I don’t tell my stories, to anyone. I saw the Twitter stream for #iamsomeonenz and wanted to comment, but even now I fear to admit publicly that I have also been a victim.
I was raised in 1970s NZ as a free range child in the age of benign neglect. It was a wonderful childhood. Idyllic. But I always knew men could be dangerous. My father was violent and I knew not to trust strangers. My childhood ended when I was 9 years old. It was not a stranger. It was a cliché. A family member. It only happened once, but the shame over-shadowed my life and left ripples I am still surprised to encounter. I lived in fear that someone would find out. Of course I never told anyone. I was disgusted with myself. I felt responsible because I hadn’t said No. At 9 years of age, I felt dirty and worthless. I was 30 before I could relax and really enjoy sex.
At 14, I was visiting my father. I didn’t see him often. One of his work friends grabbed me and tried to make me kiss him. I struggled to free myself and ran away. My brother said “I thought something like that might happen” and smirked. My father laughed and said it was ok because his friend was drunk. Years later my father told me he had no recollection of the event and that I had probably dreamt it and now believed it to be true.
My mother tried to kill me when I was 14. Again, when I was 16. That was the year she killed someone else. I spent some time in care with other young girls who had been physically and sexually abused. I remember a sweet little 10 year old who had been raped repeatedly by her mother’s boyfriend. I didn’t feel I belonged there so I left as soon as I could.
At 18 I had been working long enough to buy a one-way ticket to Europe. I worked in pubs and hotels as every Kiwi did in the 80s. Three weeks after arriving in London a nice man I worked with held me hostage overnight in his flat with a flick knife. He enjoyed closing and opening the knife to emphasise his points. He told me he would kill me if I slept with some other guy. I thought he was going to rape me as I huddled on sheets that reeked of stale semen. He didn’t. He passed out and I escaped untouched. But not unharmed. Angry with myself that I had been so naive, I left town the next day.
About this time I gained a stalker. He was a distant relative I had met briefly in the North of England. For about two years he wrote me letters. I never wrote back. Thick, 30 page letters he would send to my grandmother and she would forward. In stacks at a time. She was in her 90s and didn’t know the contents of the letters, but she knew not to give him my contact details. He wrote a lot about God and how we were destined to be together. Sometimes he stated how much he loved me. Sometimes he called me a whore and threatened to kill me. When he wrote to a former employer of mine in France trying to find out my current address, I worried he might find me. I sent copies of a letter to my best friend in NZ and told her that if anything happened to me to give it to the police. I never went to the police myself. Why not? Because I felt embarrassed and stupid. It was probably no big deal, I was just over-reacting. He never found me, so no harm done hey?
Once, walking home in broad daylight along the Quai Branly in front of the Eiffel Tower, amongst many tourists, I became aware of footsteps behind me. They seemed to keep count with my own. Don’t be ridiculous I thought. But I knew. The man followed me to the gates where I lived and tried to force his way through behind me. I remember his blond hair. Again, it was broad daylight. The private school girls next door were just getting out of class. There were people everywhere. Yet this man still tried to get to me. I managed to get the gate closed and he just stared at me through the bars, with ?hate, and then left. This was not the only time a man followed me in France. Not even the only time one tried to force his way through the gate behind me. I learned to be extra vigilant. Only a woman would understand the fear.
I’d like to say that was the end of violence and intimidation for me. That I was never threatened by a man with a knife again. That I was never the subject of lewd jokes. That I was never sexually groped by colleagues or strangers in banal public places. That I was never frightened for my safety. I cannot. Different countries around the world, but always the risks are the same for women. In case it makes a difference to my story, for anyone, I was always a “good girl”. I always dressed demurely, I did well at school, I was polite and well behaved, I didn’t go to many parties, I had very few boyfriends and I tried to avoid risky situations. I never invited violence into my life, it came by it’s own calling. I am now a doctor living in an affluent area, life is quieter because I am older, stronger and not perceived to be as vulnerable as young women are. But I am always vigilant because I know the risks will always be there.
This is the nature of Rape Culture.