I’m lucky. I keep saying I’m lucky, and here I am feeling lucky again. This time, my luck comes in the form of only being sexually assaulted in ordinary ways. The sexual assault equivalent of low-level behaviour; the kind you come away from feeling violated, but the retelling earns a shrug or a few safety tips. The kind we teach each other to live with. If it got worse, I don’t think I would report it. If a friend got worse, I would support their decision to not report it.
My couple of close calls — the moments where I felt truly threatened — were avoided by counterattacking. They grabbed me, I fought. They blocked my path, I kept moving. And they lost their nerve, decided I was too weird, or otherwise gave up. Brinkmanship isn’t a great strategy, but it’s what I know how to do. It came from a primal need to get away and it worked those times. I don’t expect it always will, and I don’t think it would work for everyone. I did what makes sense to me and I got lucky.
"THE WAVE OF UPSET SURROUNDING HIGH PROFILE SEXUAL PREDATORS MAKES THE IMPACT OF RAPE CULTURE LOOM ON OUR MINDS, AND I CONSIDER MY LUCK."
Luck runs out. The wave of upset surrounding high profile sexual predators makes the impact of rape culture loom on our minds, and I consider my luck. As my friends who weren’t so lucky tear at themselves, attempting to close opened wounds, I do what I can for them and consider how easily I could be one of them. How effortlessly someone could make me join their number.
I like to think I would get away again. I know it’s a foolish thought. Luck runs out, and I will be threatened again. Maybe I’ll stay lucky, maybe I won’t, but that threat will stay with me. It stays with all women; we all live in fear. It’s normal.
Men say they don’t think about being sexually assaulted. Actually, neither do I. I hold my keys as a weapon on my way home without thought. I keep my phone out and make sure I’m talking to someone by text or voice without considering how much safer I am when people know where I am. But that’s why I’m doing it. I hold my posture high, but avert my eyes as I pass a group of men at night unconsciously. I keep hold of my drink. I make sure people watch it if I need the loo. I don’t think about sexual assault. I use my strategies automatically without consideration.
I don’t think about sexual assault because I assume it will happen. Men don’t think about sexual assault because they assume it won’t. I don’t know any woman that hasn’t been grabbed, blocked, or interfered with. That is actual, legal assault, but nobody thinks of it as extraordinary. That’s just what happens to women: we get assaulted. We keep ourselves safer without giving it a thought, as one might wear a seat belt or carry an umbrella.
In a world where nobody cares if someone gropes me, why should I be surprised that people diminish the responsibility of rapists? I’m not. I don’t believe any stranger would help, even if it was their job. I don’t believe that any stranger would take my word for it. They don’t consider the small things important, so why would they care about the big things? When my feelings about being groped don’t matter, it’s easy to disregard consent: at that point, I’m already an object.
If my luck runs out, I don’t think I would report it. I don’t believe my attacker would be punished, assuming I can identify my attacker. I don’t think I’d be taken seriously by a system that believes my low-level assault doesn’t matter.
I’d also be careful who I shared it with. I’d like to think my friends would believe me, but there are too many stories about people disowning someone for reaching out about an attack. If I shared it at all.
The reasons I wouldn’t share are strikingly similar to the reasons I avoided coming out for so many years; my story is not unique. The people you expect to accept you turn away. Your life is upended. Your family divides and you can lose your home, job or partner. Or everything. People question your sanity. People wonder if you’re seeking attention, or maybe it’s a phase. Or maybe some event triggered the need to say something and it will just go away.
"ALONGSIDE THAT IS THE ONGOING FEELING THAT YOU ARE WRONG AND THEY ARE RIGHT."
Alongside that is the ongoing feeling that you are wrong and they are right. I’ve been lucky; I can only use my experience of being seriously threatened as a comparison. However, my imposter syndrome is on high alert even writing this and if having an actual serious assault makes people feel anything like my experience being seriously threatened, I can say with security that the self doubt is crushing.
All I can offer to those who haven’t been as lucky as I have is a shoulder. As the wave of women continue to speak out, I had to join in. I might be one of the lucky ones, but this is a threat we all live with. This is our shared oppression, and I’m painfully aware of how fragile my innocence is. This is a terrible world for a woman to live in, even if you’re lucky.
I believe victims. I know what it is to be told I can’t know my own mind and I refuse to do that to another. The system isn’t going to help, which means we have to. If this wave of sharing is to become a movement, we need to believe each other. We need to empower others to join in. Any queer person knows this from experience: the hardest thing to do is look up to everyone in the world and say, “This is me.”