Legal damages

February 23, 2018

18, one week before

(This post details abuse and is of a graphic nature. Please take care. This is for every person with an experience that doesn’t fit the definitions or the moulds or society’s narrative. This is for every confusing experience with eternal damage. This is for the not-so-bads. This is for the wise and vulnerable. You’re brave and valid. Believe me.)

“I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t think we should see each other again,” I typed out, stared at and edited for what felt like hours. I sent the message then closed my laptop and went straight to my best friend’s house for a distraction. I was 19 and vulnerable. What I was feeling was relief, terror, and anxiety, but I didn’t realise that at the time.

I barely realised anything at the time, and that was the problem. ‘the’ problem, not ‘my’ problem, I now say over and over in my head.

When the Aziz Ansari account came out I found it very hard to navigate my thoughts and feelings on the subject. There were lots of opinions and this time, this time, it seemed to rattle lots of close male friends. They shared statuses and articles and tweets to tell us that it wasn’t illegal and that it was just bad sex. It seemed like they could suddenly relate, that they could put themselves in Aziz’s position, and wanted desperately to justify that behaviour. Interesting, isn’t it. 

From what we’ve been told about the Aziz account, no, what happened wasn’t assault. It sounds like a very uncomfortable situation where communication wasn’t great and, more importantly, one party had the influential power. It wasn’t illegal, but it was still damaging. And I got that. I really, really got that. 

What I’m about to talk about is something I’ve never written about. I’ve spoken about it with friends, my boyfriend, and my counsellor, but I’ve never taken full control and written about it to ‘own it’. I’ve been loaded with shame and embarrassment about what happened for five years now, but after I read Daisy Buchanan’s brave piece of writing on her own kind of Aziz experience, I knew it was time. Fuck it. So here we are. 

For clarity, I’m going to refer to this guy as This Guy. And for complete honesty, I’m terrified of this person finding this piece or being shown it. I’m terrified of my experience being twisted or This Guy trying to get back in touch and justify his actions, or something. I’m terrified of being forced to second guess myself, again, after finally being in a place where I can write about this and believe my own story. But that terror is less important than being a part of the #metoo movement. It’s less important than a person relating to this story and feeling loved and believed and empowered. I will remember this.

I was 17 when I first met This Guy. He was a journalist. We met as part of a larger group at a pretty cool event and everything was fine. We all got on. Great. We all followed each other on Twitter and continued to get on. Me and This Guy even more so. 

He was 40.

My ego was pretty big at 17. I was doing fucking cool shit. I’d won writing awards, I was on TV, I was given amazing opportunities, I was in the papers. I had famous friends. I was getting attention. I was continually told I was smart and funny and wise beyond my years, and I lapped it up. I thought I was the bees’ knees. So when This Guy from the event started flirting with me and slid into my DMs, I thought it was like something from a movie. I’d never had a boyfriend, never kissed anyone. I was incredibly inexperienced and naive. I was very impressionable. But I was smart, right? And I should be honoured. I was clearly great and very lucky. 

By the next summer I was 18 and This Guy invited me to spend his birthday with him at another PRETTY COOL event. It was a preview showing of something I LOVED, and please forgive me for being so vague but I am terrified of this person being identified! This was the first time we’d met up on our own. It was his actual birthday on this day so I instantly felt pressured to make it good for him. He’d told me beforehand that he was going to kiss me at this event and I felt like my only response could have been excitement and joy and pride. But a small voice in the bottom of my brain was uneasy. I put that down to excited nerves.

He did kiss me that day. Many times. I’d never kissed anyone before. It was a big deal. But it wasn’t the nice, quaint, small kisses that I imagined. This Guy would stop us walking down the busy South Bank and passionately (violently) kiss me as people pushed past us. I knew people were looking. It was alien. It was forceful. It was gross, but I thought I should have been lucky. I told myself to feel excited and lucky. 

