I was sixteen. On holidays with my parents in a country I couldn’t understand the language of. My best friend, I’ll call him Eddy, came with us. We got permission to attend a rock festival in the area. Eddy was tall and a bit older, so even though I was a tiny struggling yet innocent teen, I felt quite safe. Today, 36 years later, I still remember what I was wearing that day. Because at some point I had to grab my pants, my shoes and my dignity, so I could run.
In the crowd, a guy grabbed my wrist. He tried to make me drink beer, smoke pot. I didn’t really understand. It felt weird. Slowly, he dragged me away from Eddy. I yelled. The crowd danced to ‘I only want to be with you’ (I still can’t stand that song) and all I could feel was anxiety. Eddy looked at me sternly, like he was blaming me for making out with a stranger and leaving him on his own. My attempts for eye contact were vain, Eddy stood there like a salt pillar in a raincoat.
At the end of the festival, everybody left the stadium to catch the last train. Among a satisfied crowd of postpunk youngsters, there I was, held in an iron grip by a muscular guy, and followed by ice cold Eddy. We caught the train full of sleeping people and sat near the door. And then, right before the doors closed, that guy firmed his grip and pulled me out. I yelled: “Help! Help!” and started to run after the train, hoping Eddy or someone would pull the emergency break. In the dark I ran on the railway tracks until my throat was burning and my knees were shaking. “Can I trust you?!” I yelled pathetically as he grabbed me by the bracelet of my wristwatch. I was convinced me life was over. “Black sex on the beach” was about all the English he knew. Not a soul around. Not a house, not a street, not a car. And no more train. Just desolate dark alleys leading to a cold beach. He tried to drag me to an abandoned fishermen’s cabin. I yelled: “Nooo!” but nobody could hear me. Then he pulled me onto black rocks near the beach. He kept trying to rape me until he could no more. Somehow I found the strength to keep kicking. That was gutsy, because with one move he could have smashed my head against the rocks. All of a sudden, the sun got up and in a far distance I saw real people appear for their morning jogging. As soon as I was able to distinguish their silhouettes, I found enough rage to free myself, grab my navy blue elastic Kickers and put my other leg back in my blue cotton pants. I ran to the shore to get closer to inoffensive sporty people, dip my hands in the ocean and splash some salty water on my face.
As soon as I got back to the camping place, I hurried to the shower. I needed not only to clean myself, but also to retrieve my body, to own it. Then I locked myself in my little tent and screamed under the burning morning sun.
Sure, it was good to go to the Police and find that guy in the registers of Portugal’s criminals, and to read that indeed he was a notorious paedophile and rapist who also did drugs. It was also fine with me to find that letter from the Justice Department saying they caught him.
And yet, despite my young age and the scandalously violent situation, I never felt supported. Police interrogatories, going through portraits of rapists for hours and police ordered gynaecological check-ups are not what one would call sweet consolation. In my family, one person gave a lot of attention to that guy – catching him was top priority – but never really looked at me. Another person made clear I was the wrong one: I shouldn’t go out at night, it’s normal this (kidnapping, rape) happens. Later, another adult from my childhood suggested it had all just been a lie (why would a kid make this up?) I was the victim being blamed and called a liar, oh, and by the way, being a woman was dangerous and if something goes wrong it’s because you were there… those were but a few of the messages I received, along with the fear that this guy could come find me as soon as he’d be released from jail. How could I even think of healing from my my fear of getting killed, the dirt, the guilt and shame, the abandonment, the broken integrity..?
And you know what? As an adult, what I feel as most painful is that back in those years, no-one simply hugged me for having gone through this. Nobody said it was NOT MY FAULT, and that I was (going to be) fine. Not until today, thirty six years later. Not until a while ago, when a small gesture of male person suddenly slashed open the wound I had ignored and that had not gotten any better with time. It all poured out on the day that person playfully grabbed my wrist and I found myself yelling: “Don’t you ever do that again, that’s horrible what you just did!” I felt dizzy all over again and I wished nobody would ever touch me again.
Finally today I am getting those hugs, and the words I needed to hear for so long, and more: “You are brave. You have gone through something so tough and yet you managed to become a happy person. You have won a big battle. Many people would not have lived at all! I have a lot of respect for you. I love you. And if ever I see that guy, I’ll kill him. You are safe now.” And he cried with me. And kept holding me and didn’t let go. And loved me even more. And I am learning everything about love.
It’s true, it is not totally sure that technically there was rape with penetration, ejaculation and all that technical sh*t. Rest assured about this: there was a total of 10-12 hours of sexual intimidation and assault (which, perpetrated on an under-aged, is considered rape), kidnapping, aggression, violence, and absolute power over my person (please understand rape is not about sex but about POWER). And that, dear friends and family, is something NOBODY can do to a sixteen year old girl with baggy trousers, Kickers and a sloppy sweatshirt. Or high heels and a little dress. Or a freaking bikini for goodness sake.
From Wikipedia on ‘rape culture’: behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by some forms of sexual violence, or some combination of these. The notion of rape culture has been used to describe and explain behavior within social groups, including prison rape, and in conflict areas where war rape is used as psychological warfare. Entire societies have been alleged to be rape cultures.Evidence suggests that rape culture is correlated with other social factors and behaviors. Rape myths, victim blaming, and trivialization of rape have been found to be positively correlated with racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, classism, religious intolerance, and other forms of discrimination.