"I didn't know that I was raped until other women started sharing their stories"

A young woman reading her social media feed
A young woman reading her social media feed

It's 2017, and I'm sitting with a friend of mine anti-socially scrolling my timeline on Twitter when I came across a random tweet that defined consent. 'Being drunk is NOT consent' was the part that stood out to me. It was around this time that conversations like this - conversations around consent and what it means and around rape and what that is - were all over social media. I gave my friend my phone and showed the tweet to her. After she read it, she looked at me and nodded. At that moment, I knew that we both had the same memory in mind. 

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On a random night in 2015, I was too drunk to recognise the way home. I was being carried over a man's shoulder and he was taking me to his place from the club where we met. I was drunk before I got to that club, and so I don't remember how I met him either, but he took me home with him and he had sex with me. I had not consented to it, and I was barely conscious enough to remember how it was initiated. I had not consented to it.

But it was not rape, I told myself. It couldn't have been. 

The morning after that night, the guy and I argued about whether or not he used a condom. He said he had used one, but when it got uncomfortable for him, he took it off, and that was that on that. I went home and decided that I would not remember that night again. After two weeks went by and I took the necessary tests (for HIV and for pregnancy), I realised thereafter that the one thing that stuck with me after that night was the shame I felt for having gotten that drunk, and the guilt of not being sober enough to at least negotiate the ownership of my own body. 

Eventually, when I was sure that I hadn't caught anything or conceived, I told my friend what happened and that is how she nodded and knew what I was thinking about when I showed her the tweet. She said the thing that I was (and still am) reluctant to say after so long. She said, 'You were raped,' and that was that on that. There aren't any words to describe how uncomfortable I was at that moment - so many thoughts ran through my head.

I didn't know that what happened to me was rape. 

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I, like so many women, and so many other men, had concrete ideas about what rape was. Rape was supposed to be violent and if there wasn't a struggle, then it wasn't rape. It also wasn't rape if the woman was drunk, or if it happened because she was out at a club late at night because women who are out at night are always 'asking for it'.

After it happened, I fought to suppress the fact that my body was used without my permission and I did this mainly because I didn't know how I would get that ownership back if I told him, or anyone else, that I felt violated and taken advantage of. I tried to justify it with the fact that I was drunk and that I probably did do something to make him feel that it was okay to undress me. 

I have not thought of recollecting that shameful memory until now.

I'm seeing so many women come forward about their experiences with sexual violence and harassment. I didn't think my memory was worth recollecting until these women made me realise that rape is not what I thought it was, what it's been typecast to be. 

At a glance, I was skeptical at how many women a single man could violate. And to others, it might seem extreme that so many women are coming forward, seemingly out of nowhere. But I'm coming to understand that rape is not the convention that we've grown to seek in a victim's account. It's not always after a violent struggle that a woman gets raped. It's not always overtly violent - it can happen in any other way. 

It's everywhere and it happens all the time, but some women are just made to believe that their experience isn't the 'real' thing, therefore their experience is invalid. 

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Seeing all these women come forward on social media through the #MenAreTrash and #MeToo movements and in the news is introducing me to the fact that there are women like me who are still carrying so much shame from being violated and not having the voice to say so. Seeing so many women tell their stories - all of them unique and equally chilling - reminds me that I don't need to be ashamed of what happened. 

I may not yet have forgiven myself for having been drunk that night, but I know that I am not wrong for feeling the way I do. I am not wrong for mourning what I felt was taken from me. 

I am grateful to the women who, in their accounts, have told me 'None of it was your fault'. I know that I can begin to heal now that I know that was not how my body was supposed to be handled, regardless of how unconscious I was to defend my sense of ownership. 

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