I really want to get at here. This idea that there’s a particular way that rape victims/survivors should behave. You see, I didn’t behave as the books suggest I should- at all. In the immediate aftermath, adrenaline got me through and enabled me to think and behave rationally. Adrenaline soon fades though, and then you’re left with what happened. I soon developed a green discharge, a high fever, and collapsed, requiring my 4 year old to figure out how to phone my parents and ask for help. I was diagnosed with PID and required numerous courses of antibiotics because it wasn’t going away. I was falling apart, but then I remembered the doctor’s words to me, that I would “always be a victim” and I became determined to prove her wrong. My response to being raped became something I never could have anticipated. I’ve never been particularly sexually “promiscuous” but suddenly I became very promiscuous. I went to a male friend’s house to hang out, drink wine and play chess and, when he came onto me, I went with it and had sex with him. It was horrible but then, afterwards he came onto me again. I joke that I slept with him out of politeness because I thought it would be obvious I didn’t enjoy it, but a large part of me felt that, if I didn’t have sex with him, then he would do it anyway. A couple of days later a male friend came over to hang out (another dude I’d known for years) and he came onto me, and again I had sex with him, again there was the thought that if I didn’t give it, he could take it anyway. The following week another friend came over and came onto me, I downed a shit tonne of whisky and then slept with him. The next time I saw him, he came onto me again. I tried to say no. He had a girlfriend, I didn’t want to be that kind of person, we should just stay friends etc etc. But then he said that women always did that to him, it was because he was fat and I was shallow like all of the rest, his girlfriend was his problem- not mine, and on and on he went. Again I downed a lot of whisky and had sex with him- again because I needed to give it, rather than have it taken from me. My ex-husband, a man I hated, even came onto me, and I performed a sex act on him. Then, for the first time in my life, I had a one night stand with a relative stranger, whilst one of the friends I’d slept with the week before was trying to sleep in the same room. It was awful. I hated every moment of it. But still I convinced myself that these were simply the erotic adventures of a liberated woman. By this point I developed this idea in my head that I just slept around because I liked sex. I read Erica Jong, decided this was what strong, independent women do. They sleep around. This was MY choice. And just like that, it became revised in my head. It couldn’t have been rape- this was who I was, a sexually liberal, independent woman. It was so easy. I wasn’t traumatised. How could I be if I was having sex left, right and centre? It must have been a misunderstanding. Sure, after every time I had sex I later scrubbed myself raw, curled up in bed and cried, and I was drinking to the point of blacking out every night, taking too many pills, cutting myself, and hadn’t eaten for weeks, but that was irrelevant. If I slept around, it couldn’t have been traumatising, and if it wasn’t traumatising it couldn’t have been rape. Real rape victims avoided sex, every physical touch caused flashbacks so they became chaste. Real rape victims hid away. They wouldn’t be alone with men, let alone fuck them. No. It hadn’t happened, and I was stupid for thinking it was anything but consensual. The level of self-delusion was incredible. One day I had a message from the group of friends I shared with my attacker, inviting me out on a pub crawl. I felt uneasy, but if it wasn’t rape, then I had no reason not to go. Later that day, I was riding in the car with my mum and told her I thought I’d misunderstood it and that it wasn’t really rape. She was angry with me. When dad had seen me that night I was in serious distress and acting weirdly. When she saw me the following day, I was traumatised. Didn’t I remember Boots, and the GUM? How could I possibly think that? There was clear evidence that what had happened was not consensual. I quietly agreed with her, but inside I thought, no, she’s just confused, because I was confused. She didn’t understand that I was a strong, independent, sexually liberal woman. I’ve only told two people about this and I know that writing this will confuse and possibly hurt people I care about, but it’s too important not to write it. I replied to their call to go out in the affirmative. I met up with them in a bar. HE was there. I tried to avoid him as much as possible that night and, in strong, sexually liberated woman mode, I started hooking up with another one of our friends. We all went back to HIS new place afterwards for a few drinks, and I and this other friend continued hooking up and made a plan to go back to his house to have sex- I couldn’t get a lift back home or afford a taxi, so I would also sleep there. I went to the bathroom and when I came out everyone else had gone. I later got a text from the guy I was hooking up with, apologising and explaining that HE had asked him to back off because HE liked me. He told that he couldn’t let a hook up come between him and his friend. So, there I was, alone in an empty house, with the man who had raped me. The naysayers will say “Why didn’t you just leave?”, “If he raped you, why were you there in the first place?”, “If