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I was raped. I was 14 years old when it happened and my world seemed to fall apart at the seams.
On holiday in Turkey, I remember basking in the sun, playing waterpolo, and enjoying myself. My parents and my younger brother were also having a great time, and I often had free reign to wander the hotel complex alone.
14-year-old me was curious, seemed older than my years, and had a tendency to make friends much older than myself.
During our two-week stay I made friends with the people (mostly older boys) playing waterpolo in the pool. One older man in particular was paying me lots of attention. Looking back on it, I realise that perhaps it was way too much attention.
At the time, though, it didn't seem sinister. He was on holiday with his girlfriend and her family, after all.
Rapists weren't men with girlfriends, surely? Rapists were supposed to be old men that were creepy, weren't they? Their lingering glances were supposed to make your skin crawl, right?
Rapists invite you down to the beach at night to hangout with them and their girlfriends. Rapists show up alone. Rapists force you down, in a cold dark corner, and they take advantage. They take advantage of your nativity and your vulnerability.
The funny thing about some rapists is they make you think it's all your fault. They make you wish you'd fought harder. They make you think you should have struggled more. And they make you believe, to your core, that no one would believe you if you said anything.
They tell you that people will believe you wanted it.
I was stupid. I didn't report it. The sick fuck told me to fix my face and clean myself up. I stiffly did as he demanded.
He told me that in Turkey women were put in prison for having sex before marriage. If I told anyone, the police would punish me, not him.
He then walked me back to my hotel room.
My Dad actually thanked him for walking me back.
I remember his eyes on me, just before the door closed. The look of warning he gave me. I didn't say a single word.
I ran into my conjoining room and locked myself in the bathroom. I shook. I sobbed.
What happened next?
It took me years to readjust. For a long time, sex would cause panic attacks. I still don't trust men. I find it hard to be in a room alone with a man I don't know.
I have been lucky enough to have relationships with a few incredibly gentle men. Men that would not hurt me. Sex is now enjoyable again. I haven't had a panic attack in a long time.
I never did tell my parents what happened that night. It took a long time for me to be able to talk about it, and when months go by, you start to wonder how to bring it up.
You wonder if they will look at you the same.
This was almost 10 years ago now. Long before the #MeToo campaign. Long before there was so much support to women that have suffered this violence.
It makes me so sad, though, to see women treated the way that they have in Ireland and Scotland recently. Your underwear doesn't give anyone consent.
I was wearing a light pink pair of pants that night—I only remember because they were my favourite at the time. They were full pants, not a thong, not lacey. I wasn't "asking for it" and neither were those women.
Rape happens because of rapists. Because some men cannot control themselves. Because they do not understand the word, "No."
If you have been sexually assaulted—I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the pain you are in. I am sorry for the psychological trauma. I'm sorry for the bruises and the physical scars left on your body.
I am sorry your sense of safety, your trust, and your feelings have been violated in such an abhorrent way. Be patient with yourself. It takes a long time to heal. Not everyone is like the predator that did this to you.
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO FEEL GUILTY OR ASHAMED. THIS HAPPENED TO YOU.
If you have a friend, a partner, or a family member currently going through this—believe them. Listen to them. Be patient and let them know they are loved. Physical touch can be uncomfortable for a long time, let them initiate hugs or hand holding. Be there and let them know that it is not their fault.
Please, try to encourage them to seek help. Gently, encourage them to report it if you have not already—though this is their decision, do not force them to do this.