“My experience was not violent,” says Sophie Ellis-Bextor. “All that happened was I wasn’t listened to.”
There are many unhelpful misconceptions about sexual assault – one of the most common is the idea that there’s always a violent struggle, leaving the victim with visible injuries, which acts as ‘proof’ of her story, of her resistance.
While this can be the case, according to Rape Crisis England and Wales, there “are many reasons why someone might not scream or struggle” in such a situation. In fact, many people find that they cannot move or speak at all – with experts noting that this “is a very common reaction”.
“It can make it difficult for survivors to talk to anyone or get help,” explains a Rape Crisis spokesperson.
“Survivors often think others will blame them or they won’t be believed. And this can cause shame and self-blame.”
Now, in order to make this point loud and clear, Sophie Ellis-Bextor has spoken out about her own experience of sexual assault.
In an extract from her new book, Spinning Plates, Ellis-Bextor has chosen to give her 17-year-old self “a voice,” recalling how she was raped by a 29-year-old musician (whom she refers to as ‘Jim’) after going to his flat.
“Jim and I started kissing and before I knew it we were on his bed and he took off my knickers. I heard myself saying ‘No’ and ‘I don’t want to’, but it didn’t make any difference,” she says in the book.
“He didn’t listen to me and he had sex with me and I felt so ashamed… I remember staring at Jim’s bookcases and thinking: ‘I just have to let this happen now’.”
Explaining why she felt she “didn’t believe she had a case” at the time, Ellis-Bextor finishes: “I have thought so much about why I wanted to write about this. My life is happy now and I would not say that I felt overly traumatised at the time, and yet I feel as if the culture that surrounded me – the things I saw and read and the way sex was discussed – made me believe I didn’t have a case.
“My experience was not violent. All that happened was I wasn’t listened to. Of the two people there, one said yes, the other said no, and the yes person did it anyway.
“The older I’ve become, the more stark that 29-year-old man ignoring 17-year-old me has seemed.”
Ellis-Bextor’s story is a stark reminder that sex without consent is rape – regardless as to whether or not the victim fought back.
As Rape Crisis England and Wales explains: “Going tense, still and silent is a common reaction to rape and sexual violence.
“Freezing is not giving consent, it is an instinctive survival response. Animals often freeze to avoid fights and potential further harm, or to ‘play dead’ and so avoid being seen and eaten by predators.”
The Rape Crisis team adds: “No matter whether or not someone ‘fights back’, if they didn’t freely consent to sex then it is rape.”
If you would like more information or support, visit Rape Crisis UK – or, alternatively, call 0808 802 9999 (usual opening times are noon–2.30pm and 7–9.30pm any day of the year and also between 3 - 5.30pm on weekdays).
Spinning Plates by Sophie Ellis-Bextor is out on 7 October.