It ended as it began: with his hands wrapped round my throat. I never thought he would hurt me, and when he let his hands touch my neck the very first night in my bedroom, I dismissed this as a normal sexual expression. Our friendship group in college thrived off us getting together, initiating adventures, and bringing more people together. We became known as the power couple and the same person. “Where’s your shadow today?” my friends would say.
As we grew more and more intertwined, the more I went to do my own thing, the more he resented it. When I brought a new friend over it was treated with suspicion and a half-hearted hello. When I went away on my own, or was presented with new opportunities it “wasn’t fair” because I was having fun on my own, and I would be told that I was turning into a new person, enjoying different music and experiences, and apparently that mean there was something wrong with me and that “I wasn’t myself”. Every so often I was reminded that we wouldn’t be anything without each other, for myself apparently because I had shamed myself in the past and that I had been easy with my body but been “rescued” in a way I didn’t appreciate. I never told anyone because coming from someone I trusted so much, apparently this was what it meant to be fully loved.
The more trapped and intense things felt, the more I felt I slipped into a double life that I couldn’t keep to myself. He would choke me to know more, and knock me out when I answered back, leaving me winded and gasping. I though I owed it to let him hurt me. “Who else could love me? he reminded me”. I dropped these things in on conversations with our friends, who practically focused instead on my having upset him and primarily how this affected him, so that when I brought them up again they claimed they never remembered me saying these things. Barley anyone knew about me also harming myself. He forced himself on me and found more and more ways to physically degrade me and hate fuck me whilst convincing everyone else we were cool. When I tried to call friends for help I would be told by him that it was unfair to make our friends think badly of him, and my phone was kept from me.
At the end of the relationship I was told I still owed him sex, and I was choked again, while he screamed at me that I was all take. I thought I was going to die. I somehow struggled away. I felt there was no escape and when I finally told my Mum the police were involved immediately. Yet I still felt guilt about even going to the police, and insisted I didn’t want to press charges, because I thought this would make me an unkind person, and that I stilled owed it to him. I thought that people I trusted knowing what he had done and the reality of the situation being taken into police hands would be enough.
Instead, after receiving support in my first couple of days of being in shock, friends told me there were “two sides of a story”, that they were “staying neutral” and that they “didn’t get why I stayed in the first place”. The situation was “hard for both of us” and what happened was “only bad on paper” given friends related more to a tough family life, rather than being sexually assaulted and feeling your own life at risk, not that anyone asked me about my family life. If I were to express how degraded and scared I was about him being welcomed back into the same social environment with open arms I was told I was being difficult, blunt and unappreciative of what had already been done for me just by keeping him away from me instead of calling the police. We were “treated equally” in social situations, even though friends knew this really meant I couldn’t make myself stay. No one could emphasize that being nice was not the same thing as being kind. Few people came to speak to me, as if trauma was a disease that could be caught, instead choosing to ask him what had happened, giving him the benefit of the doubt as he continued somehow to play it cool, and at times vulnerable – a feeling the shock took me to long to process and externalize – making people doubt me even more. As time went on, I no longer felt part of my old group of peers, as more and more friends told me they no longer felt comfortable around me anymore, or that they couldn’t believe I had told the whole truth, betraying someone I loved like that. Even if other people had their own problems to deal with, keeping life ticking over the same as before was clearly prioritized, even if this made me feel disposable.
Only when I accepted that I had to fully detach myself, and spent time with those who are willing to stick up for me, have I come to realize that although it takes two for an unhealthy relationship to develop, in no way was how I was treated and the response I received fair, normal or deserved. I wish what I experienced wasn’t so hauntingly comparable to other people’s stories of abuse. Why is it simply seen as looking after one’s mental health when boys 100% look out for each other whatever they have done, when women feel it is taking sides to do the same? Why is the benefit of the doubt and the way men always seem to get away with treating women when they know no one is looking, and the fear of the social isolation that so often happens to women when they do speak out, so unrecognized as male privilege in this day and age? One day I might recover from the trauma. But what scares me most is the prevalent attitude among close-knit communities that enables men to think that physically degrading another human being in a way they wouldn’t do to someone of the same sex is not a big deal, that it can be forgiven in a short space of time, and how nothing is done to prevent it from happening again to someone else in the future.