Thursday, April 4, 2013

Part 1: On being a victim of rape culture

Warning: This post could be triggering for people who have themselves been victims of sexual assault.

I've been avoiding writing this post. I know it is going to be long and it is going to be painful. It is going to hurt to dredge up the memories. It might free me or it might bring back my post traumatic stress disorder flashbacks. I don't know. I just feel I should write about it and tell my story of being a victim of rape culture.

The recent case in Steubenville, Ohio, in the United States has brought it all back to me. I've read article after article about the appalling crime that happened against an innocent 16 year old girl. I've also read about the disgusting backlash against that young women. The victim blaming she has suffered because she was drunk and passed out at the time two men raped her while her peers looked on and did nothing has been reprehensible.

It is six years this month since the night I was raped. 

Me in a pub in Shoreditch four months earlier
This is the story:

It was Friday 19 April 2007. The day had started like any Friday. I woke up hungover and tired and in a bad mood. I was living in Shoreditch in East London in a three bedroom flat that was inconveniently located above a bakery. You might think it would be lovely to wake up to the smell of freshly baked croissants but I can assure you, it is not. Hot, humid and buttery the air made me feel a constant hum of nausea just below the surface of my skin. Probably because I was hungover most of the time.

That day it was cool, but not as cold as it can be mid April in London. I dressed in my favourite blue Lucky Jeans jeans, a black knit sleeveless cowl necked top, black velvet blazer from Gap and my cherry red Doc Marten ankle boots and headed off to work.

My office was about 20 minutes walk from the flat. The not so fresh London air woke me up as I pounded the back streets to get to the centre of the Square Mile in time for work. I had that usual Friday morning feeling: Gagging for the end of the working week so I could party all weekend.

Lunchtime came around and a couple of the girls from other departments asked if I wanted to go for lunch. We went to a restaurant not far from the office. It was Italian if my memory serves me. We shared a bottle of white wine between us. I remember we talked about our party lifestyles. The other girls both had boyfriends but they still liked to go out and drink with their mates. I remember gloating about the risky, outrageous life of sex, drugs and music I led. About how trashed I could get on the weekend without anything really bad happening to me.

In those days I was proud of my ability to consume vast amounts of alcohol, cocaine and ecstasy. Either alone or, usually, together. I thought the double life of corporate slave by day, drug loving rock chick by night was so incredibly cool. But the reality was that during the day I hated myself. At night the drugs and the booze set me free from that hate. 

To stop the self loathing I was drinking earlier in the day, every day. On the weekends I often woke up (if I slept at all) and began drinking not too long after. My hangovers stopped seeming so bad because they just kind of felt normal. I bruised easily and always had the shakes. My nose ran constantly and the excuse of year long hayfever was starting to wear thin. 

We returned to the office late from lunch and as the buzz from the wine started to fade I felt agitated and annoyed that I wasn't tipsy any more. By 4.30pm our trusty Friday arvo drinks trolley made its rattly way around the office floor. Drinking a couple of beers in quick succession took the edge off but just upped my desire for more.

My flatmate had text me to say he was making a roast lamb dinner and did I want to share it with him and his girlfriend who was practically living with us now. This really annoyed me. Why the fuck would I want to spend Friday night home with a couple? As if on cue, one of the girls I'd had lunch with emailed and said she was going for a drink in one of the bars on the ground floor of our building, did I want to join her? Yes, bloody oath I did.

We shared another bottle of white wine. If you've started to total up the amount of grog I'd had that night you're probably thinking I should be pretty wasted by now, at least a little tipsy. But as I said earlier, I was used to drinking one or two bottles of wine a night during the week so a couple of beers and half a bottle of wine (not to mention what we'd drunk at lunch) was really not a lot for me.

We discovered there was a group of people from our office drinking in the bar next door so we went there hoping to score some freebies. The corporate credit card was over the bar and the drinks were flowing thick, fast and without cost to me. My friend and I shared another bottle of wine. By this stage I was definitely on my way. That familiar edginess started to overcome me and I went outside to call my dealer. Alcohol just made me want coke and vice versa. There was no answer so I went back into the bar.

All my work colleagues were as pissed as girls on a hens night while a couple of trays of vodka shots were passed around the group. I pretty much always stuck to beer, wine or cider in those days but not to be outdone, or to miss out on free grog, I joined in and downed a couple. Things started to get hazy then.

