[Trigger Warning: This post contains details of sexual assault.]
Jess, 25, shares this letter she wrote to the person who assaulted her at 15. Through opening up about her own experience, she realised she wasn’t alone. She hopes to help people who have gone through similar to feel less isolated, less ashamed, and to educate others on consent.
Firstly, I would like to say this is not a letter of forgiveness, and I’m not quite sure it’s of acceptance either. This is just a letter I felt I needed to write to get all of my emotions and thoughts out of my brain, maybe to resonate with others, or maybe to burn in some kind of cathartic ritual.
The idea had been suggested to me on several occasions from a friend, from a therapist, and I’ve heard of other sexual assault victims doing the same.
I don’t actually like the term victim. A victim is, by definition:
‘a person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill treatment’
And whilst I was helpless and passive to you, I don’t want that title to define me.
I’m going to start by giving my perspective of what happened:
I was 15. You were older. We were at a house party and I had drunk an excessive amount of peach schnapps, passed out in a bedroom fairly early on and was looked after by K* one of our mutual friends. He had stroked my hair, helped me drink water, made other drunk teenagers leave me alone and let me take a mid-party nap. Eventually, I came around and ended up having a great time, I danced to shit music from a bad speaker, I laughed and joked, I kissed and hugged my friends and I remember thinking (as most drunk teenagers do) how great my weekends were.
As things died down, and I lived miles away, I ended up crashing in the middle of the living room floor with a blanket and a cushion. Most of my close friends had left but there were other people in the room on the sofas, two girls I was kind of friends with and a couple of others that I didn’t know. I fell asleep briefly but woke as you came in the room. You came and laid next to me on the floor, sharing my blanket: I pretended to be asleep.
I remember turning away from you because I could smell your body odour and the stale cigarettes on your breath.
I remember you spooning me and pushing yourself against me and I remember moving away but you kept coming closer.
I remember hearing the heavy breathing and kissing of a couple in the room with us and realising your hands were also on me.
I remember you whispering my name into my ear, potentially trying to wake me up but not letting that stop your wandering hands.
I remember being frozen, unable to say no, unable to ask for help.
I remember being scared.
I remember wanting you to stop.
I remember praying that you’d give up if I could just stay still enough and strong enough.
I remember you trying to access my body in any way that you could.
I remember my stomach churning and I felt embarrassed and ashamed as your hand was in my knickers.
I remember your fingers prying every inch of me and your nails scratching me.
I remember looking up at my friend asleep on the sofa and wishing I had the courage to ask her for help.
I don’t remember how long this lasted.
I remember my dad picking me up and asking me why I wanted to leave so early in the morning and if I was okay and telling him I was just tired.
I showered as soon as I got in, touching my body gently and with care, trying to soothe the burning parts of my body that were so angry that I had betrayed them, the parts of my body that I now felt detached from.
I thought about all of the lectures my dad had given me; about being careful because boys are all after one thing, and especially if I was drinking, and especially because I was a young and pretty girl, and I thought about how I couldn’t possibly tell him what had happened because these things led me to believe that it was my fault.
I stood in my kitchen that morning looking at the spots of bruises on my inner thighs from squeezing my legs so tightly shut, tracing the fingernail scratches on my pelvis where my knickers sat and I simply became angry. I rang K.
I said I was fine, downplaying it a bit, acknowledging that I had been drunk but also said how I had marks on my body, and how I had pretended to be asleep but you didn’t stop touching me. K reassured me things would be okay and said he was going to talk to you. I felt relieved. If you could apologise and take responsibility, and if I could shower 1000 more times, I could probably move on. I already knew that I was never going to call the police simply because I was drunk, I wasn’t a virgin and I never explicitly and verbally said no. It wasn’t even full rape – I would be torn to shreds in a court room.
K rang me back that day after taking a bunch of our mates to your house and simply said you had denied it. You had said you were drunk and didn’t remember anything. I recall thinking that I had been drunk also, but I couldn’t forget.
”It’s kind of your word against his.”
That night you took a number of things from me; my friends, my dignity, my sexuality, my vulnerability, my trust in others, my trust in men, and my respect for myself and my body. It has taken such a long time to build those things back up and I’m still working on it.
I don’t feel like I’m in a place to forgive you because you have never taken responsibility for your actions or admitted any fault, inevitably leaving me with a mountain of guilt and shame. I’m still holding onto anger too, not all the time, but its there. It rises when I hear of others who have been victims of assault. Old and new friends share old and new stories with me because this behaviour happens again and again and again and again. The media is continuously reporting on some kind of sex scandal which is no surprise when UK statistics show that 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime and 83% of victims did not report their crimes to the police.
The rise of the #metoo movement made me realise how depressingly not alone I was in this and also that this, albeit the worst, was not the only assault I had experienced.
I have had my breasts, crotch and bum grabbed repeatedly on nights out. I have had men push themselves against me. I have been on dates where the other person has refused to take no for an answer. I’ve even been in a very similar situation at another party but ‘luckily’ I was too drunk to remember it clearly and I did receive an apology text the next day.
It read: ‘sorry I got a little handsy last night, your a very attractive girl and i sorta couldnt help myself x’
I scoff in disbelief every time I think about that one.
This narrative that myself and millions of other women are forced into is that we are there for the taking. Flesh to be touched, used and disposed of.
If we have had a drink, if we are out at night, if we are sexually active, if we look nice, if we are friendly, if we choose to wear a dress or a skirt or a thong, it is our fault for simply being there. And you know the thing that infuriates me about this most, M, is that you probably haven’t given me a second thought in 10 years and I am caught off-guard every time I am reminded of you.
In the past year alone, I became overwhelmed during a yoga class when the instructor reminded us to touch our skin with love; I had to pause Orange is the New Black to catch my breath after watching McCullough’s eerily similar sexual assault; I burst into tears during a routine smear test and couldn’t figure out why; I’ve had to stop in the middle of sex because I couldn’t forget the way your hands felt on me. The list goes on.
Amongst all of this, I still believe I can find good from this situation. I truly want to use this experience to help others. I focussed my degree on researching female artists reclaiming their sexualised bodies through self-portraiture. I became fascinated with pole and burlesque and women having these amazing spaces to express their sexuality and creativity. I worked on an intimate campaign celebrating vulvas and although I intended to talk openly about assault, I didn’t because I didn’t want you to infiltrate that kind of space anymore, the kind of space that is full of strong, incredible women standing their ground.
One day I hope to work as a psychotherapist, both with victims of sex crimes and with those committing the offences, because I believe the only way we can move away from such high statistics of assault is through education and rehabilitation.
I am working hard to put as much good into the world as I possibly can and I sincerely hope that you are doing the same, too.
* names changed.
You can find support and services about rape and sexual assault from services like Rape Crisis and The Survivors Trust. If you are under 25, you can also visit your nearest Brook clinic for advice and referrals.