Trigger Warning: This post discusses some details of my own experiences with sexual assault. If you feel this will upset or trigger you, you are advised to read this at your own discretion.
There were two major events in the Christmas and New Year Period of 2010 – 2011 that would have a great impact on my future, one of which I have always been open and honest about, that being contracting viral meningitis. There is, however, one other matter that only those close to me are aware of; I am a victim of sexual harassment.
I was a teenager with puberty beginning to truly take hold, and having never had a boyfriend and being unmercifully mocked for this, I was relieved when a boy finally asked me out. We did all the normal teenage relationship clichéd things like going to the park, watching movies at the cinema, and going over to each other’s houses for tea. The first time I visited his home his parents were both out at work and we had the full run of the house to ourselves. I had barely set foot indoors when he asked if I wanted some alcohol, which I politely turned down as I had heard one too many scare stories involving alcohol. He kept asking for the next few hours until his parents came home from work, but I remained resolute and am glad that I did. I returned home that evening relatively happy.
The Christmas holidays arrived and on one occasion I met him in the park opposite my home. We wandered slowly back to my house and up to my room with my mum doing housework downstairs, and found that mum had put several games on my bed to keep us entertained. I put the radio on and we listened to music together. We played a few rounds of connect 4. Then he said he was bored.
It started innocently enough but then he kept trying to force his hand between my legs despite me very firmly telling him not to. He pulled me into the centre of the room and told me I had to stand still for a whole minute and let him do whatever he wanted to me. I was increasingly uncomfortable but reluctantly complied, and he slipped his hand down my pants. I wriggled away and told him to stop, heading towards the bedroom door, but he blocked my path. Without warning, he pulled my jumper off, and the t-shirt that was under it, leaving me standing in my bra desperately trying to reach my clothes, while he held them away from me and groped me. Then he whispered down my ear that he was going to take my virginity before my fifteenth birthday.
I pushed him suddenly, certainly not enough to hurt him, but in surprise he dropped my clothes which I grabbed and pulled on quickly. He tried to push me back against the wall but being small for my age I easily ducked under his arm, yanked open my bedroom door, and rushed downstairs. I tried to act as if everything was normal as he followed me down the stairs, telling mum that he’d had a message from his parents asking him to come home. He left in a civilised manner, acting the part of a saint in front of my mother, before setting off for his own home. I locked the door behind him as he left.
Although I was upset at the turn of events, I honestly believed that this was normal behaviour and that I was simply being a wimp compared to my peers. It wasn’t until I spoke to my mum about it later in the afternoon that I realised something was really wrong. She was horrified, recommended that I break up with him immediately, and perhaps even to contact the police. I only followed the former piece of advice, deciding not to go to the police as it would be my word against his with no real evidence that anything had happened, so the case would simply be ignored as teenage whimsy. I could even have ended up in trouble myself for wasting police time.
Just a few days later my priorities had a very sudden change as I contracted viral meningitis.
A combination of both the harassment and the meningitis left me with minimal confidence and almost no self-esteem. I couldn’t even attempt a relationship until I was at university, and the confidence to actually have sex took even longer to arrive. It didn’t help that within six months of the first incident I had encountered two more, albeit less severe, incidents with two different boys; one kept forcing his arm around my waist and pulling me to him, and the other repeatedly smacked my ass forcefully whenever I bent over to pick something up. I managed to brush both of the guys in question away and kept my distance.
I hated myself for being so scared; scared that it would happen again, scared that my reluctance to speak to the police would put others in danger, scared that he would tell everyone and I would be called a whore or a pussy, scared that I was facing a severe illness the likes of which I had never seen coming.
Looking back it’s incredible to think that misogyny was so deeply ingrained into our culture that I thought the way I was treated was normal and acceptable, and that I was the one at fault for having a negative reaction. In recent months the prevalence of the #MeToo campaign on social media highlights just how commonplace this issue remains to this day. I only hope that with all the brave people stepping forward to recount their own experiences, and by that I include all gender identities, the severity and range of the issue will finally be realised, and that progress can be made to help stop these traumatic and deeply uncomfortable events from taking place.