Here’s the thing

(Trigger Warning)

When I was raped, I had no idea what was happening. I woke up with a man on top of me who was taller than me and stronger than me. That’s not too common when you’re six foot tall. I pushed him off three times and said no, but apparently that wasn’t clear enough.

The narrative fed to me by my rapist was that ‘we both agreed not to’ but ‘it just happened’ and that we were therefore ‘both to blame for that’. Apparently, the whole affair upset him – at least, that’s what he said. Supposedly it was ‘harsh’ of me to say it was his fault. I was being ‘unfair’. I still have the Facebook conversation. In fact, I look at it a lot.

I am under no illusion that he probably didn’t realise that what he did to me is rape. It seems laughable at times because of the impact it has had on my life; the mental breakdowns, the weight loss, the hypersomnia, the insomnia, the self-harm, the flashbacks and the nightmares. He just had sex with this one girl, this one time. For him, it came as a complete shock when I, a day later, told him that I was upset because ‘I said I didn’t want to have sex and you did it anyway’.

He’d had his go at me and got what he wanted. The promise of going for coffee together was always hollow. He was never going to date me or appreciate me. He wanted sex and he did what he had to do to get it. He wasn’t thinking about what I wanted, because that wasn’t important. I was a vehicle for his sexual satisfaction and if he had to ignore my repeated requests to stop, then he would. I had come home with him. Therefore, I had to give him what he wanted. He had no concept of wrongdoing because he was, in essence, an overgrown child who always got what he wanted, when he wanted it.

Does that make him any less shameful? No. Does that make him any less guilty? No. Does that mean it hasn’t had an impact on my life? No. His one-night mistake translated into my ongoing struggle. For him, it ended when I left the Bluebell hall of residence in the early hours. For me, it hasn’t ended. It probably won’t.

My mum was the first person to call it rape. For a long time, I went through the lengthy process of semi-explaining what had happened because my rapist had cunningly convinced me that I didn’t have the right to call it rape. So you were raped? I will always remember my mum saying that. I think I responded by saying a cautious ‘maybe’.

I saw my rapist around a fair amount. I would walk past him on campus or see him on nights out in Leamington or Coventry or the SU. I would panic without fail and go to a toilet and cry or heave or just stare vacantly until I could bring myself to move. I think he recognised me. Actually, I think he still recognises me. Whenever I saw him, I didn’t just see some guy. I saw that man on top of me, that man who I kept pushing off. It set off a line of dominos in my head, reliving that entire night and the two weeks leading up to that night. But I had to carry on. I had to feed myself and do my work and do my laundry and function. In fact, I wrote an essay on Caesar the day after I was raped. I got a 2:1.

I had to do all of this while seeking medical help, getting emergency contraception and enduring a pregnancy scare. Over the Easter break following the rape, I went home and only moved between the sofa and my bed. I cried when I saw a child because my period was late. My mum went and bought pregnancy tests. I only took one and it was negative. The other remained in my top draw for nearly two years. I threw it away when I finished my undergraduate degree. It felt like letting go of something that had been haunting me. But it didn’t really go away.

No one teaches you what to do when you get raped. When I was in school, they told us what to do if we got mugged. They told us about what we should do if we get an STI. But not once did anyone tell me what to do if I should be one of the unlucky ones and get raped. I was shooting in the dark without a loaded gun. I don’t think many people often take the time to wonder what they would do if they got raped. Call the police! That’s all well and good, but I thought I was guilty of something and thought the police would laugh at me if I contacted them. Don’t underestimate the power of shame in a person who has just been raped or sexually assaulted. It’s particularly potent and will get in the way of any or all logical thinking. Unless you are one of the exceptionally small minority who have exceptionally supportive friends who would take you to the police and care for you day and night, you’d probably just sit in bed too.

When someone suggested that I seek help within the university, I didn’t know where to start. I would sit up all night, searching through the SU webpages and the university webpages, looking for any mention of rape. There was nothing. My mentor told my personal tutor, who told me to go to student support. I made an appointment and I went. I mustered all my strength and told her I had been raped by another student. I didn’t name him. I gave no details. I didn’t know what to do. Not knowing what to do is definitely a reoccurring theme here.

In my experience so far, a lot of people overestimate your ability to make choices after you’ve experienced trauma. It’s a bit like dragging someone from a burning, wrecked car only to start repeatedly asking them what they want for dinner. I don’t know, Brenda! I had no idea what the options were. I had two phone numbers. One was for a local support charity. The other – I found out a year later and upon my own investigation – was a sexual assault referral centre. I went on my way, suppressed everything to get through my exams, and did my best to carry on.

The university didn’t have much to say on the whole matter. I found out three years later that the residential life team could have been informed of what had happened and supported me while I was living in halls. It would have been useful considering my self-harming behaviour and suicidal thoughts. But the lack of care was all put down to me not asking for it. Ironically, it was ‘not asking for it’ that put me in that situation to begin with. I was faced with non-existent support frameworks, a system that wasn’t fit to help victims, and a service that didn’t think to check up on people who had come to them saying they had been raped.

