TW rape – strong and frequent references throughout
I woke up from the party on the floor. The man was gone. My tights were ripped, my underwear pulled down. Bruises on my inner thighs. My whole body felt numb. I could feel pain but I couldn’t tell where it came from. There was blood from a cut on my foot, blood on my leg. More bruises. Just a random collection of injuries that didn’t feel like they belonged to me.
First, the rape destroyed my relationship. My partner was endlessly understanding but our relationship was still new. There’s only so many times that attempts at physical intimacy can end with me hiding in the bathroom, shouting “I’m fine!” through the door, while frozen or crying on the floor. I ended it with him within a few weeks.
Next, it destroyed my job. I worked on the university campus where my rapist was still a student. His presence began to feel ominous. He was always just coming or just going, everywhere. It came to a head when I spotted him on the way back from my break at work and I spent 45 minutes frozen in a stairwell, unable to get myself back to the office. When I got back I tried to come up with a decent excuse why my 15 minute break had lasted an hour. I was a mess. They told me I should go home. Embarrassed, I had to explain I was too scared to leave the office and walk through the building alone. A colleague walked me down to the front of the building and I never went back after that day.
Then I made the mistake of telling mental health services. This wasn’t my first experience of sexual violence, but it was the first time I’d ever disclosed it to a mental health professional. First, on the phone to my care coordinator, then some weeks later, to a psychiatrist. By the time I got to the psychiatrist I had lost almost everything. It was traumatic to even talk about what had happened and the ensuing wreckage on my life. I didn’t want to. But I explained, as best I could, what had happened and how it was affecting my mental health
The psychiatrist never used the word rape, preferring the euphemism ‘incident’, or if he was feeling brave, ‘assault’. He ignored me when I spoke about flashbacks and being stuck frozen in place for hours. How I couldn’t leave the house because of terror and hypervigilance. How I’d had to quit my job. He barely looked at me.
Instead, he diagnosed me with ‘Adjustment Disorder’. The ICD-10 describes Adjustment Disorder as “Maladaptive reactions to identifiable psychosocial stressors occurring within a short time after onset of the stressor”. Importantly, it distinguishes itself from PTSD because symptoms “are in excess of a normal and expected reaction to the stressor” and the stressor is “not of an unusual or catastrophic type”. Getting raped at a party is apparently so normalised that it’s considered neither unusual nor catastrophic. Rape is now something we must ‘adjust’ to – like the stress of moving house or changing job. Like you chose it. Like I asked for it?
At the end, he casually suggested I should find myself a boyfriend – I was ‘young’ and it’d ‘help’, apparently. I didn’t tell him about the relationship I’d just lost. I just stared at him in shocked silence. My care coordinator had accompanied me to this appointment for ‘support’ so I turned to her, expecting something – anything – but she just sat silently, looking uncomfortable. After the appointment I asked her why she didn’t say anything. She laughed it off, ‘well you never know maybe a boyfriend WOULD help, ha ha ha’.
The final injury was the psychologist. Some months before, she had recommended my discharge from mental health services. This was put on hold after the rape and it’s subsequent destruction on my life. She heavily implied that I was lying about the rape in order to stay in mental health services and strongly recommended I be discharged anyway. What kind of person does she think I am that I’d lie about something like this? And why would the constant belittling, abuse and blame that they call ‘care’, be something I’d want?
If I could do it all over, I wouldn’t disclose. I would have swallowed it down and let it fester with every other devastating thing that’s happened to me. I am under no illusion that this would be mentally healthy for me, just pure self-preservation. I’ve learnt that the initial trauma is unavoidable but the secondary trauma – my experience of ‘care’ from mental health services – is entirely avoidable. Yet it’s been as life altering as the rape itself.
We don’t disclose because we will be blamed.
We don’t disclose because we will be belittled.
We don’t disclose because we will be laughed at.
We don’t disclose because we know we won’t be believed.