See My Face by @Psycho_Claire

Cross-Posted with permission from Thoughts by Claire

This post has been brewing for quite some time. In fact this story has been needing to be told for 16 years. But I was afraid and, unfortunately, wrongly, ashamed of it. What is my purpose in telling this story now? For attention? For pity? HELL NO!! I’m telling this story now in the hope that it will make you see. That those stories in the news, those tales of anonymous women; wont be so anonymous any more. That you’ll realise that there are faces behind those statistics, and mine is one of them. That perhaps after reading this, next time you will see my face.

The story began when I was a lonely 15 year old girl. I had a boyfriend (of the same age), but things were not going well and the relationship was about to end. I had few friends, was frequently bullied at school, had issues at home. I was a smart girl, doing well academically and looking forward to a future of A-levels and university. I was desperate to escape my life, living on a council estate and never fitting in. In short I was “vulnerable”.

I was introduced to this guy, through a friend’s boyfriend. He was older, MUCH older. 42 in fact. An ex-university lecturer with a PhD. He was clever, and charming, he had a car (obviously) and he had money. He didn’t treat me like a kid. And I got sucked in.

When I say this guy was clever, I mean, devious, cunning, sly. He ingratiated himself into my life. I thought he was my friend. Then, just after my 16th birthday (see, CLEVER) things changed. He made a pass at me. I freaked out!! I’d had sex with my previous boyfriend, but we were both kids, this was a whole different ball game and I remember being scared. Really scared.

But, I didn’t tell anyone. I wrote him a letter, telling him that I didn’t think of him that way. That I just wanted to be friends. Then a friend told me she’d spoken to him and he told her I’d over-reacted. It was nothing. His sexual touching of me was, nothing. Looking back now, I can see that this is where the game began. THIS point right here. Where I said he’d crossed a boundary, where I said “NO” and he said “calm down, you’re over-reacting, it’s nothing”. My “no” ignored.

Somehow, and I don’t really know how, I ended up in “a sexual relationship” with this man. Remember I was 16, he was 42. In fact, truth is, I do know how. Back then, no-one knew the term “grooming”, let alone understood the manipulation involved. But that’s what he did. He groomed my friends, my family and me. Manipulated us into accepting this “relationship”.

So, here’s your first headline to put my face to: next time you see on the news/ read in the paper/ on the internet – “grooming gang”, “vulnerable young girl”, “troubled girls” – see me! See my face. See a sad, scared and desperate little girl being manipulated and preyed upon by a cruel man. And don’t you dare demonise these men. They are not EVIL. They are not some kind of freak. He was (and still is) a respected man. A university lecturer. An educated man. An influential man. He’s a son, a brother, a friend. Just a man, a man who made a choice.

Some time passes, and things at home get worse. He adds to this, and by now I’m terrified of him. His emotional and psychological abuse is like nothing I’ve ever known (or, thankfully, ever will again). He has me under his control. What he says goes. I have so many memories of arguments, of him yelling at me, of him guilting me, of him scaring me. God, that fear stayed with me for so long. Even 10 years later I was still terrified when I saw him town. So, the arguments at home get worse, and I am sent to live him. Yep, sent to live with him. In fact, he collected me from school* told me I was going back to his and that I was to call my mum from there. When I called her, she told me that she couldn’t take it any more. Couldn’t deal with me any more and I was to stay with him. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive her for that.

And so now, there I am: 16 years old. Thrown out of home to live with my abuser. Still at school and the bullying is even worse now; coz they all know. They all think I’m weird, that he’s weird, that I’m disgusting. And they tell me this EVERY DAY. I have no escape.

And, now comes the hard part. The part that up until a few weeks ago I hadn’t admitted even to myself. The part that actually makes me feel sick. The part that I dread talking about. The part where the shame comes from. *deep breath*

I used to say that I was in some ways lucky. He never hit me. He wasn’t physically violent. Yes, the emotional and psychological abuse was beyond terrible; but at least he didn’t hit me. Hah! He didn’t need to. See he had a really effective way of keeping me under control. A way of teaching me that I was his to do with as he pleased. That I had no power, no control, no say.

Rape.

It’s such a little word. Four simple letters. Yet, it conjures up such images. Has so many connotations. I’ll bet right now you’re imagining me being pinned down, fighting and screaming. But that’s not how it was. That’s often not how it is. Remember, I was TERRIFIED of this man. He was capable of ANYTHING. And he taught me from day one that my “no” was meaningless. I couldn’t say no. NEVER. I had no choice. That’s what makes it rape. And every time it happened served to remind me that I had no power. I had no control. I had and was nothing. I existed simply to satisfy and please him.

I lived with this man for about 6 months. I have no idea how many times during that time he raped me. None. But it was systematic. And I only realised the true extent of the damage it caused about 3 months ago.

So, here’s your next statistic. That 1 in 4 women that experience Rape or sexual violence in their lifetime. That anonymous 1. That’s me. I’m a rape survivor. And it sickens and infuriates me how many women I know that are too. There are far too many of us. And we are far too quiet. Silenced by our abusers. And by a culture that puts the blame on us. So, next time you hear someone mention that statistic – see my face.

And one last thing……….. those times when you “casually” made jokes and reference to rape – they made me sick. They hurt me. They damaged me that little bit more. They silenced me. Made me ashamed. Made me feel that no-one would believe me. No-one would care.

That time you talked about “real rape” – same thing. Made me feel like it wasn’t rape at all. That all those feelings, that damage I had, was made up. That it was in my head. Made me feel complicit in my abuse. And so fed my shame.

That time you asked “what was she doing there?”, or said “well what did she expect?” – oh, God, the damage those statements do.

And that fucking Robin Thicke song you love so much. The one everyone is “over-reacting” to: words straight from my rapists mouth. So don’t tell me it’s not about rape. Don’t tell me it’s not damaging. IT FUCKING IS!

So, how do I end this post? With this statement. At 17 I got out. A few simple words, but you’ve no idea how proud they make me feel. I survived. I got away. I was damaged. I was hurt. And it took me a long time to get better. But I’m here now. I’m successful. I’m happy. I’m strong. So, don’t you dare pity me! You can feel sorry that these things happened to me. But use that. Pay it forward to the next survivor that you don’t know. Think about this when you’re in the pub or whatever. Next time someone makes a rape joke, or victim blames, or plays that song – see my face – and call them the fuck out for the rape apologist that they are! SEE MY FACE.

*oh, yes, I forgot that part didn’t I? I was still in school. I’m a September birthday, so was one of the oldest in my year. I didn’t leave school til I was almost 17. So yeah, you can also add the image of me in my school uniform to this horrible picture.

 

The Psychology Supercomputer: I write about Psychology, Science Communication, Women in Science and feminist issues. I also tweet as@psycho_claire.

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