TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains information about and depictions of sexual assault, harassment and/or violence that some may find triggering or upsetting.
I couldn’t bring myself to click enter after typing that. I can’t explain why; the rows of #MeToo scrolling down my screen at the end of 2017 allowed me to see the names of people I didn’t even know I had anything in common with. But in addition to the courage of these people sharing their stories, society at large needs to hear about the aftermath of sexual abuse.
I don’t want people see me as a victim; it took a while to even see myself as a “survivor.” I would rather people see me for who I am instead of what happened to me. Sometimes I am a little too open. Sometimes I think I can casually share something with other women since it’s likely they have had similar experiences. Of course, bringing up such a sensitive topic is followed by that inevitable awkward silence and the occasional “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
Remembering my innocent younger self is one of the hardest parts. I was so naive, and no one took the time to tell the teenage me what a healthy relationship should look like. I thought consent was different. Many people don’t realise they’ve been harassed or assaulted until long after it’s already happened – especially in relationships. Although it seems intuitive, I didn’t know I wasn’t obligated to be intimate with my partner. I just pretended to be somewhere else in my head – an out-of-body experience of sorts. I didn’t know the term dissociation until a couple years ago, and I still experience it now when I’m triggered. I literally start to feel myself slipping away and going somewhere else.
The one time I did report an incident was when I arrived in a foreign country for an internship. After 23 hours of travelling, I was assaulted by my taxi driver on the doorstep of my new flat. He tried to come back a second time, and I had to tell the story again and again to the program director; the detective, my parents, my supervisors, and my friends. I am tired of telling this story. How do I describe the guilt I felt when I found out that he was getting deported back to a conflict zone, returning to his wife and 10 children unemployed? I didn’t want that, even if it was his actions that led to it.
No one wants to hear that story; no one knows how to respond. I haven’t told anyone while I’ve been in Glasgow. Mental health services are not that great. The shame I feel is insurmountable, and I walk around with this weight on my shoulders with few people knowing. I will not have roommates because sometimes I wake up screaming in the night, stay in bed all day, or can’t sleep for weeks. I don’t want anyone to see that side of me. I’ve recently realised that living by myself is even more lonely when it’s the memories that haunt me and there is no one there to snap me out of it if I get stuck in my head.
Now I must tell my new partners and close friends why I am so broken and afraid – there never is the right time to bring that up. It takes a lot to remind myself that I am lucky. I do have people who I can lean on. I am passionate about my studies and my research, no matter where in the world that takes me. Even though I have days where I retreat into my shell and feel sorry for myself, I also have days where I feel strong and like I can take on the world. I work hard not to let these men still have power over me.
I hope this campaign in response to Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey, and countless others has given you an idea of how common these experiences are. Men need to look in the mirror and analyse their own behaviour: look out for your friends and call them out if they do something unacceptable. If a guy you know hurts someone, report it. Educate yourself about what is consensual. Listen to the women who tell their stories. Be open, humble, and compassionate. Everyone is fighting their own battles, and you don’t know why people are the way they are. You don’t know what they are struggling with and no one has any obligation to tell you or educate you.
For some women, telling their story is empowering. For others, like me, it’s still too painful. We are all on our own path of acceptance and overcoming the lasting challenges of abuse. People should be uncomfortable when talking about sexual harassment and assault because it is an uncomfortable topic. Discomfort and talking about these occurrences is one of the ways to draw attention to the pervasiveness of this epidemic.
Rape Crisis Scotland: 0141 552 3201
SRC Advice Centre open Mon – Fri, 11:00 – 16:00
Victim Support: 0808 168 9111