Two years ago I met a guy in the social dance community. It was a community within which I felt safe and I’d never had any problems there. I had made friends and it didn’t seem unusual to go for ice cream with this guy after the dance. Dancing makes you hungry and late night snacking is a part of the ritual.
We went twice for ice cream. On two different weeks and we texted minimally. On the third evening, I agreed to hang out after the dance. Again, I was expecting to go for ice cream or snacks. He wanted to go to his place. I somehow thought we’d park the car near there and then get ice cream nearby. He lived near a busy street where there were lots of restaurants open late.
It was late, maybe 12:30AM. He asked me to come into his place. Every voice inside me was yelling “No, don’t go with him!” But then I shut myself down, I told myself “You can’t always be expecting the worst of everyone, you have to trust people, this guy is from the dance, he’s most likely safe”
In other words, I had that moment which so many survivors describe, of knowing that something wasn’t right. But, like I’d done in the past, I ignored it and went along with what he was suggesting.
He lived in a bachelor apartment inside an older house. The couch was so close to the bed they were almost touching and there was barely any space to move around. We sat on the couch and I started talking nervously. I told him that I’d recently separated from an abusive husband, that I had been sexually abused. I was trying to give a clear signal that I wasn’t interested in fooling around with him. He listened without saying much.
Then he started kissing me. His hand was on my thigh, pushing up my red and white dress. I froze. In my head I was gathering strength, making a plan. Finally, I said “No” very clearly. But he didn’t stop. He kept kissing me and touching me. Again, I froze, I went into my head and continued planning. I said “No” a second time and a third. The kissing and touching continued, his hand touching my underwear under my dress.
I realized at this point that I was in trouble. He was bigger than me, likely stronger. We were alone, nobody would likely hear me scream. Thoughts were rushing through my head. By the third “No,” my brain was ready to check out. I was on the verge of disassociating, my energy was used up and my old responses were kicking in.
He picked me up. Lifted me in his arms and placed me on his bed. He was on top of me kissing me. And I had a moment of clarity. My internal voice spoke firmly (I’m paraphrasing my internal dialogue):
“You cannot disassociate right now. If you disassociate you are going to be raped. You barely know this person. You have to fight. You have to escape. You do NOT want to be raped tonight. You have to stay in the present, you can’t zone out! This is your chance to protect yourself. This guy didn’t listen to words, you have to use force!”
I gathered my strength and I pushed him as hard as I could with both my hands. He stopped, lay down beside me, hands still touching my legs. He seemed upset, as if I’d been leading him on. I don’t remember him speaking. I could just tell he was angry. I breathed one more time, regenerating some strength. Then I told him I had to leave, jumped off the bed, grabbed my coat and purse and ran.
I ran down the stairs. I ran out into the street. My car was parked a few blocks away, but I barely remembered where. It was late, after 2:30AM. As soon as I hit the fresh air I was crying. I was shaking with the exertion of defending myself. The PTSD was overtaking me, everything was happening and I was still trying to find my car.
I took out my cell phone, and called the guy I was casually dating. He often stayed up very late and I prayed he would answer. I called a few times, no answer, left a panicked message and finally located my car.
My friend called me back as I was driving home. I remember crying on the phone while I was driving. He stayed on the phone with me for a long time, until I was finally able to sleep.
He was so angry. He wanted me to call the police, but I knew that was basically useless. I was also really embarrassed and I didn’t know the people in the dance community to know. I felt like somehow I’d be the one who would be shamed. I knew on one level I could, and probably should, tell one of the organizers, but I was too ashamed. I wanted to keep it a secret and just try to forget about it. I didn’t want to call the police, because I hadn’t been raped. It wasn’t “that bad,” and I’d escaped without injury. I’d just forget about it and move on.
But I was traumatized. I had flashbacks for days, weeks. I felt embarrassed, I felt like somehow everyone could know that I’d been assaulted. It was a similar feeling to when I’d been a teenager and was convinced the whole world knew, when in reality nobody did.
I struggled to wear that red and white striped dress again. Because when I wore the dress I could feel his hands moving it up my thighs without my consent. I shuddered just looking at the dress.
I also felt a sense of empowerment, that I was able to defend myself rather than disassociating. It was the first time in all my years of experiencing sexual abuse that I’d ever physically defended myself. But it was small comfort. If there was one thing I didn’t need in my life it was to be sexually assaulted again.
The worst part is that I still see this guy. He’s still a part of the dance community. He’s on facebook, online dating sites and if I’ve seen him I’ve blocked him. But I can’t block him from the dance, not without telling someone. And what’s the point now? It’s been over 2 years and what if they didn’t believe me? Worse, what if they think I’m exaggerating or making a big deal of nothing. So I see him from time to time, I ignore him with all my strength, I walk away, I dance in a different part of the room, I try to imagine him disappearing. But honestly, when he’s there I never feel 100% comfortable.
People often say that sexual assault only lasts for a few moments. Why ruin someone’s life by accusing them of assault and reporting them to the police over something that only lasted moments? Why ruin someone’s reputation? Why report at all?
Well, sexual assault doesn’t last only for a few moments. Not for the survivor! For the survivor it never fully heals, it’s never fully forgotten. It’s like a stain on your favourite dress, one that you can’t ever get out. Or your favourite dress that you can’t wear again, because the stain is the memory of the assault. It’s just there, in your closet, to remind you of a night you’d rather forget.
It is “that bad.” It just is.