Let me just begin by saying that this is a difficult story to tell. Over the past year-and-a-half since the sexual assault occurred, I’ve only worked up the courage to talk to two people about it, partially because it took me a year to even acknowledge that it had happened. I had stashed the experience away. I know that what went down had upset me, but I didn’t allow myself to think about why, because that would make me a victim. For the longest time, I didn’t feel like one, because my sexual assault happened with a person I was in a relationship with.
Two summers ago, I was introduced to a guy through a friend. I liked him immediately and dove into the relationship head first. I had always been cautious before that and had a desire to take things slow, but there was something about him that made me throw all of that out the window. He was 23 and I was 19, so maybe it was the excitement of dating a guy who was a little older and seemed to have his life together.
In retrospect, there were a lot of things wrong with the relationship. I was very naive and let a lot of things slide, but it became clear fairly early on that he had a temper and a tendency to lie, which made me extremely anxious and self-conscious. He had a large group of friends who were all very involved in each other’s lives. I felt a lot of pressure to be “the perfect girlfriend”, especially because I was four years younger than them.
He told me he loved me pretty early on in the relationship. Once, he bought me a lot of drinks. They were Irish Trash Cans—which no one should ever drink, by the way. They’re disgusting and will make you sick. I was standing in the parking lot, incoherent and trying not to puke, and in that drunken state when he said he loved me, I said it back. I woke up the next morning feeling a bad hangover and a sense of regret. I hadn’t wanted to say it, but felt I couldn’t take it back. He asked me if I remembered saying it, laughed at how drunk I had been, as if he hadn’t bought me those drinks, and continued to do so even when I asked him to stop. Looking back now, I should have taken all of that as a warning sign. But I didn’t.
I remember it was Canada Day. I was wearing my favourite blue high-waisted shorts. We had gotten back to his house after some festivities and started kissing on his couch. I said I didn’t want to take things any further. His parents were coming home soon and I was afraid of being walked in on. He persisted, and I kept protesting. It got to the point where I stood up off the couch and stepped away. I remember clearly saying no. He became frustrated, shouted at me, and took me by the wrist.
For a long time, I didn’t believe that anything bad had happened to me because I honestly couldn’t remember much about the act itself. I know now that it’s because I disassociated, meaning my mind was detaching from the immediate event as a way of my brain trying to protect me. I knew we’d had sex, and I knew that seconds before we’d had sex, I said no. I knew that my answer hadn’t changed at any point, but I couldn’t draw a line between those things. We were dating and he loved me, so nothing bad could have happened. The next day, we went to a festival with a bunch of his friends. I acted like nothing was wrong, but the previous day was etched permanently into my brain. I knew that it wasn't okay, but refused to address it. One of his friends told me while we were at the festival that my boyfriend was “so much better” and less angry when he was with me. I remember thinking that he only seemed better because he had someone to take his aggression out on.
We continued to date for another month. I became increasingly reclusive, unresponsive to his messages. He broke up with me for not trying in the relationship and it was hard on me because I knew I wasn’t feeling well, but couldn’t pull myself out of it. It seemed as though I was entirely at fault. I felt completely unhinged, and unlike myself, and blamed it on the breakup even though the “low point”—as I called it then—had started before that, after the assault.
There have been many repercussions of that relationship. I’ve since wrestled with how I feel toward men, my body, sex, love. I still struggle to feel safe in any kind of relationship and it’s difficult for me to build trust. One of the hardest parts of life after the assault was when I tried to explain to the friend who had introduced me to my ex-boyfriend what had happened. It was almost six months later and I was still unable to put it into words. All I could really say was that he was a bad guy. I begged her to trust me and told her I would explain it when I could. She continues to support him. To her credit, she doesn’t know the whole story.
I think I’m writing this because I want people to know that sexual assault does happen in relationships, and can be difficult to come to terms with. You think that this is what happens in dark alleys, perpetrated by strangers. You think it happens at wild frat parties and not in the quiet family home someone grew up in. You don’t expect someone who says they love you to do this to you. You expect yourself to fight, but you can’t. The truth is, I didn’t allow it, I didn’t want it, but it happened anyway. I’m still gripped by doubt. I’ve spent almost two years wondering if it “counts” as sexual assault and being furious with myself, but I’m learning to be more forgiving. I was young and naive, but that doesn’t make anything my fault, nor does it dismiss what happened. He did something unforgivable and awful, and I was on the receiving end. Just because we were dating doesn’t mean he had a right to my body, especially when I told him no.
Moving forward is hard. Especially because it’s taken so long for me to think or talk about it at all. I know this isn’t the end of the journey and that I still have a lot to work through, but this feels like a good first step. To anyone who may be reading this who has experienced sexual assault, I hope that you can get to a point where you can forgive yourself, or at least feel like yourself again. I feel like I’ve been harder on 19-year-old me than I have on 23-year-old him, and from what I’ve learned about assault, that’s all too common.
I’m hopeful that in the future, it will become easier and less stigmatized or dangerous for victims to come forward. Watching people share their stories has been instrumental in me eventually being able to share mine—even if it is anonymously. I’m hopeful that anyone who has experienced assault will be able to reach out to family or friends in a way that I never felt comfortable doing. I’m hopeful that the alarming statistics on sexual assault will one day improve, and that anyone who may ever find themselves in my position will know that their feelings are valid and that it isn't their fault.
Assaulted Women’s Helpline (Toll-Free TTY): 1-866-863-7868
Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape: 416-597-8808
PARO 24-Hour Helpline: 1-866-435-7362
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