This really WAS like a movie, wasn’t it? This older guy liked me because I was young and smart and pretty and funny. I was lucky. I should be thankful. Then he forced his hand down my knickers, in public, whenever he wanted to, and I let him. I was embarrassed and knew other people could tell, but I couldn’t say no. I was just the teenager. This hadn’t happened to me before. This was my big moment! I’d tell friends about all this and all the attention would be on me! And anyway, he knew what he was doing, he was an adult man. It was fine. He knew what he was doing. 

I was very good at turning all the uneasiness into positives. Into ‘par for the course’s. Into pride and luck and gratitude. I would justify every behaviour. But only to myself. I never, in fact, told friends what was happening at all. And my refusal to do so should have been a red flag among many.

I went to his flat one weekend. I told my parents I was out with another friend. It was just something teenagers did, wasn’t it? It was thrilling. I missed the last train home - did he know I would? - and I panicked. He told me I could stay over and I did. In his bed. That was the first time I’d had sex and I can never take that away from myself. That can never change. I wasn’t on contraception and it hurt and I wasn’t ready. And it will always be my first time. And that makes me feel sick.

The next day he told me I had to have a shower because people would smell the sex on me and judge me. I was horrified. 

The messages This Guy used to send me were graphic and intense and gross. He told me he loved the blood I left on his sheets, because he did that to me, and he’d fantasise about… I can’t even write it down. Now I realise it was a fetish. It was like porn. It was harmful and he was powerful in this situation but I was SMART. I knew what I was doing. So did he. He knew exactly what he was doing. 

I started university and I was having a bad time. To make me feel better, he paid me to come and stay with him.

He paid me. To come and stay with him. 

I missed a whole week of university and he locked me in his flat while he went to work. He didn’t leave me much food and I didn’t know how to work his TV. He’d have sex with me on the sofa before he went to work - he HAD to, I was irresistible, he said, it was my fault - and it always hurt. I thought it was meant to. I should feel lucky, I should feel grateful. This was exciting. This was exciting. 

One night, he asked me what I wanted him to do to me. I had no fucking idea. I didn't know what I liked and didn't like. Nothing ever felt good. So I told him to surprise me. He… I don’t want to write that down either. But it hurt. It hurt SO much and I cried on the toilet afterwards as I mopped up the blood. 

Why didn’t I stop it? Why didn’t I stop seeing him, delete him, block him? It’s so easy to ask those questions and so hard to answer them. I wish I did all those things, but I thought this was normal. I thought this was how things worked, and I told myself time and time again how lucky I was to have an older man be so infatuated with me. This was happening because I was so wise and funny and great. I deserved this. I made this happen.

I wasn’t telling anyone about any of this. Friends knew I was seeing This Guy, but they didn’t know how old he was and how he was using me. I didn’t want them to know. I didn’t want them to tell me that this was a bad thing. I didn’t want them to judge me. I was convinced they would shame me and tell me I was stupid and that I was gross and awful. I never once considered that they would be worried for me and put every inch of blame on him. 

He told me to run away with him. He knew I was in a bad place at university, that I wasn’t getting on with my parents, and was struggling to make and keep friendships. He told me everyone was terrible and I should just run away with him. A story had just come out about a teacher running away with his student to France and This Guy told me we should do that too. He was miserable. He didn’t like his job, he didn’t like his parents, he didn’t have many friends. He lived alone. I was the most exciting thing to come along in years. I needed to make him feel better, I needed to fix him. 

But he’d get angry with me. He had to buy me an Oyster card once and he was so angry that I didn't have one. I didn’t know how to use one. He got frustrated when I didn’t know how to use London buses. He got angry when I said something wrong, when I had a bad opinion or didn’t understand something complex. He must have been angry when it was obvious that I was young and naive and silly and learning. Cat’s out the bag. 

At Christmas, he had a spare ticket to a gig at The O2. He asked if I wanted it. I did, one of my favourite bands were playing. It was free. He asked me last minute on the day while I was out in London filming for a documentary, and my initial thought was: shit, I haven’t shaved. I went to Westfield, bought some disposable shavers and baby wipes, went into the toilets and shaved everywhere. Everywhere. In the public toilets. He would appreciate it. 

