Rape seems to be the hardest word

The myth prevails of women “crying rape,” in truth, we struggle even to whisper it.

Photo by Luke Ellis-Craven on Unsplash

When it comes to time travel, there is one thing that most books and films agree on: it’s never good for future you to meet past you. It’s a recipe for disaster, or a quick route to insanity.

I understand why, but in real life, it’s hard to avoid these collisions with past or future versions of yourself. You meet someone who reminds you of yourself, of a time of your life, and it’s not a comfortable feeling — somewhere between nostalgia and helplessness.

It happened to me yesterday night. I’m in Northern Thailand at the moment, staying in a party hostel. To give you an idea of the place I’m staying at, let me just say that the wifi password is “party naked” and that pretty much sums up the vibe.

Members of staff do the rounds at 7 pm with a bottle of vodka which they pour into guests mouths — and usually down their fronts- yelling out “FREE SHOTS! FREE SHOTS!” and then for the next few hours, dozens of travellers from all over the Western world play games that ultimately lead to nudity and liver damage. At some point, I popped outside for some air, and met her.

She was sitting on a bench outside. She gives me a shy smile and I sit down beside her. Immaculately dressed in a sheer black top and long burgundy pencil skirt, which make her look slender as a waif, tiny, with a mesmerising beauty suspended between child and adult — which was exactly what she was. “I’m on my gap year,” she said. “Just turned 18 last month.”

We had the conventional traveller chit-chat: where are you from / how long have you been travelling / where are you going next …. then we get to chatting about the hostel and the first thing she says to me is that she went to the pub crawl the day before, and woke up with a stranger, a local guy, in a different part of town. “I was really scared, I don’t know what happened,” she said. She had left the first bar earlier than the other hostel people, she was drunk and decided to walk home. She remembers chatting to him. She woke up in his bed.

“I hope nothing happened,” she said, a little tearfully. “He seemed really sweet. I think we only kissed. I mean I hope so.”

“I’m so sorry that happened to you. How do you feel?”

“I feel ok… I mean, he was really sweet. I’m sure he didn’t do anything. I don’t think he was the type of guy to take advantage.”

I don’t know what to tell her. That a guy who thinks it is ok to take home an incapacitated woman he met on the streets — a foreign girl, who doesn’t know the city well, and who is alone — seems like exactly the sort of person who would take advantage of her.

“He was very sweet,” she says again. How we find excuses to forgive the unforgivable. It’s the only way to survive, I guess.

He’s got a bit of a temper… but usually, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. I was wearing a pretty short skirt … and maybe my no wasn’t clear enough. He was drunk. It was a mistake. It’s not his fault. He was never taught to deal with his emotions. He’s under a lot of stress.

How often I’ve heard excuses for bad men. How often I’ve made them.

I’m at a loss for what to say, to this girl who both is me and isn’t.

I want her to know that I know that what happened was not OK. I want her to know that she isn’t being silly and that she is allowed to be shocked and scared.

I want her to know that, if he did have sex with her that night, there is a word for it. A word neither of us dare say.

Of course, it might not have happened. She’ll never know. But it might have happened, and recognising that seems so very important.

But how do you tell someone they were raped? It’s brutal and cruel and destructive.

No, wait. The rape is brutal and cruel and destructive. It’s not like by not naming it, she won’t feel violated. Quite the opposite — if you don’t have a word for something, you have no way of externalising it, it stays in you and slowly festers.

Still, I don’t say it — the word that could break her, the word that could free her.

Instead, I tell her my own story, past crashing into future, her life and mine.

I was twenty, sweet and shy just like her. A little bit tipsy, dancing in a bar, and a cute guy with a pretentious hat offered me a drink and I took it, and he must have slipped something inside it while I looked away for my friends, because after that I hardly remember anything — him pulling me out of the bar and into a taxi, his cock in my mouth in a park, waking up the next day scared shitless with him in bed next to me, my skirt unzipped and underwear pushed aside.

And as I tell it, I don’t say the word either. It is such a terribly hard word to say. I say I think I got roofied, I say it was a bad night, I say the guy’s student dorm smelt of cum and sweat and stale smoke. I say that horrible things happen to women, and that the world really sucks. Even after all these years I can’t say the word, and it hangs in the air between us, we both know what we are talking about, but just like I don’t name her possible rape, she doesn’t name mine.

It’s funny and not the haha kind that the myth pervails of “crying rape”, even though survivors struggle to even whisper the word rape yet alone shout it.

“I’m so sorry that happened to you,” she says.

“Yeah, same here.”

“Well, I guess in a way it’s a good thing. At least I’ve learnt to be more careful,” she says.

I want to tell her to take care and I want nothing more to happen to her, I want to be protective, but no, no, no, fuck that, fuck all of that.

I want to tell her to stay wild to keep living to get drunk to get lost in new cities to make mistakes.

I want to tell her the things I needed to hear as I stumbled out of that guy’s dirty apartment and tried to comprehend what had happened to me.

“Fuck being careful, let’s just be ourselves,” I tell her. “We’ll watch out for each other.” We hook arms, enter the bar, order another drink. In the end, that is all you can do.

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