Content Warning: This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering to survivors. If you have been affected by sexual assault we encourage you to contact SARC, the Sexual Assault Resource Centre on (08) 6458 1828.
When I was seventeen, I started seeing a boy, whom I will call T. I hate to talk about T. I hate to think about him. I hate him, still, and I’m not afraid to say so. I knew T from school. We were both entering year twelve when he began messaging me on Facebook. I’d never really liked this guy. I’d always thought he was, at best, stupidly behaved, at worst, a creep. But I replied to him, to be polite, and soon he was messaging me every night. It became clear to me that he was interested in me. At parties he would monopolise my attention, try to nuzzle me, be physically close. I wasn’t into it. I tried to neutralise it. He persisted.
My birthday is in March, around the same time as a local music festival that kids from my school would often camp at. T asked me if I was going; I said no. He asked if I wanted to go; I said no. He bought me tickets to share a tent with him. I was angry at this blatant disregard for my clear refusal. I was angry, embarrassed, and uncomfortable about what the tickets implied – that we would be sleeping next to each other, be sleeping together. Other people told me it was sweet, this exorbitant gift. I told him that he better sell those or give them to someone else because I would not be coming with him. He whined. He’d borrowed money from his dad to buy them. Just come. No, I said, pleased at my own strength.
People began to ask me what was going on between T and I. I began to feel like there was something going on. He was still messaging me, still talking to me every day. I gave way. He became my boyfriend. Four months later, we’dbegun having sex. My stepmother told me that he had to have an STD test, and to have him show it to me. I told him, he moaned. Eventually he said he’d done it, though he never showed it to me. I went on the pill, but was still frightened of falling pregnant. I insisted that he wear a condom every time. This annoyed him.
One night we were having sex in my bedroom. I had a tiny bed that had belonged to my younger sister before I took it. It was from Ikea: a white metal daybed that looked like it belonged to a thrifty princess. I believe I was using Cath Kidston sheets. My sisters were across the hallway, my parents were in their room out the back of the house. He was pumping about on top of me. He pulled out and asked to come on my stomach.
Where is the condom, I said, did it come off?
I took it off, he said.
Now I remember rolling off the bed and crawling across the floor to a corner of the room. (I recently moved back into my parents’ house. I’m looking at that corner now, from where I write.) I cried all night.
At first he said nothing, just sat on the bed. Then he tried to comfort me, said he was sorry. I didn’t want to be touched. Then, after hours of my crying, he got angry and dismissive. I stayed in that corner for the rest of the night. I slept there on the floor.
I didn’t tell anyone until many years later. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want people to know that he could hurt me like that. I didn’t want people to think badly of him. I was ashamed that I was with someone like him. I was a baby feminist, I never thought I would be in a relationship like this.
A week or so after, I wrote him a long, long letter. I had often written him letters when I felt like something was going wrong, trying to say things I felt unable to say to him in person. I hoped that he could see that I had cried onto the page. I wanted him to see that what he’d done had hurt me very badly. I gave him the letter.
After that, I was frightened. I was terrified that someone would find the letter, and use it to prove something about me. I’m not sure exactly what that was.
I continued dating T for over a year. My sense of self, my confidence became more and more degraded. He abused me emotionally in many ways that I don’t have the energy to go into here. A girl I didn’t like, and to whom I later did something terrible, posted publicly on her Facebook account that I was giving myself to someone who didn’t care about me. She used some awful words to say this, and it was shocking to read – although mostly because she was right.
Recently I read about ‘stealthing’, a name for what T did to me which has been popularised on message boards in favour of the action. Stealthing has had much media attention lately because of a paper written by Alexandra Brodsky, a Fellow at the National Women’s Law Center in the US. Brodsky characterises stealthing as a ‘rape-adjacent’ offense – as a form of sexual assault.
After reading the paper, I was in a lot of pain. All the details of that night and the following months came back very fast. I felt embarrassed and hurt again. I don’t think I personally want to classify what he did to me as rape. (I will point out that there have been legal cases won in some countries that did ultimately classify the action as rape, because changing the circumstances of intercourse removes consent.) I call my specific event a sexual assault. I believe that not having that language at the time was partly why I felt so ashamed, confused, and alone. It’s why I didn’t know I could go to the police.
I thought about contacting T and telling him that I now know what he did to me was sexual assault. That I now realise he didn’t only emotionally abuse me, but physically abused me as well. I decided not to. I think it would probably give him satisfaction to know that something he did to me still hurts. He’s that sort of person: pernicious and small. But I want to say this. I will not forget what he did to me. I do not forgive it. People say you should let go of anger. I don’t feel that I can let go of my sexual history so easily. I just wish now that I had done something to ensure that he wouldn’t do this to other women in the future. I feel that I let those women down.
Words by Anonymous