I didn’t think I deserved to have it any other way. Almost all my interactions with the outside world when I sought help just acted to reinforce my belief that I was somehow guilty. Trust me, it takes at least a year of group therapy to undo that.

My relationships broke down. I had people tell me that my rapist was actually a good guy or that he was well-known on campus for sleeping with over a hundred girls. Among other reasons, my first girlfriend couldn’t cope with it and she left me eventually. Most of my friends didn’t know what to do. One got angry because I was ‘making everything about me’ when I was too triggered to go on a night out. I walked home crying a lot. I thought I would be better off dead a lot. I was isolated a lot.

But eventually I sought help elsewhere. My first group therapy session was odd. I shouldn’t be here because what happened to me is my fault and these girls are victims and survivors and I’m not. It stayed that way for a while. Like I said though, about a year later I began to realise that it wasn’t my fault. I said no. I was very clear. Would you repeatedly try to shake my hand if I kept saying I didn’t want to? Of course you wouldn’t. That’s weird.

I wrote an article about it all. It did somewhat well in the grand scheme of how well an article about rape can do. People were generally supportive, but no one from the university questioned it. It was old news pretty quickly. I lost a stone in the time I was writing that article – a period of about two to three weeks, I believe.

Time goes on though. I kept seeing my rapist around; when I was finishing my dissertation in the library to when I came out of my first grown-up job interview. He has been tarring my personal achievements for over three years now and I haven’t even left a stain on him.

I submitted a complaint to the university about the lack of support I was offered when I went to them in my first year. This was a vastly unsuccessful attempt, but it did highlight to me the extent Warwick will go to protect its reputation. It’s a lot easier to throw a student under the (uni)bus than it is to admit you did anything wrong. I still have the final report from my super-official investigation. ‘Emma… is relying on her memory of events 3 years ago. Added to this is the recognition from Emma that she has been very fragile and felt vulnerable because of what she’s been through’. There you have it. I’m a crazy lady who can’t be trusted – ironically, I couldn’t be trusted on recollecting how ineffectively I’d been supported after a rape because of the ongoing trauma that was partially caused by being ineffectively supported after a rape.

And now it goes on. New people come to Warwick and some get raped. It’s necessary collateral damage when running a world-class institution, I suppose. Or maybe it isn’t? I’ll go with the latter. We have stories of young men being suspended for making rape threats against any and every woman around them. We have the people who find that deplorable and the people that will defend them tooth and nail because they ‘didn’t actually do anything’. The problem is though, for every ten of these guys who laugh and joke about raping women in the street, there will always be a minority who are facilitated by this rhetoric. People like my rapist are made to think that they aren’t doing anything unusual or wrong because of boy-talk like this. Do you see how this is elegantly coming full circle?

We’re seemingly more disgusted by the prospect of it happening than the reality that it happens every day. I propose a Hunger Games-esque gong to go off on campus every time someone is victim of sexual violence there. It would get annoying really quickly.

I am an unfortunate statistic. I am a statistic that the university doesn’t want and would rather ignore. I’m that statistic that we pretend isn’t really there because confronting the reality of rape in universities detracts from the fun and the drinking. You know, I have fun too sometimes. The concept of rape isn’t fun. Discussing the reality of it sucks. But stigmatising it just makes life worse for those who have to go through it. Side note: my group therapy friends like to call us the Sisterhood.

But this isn’t just a concept to me. This is my life. This is my every day. It will come to mind on most days and linger there like white noise. And I am not the only one.

Why am I telling you this? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not secretive about what happened to me. In my Very Official Word-Of-Mouth Feedback System, I’ve received fairly positive reviews from other people who have been raped or sexually assaulted at university. I know how alone I felt, and I don’t want anyone else to feel that way, even if that means they have to listen to me droning on. If you are someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted, I applaud you. You don’t realise how great and resilient you are. Give yourself a gold star and go back to bed if you really need to. I know I’m going to.

At the end of it all, nothing it going to change unless everyone faces up to the fact that this happens a lot. You only have to look at statistics from Revolt Sexual Assault to see that 8% of the 4500 UK students asked said they had been raped at university. I’ll do the maths for you. That’s at 360 students. 361 with me included, because I didn’t take the survey. In 2016/17 there were 1.76 million undergrad students in the UK according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. If that 8% statistic holds up, that’s potentially 140,800 rape victims in universities. I’ll stop with the numbers now. You get the point. The main conclusion is that this is a vast problem.

If you got this far, well done. And thank you. It’s lovely when people listen, you know. I’m optimistic that things will change some day. I’ve done what I can to get people to see. Maybe I’ve affected something, but probably not in the grand scheme of things. The truth is, this needs a lot more than just my voice to stop people from having to endure what I am still living.

Life gets better though. I promise.