Firstly, I want to thank the brave people who have written here already. You are all in my heart and in the lump in my throat which threatens to burst if I think about the magnitude and multiplicity of it all in detail for too long. I am so glad this conversation is finally happening and I hope we can all keep talking and forcing change on this stuff for as long as it takes for things to improve.
I am one of the lucky ones. I come from a gentle home which was not abusive and is always supportive. I was equipped with a mostly stable background and I have stayed somewhat safe up to now. I know I am one of the lucky ones, but once I really get thinking about how pervasive rape and rape culture has been in my own life, I just crumble inside at the thought of how it must be for others who have it worse. I have demographically conferred privileges which makes my risk of experiencing sexual violence lower than some. But I’m not special, and my experiences are not cultural anomalies. They are dead normal.
Hard to decide how to format what follows, so just going to do a sort of bullet pointish paragraph list thing:
Extensive street harassment and “boys being boys” at school, starting 20 years ago at the age of 10 or 11. Learnt really early on never to respond or let on at all to beeps or yells or bullying, which means I’ve ignored quite a few genuine friends over the years too, as I just pretend it’s not happening so that catcallers don’t get the satisfaction of seeing that they’re making any impact on me (which sometimes causes escalations in the level of violent rhetoric shouted out; refusal/rejection seems to spur them on).
Sexual harassment at primary school by a boy, aged 11 and 12. Knew even then not to tell, because that’s the way to make it worse. Finally told anyway. It did get worse. I still feel secretly as though I was making a fuss over nothing, because that’s how the school treated it and I should just harden up.
Have been followed in cars by lone men, had things thrown at me, vanloads of men “joking” menacingly when I’m on my own at night, leering, more gross catcalls than I care to list. Have hung with male friends in my teens while they catcall women and make rape jokes as though it’s nothing, and I really believed it was nothing when I was 15, because I desperately wanted to be normal and that’s how it was treated.
Countless (at least dozens) murky disgusting uncomfortable and physically painful encounters as a teenager and young adult where I knew the “just say no” bit from school, but once involved in the sweaty, stenchy reality of it, refusing seems like making too much of a fuss and creating unnecessary awkwardness, because this is just how things work and how to be normal like your mates. Just wait til it’s over and the cuddles can start.
One very frightening night aged 16, where I managed to fight some friend of a friend off me before he fully got to me and then I ran away like hell through dark North Shore streets. Felt like I’d put myself there and once I got back to my friend’s house, they didn’t seem to think it was a big deal so I just rolled with it, cos that’s how to be easygoing and inobtrusive and normal.
When I lived in Central Auckland when I was 18, I would regularly have men following me home on foot and in cars at night after work; up Queen St, up Wellesley St, and then onto Hobson St, where my flat was. I have all sorts of tricks stored up from that time, like carrying a glass bottle (except now I worry re the age old dilemma of carrying any weapon: what if it gets turned on you?), pretending to talk on the phone (works best when done as though talking to a boyfriend or dad), steely glares and ducking into shops (which is hard to do at night when they’re shut), and at the end of it all just fleeing or having an enormous extreme unexpected froth-ridden tantrum, all wailing and gnashing teeth (with the goal of freaking out and scaring off the followers).
My safety repertoire is broader now – with my car, I always lock the doors when I’m driving (and always say SLAM. LOCKDOWN. to myself in my brain when I do, cos I like being theatrical), I never walk from my car to my door or my friend’s door to my car, or from work to home without having the appropriate key ready so I can escape quickly in case of Lurkers. I always snib the front door lock, and never sleep with an unlocked window open. I don’t run in the early mornings like I used to, because the streets feel unsafe. I never hang about in my car at night, because you hear about the predators who hang out in carparks waiting for women, and even though I know from stats and experience that 90% of sexual violence is perpetrated by an acquaintance, all the unsolicited contact from men in public over the years makes me feel unsafe everywhere that is not my igloo.
Have been groped basically anywhere gropable in clubs (including, once, at 18, a front-bum grab on the dancefloor – I remember being really shocked and surprised that this was even a thing. Then he got punched. By me. I didn’t even realise how risky that action could have been for me, and luckily, it ultimately wasn’t.)
Drink spiked+rape aged 18. Didn’t know him, met him at a bar when I was out with friends. In the morning he left his number for me to call him. I decided not to go to the police because I suspected that they wouldn’t believe me, and I didn’t know what they’d be able to do about it, and I wasn’t at all sure at the time that what happened was rape rape, cos I’d been out drinking and maybe I hadn’t said no properly and maybe the passing out cold was the alcohol so it was my fault either way.
Two abusive relationships at 17 and 24 including coercive sex/unwanted violation/rapes/endless guilt trips interspersed with emotionally manipulative breakdowns purportedly related to their blue balls, because apparently men literally asplode when they don’t get it “on tap” and that’s what relationships are for.
After the last one, I reined in any romantic contact with men for five years. I’m still wary and jumpy and ready to punch anyone off me in bed who triggers things, which makes it hard to learn how to be normal with genuinely good men and makes me hard work to deal with, so I just mainly steer clear now.
Ohh, jeez, and the rest. Can’t type anymore. I’m tired and bored of this shit. It’s bloody everywhere and I don’t know where to start, except to try in every way I can to challenge this culture when I see it, to keep an eye out for my friends and to support efforts by social organisations to reduce sexual violence in New Zealand. And to steel my resolve by reading the stories shared on this page today.
It should not be normal and at the moment it is and it’s not bloody good enough.