TRIGGER WARNING – SEXUAL ASSAULT
As the world mourns British woman Sarah Everard’s death, Kiwi woman Katie* recounts her own recent experience – and why a few throwaway words from a friend hurt so much more than than the actual assault.
“It’s not all men,” they always say.
I know that. I know wonderful men, men who would never lay a hand on a woman, who would repulsed and angry and embarrassed for their fellow males if they knew what went on.
I remember one night with my former partner when I told him of a bad experience I had in the past that explained some of the hesitancy I had in the present. I can still feel myself in his bed, my head lying on his chest in the dark as I explained, my stomach twisting into knots. I can remember the weight of my vulnerability like I could actually feel it lying on top of me, how his body tensed up with anger and sadness, hearing his voice catch a little in his throat as he tried his best to reassure and sympathise.
No, it’s not all men. But at the moment, there seems to be more of the bad ones around than usual.
I could be more perceptive at the moment to be fair. The Sarah Everard case has touched the nerves of women around the world. ‘We are all Sarah’ is now the cry of ladies everywhere.
We can all see ourselves in the 33-year-old English woman, who just wanted to get home safe as she walked a few kilometres home in London’s South West.
‘Which one of us is next?’ read a cardboard sign held aloft by another young woman as she protested violence against women outside Scotland Yard this week, as a serving police officer is held on suspicion of Sarah’s murder.
We’ve all walked home in the dark. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we think the next morning, ‘fuck, that probably wasn’t a good idea’. We’ve all clutched our keys in our fists when we’ve felt unsafe as we’ve dashed across a dark carpark.
And we’ve all found ourselves in situations where we could never have expected anything bad to happen to us.
A few weeks ago I went to a music festival, and for the second time in my life, was assaulted by a man as I stood laughing and dancing with my friends.
It was a friend of a friend who’d been bothering me for hours. Apparently I’d met him the year before at the same event when I’d been much drunker. The fact I wasn’t off my nut pissed on Long Whites (I’d like to think there’s been a little personal growth in the preceding year, thank you very much) seemed to annoy him.
“I remember you from last year,” he drawled, “Why aren’t you waaaaasted?! You were so fun last year.”
Um, because I don’t really feel like drinking all that much today.
“Ok, well let’s fix that – I’ll buy you a drink! Come on!”
No thanks, I’m good.
“Oh come on, don’t be boring.”
And on it went, for a few hours. You’ll be reading this and thinking, ‘this happens to me every single time I go out.’ And you’re totally right, it does.
So I did what we all do – ignored, ignored, ignored. And that all worked fine until I felt a hand being shoved between my legs from behind me. It wasn’t a butt slap (not that those are fine) but an aggressive, possessive thrust upwards. Invasive, gross, violating.
I turned around and there he was, standing there with a mate and they were both laughing hysterically.
The translation was clear. Rejection wasn’t an option – I’ll have what I want, regardless of what you want and it’s hilarious. You don’t get to say no to me. I’m a man.
Now a younger me might have just left it there – perhaps she would have run away in tears, or found the nearest port a loo and hid for a while before buying a large wine and gulping it down to forget. Thirty-something-year-old-me was pissed.
I rounded on the two men, their smiles sliding off their faces as I screamed at them, demanding to know which of them did it, how disgusting it was, how dare they, what would their mothers say (I’ve so far resisted the urge to look their mums up and tell them but trust me I haven’t ruled it out.)
I was proud of the strength I had, I told two of my girlfriends as I stood in the same spot, determined to carry on dancing to prove some kind of point when in actual fact I was already over the very average night before it even happened. No, I thought, I’m staying. You can’t scare me.
One of my friends angrily stomped over to confront the two men, and I was happy. How lucky, I thought, to have friends who had my back like that. But of course, you’ll say – the sisterhood always comes through.
But sometimes, women can be as bad as the men.
“He sounds super sincere that he didn’t do that. Are you sure that happened?”
If you have ever been in a situation where something like this happened, number one, I’m so sorry. Number two, you’ll know that this is the absolute worst thing someone can ever say to you.
It stung like salt in a wound as I stood there, mouth agape at my friend who was staring back at me, her eyebrows raised as she looked down at me with all kinds of doubt. It was like I could actually feel my heart harden as I walked away, feeling more broken than any physical touch could ever do.
That one sentence has affected me so much more than the actual incident. It’s been a few weeks now and I’m fine for the most part apart from a few nightmares and a lingering feeling of a weird kind of detached bleh. I honestly don’t know how else to explain it.
I didn’t report it. You might judge me for that, and I suppose that’s fair. But honestly, I can’t be bothered. Would I love for the arsehole to pay for what he’s done? Absolutely. But the process, the system, would cause more harm than good for me personally at this stage in my life, and that’s my call and my call alone.
Thankfully my personal resilience stores are pretty high at the moment – thank you pandemic?! – and although I’m still angry, I’m alright.
But I never thought it would be a friend – a woman – who would make me feel worse than an assailant.
So, they’re right. It’s not all men. Sometimes, women can be just as damaging.
If you’re reading this and you take one thing away, please take this – if you’re ever confided in, please don’t doubt.
Your support could be the all the difference. Take it from me.
*Due to the sensitive nature of this story, names have been changed.
Has this story affected you? Contact Safe to Talk for help, or if you want to officially report an assault, call 111.
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