I woke up last night at 2 a.m. in a hot sweat. Nothing very unusual about that. It happens all the time. But this time I wasn’t scared, or sad. I was angry.
You know what, he raped me, I said to my husband. That fucker raped me, and all I did was blame myself. He hugged me. Eventually I went back to sleep.
It was probably two years ago. Tom and I were going through a rough patch. A really rough patch. We’d split up. We were seeing other people. There were a lot of good reasons for this. I don’t need to explain myself here.
Suffice it to say, I was hurting. Drinking, lonely. In a bad place. One night I got blown off by the guy I was seeing. I felt humiliated. He was someone important at work. He’d fucked someone younger in the office and rubbed my nose in it. The thing is, I was younger too – or maybe just naïve, or optimistic or something, and I didn’t really know that it’s never a great idea to get involved with someone at work. It was a young company, and everyone was at it; everyone, it seemed, except, for a long time, me.
Humiliated and drunk, I went to a friend’s house. I mean I was really drunk, and the friend, well, I probably should have known better. I know that now. But when you’re as low as I was – as nihilistic as I can be, I guess you’re not really thinking at all. In any case, I’ll accept my share of the blame. I’ve been blaming myself for years.
This friend – we used to date. He’d been a prick to me then, but because our friendship group had moved in similar circles, we’d kept in touch, but not before a long hiatus in which I’d got married. Had kids. All but moved on.
He contacted me out of the blue. The night of the Olympic opening ceremony. At first I thought it was a joke. After all, he’d been a dick to me in public since, at gatherings where our paths had crossed. Ignoring me, making out with girls in front of me, like I would give a shit. I did though. Humiliation seemedto be his particular weapon. After all, why wouldn’t you want to humiliate a woman who was dating, to all outside observers, somewhat out of her league. But he had a way with women. A way of attracting those who, for whatever reason had low self-esteem, were gluttons for punishment, like me. All his girlfriends have been pretty. Many of them I’ve spoken to since agree he’s an arsehole. Perhaps that’s what attracted them to him. But that’s beside the point.
When we’d first dated I was 23. I felt like I repulsed him then. He’s still dating 23 year olds. By the time he raped me, I had ten years on that. Like I said, I should have known better. But actually I probably needed my confidence boosting more than ever.
I blew him off at first, but eventually, his persistence paid off. We got chatting by text, then email. Eventually I met him for tea, we smoked some cigarettes. Had a laugh. It happened that we started to see each other more often, talking almost every day on messanger. It was somewhere to go where I didn’t have to deal with the fact my marriage was in trouble. My son was having tantrums several times every day. My work was boring. Sometimes, I needed an excuse not to go home. It got vaguely flirty, the way it does when you feel like you have got control over the situation. But I never felt threatened. Not really. Just mildly amused by the turn of events. It gave me back some of the confidence I lost the first time he’d fucked me around.
On the day I went to his flat, drunk, I let him know I was coming. Sure, come over he said. When I got there, there was another woman, a skinhead, at his house. She looked at me like I was an idiot and left pretty quick, I didn’t know he’d been drinking too. I offered to leave. No stay, he said. He grabbed my arm, I made to leave, and he started kissing me. He breath was sour. I wanted to go home. I wanted to be in bed. But I knew I was in trouble already. Tom and I were fighting all the time. Why don’t you stay, he plead. I just want to lie down, I said. I passed out pretty quick. I woke up to him peeling of my knickers. As he fucked me from behind, I crouched low, hunched up, waiting for it to be over. I may have moaned no, but I was too wasted to make a fuss.
When I woke in the morning, the full horror of what had happened dawned on me, particularly when he turned on me. Why did you come here? You must have known what would happen. I want you to go. I got dressed, and wended the long sorry journey back home and back to work again, seethingly hungover, hating myself and the situation I was in, the situation I’d seemingly made for myself. The tirade continued on iMessager all the way. He was, it seems to me now, covering his back. I asked you to leave, it said. I had drunk half a bottle of tequila and six beers. You have a husband. You love drama, you’re so manipulative. You know drunk men have only limited reservoirs of will power. I replied, it didn’t feel like that at the time. Stop talking about it, he said, and don’t write some annoying blog making reference to me. I never did, cutting off all contact, having learned my lesson at last, save for getting my mother’s pearl earring returned, the one that I’d been married in, the one that got ripped off in his bed.
Not, that is, until I watched a BBC Three documentary last night called Is It Rape?, a powerful programme that proves one thing at least – how conflicted we all are about the idea of consent. The documentary – which showed a group of young people debating a drama in which a girl is date raped by an ex-partner, and the morals and consequences involved – drew some disturbing conclusions. No one was clear about whether, by accepting the situation, not speaking up, previously flirting with the boy, who was drunk, as was she, it was rape, when he shoved his cock in her mouth after a party as she dozed. People felt uncomfortable, partly because there was a general acknowledgement that this sort of thing was not uncommon, perhaps even occurring within the group debating the question. At the very least, the morals involved were hazy. No one was sure who, exactly, was to blame. The point being, we can all be arseholes.
