real life

"My night with a charming stranger that, years later, I still feel ashamed to tell."

This post deals with issues of domestic violence and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.

I’ve never told this story in full. I’ve mumbled bits of it to friends but never from start to finish because I am ashamed. I started with the intention of telling you the full story but I can’t bring myself to do it. Maybe I am still ashamed.

I was 27 and living in London. I’d just gotten off of the bus from visiting friends and I was high on life. I stepped off the bus, on to the footpath and crossed the mildly busy road. While crossing the road I noticed a handsome man unsuccessfully hailing a taxi. I never had any trouble hailing a taxi so I offered to assist. This stranger and I began talking and what started as small talk ended up being a two hour in-depth conversation, on a bench, at the side of the road.

He had grown up in New York and had just returned to the UK. His accent was American but softened by a gentle English tone. He told me he was a writer, which of course, I found fascinating. His life sounded exciting with a streak of sadness and I was so drawn to him.

It was now around 2am. I didn’t want to sit on the street anymore and I suggested he stay at my flat until morning and catch the bus home then. From that moment, for the next couple of months, we were inseparable.

I can’t remember exactly when it was, maybe the first or second time he stayed over. We hadn’t been physically intimate yet, although he had asked. I woke up in the morning and still half asleep, must have reached over to him. He was lying next to me in the small double bed that barely fit in the tiny room, of the four-bedroom apartment, above a cafe. He started kissing me, rolled on top of me and put his hands around my throat.

I started to panic because in that moment I felt his strength. I had let this stranger into my house and I knew, that just a little more pressure and he could have crushed my throat if he wanted to. He moved his hands off of my throat and with his one large hand held my wrists together above my head and started having sex with me. I don’t remember when my pants had come off, I don’t remember how it got to this point.

Watch: How do men and women avoid sexual assault every day? Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

I had always thought of myself as tough and able to stand up for myself but in this moment, I physically could not move, I couldn’t budge an inch. He was so much stronger than me. I started telling him to stop. I started yelling at him to stop. I yelled for help. He seemed so unfazed. I gave up yelling and he stopped. He rolled off of me and back onto the bed next to me. I laid there for a moment and then I rolled over and told him, “You scared me”. He said, “You started it”, and I believed him.

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It all happened so quickly. I wondered if my house mates upstairs had heard me yelling. I wondered what they had thought. I was embarrassed knowing I might see them after.

I’ve gone over the details in my head more than once. Was this an example of the blurred lines of consent, or was it a rape that became too much trouble for him to finish? I’ve never called it rape. I’ve never known what to call it. A misunderstanding? It all happened so quickly, why should it even matter? He stopped, right? He said he thought I wanted it.

I stayed with him.

In the weeks following I found out the things he had lied to me about. I saw sparks of that person who had held me down on the bed. He was emotionally abusive and manipulative. He didn’t need to use his hands to beat me down, his words were doing far worse. I knew this was not a place I wanted to be, not a friendship or relationship that should be in my life but I was vulnerable and he was great at making everything seem like it was my fault. I felt bad for him. Everything began to build up and finally when he yelled at me in the middle of a shopping centre – “You make me want to kick you in the head” – I knew then that I had to stop giving him my time and effort.

As I worked at putting distance between us I became a bundle of anxiety. His abusive words and criticisms stayed with me and I used them to beat myself up. I was worried I would bump into him, I was worried I wasn’t strong enough to stay away. Why wasn’t I good enough for him? I couldn’t eat, I smoked and drank myself through the next couple of months until I moved back to Australia. I wanted to keep travelling but also, in the back of my mind, I wanted to make sure I was away from him and in the comfort of things I knew.

Compared to the rest of my life, knowing him was such a tiny moment but it made me question the things I knew about myself. I carry it with me every day, still blaming myself for ever letting a stranger into my house in the first place. I get a tiny pang of anxiety walking past groups of men because I am worried I am not physically strong enough to get away if needed. I don’t ever want to be in a situation like that again and I often push people away before they start to get close.

I hope one day I won’t carry it with me anymore, I am working on it.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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