Wow, what a shit storm that just brought up in me. I just left the gym in tears as the memories came flooding back. I am going to list some of them because there is an important theme, if you care to read.
When I was 7 my friend and I were playing in the woods near our house when a man exposed himself and started masturbating – he then chased us. Our parents took us the police and we reported it.
There were a couple more incidences when I was about 10 years old which I won’t share as the perpetrators are easily identified.
At 12 I met a neighbour of mine and we went out to play – he took me to a playground where his ‘babysitter’ (16 years old) was waiting. He told me he was having ‘sex’ with his babysitter and that it was ‘fun’. This boy then sexually assaulted me and wanted to progress to full on rape when my friend managed to persuade him to have sex with him instead (he could see how terrified I was). I had to keep a lookout whilst this boy raped my friend. I was horrified, scared and confused. A couple of weeks later at lunch my father told us this boy had been caught and was being dealt with. He then asked me if I knew him and there was no way I could tell him what had happened to me.
Also at 12 I went for my first sleepover with friend of mine, another neighbour. I got on really with his Mother (she was lovely) and his two sisters (one of whom was severely disabled). I hadn’t really met his step-dad (a Captain in the Army). That night his step-father came into the room I was sharing with my friend (he was on a sleeping bag on the floor) and sexually assaulted me (my friend lay there and didn’t do anything – part of me even thought ‘is this normal’) he then raped my friend in front of me. I was terrified, paralysed with shock and confused. I was afraid of what would have happened to their family if I said anything, what would happen to his sister who was extremely vulnerable. I didn’t tell but I never went to their house again. Years later, when I was 19 I tracked him down and went to meet with him to talk about it but he refused to see me.
Also 12 (a difficult age for me – I was small for my age and considered effeminate), the older boy next door tried to sexually assault me one day when we were in my room, I was so shocked and panicky I pushed him off me and he fell off the bed onto the floor on his head, splitting his head open – my mum ran in, there was blood everywhere but there was no way I could say what happened. The ensuing drama meant I didn’t need to explain. I never saw him again.
From 12 I went to a military boarding school where there we many incidences of the teachers being sexually inappropriate with me but the one that stood out was when I was about 15 and the rest of the 5th years had gone away on a rugby tournament (I couldn’t go as I was injured). Which meant I was alone on the fifth-floor landing and alone in the room I usually shared. A teacher pinned me up against a wall and was trying to force me to have sex with him. I managed to struggle free (I had shot up to nearly 6ft tall by now) and threatened to tell his wife. He eventually gave up and left. He was dismissed later for other reasons. The thing is, I like him as a teacher and didn’t want to lose him. The teacher that replaced him was an odious paedophile that later got arrested and charged.
When I was fifteen I went to stay at a friend’s house for half-term (my parents were in the military in Germany and my boarding school was in England). I didn’t realise until we got there that we had to share a double bed, but the boy was a close friend who I trusted. However I woke up in the night to find him sexually assaulting me, at the point of orgasm. He then pretended to be asleep and I, embarrassed and upset went and cleaned up. Years later when he finally came out to me as gay, I wanted to say – I know, I know what you did that night. I didn’t and I am still friends with him. We were both children at the time and I have made peace with it.
At 17, having missed my train I was stranded in the middle of nowhere in Germany (in the winter) in the early hours of the morning. I was freezing in just a t shirt and jeans, when a middle-aged man came and started chatting to me, saying I looked cold and he lived nearby, would I like to come for a cup of tea and warm up until the next train – I naively agreed and back at his place he sexually assaulted me. I felt if I told anyone I would be blamed for missing my train – that it was my own fault.
At 18 years I went clubbing in London with a friend of mine (we missed the train) and a cab driver ‘friend’ of his (middle-aged man) offered to let us stay at his place until the next train. We both fell asleep and I was awoken by the man sexually assaulting me as he had come in from his shift. I was extremely distressed (I had a girlfriend at the time) and my friend persuaded him to have sex with him instead (my friend was 17 at the time). I had to lay there as it happened.
Again at 18, I bumped into a friend of a friend, we got chatting and he invited me around for a coffee. I didn’t even know he was gay, it was 10 am in the morning, I had a girlfriend (which I had mentioned in conversation). Once in his flat he locked the door and attempted to rape me. I was very slight as a teenager (he was a grown man in his thirties and much bigger than me), but having been sexually assaulted as a child I was determined not to let it happen to me as an adult and I fought him with all my might – which resulted in my receiving a black eye and cut lip (he eventually let me out). I couldn’t tell my girlfriend at the time and the trauma was compounded for the next two weeks by people asking me how I had got my black-eye.
In my early twenties, I went to Sheffield to do my degree and I had to make my own way so I got a job in a gay bar (one of only two). It soon became apparent that the owner of the bar employed young pretty boys and was a total sleaze. Making his partner insanely jealous. They both lived at the pub. I rejected his advances constantly and it was seemingly very jokey. One night, after a lock, his partner suggested I stay over as it was in the middle of the industrial estate and there was no way to get home. I thought nothing of it, as they were both there, but in the middle of the night the owner came in and tried to sexually assault me – I managed to get him off me and repeatedly reminded him that his partner was in the next room and that I was friends with him. He eventually gave up and left. It was never spoken about but I knew from the way his partner was with me that he respected me for not doing it. It was also awkward as it was then an open secret that I was the only employer not to have slept with him but the boyfriend made sure I stayed on. However, there was a culture of abuse and I often refused to collect glasses as I would be assaulted at least 3 or 4 times each time I left the bar. I moved in with a friend so I could quit.
