This month it will have been two years since I was first raped, and 15 months since the second time it happened.
I won't go into the gory details, but for the purpose of clarity, the first time I experienced violent date rape, and the second time I was drugged by my then boyfriend, and raped in my unconscious state.
It took me over a year to be able to even utter the word, and even now I flinch as I type it. But reading the Brock victim's powerful 12 page statement earlier this year, I have found myself unable to stay silent any longer. Her strength and power shook me to my core, and made me realise that my silence is not only hindering my personal progression, but it is perpetuating the cycle of victim blaming.
Because the truth is, whether it be rational or not, I blame myself.
I blame myself for being so insecure and in need of validation from a man that I put myself in what turned out to be a dangerous situation - I trusted a stranger. I blame myself for not being strong enough to acknowledge what happened to me and go straight to the police. I blame myself for never having the guts to report the first crime. And I blame myself for being naïve enough, stupid enough, and trusting enough to let it happen again, in my own house, in my own bed.
As you can see, I hold a lot of guilt. But worse still, is the fear. The fear of acknowledging what happened. The fear of how my peers will react. How broken my family will be. How it will affect my career, my relationships, my entire future. And it is this fear that has prevented me from being able to begin moving on and repairing the insurmountable damage that has been done. Without a doubt, there will be damage done by publishing this article - both in terms of the public's reaction, but also the reaction of my peers. But that is a sacrifice I have to make, because the damage will be much less than that which the silence is causing - to me personally, and to others who are suffering the same. That is why I have chosen to speak up.
To be clear, I do not believe in victim blaming. I would like to think I am a rational, intelligent person, and I understand how consent works - let there be no misunderstanding here: there was no consent. I made it clear I was not comfortable with the situation. I said no. I cried stop. Eventually I gave up and lay still, waiting for it to end, hoping it would end with me in one piece. The second time I could not give consent - I was unconscious. I had not been drinking. I should not even have to justify the circumstances - because at the end of the day, rape is rape. Regardless of what the media likes to suggest, there are no blurred lines when it comes to it.
Despite this, I have spent the last two years analysing every little thing I said, every gesture I made, every consequent action, and I still feel the heavy burden of 'what if'.
So why do I feel this guilt?
It was forced upon me by those I thought would be most understanding. In the months after I finally had the strength to tell my closest friends what happened, several of those friends turned their backs on me without a word of explanation. These friends were some of the people I had the most respect for of my peers - I saw them as kind, caring, thoughtful, intelligent, and empowered.
There could be many reasons why they chose to extinguish our friendship - perhaps they felt they weren't in a position to be able to emotionally deal with the struggle I was going through. Perhaps they had a lot of their own issues on their mind and didn't want the additional pressure of mine. And perhaps, while dealing with my pain, I turned into a different version of myself who they were not comfortable being around. But by removing themselves from the situation, without a word of explanation, they suggested that I was at fault. That I had done something wrong. And that I was not a person worth knowing.
I do not blame them, and the purpose of this article is not to filter resentment. It is not sympathy seeking, nor is it awareness driving - there are survivors with much stronger voices than mine driving that already.
This article is written in the perhaps naïve hope, that those who read it might understand the impact of their silence or support. Because you don't need to wave a flag in favour of the rapist in order to victim-blame. Keeping silent as survivors, or as a society, allows for the criminals to get away with their actions, and for the cycle of victim-blaming to continue, from peers to police to courts.
I will inevitably lose friends by publishing this article. But I can not keep pretending that nothing happened to me - what happened has changed me and my life forever. I am terrified that I will become 'the girl that was raped', or worse, 'the girl that was raped and wanted everyone to know about it'.
But equally, I feel it is irresponsible of me to keep quiet - society tells us to suck it up and move on, but it's just not as simple or easy as that. Rape is still one of the lowest reported, and convicted crimes, and in order to change that, we need to come forward and break our silence. We need to stand together, not just as rape survivors, but as communities, and shout that we will not accept the objectification and abuse of our bodies - male or female.
I am finally choosing to break my silence. And I hope that by doing so, others will break their silence with me.