When I was fourteen I was sexually assaulted.
It was not violent. I did not say no. I was wearing Winnie the Pooh flannel pyjamas. He was much older. I knew him. I trusted him. I told someone almost immediately. I never told the police.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that. I don’t want to talk about what happened to me. I want to talk about what came after, much after. I want to talk about how I am surviving and thriving in spite of what happened.
The first part of surviving was realising that there was something wrong. That what happened to me was not only bad but something that could not be brushed aside in my mind without it spilling over into my everyday life. Realising that crying randomly is not, and should not be, a way of life. Actually coming to terms with the fact that I was affected was the first and probably biggest step to feeling better.
The next was talking to friends and finding out that I was not alone in being sexually assaulted, in it happening when I was young, was comforting. I hate knowing that such horrific things have happened to people I love but it meant that for the first time I could talk about the details, how it affected me, how I couldn’t even tell how it had affected me. It’s so strange; sexuality is such a complicated issue, influenced by so many factors, that something devastating can totally change your attitude towards sex without you even realising it. If this occurs before you reach sexual maturity then the lines can be even more blurred. Knowing that others also struggle with where they begin and the scars end helped me to heal immensely.
As much as talking and sharing my experiences helped I also had to understand when I was engaging in self-destructive behaviour. I took the notion that hearing about what others had gone through too far and began to essentially OD on triggering material. I love Project Unbreakable and think it is incredibly powerful but there was a time when I would spend hours trawling through its photos, or reading through newspaper articles about child abuse in an almost deliberate attempt to hurt myself emotionally. Taking stock of my behaviour and drawing a link to how I was feeling meant that I could take an active approach to healing and stopping myself from doing anything that would prevent this.
One of the most important factors in surviving was becoming an active feminist. I would say I was a feminist for most of my life – always choosing to do history projects on strong female leaders, going through a random suffragette obsession when I was ten – but it has only been in the last few years that I’ve engaged in online feminism and regularly read websites like The F Word, Feministe and Feministing and have learned about how what happened to me fits within a larger narrative of rape culture and patriarchy. Even just learning the words, such as triggers, helped me understand what I was going through. In many ways the online feminist community saved me from losing it. This is why I can never understand why so much emphasis put on feminism’s “in-fighting” and Twitter spats because the movement has done so much for so many people. And I don’t just mean the usual right to vote, equal pay, etc. – though clearly important – I’m talking about the thousands of girls who found a space within the community to learn and to heal and to grow stronger. This is what feminism has done for me and this is how I’ve survived.