Sitting at school, they started talking about child abuse and I was 15 when I realised it had happened to me, I think. What good is reporting about something that happened when I was 6?
Something I was completely unaware of, until all in one moment, memories of two older boys and what they did, came rushing back into my mind, after years of being stored somewhere I never went. I was watching a movie about myself, that I’d never seen before, feeling the shock, the outrage and the guilt. Remembering tastes, and smells, and things I just could not separate from the realisation, that this memory was real, and it was mine. It wasn’t imagined. I didn’t report because I was complicit, in some way, somehow, I felt that guilt in the pit of my 6 year old brain, and at 15, that guilt was still overwhelming. I didn’t even know who’s fault it was. The guilt that bound my mouth from asking for help, when it happened over and over again. How does a child say no? I don’t know, I know I wanted to, but I didn’t actually say it. Is it rape if it’s perpetrated by other children? Is it child abuse if you’re all just kids?
The worst thing is, after 20 years, I bumped into one of them, boy x, and he asked me out on a date. I felt sick. I literally wanted to vomit. I felt terrified. Was he taunting me? I wonder if boy x remembers what he did, or realises, that even if he wasn’t the one, I cannot ever trust anyone, ever, because it all happened. I don’t blame him entirely. He was a victim of abuse himself. He’d been exposed to porn. Kids acting out what’s done to them.
We were all just kids. I guess it happened to all of us. I knew boy x had the idea, boy y just went along with it. Boy y, I guess he tried to make it right. In my teens, when man z was grooming me, and had sexually assaulted me, a few times, I didn’t know what to do. The only reason it didn’t end in full scale rape, each time, someone came home, there was a noise, the phone rang. Each time I was powerless. I recognised the guilt. The comfort in silence. The knowledge that it was just getting worse and there was nothing I could do to stop what was coming. Who would even believe it. Boy y, he recognised the hurt in me, he found out what was wrong, and reported on my behalf. He told an adult. An adult who I’d tried to tell but they ignored it because I couldn’t say it clearly enough. Why was it taken seriously because he said it? Why didn’t anyone read enough into what I was trying to say?
Boy y only knows the tip of the iceberg, because I still never told anyone all the things that happened. The things man z did. I guess I’m too embarrassed to say them out loud to this day. Sometimes, in all these situations, its not clear to you, who is wrong, who’s the villain, or if it was rape in the classic sense of the word. Mostly, all you know is the damage it left, the storms inside that just left rubble, untrusting boulders that no one can ever break through.
Knowing it’s never safe to be alone with a man, no matter who he is. Not all men are rapists, but you just never know.
If you are rape survivor and need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to call the ‘Stop Gender Violence‘ helpline at 0800 150 150.
Note: Rape myths abound after the Vavi rape accusation was brought to light. These myths hurt all rape survivors – and if you ever experience sexual violence, these myths will hurt you too. The most common myth I’ve seen is the fallacy that if you don’t report to the police, it didn’t happen. (See here.) I put out a call on Twitter for survivors who didn’t report to send me their story. To follow the series, see here.
If you would like to include your story in this conversation, please email me: michelle at journoactivist dot com. I will assume anonymity for all submissions unless specified otherwise.