I told myself it wasn't assault, because I thought no one would understand.
Today the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald launched it's #AskConsent campaign, and September is National Consent Month in the States, so I thought it would be fitting to discuss something I haven't talked about publicly before. I suppose now is as good a time as any to warn you, that if you feel that you might be emotionally triggered by this subject to please not read any further.
Four years ago, I was sexually assaulted.
The reason I chose not to talk about this openly was because it took me a couple of years to come to terms with the fact that I had indeed been assaulted. I told myself over and over that I shouldn't kick up too much fuss, that there was grey area, and that I had put myself in that situation.
I was at a kink event, and it was my birthday. I had pre-arranged for a couple of trusted friends to make a show of giving me a birthday spanking on stage as a bit of a laugh and to entertain the crowd. Present at the event was a young man who had a reputation for drinking too much and getting rowdy at these types of events. I had only met this person once before where he made a pass at me, and I told him I wasn't interested.
My friends pulled me up on stage, and somehow the young man made his way up as well. Not wanting to cause a fuss, I didn't say anything about him being on the stage with us. After a couple of light thwacks from my friends, the young man moved forward and took their place.
I asked him "What are you doing? I don't even know you."
To which he replied "Oh come on, you know me," before putting his knee on top of me and hitting me over and over again as the crowd counted to 26. I couldn't move, and because of the stage lights, I couldn't see my friends in the audience. All I could hear was the smack of my skin and the crowd counting.
I stumbled off stage where everyone was laughing and wishing me a Happy Birthday. I was shaking and nearly crying. The only person who seemed to see that I was upset was my boyfriend at the time. We had a glass of water and left straight away, telling everyone that I was tired and wanted to go home.
And then over the next couple of years, I performed a remarkable mental trick. I pushed the incident to the furtherest reaches of my brain and told myself that what had happened wasn't sexual assault for the following reasons:
- It was a kink event, and sure everyone was spanking everyone.
- I didn't try hard enough to push him off me and I didn't scream "No" when he started hitting me.
- He wasn't having penetrative sex with me.
- No one in the crowd nor my friends onstage with me spoke up when it was happening, so maybe I'm overreacting
- I didn't go to the police or confront him afterwards. I went home, so it must not have been that big of a deal.
I was scared that if I told my non-kinky friends what had happened that they wouldn't believe me, so I made sure not to believe it myself. What happened to me four years ago didn't fit the standard assault-victim narrative - girl gets taken advantage of while she's drunk; girl gets pulled down a dark alley by a stranger; etc. - so I knew that at the very least, out of sheer curiosity, people would ask a multitude of questions about my personal life and extracurricular activities that I was not up to answering and quite frankly wasn't any of their business.
Just to be clear: how, why, and with whom I choose to have sex, or take part in sex-related activities is no one's business apart from me and the people I do those things with.
I think it is incredibly important that when we talk about sexual assault, that we make sure not to exclude sexual minorities and practices we do not understand or are a part of. In doing so, we create and contribute to a culture that accepts sexual discrimination, empowers rapists, and tells victims that they deserved what happened to them by putting themselves in that situation. The idea that someone isn't having the right type of sex or behaving the right way is the reason why 5 young men were able to walk free on a suspended sentence after murdering Declan Flynn in Fairview Park in 1982.
While sex and sexuality can be beautifully complex, and the reasons for having sex equally as nuanced and diverse, consent is a very simple, concrete concept: If the person you are having sex or doing sex-related stuff with has not explicitly and enthusiastically agreed to doing that stuff with you...don't do it! However if they have explicitly and enthusiastically agreed to sexy stuff, and you are both adults, awesome! As Missy Elliot once said: "Get yer freak on!"