Long Reads

“My rape felt so ‘ordinary’ that I still have to convince myself it happened”

Warning: the following article may be triggering for some readers.

It happened one summer.

I was staying with my family during the university holidays in a seaside town. I’d taken a summer job in a local cafe-bar run by a group of surfing, anklet-wearing beautiful people. I spent all my free time hanging out with them. They were into films and introduced me to bands such as Metallica and Foo Fighters. 

We worked in the cafe during the day, then in the bar at night. Some of them lived in a flat above the bar, and a group of us would go up there after shifts to watch movies and drink tequila until the early hours. We were one of those incestuous groups of young friends who flirt and occasionally kiss. It was like being in a dysfunctional sort of temporary family that I felt lucky to be a part of. I was 19 years old.

You may also like

6 rape survivors share their powerful stories

On the night it happened, I was vulnerable. My grandfather was in the hospital with late-stage lung cancer. My mum, in her late 40s at the time and one of the strongest women I know, was struggling through the new experience of losing a parent gradually for the first time. 

rape victim
We need to open up the conversation around rape and sexual assault

I was working at the bar until midnight with a guy from the group I worked a few shifts a week with. I looked forward to those shifts. We’d been texting a lot that summer, quoting TV shows, sharing music recommendations and asking flirty questions. He lived in the flat above the bar. His name was Sam*. 

Sam was a ‘boy next door’ type – cute and funny, with a penchant for dad jokes. He was quick to laugh at himself, using all the muscles in his kind, expressive face. He quoted The Office flawlessly and talked about music with an encyclopedic knowledge. He was like the guys back home I’d been friends with since childhood – guys I’d been on group holidays with and shared harmless kisses with.

When our last customer left the bar that night, Sam turned the music up and we shut down the bar, joking around. His childish grin and brown eyes held my gaze across the bar, and when I walked past him, he reached out and spontaneously hugged me, broom-in-hand, mid-sweeping. He smelled like hard work and aftershave that had been applied hours ago. His hair had a little too much gel in and he wore a gold chain that clashed nastily with the burnt skin on his neck, but these imperfections made him feel safe.

After locking up, we went up to the flat to watch a movie with the rest of the group – a sea of 10 tired bodies in joggers and hoodies slumped over each other. At 3am when the film finished, they drifted, yawning, limp with tiredness, into various bedrooms. I had a shift at 8.30am, so I began to make my nightly bed on the sofa.

“You can have my bed if you want?” said Sam’s voice from the other sofa in the room. “I’m not working tomorrow,” he added. I protested, but he insisted, saying his bed was more comfortable, and that there was plenty of room for both of us. When I realised that he meant sharing his bed, I declined. “Ah, no, I’ll actually head home, but thanks.”

He flashed me an innocent, dimpled grin, and tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. My stomach swooped at the tenderness of his touch, and I felt something warm and fuzzy hanging in the air between us. Then he suggested that we could put Peep Show on the laptop to watch while we fell asleep. Reassured by the innocence of his offer, I went upstairs with him. 

rape sexual assault
"[After the rape], I stared at the ceiling until daylight. I got up for work early and left without speaking to him"

I went to the bathroom to change out of my work dress and into some joggers and a hoodie that I was keeping at the flat. I got into bed with him. He was wearing joggers, too, but his feeble chest and doughy stomach were bare. He turned out the light, leaving the moon to glow through the skylight above the bed. 

“Are we going to watch Peep Show?” I asked. He didn’t respond. We were both lying in bed, and he was leaning on his elbow above me, looking down at my face. He was subtle at first, his fingers brushing the skin of my stomach under my hoodie. He leant down to kiss me, and after a pause, I kissed him back. 

Immediately, the force of his lips, his tongue, became stronger, quicker, more frantic. His fingers firm, they wriggled into my joggers, then my knickers. I pushed his hands away, saying, “Sorry, I don’t want to do anything like that.” 