There must have been at least six people from our office there. They weren't from my department so I didn't know them well but that didn't matter. We were all pissed and having a laugh. We milled around two high circular tables near the entrance to the bar which was pretty busy being a Friday night.

There were four bars in our building, one of them being a nightclub. When it was near last drinks at the bar we had been drinking in a couple of people suggested going to the nightclub for a dance.

I vaguely remember going down the stairs to check out the club and then coming back up the stairs. I remember the girl I had originally gone out with had gone back up to the office to get her bags before heading home. I remember standing in the forecourt of the building with a manager who had been drinking with us and we talked about how we were each going to get home. She was getting the Northern Line to go home to South London. I was going to get a cab because I didn't like walking the backstreets late at night. It must have been around 10.30ish.

I have no recollection of what happened in the five hours that follow.

Over the last six years huge amounts of my mental energy have gone into trying to piece together what happened to me in those five hours.

Right now I am overwhelmed by emotion just writing this. My breathing has become shallow. Noo is in his bed behind me so I'm trying not to dip too deep into this chasm of fear lest I start crying.

I've often wondered why I need to know. Isn't it better that I don't know? That I wasn't conscious?

Thank fuck there were no smart phones, no Twitter or Instagram to have recorded it. Facebook was so new that only a few of my friends had started using it. Not like the 16 year old Steubenville victim who had her photo taken as she was carried by her hands and feet by two animals who managed to gain the sympathy of the mainstream media because their lives were going to be ruined by the evidence they spread around the world via social media.

I feel weird right now. I'm just typing for typing sake. What comes next? What does come next in this story of the night that changed my life forever?


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Jomideast said...

I too have been horrified following the Stubenville case. I'm so sorry you experienced this. I think it's great you are talking about what happened to you. I just wish you never had to go through it. I think your amazing. Lots of hugs xx

Liz said...

That's so awful, Vanessa. I hope writing this has been cathartic. I've been watching the Stubenville case too - it all makes me sick to my stomach. How can there be any sympathy for these "men"?

daddownunder said...

A very sobering post. I hope sharing brings a bit of comfort. Sorry for you.

Lula said...

You are very brave to share this

Kylie Purtell said...

That Stubenville case just makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. Those fucking boys made a decision to ruin their lives, that poor girl had no choice.

I hope telling your story can result in some small good somewhere, for someone, even if its just for your own sake. People need to stop the victim blaming and your story is an important one.

Rachel @ The Kids Are All Righ said...

I know this was an awful, life-changing night for you, and you have only just begun to share it. I assume what follows is a lack of empathy for you because of how drunk you were. I hope that the growing awareness about rape culture will help you resolve any feeling that you were to blame for what happened to you. xx

Amanda Smyth said...

I've watched the Stubenville case and thought "there but for the grace of God go I". Much love xx

kevin said...

you've got guts sharing this. I think back to the state my wife used to come home in on Friday nights when we were in London (we'd always got out with our work friends on Fridays) and I realise just how bad it cold have gone.

apologies on behalf of all guys

Jeanie said...

Hey there V - hugs and only as much as you want when you want to, okay?

Aleney said...

The Steubenville case has dredged up some painful memories for a lot of women. For what it is worth I think you are a brave and amazing person for sharing. Big, but gentle, hugs from me. x

Deb - An Inspirational Journey said...

Wow - I don't know what to say. So brave of you to share this. Hugs x

Rachel Retro said...

Thank you for sharing this with us xo

shari said...

My heart breaks for you reading this. Stories like yours need to be a wake up call to all, that rape culture needs to be seriously dealt with. Hugs to you xx said...

Thank you all for your supportive comments. It really makes the story worth sharing. V. said...

Oh my god, please you don't have to apologise for the bad ones! I love men, I do! I have my son, my beautiful boy, and my dad, my brother and my brother in law. All good men. There are just a few out there that do bad things and a culture which makes excuses for them. Thank you so much Kevin for your comment and acknowledgement of what life on Friday night in London can be like, but please you don't need to apologise for that animal. V.

Janet from Redland City Living said...

I guess we all think we are invincible when we are young - sadly you found out the hard way that it's not true.

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