Trigger warning: Sexual assault
I am writing anonymously, without naming anyone (although no one in this story is well-known anyway), but I am still afraid. I am writing this because I don’t want to bury this anymore or let it keep gnawing at me.
My story is as follows.
Earlier this year, I met someone who used chivalrous flattery to gain my trust, and I partially ‘gave in’ a couple of times. However, I then felt uncomfortable and said that I just want to be friends. To my pleasant surprise, I received exactly the response one would expect from a friend. Meanwhile, I was invited to a trip for this person’s birthday, and introduced to the friends who would accompany us. I agreed to the trip, not knowing that on the very first day of the trip, this person would force themselves on me and then gaslight me about it.
I brushed it aside and gave excuses to myself – that I wasn’t physically hurt, that this person stopped, that I was to blame for my earlier vacillating consent – even though the forced act and my resistance were both very clear, and nothing could justify it. I continued with the trip as if nothing happened, trying to remain polite throughout. When alone, however, I frantically searched for ways to get back home but couldn’t find a reasonable option. I decided to leave if at risk of physical injury.
Meanwhile, I had to share a bed with this person despite having insisted that I’ll sleep apart. I also had to ‘consent’ once again, knowing that the alternative was physical force anyway. Even the next night when I pretended to sleep early to avoid anything unwanted, I could sense their anger sending shivers down my spine.
I also had to ‘consent’ once again, knowing that the alternative was physical force anyway.
The politeness that I kept up took such a toll that I frantically tried calling trusted friends whenever alone. On returning home, I cut off contact with my abuser and their friends. They tried to contact me, I confronted them about the abuse, to which they feigned ignorance, and I rebuffed further attempts at contact. For many days after, I kept questioning myself. Was it just a case of blurred boundaries? But what excuse was there when there was no consent at all, when I literally tried to push myself away and move my face away? Did I not resist enough? Was I not clear enough? Wasn’t their gaslighting not explicit enough? Was I too weak in not having walked out immediately?
I shared this with some friends and tried moving on. Several weeks later, a friend told me that this person was a serial predator and had abused other women too. They had chased and/or harassed other women even after being rebuffed. Only then did I stop questioning myself.
However, this changed my behaviour and only months later have I started realising its lingering effects. I kept all the doors and windows of my house shut, but found it hard to sleep despite all that safety. I stopped taking trains to my hometown and resorted to flying instead at a much greater cost.
I had always been sceptical of sharing my whereabouts on social media, but I became even more worried since then. I had more frequent breakdowns and episodes of suicidal ideation than earlier. I questioned even the simplest gestures of affection from friends, though I knew they meant well. Objectively, I know most of this was probably just paranoia, that I have acted similarly earlier too. I don’t attribute everything to this one incident, but the constant fear and sense of panic has been since then certainly very palpable.
This would be just another ‘bad date’ story, but for some factors. Firstly, there were serious concerns about privacy, my own as well as that of my abuser. The thing is, I am a queer woman, and so is my abuser, which meant that naming either of us would ‘out’ us. Despite my orientation, I have faced many unwelcome advances by men, and so have other queer women. This is not to minimise the abuse we face from men, which still is far more rampant. I am not even trying to show that abusers come in different forms, as many others have shown already. I am trying, instead, to overcome my own fears.
Despite my orientation, I have faced many unwelcome advances by men. This is not to minimise the abuse we face from men, which still is far more rampant.
I am grateful to my friends and the queer support groups around where I live and in my hometown, for being my pillars of strength. In each of these groups, though, this story is known only to some close friends, not everyone else. In one group, the friends who knew talked to others about violence within the queer community, thus highlighting this issue without me having to do it. I count all these positives and try to reassure myself.
However, the negatives have still affected my work and social life. Early this year, I joined some friends in a new venture and realised later that these friends knew my abuser. I told them about it when I realised that our venture may lead us to interact with my abuser. These friends said they believed me, pledged their support, but some weeks later, one of them privately asked me if I was sure that my abuser hadn’t been joking.
I tried to dismiss it as genuine curiosity, but in the months since, I felt increasingly sidelined. Our work made us speak about social issues including sexual violence and queer rights, our venture drew more attention and was listed as an upcoming name to look out for, but ironically, I felt sidelined even on issues directly related to me. I continued to worry about my safety which seemed inconvenient to plans of making the venture bigger and more famous. Finally, I quit when I couldn’t take it anymore. These friends still pontificate on many social issues, one of them even listed herself on the #MeTooIndia support list.
I still want to believe that these friends practice what they preach, and that other factors led to this situation. After all, my abuser was known to these friends but that is not important in their larger scheme of things. However, after hearing one mutual friend say that my abuser hadn’t mentioned any abuse (as if a victim should be believed only when the accused admits their guilt), another one ask casually whether my abuser was joking, and the indifference of the rest, I am forced to be highly sceptical of their progressive views. Instead, I have learnt not to make myself vulnerable to people who don’t deserve it, and am thankful for those I can still rely on.
Featured Image Source: Relia Wire