What does it mean to be sexually assaulted? It is different for every single person. Before I start my story, please imagine a young girl around 17 years old. She is a little bit different. A very good student, enjoys mathematics and music. Very bright, you could say smart. But her social skills are lacking. She seems to be slower than all of her friends, gets exhausted by big groups and lots of people, and doesn’t enjoy small talk. And, most important of all, doesn’t fancy any boys or girls, although she is already 17. That girl was me. I knew about puberty, about how and why my body changed. I knew that my friends and their boy- and girlfriends had slept with each other already. I knew that I should be finding certain types of boys or girls hot, that I should fancy them and fall in love with someone. Logically, I knew that. But it just didn’t happen. In other words, I had no experience whatsoever in relationships, my mind simply wasn’t ready for it yet.I spent my evenings at home studying or playing music. When I went out with friends, it was to go to see a play and have dinner at a nice restaurant. In short – I was not a very exciting, outgoing girl.
On that particular evening, my friend turned 16. In Germany, 16 is the age when we can legally start drinking certain kinds of alcohol. Not all of them, but beer and wine are fine for example. I personally didn’t drink – that was a decision I had made as a child and it wasn’t hard for me to stick to it. But my friend was very excited. It so happened that it was St Patrick’s Day, and we lived near a very international city with quite a few Irish pubs. So her plan for her birthday was to visit those on St Patrick’s Day. I had never done anything like this before, but since I was invited I decided to go along, sticking to drinking juice and mocktails. It was very busy, with lots of English speaking people around. I was fluent in English, but couldn’t (and still can’t) tell where people are from.
It so happened that we left one of the pubs and I had grown exhausted of all the noise and people. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s day so I walked at the end of our group. Now this is the hardest part for me to write. How many times have I attempted and then deleted it before it was done? I don’t know.
It all started with a drunk man coming down the road. He couldn’t walk straight, he must’ve had quite some alcohol. Then he spotted my group. I am not, in any sense, pretty. I am a nerd, and frankly speaking I look like one. I don’t care much for fancy clothes, hair styles or make-up. But the other girls in my group were really quite pretty. In any case, he spotted us and his eyes changed, they almost lit up in joy. He said “I love young girls…” (in English, yes), and tried to walk towards my group. The girls giggled and dove away to the sides to disappear around the corner. Why didn’t I react? I don’t remember. I stood there, like an idiot, and the next second he bumped into me and fell on the pavement. Why didn’t I walk away now? Because I was worried for him. I was worried. He was really big, but I thought maybe he needed help. Unsure of what to do, I didn’t walk away. Then he managed to get up again. He stood in front of me, stretched out his hand and grabbed my breast.
He said “I’m sorry.”
Run! Move! Something isn’t right! Go feet! Move! Why don’t my feet move? What is happening? I don’t understand! I need to get away, this feels wrong. Please, dear feet, move!
I remember these thoughts, and the sheer discomposure during these moments. How long did I stand there? For all I remember, it could’ve been days. I don’t know though, it was probably no more than a few seconds.
My feet started moving. I ran away, after my friends. Around the corner. There they were. Discussing where to go next. I tried to understand what just happened, what to do next. They were making plans, and all I wanted was to go home and get out of my clothes and shower. But I couldn’t say a thing. It wasn’t that bad, was it? He didn’t hurt me, he didn’t really touch me anywhere bad, right? Why was I so upset? I shouldn’t be. Pull yourself together.
In the end, I stayed with them until we went home around 1 o clock. My family was asleep when I came in. I tore my clothes off and started to wash myself. Trying to wash off this feeling he left. But no matter how long I washed, it didn’t help. The feeling stayed.
I couldn’t tell people. I was embarrassed. Why was I so worked about this? It hadn’t been that bad. I refused to leave the house in the evening by myself. I could no longer go into the city, I felt uncomfortable wearing short clothing, like skirts, dresses, shorts, t-shirts. I couldn’t take the touch of anyone, including hugs from my own family. I got easily scared, getting frightened so easily that even my mother noticed. But I did not say a single word.
It was about a month later when I decided to confide in a friend that had been there. It was my birthday, and I asked to talk with her. I said that this man back then, that he had touched me. My friend’s answer was prompt: “It wasn’t that bad. Don’t get worked up about this, like this kind of stuff happens. And there are people that way worse things happen to. Just forget about it.”
How did this make me feel? I think in that moment something in me broke and I gave up. This was my life. And what happened wasn’t that bad. My feelings were irrelevant, a way for me to get attention. I was a horrible, horrible person, for trying to get comfort and help for something that wasn’t that bad. And so I started hating myself, because despite logic telling me that it really hadn’t been that bad, and that I should move on, I couldn’t.
I suppressed what happened. The blouse from that day was hidden deep inside my wardrobe. I didn’t want to see it ever again.
For a while the forgetting worked. But my new habits didn’t change. I still didn’t go out anymore, and hated physical contact of any form.
And then one night I woke up crying, because he had been there. He was back, in my dream, but feeling as real as ever. The next week I was completely unfocused and scared of anyone coming too close, until the feeling died down again. The next instance happened when I went to get some groceries. I was walking down the road when a man with a bottle of beer in his hand called to me “Smile, beautiful!”.
And I was back in that night. Everything happened again, the exact same as before. And I couldn’t stop it. It was more than a memory. It happened. In my mind, it really happened again.
I found myself back in front of my house. I don’t recall how I got there, but I must’ve been running, because I was out of breath and crying. I didn’t leave the house again that day.
Months and years went on like this. On and off, feeling a little better, a little worse. Being scared of drunk people, scared of pubs, scared of going out at night.
But I was just overreacting, because, really, what happened hadn’t been that bad.
After graduating school I left the country to study abroad. I had developed depression, but didn’t know it until much later. While abroad at university, I got diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. I had a counsellor to speak to, but I still couldn’t say what had happened. I was so scared of getting the same answer again as back then. “It wasn’t that bad. Get over it.”
I never fell in love. I never fancied anyone. I stayed away from these feelings. Maybe I was still slow, or maybe it was to keep me safe. I stayed in my own, little, safe cage that protected me.
But love found me. A wonderful man was interested in me and started very slowly to get to know me better. Inviting me over to play video games, out for a meal, and then the cinema. Patiently waited until I realized my feelings for him. And then I told him. I told him how I was scared of being touched and why. And he got angry at that man. Not at me, but at him. And despite spending the first year helping me through anxiety attacks and flashbacks whenever they got triggered, he stayed as patient as can be. He never pushed me to do anything. He waited until I was ready. And with time, I started healing. And now I can go to pubs again at night. And I can be close with my man. And the flashbacks are almost completely gone.
That drunk man took something from me, that I never had to begin with. Physical contact with a man. Before I could taste the beauty of this, he took it by making me fear it for a long time. He stole a good 5 years of my life. Five years in which I was locked into my own mind, unable to escape. But it wasn’t just him. The friends from back then did their fair share. I believed them when they told me I was seeking attention. I tried to just forget about it. I believed them when they said “it wasn’t that bad”.
What does it mean to be sexually assaulted? It is different for every single person. Your feelings are always valid. Perhaps what happened to me wasn’t that bad in the greater scheme of things. But for my unprepared mind, it was one of the worst things that could’ve happened to me. Never let anyone tell you that your feelings aren’t valid. And if someone does, tell as many people as you need until you find the one that realizes that your feelings are valid. I could only heal once I was believed.