Editors note: Before you read further, please note that this piece includes explicit examples of sexual violence. Mind yourself if you choose to read further.
When I first started college, I witnessed a lot of sexual violence in nightclubs. I also experienced it firsthand myself. Men I usually knew to be friendly and approachable during the day seemed to turn into totally different people at night. I’ve been pushed up against a wall and almost forced to kiss someone.
I’ve had a guy come up to me, greet me saying he knows a friend of mine and then follow me around for the night, asking me several times if I want him to walk me home. But the worst experience I had was when I entered a really toxic relationship with my first boyfriend.
Sexual violence in my relationship
My ex-boyfriend was initially very kind and caring towards me. after a while, things took a turn for the worst. I was often pressured into doing sexual acts I didn’t want to do so he wouldn’t “have to get someone else to meet his needs”. He would get mad at me if I didn’t do as he asked, and would often threaten me as a result.
My ex would tell me that he was protecting me from worse guys out in the world because I am “so naive and wouldn’t be able to tell when a guy just wanted me for sex”. He said that because he “loved” me, I should stay with him. He said that because we were in a relationship, there’s no way he could force me to have sex. No explanation was good enough, and even if I was upset about something and crying he still wanted sex as soon as possible.
Nobody intervened, because nobody knew it was happening. I was embarrassed to talk to anyone about what I was going through because I didn’t want to bother anyone with my problems. I was being gaslighted and I ended up believing that it was all my fault and that I wasn’t giving enough.
Gaslighting is a type of manipulation in abusive relationships where the person is made to question their judgment of reality. For example, telling someone the problem is all in their head when it’s not. This is what I experienced.
Looking back, I now recognise this behaviour as sexual violence and coercive control. I know that I would have been better off if I had been able to confide in someone. My family were worried whenever I visited them once a month. I used to visit them every weekend but slowly was only allowed back home for a weekend every month because he objected to them. I would insist I was fine, even though I would cry myself to sleep every night.
What I now realise about my relationship looking back
I needed a different perspective, I needed someone else to tell me that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. That it wasn’t my fault and that it was wrong. Someone could have intervened if I had known this, or if I had spoken to someone.
This relationship really took its toll on me and heavily impacted my mental health. I felt really stressed out and upset and when I left that relationship, the emotional scars were still there.
Dating after experiencing sexual violence
I stayed single for a while and tried hard to work on improving my mental health, I wanted to feel less like an object or a servant and more like a person. I moved back in with my parents to keep working on myself.
When I started dating my current boyfriend I wanted to wait a long time before doing anything intimate with him and he understood. I was really shocked at how understanding and caring he was, which of course is how any partner of yours should treat you. I know that now.
What you can do to help those experiencing sexual violence
I think young people in Ireland need to know that just because you are in a relationship with someone doesn’t mean you can’t say no to anything you don’t want to do. Consent must be given for everything by everyone involved, including sex, whether you’re in a relationship or not.
Not always obvious
Don’t be embarrassed to talk about what you’re going through. Sexual violence isn’t always as obvious as you might think, it can be very subtle and hard to notice at first. So many people have experienced some form of it. It is and never will be your fault for what you’ve been through, regardless of whether someone will try to convince you otherwise. No matter what you’ve been through, you never deserve to be victim-blamed, you deserve to be happy and treated well.
Reporting sexual violence
If you are someone who sees sexual violence, please report it. Someone who is in a dangerous relationship may need someone to reach out to them and let them know there are supports in place they can use. There are too many instances of abuse that haven’t been challenged because of our culture to stay out of other people’s business.
Sexual violence is traumatising and can take years to recover from. You could be the person who steps in and helps someone to make a change for the better in their life. It can be as simple as offering them a shoulder to cry on, contacts for support services, or reporting the incident to the guards. You can help break the cycle.
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