I was lucky that nothing happened again until I was about 28, though in the interim I had been assaulted and molested in gay clubs and even in broad daylight at gay Pride events on more occasions than I call to remember – often being told I should be ‘flattered’ or “I was asking for it by wearing that outfit”. FYI no one gets dressed thinking ‘I hope I get assaulted in this outfit’. People dress because what they wear makes them feel good and they don’t expect to be prey to unwelcome advances.
When I was 28/29 I had gone to a fetish club in drag and a group of us got a black cab. We dropped my friends off leaving me alone in the cab (I was going to another club to meet my boyfriend). The taxi driver drove to a remote place – I had asked him where he was going – then he pulled over and proceeded to sexually assault me. I was wearing only a bra, mini shirt and very high shoes (making it difficult to run – I also had no idea where I was and didn’t want to be running down the street in a bra and miniskirt). I had been drinking and I thought if I tell the police what will they say/think – me dressed like this and having been drinking (I wasn’t drunk). The guy dropped me at the club after and had the nerve to ask for a fare – I threatened to call the police and he drove over very quickly. I ran to my boyfriend in tears. My response was to take MDMA to make me forget. My boyfriend was horrified and wanted me to tell the police but I didn’t see the point.
Around this time, I got heavily into clubbing, drinking and taking drugs in a way to (not) deal with it all, but I realised it was making me worse. Eventually I sought help in the form of counselling, stopped taking drugs and clubbing and seriously curtailed my drinking. Since then I have always tried not to put myself in vulnerable situations, but two other events occurred.
I was in the pub with friends, of whom there was a couple who lived close by me. I had in the past had sex with one of the couple but never them together as I didn’t fancy the boyfriend. I had turned them both down a few times when this had been suggested and I thought the message was clear. I had known them for few years too. After the pub, they invited me to go back to theirs for a pizza on the way home. I agreed, not thinking anything untoward. The pizza arrived and we were all eating it, they offered me a drink (I was not drunk having one had a couple of drinks at the pub), I agreed – the next thing I remembered was waking up cold and naked on the wooden living room floor, surrounded by used condoms and my still uneaten pizza slice. I stumbled into the bedroom, confused, and they were both in bed, smiling. One said they would make me a coffee and in the kitchen, I asked why there were used condoms everywhere and he said, ‘we all had sex’ – I was mortified. I know I would never have consented to sex with his partner! They knew that too. I got dressed and left without drinking my coffee and have never seen them since, despite the fact that a friend of mine still sees them regularly. I didn’t feel I could go to the police as I had no recollection of actual events. That there were two of them and it would be their word against mine – and I had had sex with one on them on numerous occasions before. I trusted these people.
On one of the rare occasions (these days) I went out clubbing with a friend at a well-known gay nightclub in London. At the end of the evening I went looking for my friend to say I was going home. I couldn’t find him and this place has a backroom so I thought he may have popped in there – I decide to go in and look for him. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have used backrooms in the past, but on this night, that was not my intention (not that it matters either way to what happened). It was very busy and as I was pushing my way through the crowd the person behind me took it upon themselves to violently sexually assault me (I was wearing tracksuit bottoms and sandwiched between people so unfortunately it was easy for him to achieve. I swung round, shocked and in pain screamed ‘what the fuck?” and slapped him hard in the face. He laughed. I slapped him again, harder. He punched me in the face – I lost it. We were dragged out by bouncers and I was held in a separate room for two hours whilst they tried to persuade me not to call the police. I asked them several times to call the police but they wouldn’t. They said various things like ‘well you went in the backroom, you were asking for it really!’ and ‘if the police come you will be charged with assault’ – my reply – ‘that’s fine, I will take that risk’ and ‘you look fine but that guys face is a serious mess’ – ‘he didn’t sexually assault my face! Call the police and I will have the tests done’. I could see they were panicking because they knew if the police came they could lose their licence – I know from my 25 years in London that the police would seize any opportunity to close the place down. In the end, tired, in pain and exhausted I gave up and left. I knew a lot of my friends use the place and like it, and I didn’t want to face the inevitable court case to be honest.
The counselling I had, in my late twenties, helped me a lot and I decided to go onto to train as a counsellor (later psychotherapist). Early on I chose to specialise in working with survivors of childhood sexual abuse and adult survivors of sexual assault. I also working with people with drug & alcohol issues as these often go hand in hand. I have had about 8 years of therapy dealing with these issues and my journey into spiritual healing has helped heal things that talking couldn’t. I have worked in this field for 16 years now (I also worked for SurvivorsUK) and heard many stories similar to my own. I would encourage anyone who is a survivor of sexual assault to seeking counselling, as the trauma has a resounding effect on our sense of self.
Some of the themes in here are: men in positions of authority, situations I thought seemed safe. Very few of the people who assaulted or attacked me where complete strangers. The difficulty in speaking up and the consequences of it. How even the times you do, it is hard to be believed, even being blamed. As Lady Gaga wisely said – you don’t know how it feels, until it happens to you…
I am sharing this as a contribution to what seems to be becoming a discussion about how sexual assault is prevalent and most often perpetrated (but not always) by men. Also, because I will offer SurvivorsUK to share it on their page to encourage men to come forward and share their stories and seek help. To know there is help, and it can help.