What I Wish I Could Tell My Teenage Self About Sexual Assault: No, These Things Don't "Just Happen"

I've never written about this, or even really spoken about it. I guess now is just the right time.

Feb 19, 2014 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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18 and loving life. 

A big night out was cancelled on Saturday night, leaving me at a loss of something to do and with the urge to drink gin and smoke handfuls of cigarettes and put two layers of make-up on.

In the end, three of us went out, myself, Chris and our friend Joe, and we just popped out to a local pub. The type of pub that sells 2-4-1 cocktails on a Saturday night but it's still empty. The type of place that's just that little bit too far out of town. The place that has three staff for every one punter.

Spirits were reasonably high. I had that nice gin soaked buzz, I'd had two cigarettes, I felt pretty good. There were only about 7 or 8 other people in the bar area.

We then clocked someone at the bar. Someone we knew from years ago in our hometown, someone who used to be a face about town but ended up heading to prison for something violent and unpleasant. He was propping up the bar, rubbish trackie bottoms tucked into trainers. Talking a bit too loud, walking with a swagger. Checking two phones, very obviously running a business from his crappy Nokia, he'd nip out every now and again and take a call from someone who wanted whatever it was he was peddling.

As Joe and Chris reminded each other of who he was and what he'd done, who he'd shagged, who he'd punched, I had flashbacks of being at parties he was at. I remembered his presence and the dangerous, edgy atmosphere that seemed to swim about him like thick smog.

I remembered chatting with a girlfriend the morning after a party when we must have been no older than 15 or 16, and her telling me that she'd gone to the bedroom with him the night before. They'd kissed -- or, rather, he kissed her. She'd grown uncomfortable with the way he was pushing her to have sex. She said no. He pulled a knife out of a pocket. 

He was still there the following morning. I remember a slight confrontation, someone sort of giving him a matey punch on the arm and telling him he probably shouldn't pull knives on girls. We all ate breakfast together, probably McDonalds, and felt a need to go home and see our parents and be safe again.

As I thought about this, sat in the pub, over ten years later, I felt a heavy, sick guilt -- for my friend, for all of us who thought that wasn't that bad. We probably never really mentioned it again. It was just one of those things that happened a bit too regularly for it to be that outlandish.

He was there on Saturday night, just feet away from me. The man who overpowered my friend with a sharp, steel blade against her young skin.

We left.

I was at another house party three or so years after that party -- a group of us girls had met a group of lads in the pub and carried on the party at one of our friend's houses. I ended up in a bedroom with one of the guys, we kissed, he smelt of sweat and stale lager. 

I wanted to get out and back down to the party. He was keen on other ideas. I told him no. He didn't listen. I let it happen. It's just easier that way, isn't it? Wouldn't want to be called a frigid bitch. Better to be a "whore."

We went back downstairs to the party like nothing happened. Just one of those things, wasn't it? I could smell his body odor on me. I felt sick. I didn't leave.

We sat and drank as a group, the guy playing Gnarls Barkley's "Smiley Faces" over and over again, refusing to let anyone change it, until it got weird. He started shouting that I was a "fucking slag" and how he'd just given me HIV. 

We left.

I knew it was bad, I cried a lot on a friend's sofa. Her boyfriend had seen me at the side of the road, visibly distressed, and brought me back with him. I cried, drank some squash, watched some TV and then went home and forgot about it.

I can't listen to that song now. It's the only time I think about that evening. You know, he apologized to me once. I was in the pub with friends and he walked in and strolled over to the table, cool as anything, and just said sorry. I was with two male friends who told him to fuck off.

We left.

Every now and again I might catch a glimpse of a photo he's in on Facebook. I click away, fast, and delete whoever it is that has him near them. I'm grateful to not live in my hometown anymore. Chance encounters would be likely, the leap in my stomach that happens if I hear his name by chance would be far more likely to occur. I wouldn't want that. 

It was never really a big deal, though. Things like that just happen, don't they? 

Years on, I know that isn't okay. I know that men overpowering 15 year old girls at parties with weapons is not okay. He's in the town I live in, drinking in pubs I drink in. Selling drugs to people I know, most probably. He probably doesn't give that night a second thought.

That man with the sour smell who I don't include when I think about my past sexual encounters probably doesn't even remember me. He probably thought an apology mumbled in a pub is enough, and moved on.

I won't forget, or maybe I will. Maybe one day I'll hear "Smiley Faces" and not remember being called a whore. Maybe I won't see the faces of the people I was with that night and wonder whether they remember what happened. Maybe I'll think of the guy in the pub down the road from me, with two phones and the shit trainers, and only remember the crimes he went to prison for, and not the ones he didn't. Maybe.

Natalie is on Twitter: @Natalie_KateM.