I got raped, and it didn’t change my life. I hate to court controversy (perhaps some of you will think I courted rape?) but I agree with Richard Dawkins. There are differing degrees of severity in all things, rape included. And you can’t compare one with another. I was raped. Properly, well and truly raped. I was raped by a virtual stranger. Police were involved. I had to get all sorts of tests to make sure I hadn’t contracted anything nasty. It was traumatic.
But in the end, it wasn’t particularly life altering. Like many things I’ve had to deal with, I dusted myself off and moved on. I’m lucky I was able to do so. Many can’t. But perhaps that’s because, compared to other things I’ve had to deal with in my life, it really wasn’t the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
I was a waitress in a bistro in my middle class, middle England town. I had just turned 19, filing a gap between A-levsl and Uni, earning money to go traveling. I had a steady, musician boyfriend who had a tattoo and a spliff addiction. I thought I was a little bit street wise, but like most 19 year olds, I was still fairly clueless.
The chef at the restaurant where I worked was probably what you might call, a couple of chocolate fingers short of the full packet. But he was friendly enough, and as a polite, middle class sorta girl, I was polite back. We must have worked together for all of two weeks, with the sort of trench mentality that sets in quickly in professional kitchens when, on a quiet night, I joined him and a regular who used to prop up the wine bar on weeknights, for a couple of drinks. It was nearly Christmas, the year of the millenium. I thought, why the hell not? We drank one and then another, the proprietor re-filling our glasses for free – sloe gin, if I remember correctly – potent stuff. After a while, he decided to close up, and a little merry, I invited the chef and the customer back to mine, which was only a few doors up the road to carry on our little party.
We drank another and then, unsteady on my feet I called up my boyfriend, partly because I wanted the men to leave – aware I was more than a little drunk. He was at band practice and said he’d be over later. Trying to get rid of them, but not really having the skills, I drunkenly said I was going to bed, but told them let themselves out when they had finished their drinks.
I swiftly passed out in my room. I may have even left the light on, certainly I had a face full of makeup on, which was face down in a heap. The next thing I knew, I was being raped. At first, coming into consciousness, I thought it was my boyfriend. I may have even responded – the thought makes me feel sick – positively for a moment, until l realised what was happening. I shoved the chef off me, and raised the alarm with my mother, asleep in the next bedroom. Still somewhat drunk, I was more afraid what my boyfriend would think, than thinking to call the police, but my mum summed it up – you shouldn’t have left them alone in the house. I called the police to prove I’d hadn’t been “asking for it”.
But the police echoed mum’s response. The alcohol on my breath and my disorientation about what had happened seemed to place a fair amount of blame at my door. My door, in my nice middle class home, compared to the housing estate up the road where the chef lived. I knew whereabouts he lived – a couple of doors down from my boyfriend. It was that sort of town. I was advised not to bring a case – it would wreck the “young man’s life – and he’s probably, you know, not all there” said the policeman, after taking swabs and driving me to the police station at well above the speed limit, without his seat belt done up.
The most traumatic part of it was not the guilt that I accepted was mine and I assimilated, judging other women as I judged myself for my “behaviour” that led up to it for many years later. The most traumatic part of it was the cold, judgmental efficiency of the STD clinic – my first brush with cold steel up my kiber, and not one I’ve particularly grown fond in the intervening years – although these days it’s usually for smears rather than anything more racy. The most traumatic part, in fact was that my mum chose same restaurant for her millennium eve celebrations. To be fair, there wasn’t many other places to choose from. But still. I even popped in for a drink, but just as quickly left again, feeling the accusing eyes of the proprietor and the regular who had left the chef in my house alone, upon me, to hurry of into my new life of South East Asian travels and uni. I know I was lucky enough to be able to escape.
I remained withdrawn for a few weeks. But really, compared to everything else – my angry, sometimes violent step-dad, my flippant mother, her oddball lodger, my father who’d decided I was too much trouble to live with, my A levels and getting into Oxford – I failed – it really wasn’t that much of a big deal.
It didn’t affect my sex life, although a psychologist might nod and shake their heads at the fact I became a stripper to fund my way through uni – Bristol, in fact; and I do seem to have gone off it quite a lot aged 34, now I’ve got the breeding part of my life pretty much over with. But, I don’t think much of this has to do with this particular incident.
In general, I learned self -respect, if that is what one calls female sexual modesty, or rather, learning to accept the people who are nice to you and reject the ones who are not, perhaps a little later than some, but I’d blame my parents (a convenient psychological punchbag – that in the end is what parents are for) more for any attention seeking I may have done as a young adult than what any bloke could do to me. I taught myself sexual confidence, self-defence and learned to shut down my barriers to anyone who tweaked my weirdometre. Later, as a consenting adult, I awoke to find a man I’d gone to bed with helping himself after I’d fallen asleep. But I warned him in no uncertain terms he could get himself in trouble by doing that. But again, it wasn’t that much of a deal. Although,these days I find myself with little time for anyone except my husband and my kids and work.
But for all the fall out, which, relatively speaking, is minimal – I hold down a full time job, have well adjusted kids, a nice house, and still speak to my family regularly enough, I am not a six year old school girl in Uttar Pradesh, raped by my teacher: I was not raped by a police man as I stooped to defecate because there are no toilets in my vicinity before being hung by the neck – for all my own experience with the law showed me what utter contempt the police had for it themselves. I am no young boy from a care home, taken advantage of by a politician who has invited me to take cocaine. I am no Broadmoor patient, perved on by a television creep who many viewed as a hero.
There are degrees of rape; degrees in which trust is broken, faith in human nature is eroded, people are taken advantage off; are subsumed by the will of others.
I am a little damaged, no question, but I am not broken. It would be a disrespect to the people who are, to say our experiences are comparable. They are not. So I agree with Dawkins, for all he may speak to truth but lack compassion. But then, I can see that the people who rape are damaged too, and need our help, but in other ways. Perhaps, in the case of this man, and indeed myself, brushing it off as a stupid error of judgement, on both of our parts, is the best way to make it what it has become – no big deal.