I recently had a job interview, it went really well and fingers crossed I will get the job. I was confident with answering all of the questions, except one: ‘How would you feel about someone who has been convicted of a sexual assault working in the office?’. This might seem like an unusual question to be asked in a job interview, I should explain that I was applying to work for an organization that works with ex-offenders. I answered with a typical ‘I would trust the organization had screened the volunteers and would raise any issues if I felt uncomfortable etc’, my heart jumped a bit when I heard the question, but I was quick to recover and answer the question.
It was only when the interview was over that the question re-appeared in my mind and I wondered how I would be ok with it. ‘It’s fine, I told myself, because rapists that go to prison aren’t the type of attacker like yours, rapists that go to prison are the ones who hide in bushes and jump out at women walking home’. I was comforted by the fact that I hadn’t been a victim of ‘that kind’ of crime, so I could be ok associating with ‘that kind’ of criminal.
I kept thinking about it and realized how messed up it is. Even as a sexual assault survivor, I must believe myself to be less of a victim because I had known his name and he had bought me drinks and danced with me, we’d even had an hour long conversation before he raped me. I wasn’t like one of those poor women who get attacked by monsters who are then caught and locked up for years where they learn the error of their ways. My rapist gets to walk the streets, live his life, believe himself to be a good man and never face any consequences for what he did to me that night. I’m not even convinced he believes he did anything wrong, except have sex before marriage.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for judging me not going to the police about my attack, and before it happened I would’ve sworn I would be strong enough to recount the assault to countless strangers who doubted my story. I even took part in awareness raising campaigns, I went on rallies chanting through the streets ‘break the silence, stop sexual violence’ two months before it happened to me. I massively under appreciated how much courage you have to find, and how much you are willing to sacrifice before coming forward about rape.
I’m always thinking of excuses for why I can’t come forward:
‘It happened at a wedding, you can’t put a downer on their day’
‘Maybe in the middle of the assault, after you had said no several times and were crying and struggling, that when you said ‘please, if you’re carrying on, please put a condom on’ that that somehow counted as consent to what happened earlier?’
‘300 people were witnesses to you dancing and flirting with him all night, you’re the only witness to what happened later and you were so drunk you couldn’t form sentences’
‘Your character will get annihilated, you have a history of drinking heavily and having casual sex, this boy is a strict catholic in a long-term relationship who volunteers at his local church’
‘Just because you regret it, doesn’t mean you can cry rape’
‘After the three showers you had that night, there would have been no physical evidence left’
‘He was drunk too, don’t ruin two lives because of one bad night’
‘He’s not evil, he just took advantage, maybe he won’t do it again’
I detest myself for having all of these thoughts, it’s like i’m trying to convince myself that I wasn’t raped, it was just an ugly misunderstanding. I walked into that situation and got in way over my depth really, I should accept some responsibility. My opinion of myself has lowered significantly as a result, I have no self-esteem and the thought of sex is terrifying. I desperately want to talk to someone about what happened but I am so ashamed of myself I could never get the words out.
The moral of the story is that I (and society as a whole) need to stop thinking of rapists solely as strangers who stalk their victims. Yes, that happens, and it’s awful and disgusting and they should absolutely be locked up for their crimes, but when I think of sexual offenders who have been released, they are the type of sexual offenders I picture. Not the friend who stuck his hands down your pants when you were passed out at a party, or the boyfriend who forces you to have sex when you don’t feel like it, or the charming boy you were laughing with all night who asks if you want to go on a walk out of the party and forces himself on you where nobody can hear. Sex without consent is rape and those who force sex are rapists, they deserve the consequences. The victims still have to experience flashbacks and depression and trust issues all the same.
— Survivor, age 23