But he grabbed my face saying, “Don’t worry, it’s fine.” He kept kissing me, forcing his hands back down my trousers. I protested again, pulling away. “No, sorry, I don’t want to.”

He persisted, this time roughly, saying, “Stop saying that. You’ve come up here, haven’t you?” 

My naivety began to feel pathetic. “No, I didn’t want this,” I said, which made him more agitated. In a blur of fierce movement and clothing I was suddenly naked. 

I looked at him one final time and said, “Please, no”. He pushed himself roughly into me. He wasn’t wearing a condom. 

When it was finally over, in a flurry of barked commands and aggressive jerking, he turned to the wall without speaking, and I lay there, sick with shame, too frightened and disgusted and shocked at what had just happened to move. I stared at the ceiling until daylight. I got up for work early and left without speaking to him, trying to ignore the soreness between my legs as I went downstairs to the cafe. I’m sure from the shallowness of his breathing that he was awake as I left, but he kept his back to me and pretended not to be. 

You may also like

Two years of the Me Too movement: read our most powerful essays

I tried to tell myself it was good – that I was happy, because I’d liked him all summer; that he clearly liked me too. But I felt nothing. My shift was 8.30am until midnight and the nearest pharmacy was a bus ride away, so I couldn’t get the morning after pill.

After that night, I never spoke to Sam again. I didn’t have another shift with him and the following week summer was over. Things got worse later that month when I missed my period, and my grandfather lost his battle with cancer. 

A week later I told my mum I thought I was pregnant, hating myself for burdening her when she’d just lost her father. She was angry at my ‘carelessness’, and while she was yelling at me, a voice in my head screamed back, “I WAS RAPED”. But I couldn’t put her or myself through this realisation so soon after our loss. So I kept quiet. I put that idea into a box in my mind and closed the box. The word ‘rape’ seemed so severe it was surprisingly easy to distance myself from it. I took a pregnancy test at the doctors, and an STI test. Both were negative. It was over.

rape victim
"Despite #MeToo, I’m not sure we’ve collectively adjusted our comprehension of the word ‘rape’ to encapsulate experiences that feel ordinary"

Years later, after the #MeToo movement, I told a few friends what had happened. With their encouragement, I told my parents. But something felt wrong. I felt silly using the word ‘rape’ when describing the events of that night. It felt too dramatic, as though I was causing upset over something too ordinary for such a strong word. 

It took me another year to realise I’d felt this way because what happened to me wasn’t extraordinary. I began to realise that the sort of rape I’d seen splashed across tabloid headlines and dramatised on TV shows probably only accounted for a tiny percentage of rapes. That rape was ordinary, and ordinary people were capable of it. This realisation helped me come to terms with what happened to me. 

Despite #MeToo, I’m not sure we’ve collectively adjusted our comprehension of the word ‘rape’ to encapsulate experiences that feel ordinary. I was raped, but I never felt like a ‘victim’ or a ‘survivor’. I never feared for my life.

I’m sharing my story because, if you’ve had a similar experience and, like me, it’s helpful for you to realise that what happened to you – even if it’s not like the rape you read about in the news – is still ‘rape’. I hope you find some peace in reading it. I spent years searching for this peace, without realising I was searching for anything at all.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help and support, you can call the Rape Crisis national helpline on 0808 802 9999 (open 12pm - 2.30pm and 7pm - 9.30pm daily). You can also find your nearest centre here or visit the website for more information here.

*all names have been changed

Images: Getty, Unsplash

Topics

Share this article

Recommended by Stylist Team

Long Reads

6 rape survivors share their powerful stories

"She felt like her mouth had been bound up, but she will be silent no longer."

Posted by
Emily Jacob
Published
Long Reads

Two years of the Me Too movement: read our most powerful essays

It’s been two years since the allegations against Harvey Weinstein first came to light. A lot has changed.

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
Published
Life

“Unbelievable shows that society still struggles with the 'imperfect rape victim' – such as myself”

The powerful new Netflix series is based on the real-life case of Marie Adler.

Posted by
Alicia Lutes
Published