I got horrendously drunk that night. I went out to buy us more and more wine - all my student money - and that’s the only time I have very little recollection of a night due to alcohol. He put me on a train and left me to it. I was sick on the train, on myself. I managed to get home alive, and I was lucky. I really was lucky that time. 

In January, I sent that message to This Guy. I was tired. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I still didn’t realise just how bad things were, and that it wasn’t my fault, but I was just so tired.

In his reply, he told me there was nothing to end. We were just a bit of fun. Why was I talking like this? It’s just casual. It’s just fun. Had I misjudged the whole situation? He’d told me he loved me. Was he lying? I was so confused and hurt. Later on he told me he just said anything to keep me, which just confused me even more. But I was set in my mind that that was it.

From the next month, I was taken advantage of by another person in power. You can read about that here. It was similar but completely different, and THAT Guy was friends with This Guy. Unsurprising. That Guy spotted I was vulnerable after what happened with This Guy and took his chance. That went on for months. That Guy’s exposure, in the end, was very public, so I had a message from This Guy saying he was so sorry to hear what I went through.

I laughed.

He’s blocked on every platform now. I heard that he was posting about #metoo and how disgusted he was, and how he doesn’t understand how you can defend that behaviour. How righteous, what a great ally. But I also heard that he tried to sleep with another teenage girl just a few years after me. Has he learned? Does he have any idea what he did? Does he understand that he’s part of the problem? 

It’s not illegal. It’s not assault, is it? It’s wrong. Age gap relationships aren’t wrong. Power imbalanced relationships are wrong. It’s morally wrong. I was vulnerable. Did he know I was vulnerable? I was smart, I knew what was happening. I chose this. He was in his 40s. I was a teenager. But I was an adult. 

Do you see how confusing it can be? Do you see why there are so many conversations about this? How it’s not black and white? How every story and situation is different? Do you see why we never spoke about our stories? How easy it can be to twist a story and throw the blame? How easy it can be to judge? To shame? 

But I no longer find my situation confusing. 

He locked me in his flat, he fetishised me, he starved me, he had sex with me when he wanted to, he hurt me, he made me cry on his toilet, he told me people would judge me, he told me to run away with him, he did things to me that I didn’t consent to, he turned me away from my family and friends, he took power in being my first time, he paid me to visit him, he left me paralytic and alone, he got angry with me very quickly, he took advantage of a vulnerable teenager with a big ego. He knew what he was doing.

He knew what he was doing.

I’ll still struggle with this for a very long time, but writing this is a huge step. This is my story and it’s valid. I know what happened to me and I know that it was wrong. I know that I was vulnerable and it doesn’t matter that I was smart and funny. I was still vulnerable. And if one message comes through in this story I want it to be this: You can be smart and vulnerable. You can be strong and naive. You can be wise and inexperienced. There is no justification in personality.

Writing this hasn’t been a massive weight off my shoulders. Nothing has suddenly fallen into place and will now wash over me. But I hope that it can help just one person with a similar experience to feel valid and supported and empowered. That’s enough.

That’s enough.

Rape Crisis, supporting survivors: 0808 802 9999
Refuge, for women and children against domestic violence: 0808 2000 247
The Mix, supporting under 25s with anything: 0808 808 4994
Samaritans, if you're having suicidal thoughts: 116 123

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8 comments

  1. You're very brave to share your story. This was very powerful to read. Sending you all of the best wishes.
    Lisa x

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  2. Wow, that made my cry with recognition. You're so brave to write this down; guys like this know EXACTLY what they're doing and none of it is your fault at all. Your writing is so powerful and I'm sending you lots of good wishes for the future x

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  3. Thank you for sharing. You’re giving a voice to those who don’t yet have one. Xo

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  4. Thank you for sharing this. I hope it's given you something to share this story and take control of it. And I hope This Guy gets what he deserves.

    ReplyDelete