CONTENT WARNING: This piece discusses sexual assault. If you would like to speak to someone about the issues raised in this article, please call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
My body knew I was assaulted months before my brain caught up to the fact.
My brain didn’t catch up to the concept because I didn’t want to actualize what had happened. This stemmed from the desire of security, self-preservation, and disbelief that a person who I had trusted into my life, home, bed, had violated my body and subsequently made me continually question my own legitimacy.
All the past narratives of abuse, sexual exploitation and domination that I have come into contact with, rely upon the perpetuation of certain archetypes and possible scenarios. How often it is that our understandings of rape and assault rely on the violent stranger, or person that preys on another (specifically men who prey on women) in a moment of vulnerability and is detached from their day to day life.
When you are being constantly manipulated in an emotionally abusive partnership, the idea that you have ownership over your own thoughts feels almost incomprehensible, so naturally, your body would follow suit. When your S/O invalidates your voice, reason, strength and self-assurance over and over again, drawing clear boundaries, whilst feeling imperative, becomes impossible. When the same person assaulted me multiple times, I simply did not register. Realizing it, is not something I ever wanted to have to come to terms with.
Understanding my trauma was delayed, considering the process could only start once I was able to move away from my abuser. It came when I was reading a very public article about their romantic and sexual involvement with other women at the time we were together. On a Thursday afternoon, while my new partner was sleeping next to me, I came to understand the depth of my violation through an article on the internet, which was only a mirror of my better experiences with this person, but written by a woman I had never met. The article was satirical and unbelievable and the kind of story you pass around a dinner table and gossip and gasp about as it unfolds, which I did, because revelling in the absurdity of it all is easier than uprooting the trauma that I had strived to let go of for months during and after. Even now writing this, with all of the vulnerability necessary, I am still urged by my conscience to edit out certain parts of the story to avoid gossip.
Shame followed my revelations about my abuse in ways that I hadn’t expected. It was heavy and it was internalized. I felt stupid, irresponsible, naïve and accountable for what had happened. I felt that it would be ridiculous of me to dwell on it, or to tell anyone, because I had made the decision to invite this person into my life and started a relationship with them despite the prevalent warning signs that loved ones pointed out to me and I was too juvenile to understand the ways in which I was being taken advantage of. Rape culture today tells us that we are victims because we did not do enough to prevent our assaults. Offloading the feeling of responsibility and guilt of something I had so deeply internalized is tricky to navigate and multifaceted.
What isn’t so complex, is the fact that consent is continual, and the words ‘no’ and ‘stop’ hold just as much meaning in a relationship as they do in any other context. And that the way you cope and move through trauma is relevant, and entirely your own, as is your body.
Understanding your trauma can come in many different forms, as can processing it, moving through it, and overcoming it. In the wake of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, I, amongst far too many other victims of sexual assault, were once again faced with different facets of these motions. Some days it is as jolting for me to look out my bedroom window and see construction workers stare at me from the scaffolding across from my house as it is to hear a brave woman stand in front of a room full of men and painstakingly divulge her trauma for the entire world to scrutinize and pick apart, only to not be heard by those in power despite so many of our cries. Some days I feel defeated, others triumphant that most of us are standing in solidarity with each other against a system that is so deeply rooted through history and across culture.
There is nothing beautiful about having your agency taken from you without caution. What is, is the solidarity I have found within my peer groups and beyond. It is the solidarity, empathy and validation I experienced when I got in touch with the woman who wrote the article that catapulted me into coping with my trauma. It is every person who has hashtagged #metoo, #believesurvivors, and #whyididntreport. It is almost every person I know with the exception of my cis male friends who have a similar story. It is treating yourself with tenderness and kindness, learning to hold space for yourself when someone you relied upon wouldn’t, and in turn holding space for others who are publicly or privately navigating their own trauma. Take the time you need to know yourself and your body again, to feel whole and held by yourself. To understand that you still have ownership over your own anatomy and emotional landscape, especially in times when this feels most fickle. The repetition of these words has become a cliché because we need to hear them.
I met my abuser when the #metoo movement was sweeping across the world, I wouldn’t have imagined that 1 year later I’d be writing about my own experience. In the wake of all that has happened over the course of that year, I feel grateful to be in the position of adding my voice to the conversation and understanding that doing so is not as accessible or healing for others as the process has been for myself. To those, and to everyone else, I see you, I hear you, I believe you.
Words: Ella Jane