But the legal line was clear. It’s rape unless the woman gives her explicit consent on that particular occasion. Previous history, sexual conduct, relationship status and drunkenness don’t count, even saying nothing and letting it happen.
I didn’t want to make a fuss. After all we had dated, and hell, I used to be a stripper. Who’d believe me? I’d turned up pissed. I’d lain down in his bed. Mea culpa. At least that’s what I thought. And who’d want to put themselves through the agony of having their private life, their private communications, pictures, past, picked over in court. As I said, I’m hardly squeaky clean. Like I said, I was in a bad place. Better to say nothing. Move on. Forget.
But last night, I woke up angry. Many nights, I wake up sad. I don’t really have sex any more. Years of miscommunication has put me off. I realise that my body is a weapon that has been used against me, as much as I have used it, in the past for my own gain. Not just once, but many times. The time the chef from work, back when I was a waitress, fucked me when I was senseless, and I had the idiocy not to send him on his way before I passed out. I called the police that time, just 17, but their response put me off ever making a fuss again. The guy who persisted in fucking me (it was that guy from work) even though I told him no many many times before he appeared to hear. The man who I fancied so much I sent him pictures of myself, who wouldn’t sleep with me awake but fucked me when I was asleep. The guy who fucked me when I was too drunk to object, because I’d kissed him first and I felt like I had no come back. Even, yes, and we’re back together now, my husband has probably crossed that line a bit when he’s drunk, and because I’m so sexually repressed these days, though strangely more confident in my choices, I tell myself it doesn’t really matter whether I’m that into it anymore. I’m sure I’m a nightmare, and I’m grateful someone’s prepared to put up with me. But sometimes men are opportunists because a lot of the time, women hold more power when it comes to having sex, except when they’re passed out. But is it rape? I’m not even sure I know.
And girls can be difficult. I know I’ve changed my mind half way through, given off signals I never intended to follow through, said yes but meant no, and generally been embarrassed once it’s all got over with. This is why men, particularly young ones, can have such a tough time – it must be hard to stop what’s started, when the situation – and a woman’s mood – can change so rapidly.
I do get it, really I do. My son, who has Asperger’s, sometimes doesn’t understand the social niceties, the subtexts, the unspoken looks. He struggles to read people. Perhaps I do too. I certainly have been taken advantage of, but perhaps that’s because I allow it to happen. At least that’s what I’ve told myself in the past. I worry for him – my son – because it isn’t always clear when yes mean no, and when no means yes. When the time comes – he’s ten now, and we’ve had our first frank and open discussion about sex – I will impress upon him how important it is to make sure he’s really, really clear as to whether his partner’s up for it – each and every time. Seven years in prison is a long time for a misunderstanding. It’s an easy one to make, when a woman and a man are drunk, and when whether or not consent has been given can be open to interpretation. even though, where the law’s concerned, it’s as easy as asking someone whether they’d like a cup of tea.
There is a line, and making it clearer to both potential victims and potentially perpetrators – they are, after all only you and me, a little drunker, a little less inhibited, a little more naïve – would be helpful for all involved. It’s commonplace after all. But the consequences are still awful, for either party. Yes, I have some sympathy with my rapist. But whether or not he would extend me the same priveledge, I sincerely doubt. But I know one thing. When that same man was lying in my bed, so hungover he was wimpering, and every bit as vulnerable as I was on that night, I didn’t try and fuck him. I got him some coconut water – it’s got electrolytes, I said – and sent him on his way. In the same way, when he abused me, I considered the consequences for him, and didn’t make a fuss. No one wants to be that girl (no one, particularly, wants to be that woman). It always ends up looking just as bad – if not worse – for her. When I eventually confessed it all to a mutual friend, she looked at me in horror, and told me not to be so stupid. I’m the one who got shunned. Perhaps, with nothing left to lose – except a good job, a family, a husband who loves me, despite myself, and who I love back, most of the time, and a bit more self-respect – whatever that means – maybe less fear, I can finally speak my mind.
But for all that, these days I am much less than I was. I’m described as buttoned up. Demure. I rarely flirt – rarely go out after work, rarely have sex, and have once or twice, considered ending it all. Not because of this incident, perhaps, but a lifetime of getting it wrong has left me a shadow of who I once was, a superficially confident, vivacious girl, who wanted to be loved, enjoyed her sexuality and probably took full advantage of it, now and again – but then, no one ever seemed, explicitly, to object. That’s the problem with sex. There’s so much guesswork involved; too much scope to hurt, be hurt, for bravado and politics. Being clearer would, perhaps take some of the fun out of sex. But it might take some of the pain away too.