you went back to his place, it’s clear you wanted to have sex with him.” In retrospect, of course I shouldn’t have gone out with them, of course I shouldn’t have gone back to his place, of course I should have just left. But that’s not how denial and trauma work. I thought about leaving but two competing thoughts were in my head. Firstly, if I left, it would be because I was traumatised, that I hadn’t been a sexually liberated woman, and he had raped me, and I was desperate for that not to be the case. Secondly, and the stronger thought in that moment, was that, if I tried to leave, what would he do to me? Instead I told him I was tired and needed to sleep. He escorted me to HIS bed. I was petrified but I climbed in and closed my eyes tightly, trying to pretend that I was asleep. Soon after he climbed into bed, and I continued to pretend I was sleeping. He pressed his body against mine, put his arms around me, and proceeded to touch me- all the while I pretended to be asleep, as my rapist sexually assaulted me for the second time. I laid there, awake all night, pretending to be asleep. As soon as the sun came up, I was out of there. When I got home I deleted the numbers of everyone in that group of friends and deleted them all from my Facebook. I told the friend who had been manipulating into sleeping with me that I wanted nothing more to do with him- I’ve not seen him since. I no longer let myself be alone with men- let alone sleep with them. I could no longer hide from the fact that I had been raped, and that the HV was right about me, it just wasn’t true when she said it. I placed myself in risky situations. I was ashamed of myself. He had attacked me for a second time, and it was all my fault. The victim blamers were right. A few weeks later he sent me a text asking why they hadn’t seen me for a while, I told him that I had had to make changes to my life, “because I was raped.” He replied that he was “Sorry” that that had happened to me. But as faux-sympathy and not as an apology- there was absolutely no ownership of his behaviour. He ignored my desire to be rid of him for a long time, sending me messages, turning up at my door. I should have gone to the police at that point, but it was hard enough for “regular” rape victims to be believed and to receive help, of course they wouldn’t believe someone who had hung out with their rapist afterwards, and stayed at their house overnight. I changed my number and the one mutual friend I’d maintained contact with gave him my new number. I had to cut that friend out too- never feeling able to tell them what their friend had done to me in case they didn’t believe me- after all, I hadn’t acted like a rape victim. It was only when I moved a couple of years ago that I finally felt free. Two years later I was still falling apart. I was committed to a psychiatric unit after making an attempt to end my life. The eating disorder of my younger years had returned and I was wasting away. I tried to tell my nurses what had happened but I have never been able to describe the night when I was raped, and I could never tell anyone what I did. I felt scared of everything- silly things like CRT screens, blue walls, and built in wardrobes would destroy me. I couldn’t be alone in the dark. If someone tried to playfight with me I would scream and attack them. I couldn’t even be tickled, or hugged. Maybe I could’ve gotten better soon if I felt I could tell anyone what had happened on both of those nights, but the fear of being blamed or disbelieved always held me back. It would only be another five years later that I was able to tell a random friend, on a night in which I was home alone and falling totally apart. A few months later I confided in my husband. Both were sympathetic but I wondered if, deep down, they judged me. Ten years and three months after I was initially attacked, with the benefit of hindsight, I now understand both what happened to me, and why I behaved the way that I did. I know that I’m not to blame. I still have PTSD, and the obvious and more unusual triggers. I’ve struggled so much to see the statements and questions people have asked of Aziz Ansari’s accuser- partly because they’re questions and statements I’ve made to myself about myself, and that I’ve anticipated other people would make about my situation. I know I’m not the only one who’s felt this way. When you make these comments, about people who’ve made accusations regarding sexual misconduct, you’re not only hurting them, but also everyone else who has been harmed in this way, especially those who haven’t responded to sexual attacks in a conventional way. You simply cannot decide whether someone was the victim of sexual misconduct, harassment, sexual assault or rape based upon whether the accuser reacted in a way that you believe victims should. It’s an incredibly personal response that requires a deep understanding of a person’s psyche, past and experience to even begin to understand. You certainly cannot decide based upon a single article. How she behaved doesn’t negate his actions. Maybe it’s been so normalised that a guy, who even says the right things about feminism, doesn’t understand that what he’s done is wrong, or maybe it’s been so normalised that even those on the receiving end don’t recognise it for what it is. That should not stop us from examining and criticising such behaviour. Throughout history, all kinds of injustices were normalised, with small pockets of resistance. Normalisation doesn’t automatically make something right.