I was 20. At a party in Dorset in May. It’s our end of summer term and we’re all drunk and in high spirits. About 20 public school boys and girls (apart from me) in total. At my best friend’s boyfriend’s parents’ country pile. This house is beautiful, with vast bedrooms and lawns and lakes.
It’s the early hours of the morning when several of the boys come dripping into the kitchen where we’re gathered. Through my drunken haze I gather that they’ve been swimming in the lake, and see them coming wet towards me. They pick me up, turn me on my side, and cart me off out of the door as I cry out and implore them to put me down. They’re guffawing about throwing me in the lake; it’s pitch dark, and I’m not a good swimmer. Please don’t, please, I cry. Terrified, panicking, I claw at the door frames as they sweep me away and get splinters under my nails. But I can’t stop
them and they carry me across the lawn laughing and throw me in that freezing black lake.
As I crawl up the muddy bank I am suddenly furious and scream at them. I recall them looking surprised. I drag myself dripping across the lawn back to the big house and go straight to bed after a hot bath poured by my best friend.
A few hours later I wake up to find one of the boys in my bed with his fingers in my vagina. I start sobbing and a friend hears me and comes over and gets me out of the bed. She asks if he’s done something to me and I just say no.
When I relayed this tale to my therapist, fifteen years later, he asked me if I thought this sort of thing was common. I have no idea. Is it?
Given the usual university high jinks when you’re too young to know better, I expect similar things are common. But are they? Or is that just my warped expectation of the world and how men behave? Perhaps what matters now is whether or not I now believe this sort of thing is common, as that affects my interpretation.
Importantly, I’d thought I was to blame for this incident. I had previously – some months before – kissed the boy who molested me after my lake dunking. And I didn’t say anything, shout or push him off me or stand up for myself in any way; I just cried and passively waited to be rescued.
Reflecting back all these years later I see my part and I also see theirs. I did not put myself at risk, it wasn’t an inherently dangerous situation – what those boys did was pure abuse. I was physically carted off and thrown in a lake by four boys much stronger than me, against my will. Then, I was sound asleep when that guy chose to cop his feel of my deepest insides. There was no way I could have consented.
What I could have done, however, was react differently to his molestation – I could
have objected, or simply got out of the bed. But I didn’t, I lay there and let him do it. I also could have told someone the truth about what he did. But I didn’t; I stayed silent. It wasn’t my fault he did it, but I probably could have rescued myself at the time, and I certainly could have asserted my rights afterwards.
Like all scary or painful things in life, I find it helps to reflect on what part I played. Not to berate or blame myself but to discover what I could have done to better protect myself – and which aspects really were out of my control.
I’ve explored in therapy slowly, over several years, both my tendency to be passive with men and to be obliging; things I learnt to do as a scared child to please an angry father and carried the habit with me into adult life. I was always too frightened to make a stand against my dad, or to voice when he hurt or scared me, which he did, often. I was a child; I don’t blame myself of course.
But it’s interesting that it took me fifteen years, writing it all down and exploring my experiences in therapy to be able to see how in some ways that tendency hadn’t left me, even as I became an adult. Now I see it, it has.
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