Why I make small-talk with my rapist
After this term’s consent workshops, an anonymous rape survivor speaks out
My story is not an uncommon one. A first term fresher is invited on a swap, drinks too much and goes home with a stranger.
I had a long-term boyfriend from home, and I would certainly not have thought of myself as a vulnerable inexperienced first year or a possible victim of sexual assault.
The details of the evening hardly matter. This is anyone’s night out. I’d been pennied so much in Curry Garden, that by the time the food arrived I scarcely understood how eat my curry. The idea of using knife and fork to eat something that was so ostensibly liquid was beyond me.
Drinking fines had deprived me of the initiative to ask for a spoon. A trip to the pub followed. Apparently, I made it all the way up to Cindies before someone made the executive decision that I was too drunk to be in public.
When I checked my phone the next day, my call records showed I’d tried to call my boyfriend as I was leaving Cindies. I also received a text from a school friend saying that she’d bumped into me last night and enquiring if the guy I’d left with had taken me back to my own college safely.
I really wish I had passed out completely between tottering down the vertiginous steps as I left Cindies and walking back to my own college the following morning.
I surfaced from the black-out, groggy, inebriated, with a weight on top of me and a feeling that something was very wrong. I’d been unconscious, yet when I realised what was happening to me I did not resist.
I was a drunk lying cheat and this was my fault. Girls with boyfriends did not get paralytically drunk and go home with strangers. Anyway, It was over in a couple of minutes and I knew it wouldn’t start to hurt until the next day.
Afterwards, I did not scrabble for my clothes, bag and coat in the darkness and to leave. I rolled into the cold gap where the wall almost met the bed, closed my eyes and waited for the morning.
Luckily it came quickly – he was a rower he explained over a perfunctory breakfast. He saw the returned calls that I’d failed to answer last night and lightly apologised for not realising that I had a boyfriend.
We chatted with the awkwardness of strangers with too many mutual friends. As I left I even joked about arranging another swap.
The swap was unfortunately more of a success for the others involved and consequently, and, as a second year, we share even more friends. I bump into him weekly. If we do accidentally make eye-contact, we smile and exchange social pleasantries before finding a wordless excuse to depart in opposite directions as quickly as possible.
Fear and potential awkwardness of a confrontation or public denial trumped any vengeful desire or even a want to tell him that I knew that what he had done to me was wrong.
That I went home with someone with whom I was not in a relationship made me feel guilty. My lack of resistance made me complicit and even more to blame. Furthermore, I was naked in his bed, surely this is what he expected.
But consent is not based on assumptions. In fact, the only assumption that can be made from someone unconscious or dangerously drunk is that they cannot give consent.
Compulsory consent workshops come to many too late. They cannot hope to readjust the moral compasses of knowing eighteen-year-olds, but that is not necessarily their aim.
As a vehicle for raising awareness, national coverage is evidence of their success. More importantly, as a step towards clarifying the blurred lines of what is allowed, their message is clear: sex without consent is rape.
Yet, we are a long way from stopping stories like mine happening, and prevention is better than cure.
I never told my boyfriend, we’re still going out.
Maybe, after I’ve graduated and I no longer pass X in Sainsbury’s, queue with him for Sunday Life, or brush past him in May week, maybe one day I’ll forget.