Writing anonynously, a domestic abuse and rape survivor shares her journey towards deciding to speak out
[Content note: Description of domestic abuse and rape.]
IN MAY 2017, I decided to report something that I’d spent the last seven months remembering, contemplating, processing and finally coming to terms with.
This is my story. This is my journey through the very depths of my bleakest experiences and my resurfacing to gasp the stark truth of what I’d endured, both from the hands of someone else and from the tethers of my clinging self-blame. These words portray my throwing the sheath of shame off and striding forwards towards justice, healing, reparation and self-acceptance.
What was done to me, does not become me.
Parts of me began to be stolen away in 2012 and I am here now to tell you how I am claiming them back; and more. A man I trusted took advantage of me and raped me whilst I was unresponsive, yet aware, during a seizure. Once I was able to regain function and able to speak, I told him that I knew he had raped me, at which he burst into tears, claimed he was sorry, said he was going to kill himself, and, phoned the police and admitted that he had raped his girlfriend.
Police arrived. He was taken somewhere. I was taken somewhere. Fog swirled around me. I vaguely recall lying on a cold, hard bench in pyjamas for a long time on my own crying, begging to leave and being told by police that I had to wait on the arrival of a Sexual Offences Liaison Officer (SOLO) to take my statement and proceed to a forensic exam.
Statement? Exam? What? Where am I? I slowly lost my mind.
Who am I?
It had been mere hours since my life had derailed. The unspeakable. I hadn’t had a single moment with anyone I knew, let alone felt safe with, to talk to, hug, cry with, think….begin to understand what had been done to me. Questions. Questions. Questions. No time to think. No time to grieve.
No time to shake myself from the ever increasing weight of fog that served to sink me to safety, to oblivion, back to where he had not hurt me and life was liveable again.
I could not fathom what was. They didn’t understand that I couldn’t understand. I could not process. I unravelled. I believe the archaic word is hysterical. Tears. The fog enveloped me, helped me not think. It numbed any feeling, severing the thoughts from my body. I did not provide a statement that incriminated him. They were frustrated. I refused a medical exam. They were annoyed.
I insisted, I screamed that they care for him because he was suicidal. I said anything and everything necessary to save him from the death he had promised me. I was taken to a friend’s whom I lied to, went to sleep for what felt like days……then never spoke of what happened again for almost five years.
Turn the page. Turn the page. Turn the page. Turn the page.
Turn. The. Page. My default motto during the five years following. And my brain obeyed.
I spent the next four years with that man, through good times and bad, through celebrations of his sobriety closely followed by propping him up whenever his alcoholism seduced again.
I endured name-calling, shouting, screaming, threats of violence, threats of abandonment, blame, intimidation, gaslighting, jealousy, attacks on my character and abilities as a mother, student, friend, and partner. I was subjected to extreme martyrdom, vandalism of my entire home, guilt-tripping, suicide bids, chairs thrown at me, shoves, grabs, kicks, slaps, cuts, hair-pulling, strangles.
Did someone say Déjà Vu?
I managed to suppress that he attacked me whilst I was pregnant with his child. He had knelt on my stomach and throttled me whilst spitting in my face that I was a slut, a whore and that he would kill me.
I honestly couldn’t have told you what happened, not until I unearthed the video I had taken that night to prove to him how he behaved and began to watch them almost five years later.
In the cold light of the sobering afternoon (sometimes days later), any discussion would result in him either skirting around any cuts or bruises by saying I was crazy or in him convincing me it was all my fault or in him crying and begging my forgiveness coupled with the threat of him taking his own life if I couldn’t forgive him. So I did…
…I always did. Not only would I forgive him, I would try and ‘make up’ for however he had said I had failed him and increase my concerted efforts in being a better and more supportive girlfriend. So I lied for him more. When he told me to phone his boss to say he had a stomach bug (delirium tremens), I did. When he begged me to take him to A&E and say he’d been on the wagon for longer this time, I did.
When we went to counselling and he told me not to mention the violence (but that I could say he sometimes got annoyed), I did.
When my mother came to visit and he told me to tell her he was ill with the cold (drunk), I did. When he screamed at me to shut up after I asked him to stop hiding empty whisky bottles in the house where the children could find them, I did.
When he told me to delete my male friends’ numbers because they only wanted to screw me, I did. When he demanded I clean the broken chaos of the house he’d rampaged through, I did. When he told me to stop speaking to my friend who was concerned about me when she discovered his alcohol use, I did.
When he told me I was an ugly pathetic whore, that he only drank because of me and that everyone hated me and I better believe it, I did. When he called the police (on more than one occasion) to report me missing and he told me to stay in the house after they had spoken to me, I did. When he told me to renounce my best friend because she was ungrateful and using me, I did.
…I did. But was it really my choice?
I don’t have many full and clear memories of individual incidents, they seem to merge, but one memory flashed back with the clarity of all the six senses. I was watering plants near the balcony and I saw his familiar trudge turn the corner at the top of the drive. He was early from work. Maybe he hadn’t even been.
