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Last night, I read Sophie Saint Thomas’s article on being sexually assaulted by her taxi driver. And then I read Emily’s. And I had a funny, deep feeling of familiarity, before I remembered that the same thing happened to me.
And although I felt a great sense of injustice on Emily and Sophie's behalf, I didn't extend that same courtesy to myself.
Having spent a long time enmeshing myself with feminist identity, working in feminist charity, marching feminist marches, I have often disassociated myself from my own experiences, living vicariously through the tragedies that face other women far too often.
It has always been easier to feel anger on the behalf of other women, who have felt more deserving of defense, than myself. Because, as a fairly promiscuous drug user, I always felt a little bit like I deserved it.
Yes, I was assaulted by my cab driver, but he didn’t rape me, I was high as fuck and I was probably half naked. I wouldn’t qualify those things in someone else’s account of their assault, but they seem important in mine.
Even calling what happened to me assault freaks me out a bit - all I remember happening was trying to get out of the cab, from the back seat, and him sort of pushing me down and putting his hands down inside my bra for a little while.
I’m not really sure what happened after that, if he tried to kiss me (I think he did), or how long it went on for – but I do know that, like Sophie, I tipped him. I do remember that I was too scared to wait for change. I also know that I never told anyone because it didn’t feel like enough like a proper violation.
I was in weekly therapy at the time, and I didn’t even mention it in that. It just didn’t seem like it counted.
Chances are that, like Emily and Sophie’s driver, he kept on doing it, he did it to scores of other women. I didn’t report it because it didn’t even feel like a thing to report. I don’t know if anyone ever reported him, if he’s still doing it, or worse, and that makes me feel pretty ashamed of myself.
I have often quoted Andrea Dworkin when I have written about my own experiences of assault, and I’m gonna do it again:
I couldn't be consoled. I couldn't talk to anyone. How could I say the words to the people I loved, most of whom work precisely to stop violence against women: this is what he, someone or they, did to me. Yeah, I know I represent something to you, but really I'm a piece of crap because I just got raped. No, no, you're not a piece of crap when you get raped, but I am.
When someone tried to rape me just after I moved to Paris, I was coerced into reporting it by a stranger that I met at the internet café, when I was half dressed and sobbing. I know that without her intervention and support, I would never have called the police, because he didn’t penetrate me so it didn’t feel like enough.
He might have hurt me and ripped off my clothes and scared me, but because I managed to fight him off just in time, it didn’t count as assault in my mind. I might have had problems with my back, and my ribs, and when I coughed, but it wasn’t a real assault.
I might have cried, and thrown up, and lost my shit every time a man looked at me, but it wasn’t that bad. It would have counted if the experience belonged to someone else, but I didn’t matter as much.
I hardly even remember most of the things that I could consider assault, some of them I have totally forgotten – like the cab driver – because they just don’t seem important enough to remember, let alone report.
And when I do remember, I feel like people won't believe me, because nobody just forgets stuff like that.
Since I cleaned up, one of the things I have found most painful is the things I have forgotten, the chasms of time and multitude of experiences that I have blocked out, or been too out-of-it to remember. I feel incredibly anxious about how my memory fails me, or possibly protects me.
I know that my body and mind will only give me what I can handle, and maybe I can’t handle all of it yet, but as an instant-gratification seeking addict, I want it all on my time. I want to be given all of my traumas in one big package to process right away, today, so that I don’t have to worry about them coming up in ten years time.
I was in bed with someone a few weeks ago and suddenly I was overwhelmed with fear. A complete, paralysing fear that they were going to rape me. He had just touched my arm in a certain way, it wasn’t anything particularly explicit, but I’ve never felt like that before.
I’ve had sex plenty of times since I’ve been assaulted (sorry, Dad) and I’ve never felt it. It was like this one movement that he made reminded me of something someone had done some time, and I wasn’t sure who, or what, but I sure as fuck knew it upset me.
This confusing allusion, that shadowy memory – I want a clarity around them all that I don’t yet have, and don’t know if I ever will. And I know I ought to accept that, that there’s nothing I can do (short of EMDR) to fast-track my brain’s recovery from addiction and trauma, but it feels infinitely frustrating.
Sophie's article confused me, because it reminds me of all these things. It reminds me that there have been times in my life when the boundaries I have exercised not only around my body but around my being have felt so flexible, so penetrable, that someone invading them doesn’t even register as a memory, let alone an infraction.
It makes me feel sad for myself. It makes me feel painfully guilty that I didn’t report him. I feel nauseous at the thought he will have done it to someone else because this shit doesn’t happen just once. It’s never a one-off. It makes me incredibly grateful for the other women who share their tales of assault, because through their stories I can understand my own experiences.
Sometimes for me, it takes feeling someone else’s pain before I can feel my own, sometimes I’m just not ready to feel compassion for myself. It doesn’t matter if you were half dressed or if you were stoned or if you flirted with him, it never changes the fact that if you didn’t say yes, it wasn’t okay.
And by proxy, that means it wasn’t okay for me, either.
Olivia is on Twitter @oliviasinger.