Words by Emily Fuller
As a survivor of sexual assault, I am constantly reminded that the palpable grief of my trauma is always going to be fixed into the fabric of my life to varying degrees. There are times where I have to move through the dense stickiness of it maybe not constantly, but definitely unexpectedly, through the triggers and reminders and familiarities of it all. This sense of tumultuous grief revisited me recently, when you messaged me. Your name lit my screen up in a darkened room and put bile in my throat. I struggled to unlock my phone as my hands shook so much. It had been three years. Three years since you took what you thought was okay for you to take. Three years since I had heard from you, trying to shift the discomfort and culpability you felt, which we both knew that you felt. Three years. So why now? What was it you wanted to achieve in contacting me? After reading through your words once, twice, three times – it clicked. It was accountability you told me you wanted, but it was absolution you needed. I have agonised for a long time, you said. You assured me, affirmative consent is my top priority in any romantic encounter. I am sorry for the mistakes I made and for the traumatic impact they had on you. What you didn’t say was I am sorry for raping you. I am sorry that because of my actions, your life will never be the same as you struggle to find a new normal after what I did to you.
Upon reading and stewing over your words, I battled with the internal conflict that whipped me violently between anger, distress and confusion. Initially, there was something compelling me to feel relief, and yet it was consumed by the anger and discomfort I felt compounding inside of me. I felt guilt for the infuriation that coursed through me, the heat of it agitating me so intensely that my only resolve was to cry until I was emptied out. I did not know what the protocol was for victims finding forgiveness and resolution with their aggressors. I told myself that maybe I should feel grateful that you had learnt from your mistakes, that I should sleep better at night knowing that no other women would experience the pain and trauma that I did at the hands of you. I recalled how I craved this affirmation in the early period of grief as I thought that this would be the only way I could seek acceptance about what had happened. I thought that at least it was me, someone who had a fiercely supportive network of loved ones, a workplace that sympathised and gave me the time I needed, and people who listened with kind eyes and unshakeable, careful attention. In the aftermath of the assault, I turned this thought over and over and over. It was a way for me to collect the little shards of my previous self that had obliterated and scattered everywhere in my wake – pieces that I would pick up and slot back into place as I sought a manifestation of myself that felt more whole each time I affirmed myself of this.
That is why my response of renewed indignation and dissonance to your words was met with utter confusion. I recalled the feeling of solace I had previously found in hoping that you would know better than to ever repeat an act of such visceral violence, but now the idea of finding comfort in this made my skin feel caked with grime and filth. I couldn’t bear to sit with the discomfort that your message brought – your words of reassurance made you feel cleansed whilst they left me defiled all over again. It is all well and good you thought that this violent moment we shared had presented itself as a turning point for you to educate yourself about the importance of consensual sex, but I was the token of sacrifice for you to learn this. In the last few years you have spent redeeming, I have had to spend them rebuilding. You have been afforded the opportunity to experience the wondrous nature of healthy and enthusiastic sexual relationships, and yet I still flinch when my partner touches me in ways that transport me back to being in that room with you. For a choice that you made, it has had utterly devastating and polarising consequences for the both of us, though my choice in the matter still remains absent.
Let it be known that it should not take for someone to sexually assault another person for them to learn how to practice safe consent in all their future sexual encounters. It is not my job to teach you how not to rape women, and this is not your narrative where you can write an ending of resolution that rids you of guilt just because you’ve educated yourself and learnt from this experience. I am not here to serve as your learning curve, and I am most certainly not your tool for redemption. The notion that it is a woman’s responsibility to contribute to a man’s growth is completely defunct in a world where we are fighting to recognise the singular and holistic identities of women – and this is no exception. I am a person who seeks to move forward in a world that grounds me in fresh morning coffee, golden hour glow and small acts of kindness. I have learnt that I have a purpose in the world that is even more colossal than the one you have tried to inflict on me as your victim – so do not credit me with being the one to inspire your change. Positive sex education is something that is not optional when you need it for its convenience, but rather it is a crucial obligation that bears an onus on you if you wish to conduct any sexual relationships whatsoever. Most fundamentally, assault survivors are not supporting roles in the narratives of rape and sexual trauma where perpetrators like you can grow and go on to live better lives due to the mistakes that have informed them, whilst their victims are erased into background picking up the pieces of themselves that have been broken. As survivors, we are the storytellers – and so I urge you to sit down and listen as we tell our stories.
Art by Reem – @reemillustrates