Now that we all know we’ve been harassed, assaulted and/or raped, where do we go from here? What do we do next?
By Emily Andrews
I wouldn’t say, with confidence, that I’ve been raped.
It just took me three tries to type out that word – so heavy with meaning and connotations.
I recently learnt that if you’re intoxicated you cannot legally consent to sex. The meaning of this is complicated to me. From when I was 17 until about 26, I used to drink regularly. I lived my late teens and early twenties in an ecstatic blur. My friends and I loved to drink. During some periods, I blacked out frequently. We loved to party, and I inevitably had a lot of romantic encounters while drunk. I feel little to no regret about almost all of these incidences, except perhaps an ill-advised encounter with a close friend and one or two instances of infidelity.
There was one occasion when I woke up next to a guy and did not remember how I ended up in bed with him or what had happened. There was more than one used condom on the bedside table.
However, perhaps surprisingly, this incident isn’t one that I trouble myself with. I’d slept with the guy already not long before. I knew him and felt relatively comfortable with him. I felt confident that my drunken self would have willingly gotten into bed with him.
There is another incident that’s been playing on my mind a lot lately.
There is a story that’s been bubbling inside me for a while since I began to reflect on my past, which I always told myself I had no regrets about. Like many women – I’m sure – I have been grappling with my past since #MeToo. I’ve been casting question marks over incidents I previously buried.
Perhaps it’s not a good idea to dwell too much on these things. That’s the counter-argument I always come back to. Our mothers ignored these memories. Am I being pedantic or self-important to dwell on them, while even now women around the world put up with so much worse? Can I complain about drunken sexual encounters while women continue to be beaten, raped, and killed?
However, I still feel sick as I write this piece.
Luckily, I’m not one of these women who has been affected by a sexual assault or rape in a way that cannot be ignored or buried. I’ve not had the course of my life changed by an irreconcilable horror.
That’s what bothered me about #MeToo. Among accusations of rape were peppered accusations around things that were said, inappropriate texts or unwanted attention – as if they are of equal importance. It bothered me to hear low-level harassment given so much air time when, even in my own friendship circle of relatively privileged young white women living in England, there are multiple stories of rape – and I’m not talking about ‘grey-zone’ stories here where consent was ambiguous. I’m talking about multiple incidences where my best friends said no, at least once, yet were forced to have sex.
That’s reality. I don’t mean disrespect to women who are speaking out about sexual harassment as it holds us back in all aspects of our lives, but I felt like I couldn’t take those stories seriously while women are regularly being raped.
However, I am aware that it’s all part of the same discussion. By calling out incidences of sexual harassment, we’re trying to change a culture that enables such crimes. I am incredibly grateful to the movement that started a discourse and encouraged people, not just women and femmes, to reflect on their own traumas.
This leads me to my own grey-zone story.
I was on holiday in Turkey. I went out with my brother to a club. I got drunk. I met a local man. He gave me drinks. My brother wanted to go back to the hotel and I encouraged him to. After all, I was having fun. I remember that the man I was kissing asked me to slap him. Afer that, I don’t remember anything until I was at the back of a car and he was having sex with me. I remember that there was a man in the driving seat. I saw the look on his face. He looked disgusted – or he may have regretted what was happening. I’m not sure. Then, I was cast out onto the pavement, with all my money taken from my bag.
I was in the middle of nowhere in an unknown country with no money, so I had no choice but to see if someone would take me to my hotel.
I got on the back of a bike and told the man my address. He took me to a secluded road and tried to touch me. I hit him as hard as I could and ran towards the direction of the motorway. I ran so hard my sandals broke and I didn’t dare look back. I felt like a rabbit being hunted.
Back on the motorway, still not knowing where I was, I again stopped someone and asked for a lift to my hotel. I got on the back of another bike and he took me to the hotel. As I got off the bike at my hotel, tears streaming down my face, this man asked for my number. I said, no. I went into the hotel where my mum, brother and sister were still awake, wondering where I was. I told them I’d been robbed. I don’t think I told them anything else. My brother, who was just a teenager, felt guilty for leaving me on my own.
I got too drunk. I was in a club alone in a foreign country. I acted like a slut. I let the man have sex with me. I continued to get onto vehicles with two more men that I didn’t know.
There’s nothing you could say to me that I’ve not already told myself many, many times. When substances are involved, it’s difficult to ascertain what went wrong. I know it’s a possibility that the man spiked my drink with extra alcohol or with drugs, but perhaps I just drank too much or too quickly.
It didn’t even cross my mind to go to the police at the time, and I don’t think my family suggested it either. I was in a foreign country and, honestly, apart from the money being stolen, I didn’t think a crime had been committed. Plus, I thought it was my fault for getting into that situation in the first place. God knows I’ve gotten myself into a lot of precarious situations in my life. My attitude has always been to dust off my shoulders and carry on.
According to student-led charity, Sexpression: ‘If a person has been drinking alcohol, their ability to consent to sex may be affected. An intoxicated person is legally unable to consent to sex and having sex with a person who is very drunk is rape or sexual assault.’
I suppose you would classify black-out drunk as ‘very drunk’. Yet, as I said, I’ve taken part in numerous sexual acts while intoxicated which I consider to be entirely consensual. Perhaps this particular story and others like it were just negative experiences which, in retrospect, make me feel violated. It’s certainly not a situation that I would find myself in at this age.
However, it’s the things that have happened to my friends that really give me pause for thought and, truth be told, make me angry. I’m talking seething, white hot, prickly anger. Even now, friends reveal as of yet untold stories to me quietly, self-deprecatingly, and always hedged with ‘I probably shouldn’t have…’ or ‘I probably should have…’. Needless to say, none of them went to the police.
I suppose anger is the point. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what I make of my own experiences. It’s the anger I feel on behalf of my sisters – both my beloved friends and those that I haven’t even met – because anger is necessary for change.
I don’t know what I can or should do to prevent what happened to the women of both mine and previous generations happening to future generations, but I think talking is a good start. We need to continue to pull these stories out of the shadows, even as they repulse us.
I don’t think my experiences or those of my friends – which I won’t go into in detail here without their permission but which would make your blood boil – are unique.
Isn’t that the problem?
We need to hold onto our anger and put it into action, even while those around us (loving boyfriends, family members, those in the media) doubt the validity or even existence of our struggles.
We need to learn not to doubt ourselves. It’s something I’m still learning to do.
Emily Andrews chooses to remain anonymous.