He was swaying – as if dodging invisible little urchins weaving through his feet. My heart pounded, galloping and dodging its every fourth beat. My stomach clenched, the baby inside it straining against my arms as they tightened around me.
I ran to my sons’ bedroom where I had bunkbeds for them and pulled a box of toys out from underneath, lay down and squeezed myself and my bulk of foetus under. I pulled the box in front of me and froze as I heard him crash through the door and tramp loudly throughout the house looking for me.
I remember the sense of foreboding. The smell of acrid whisky in the air. The taste of bitter bile rising in my mouth. The sound of banging and slamming, swearing, and my name. The sight of his dusty work boots stomping into the room, pausing; then leaving. The feeling of hot urine spreading across my leggings and dribbling over my thigh.
I lay like that for I don’t know how long but I do remember the relief of his snoring, then of me picking my son up from school not an hour later, laughing with him along the canal, to the park and then to my friend’s flat that lived ten minutes away for pizza.
There were many times (like that) where I just dropped in impromptu. No-one else any the wiser as to why. Not my friends, not the A&E doctors who treated me regularly.
This is Your Life.
I had chosen this, hadn’t I? There’s that kicker in the guts again, but not from anyone else’s boot; from my mind. My shame. But what was my shame but his stealthy words lingering languidly in my ear?
What changed? His eventual continuing sobriety, for a full year, highlighted that although he was no longer a physical danger to me, he was certainly a psychological toxin within our lives. I could no longer blame the alcohol for his abusive behaviour so I briefly believed his proclamations of depression was the new foe deserving of blame.
I was growing, however, expanding my social circle once again. I was learning counselling, where I began to grasp the depths of his insecurities and the realisation that they were not my fault after all. The blame he had ground into me daily was crumbling away as I expanded my knowledge and support.
I ended the relationship without too much fuss – which I would learn later was a ruse as he fully intended on hooking me back after he’d enjoyed his freedom in relationships with others. Proclamations of love, electronically hacking my locations and stalking my whereabouts, worshipping then rapid devaluation, blaming me failing him, accusing me of discarding him, guilt-tripping me for becoming happy.
His efforts continued to provoke my empathy and triggered my sense of pity for him and so I continued responding, trying to help him.
The pattern repeats.
Then, his girlfriend phoned me upset about his behaviour towards her. She confirmed he was drinking again. Not only that, she confirmed that he was neglecting our child and putting him in dangerous situations and wasn’t fit to have him safely.
The police had been called on numerous occasions, both by her and myself, due to his threats of suicide, sometimes whilst he was the sole carer of our child.
Various charities and psychological help made themselves available to him, which he saw only briefly before discarding. Despite repeatedly being assured he was safe, my gut told me otherwise.
His increasing calls to me, the creeping accusations of his previous girlfriend’s “failings”, the expressed concerns about his behaviour from his family increased my concern for everyone’s welfare. Then he abandoned my child whilst in his care, drank over the weekend with a new girlfriend, and attempted to drive my son home whilst drunk.
His abusive pattern was without a doubt back in full force and I was beginning to realise it had never really gone. People were being hurt by him once again. I needed to speak the truth.
I believe me.
I spent a week dancing a horrid jig with my old friend denial and then phoned Police Scotland. I reported the historical rape and despite being unable to pursue a charge as the accused had already been interviewed for the crime years before, the officer attending asked if I’d be comfortable giving a detailed statement of the rape so it could be logged.
I did this over two sessions with two SOLOs present. Both were respectful, attentive, patient, reassuring and honest about there being no case to charge as I’d been unable to provide corroborating evidence at the time of assault.
They used the word “unable”, not “didn’t”, and it was affirming to me that they understood my barriers at the time. They were almost apologetic towards me and sought to alleviate my guilt in not providing evidence at the time by explaining the immediate effects of trauma and the resultant confusion and defences. Their sensitivity was warming and gave me hope.
Then came the statements depicting the domestic violence and psychological abuse that occurred over the years. There were many. It took days. Two female constables from the Domestic Abuse Investigation Unit came to my home and began taking statements from me. They were also patient, understanding, and reassuring.
When I cried and asked rhetorically why I couldn’t have stood up for myself until years later, they told me they see women in my situation from all walks of life, all ages, all professions, all classes, and that it’s a common occurrence to remain in denial as self-preservation and I deserve to feel no shame.
I wept at length with relief.
The writer’s experience of the court process is detailed using the pseudonym Kate in CommonSpace’s interview with women who have been through the criminal justice process in domestic abuse and rape cases, as part of our investigation into what needs to improve to make the system work better for victims.
If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, contact the Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234, the Rape Crisis Helpline on 08088 01 03 02, the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre on 08088 010 789, or find details here of your local Women’s Aid or Rape Crisis Centre.
Picture courtesy of Gabriela Camerotti
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