A young rape survivor shares her experience of dealing with the trauma of sexual violence
One of the most prevailing myths about sexual violence, such as rape and sexual assault, is that the people who commit such crimes are the very embodiment of evil. We imagine these perpetrators to be sick and twisted individuals, silently sharpening their claws in glee in preparation for their next target. These monsters, we are told, lurk in the shadows and are not ‘normal’ people like you and me.
According to a parliamentary reply to the Batu Kawan Member of Parliament (MP) in 2015, there were 37,263 rape cases reported between 2000 and 2015. Over half of these cases involved minors between the ages of 13 to 15, and 4,739 cases were instances of incest-rape. Going by numbers alone, that is a lot of monsters to contend with.
While women are constantly told to ‘protect’ themselves by avoiding situations like being alone in a dark alley, or being cautious about strangers on the street, the reality for many is that their rapists are known to them. They may be family members, friends, or otherwise seemingly upstanding citizens. This was the case for 24-year-old Jackie*, who was raped by someone she thought was one of her best friends.
“When I was raped, I was 20-years-old and didn’t even think to call it rape,” says Jackie. “I thought rapists were like, evil monsters, not regular people you could meet every day. So when a regular guy forced himself on me, I was in shock. I didn’t believe that it was rape, even though I said no.”
“I trusted him”
Jackie’s story begins in an economics class during her college days. There, she met a talkative and witty boy named John*, who she soon became friends with. “He was the life of the party, and I met a lot of people because of him,” she recalls. “All our friends loved him, because he was smart and a really good friend. Like, he would always be there for you if you had a problem, or would cheer you up if you were feeling down. I had a massive crush on him, so I was really excited when he asked me out one day.”
What followed was a series of fun and harmless dates; going to the movies, walks in the park, visiting art exhibitions, or just having dinners together. “He told me that he wasn’t looking for anything serious,” says Jackie. “I was a bit hurt when he said that, but I realised that I just enjoyed spending time with him. Besides, I thought I was too young to be in a serious relationship anyway, so I was happy to just hang out with him.”
Describing herself as a “pretty serious student”, Jackie was not particularly sociable, preferring to spend her time at the library rather than going to parties. After the end of a particularly stressful examination period however, she wanted to go out and do something fun. “One of our classmates was throwing a party to celebrate the end of the schooling year, and John asked me to go with him. I agreed, because I wanted to finally experience that side of college life as well,” she says.
She adds that being from a fairly conservative family, she was not used to drinking alcohol or going to clubs. “I didn’t find that sort of lifestyle interesting anyway, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out,” she says. “This party was the first time I had more than one drink, and I felt safe doing that because I was with my friends. I trusted John to look after me as well if things got too wild for me.”
A few drinks in, Jackie remembers feeling tipsy and her head getting heavy. “My friends saw that I wasn’t feeling well, so they stopped giving me any more drinks. The girl hosting the party took me to her room, so I could lie down and get some rest. After making sure I was okay, she left me with a bottle of water and went back to the party,” she says.
Lying in bed half-awake, Jackie says she heard the door open again and saw John walk in. “He said he was worried about me, and sat down beside me,” she says. “He started talking about how he found me very attractive, and I said I liked him too. Then he kissed me, but I didn’t feel comfortable so I made him stop. He stopped for a while, but then tried again, this time going further.”
She experienced a common reaction to fear: freezing up. “He kept saying it was okay because we liked each other, and I was saying ‘no’ over and over again,” she says. “I remember it hurt, and he had his hand on my mouth. After he was done, he just smiled at me and left. I just laid there and cried the rest of the night.”
The next day, Jackie was wrecked with guilt and confusion. “I didn’t want to tell anyone because I felt like it was my fault,” she says. “I thought it was my fault for drinking, for telling him that I liked him, for not fighting back hard enough. And he was such a nice guy, he couldn’t possibly have hurt me on purpose.”
Feeling alone in her grief, she withdrew into herself. She lost her appetite, and couldn’t concentrate on her studies. “I lost a lot of weight in just a few weeks, and my hair was starting to fall out,” says Jackie. “My grades started slipping, and I would get nightmares of that night so I wasn’t sleeping properly. I avoided going out with my friends when John was around, but I had to see him in my classes. What’s worst is that in front of him, I kept a straight face because he acted like nothing was wrong.”
Eventually, one of Jackie’s friends, the host of that fateful party, managed to cajole her into opening up. “She dragged me out for lunch, and it all just came out. I told her everything, and she was shocked. For a while, I felt like a weight was lifted, just being able to tell someone,” she says.
That relief was unfortunately short-lived, as word of the incident spread through her circle of friends. “When John found out, he cornered me after class and forced me to talk to him. He asked me why I was ‘spreading rumours’, and I just snapped. I was so mad that I was shouting at him. He just said that I should forgive him and ‘not hold on to grudges’. I just walked away from him,” she says.
Soon, Jackie found herself being attacked by some of her friends. “They told me I was being vindictive, and that John had just made a small mistake,” she says. “That I should have said something earlier if it was really that bad. They were angry with me for making it sound like he was a monster, when he such a nice guy. It was like my worst nightmare come true; that people wouldn’t believe me, and that it was all my fault.”
A few of Jackie’s friends still stood by her side, and helped her cope with the ensuing damage. At no point throughout this ordeal however, did anyone advise her to report the incident, or seek professional help. “Now I just think we were all young and naive, and didn’t think that it was serious enough to go to the police or anything,” she says. “By this point, the rumours against me got worse, with people saying I was a ‘slut’ trying to ruin John’s life because he didn’t want to be my boyfriend. I just wanted to keep a low-profile and not draw more attention to myself; I was hoping that it would all just magically go away.”
Part of keeping a low profile meant changing her demeanour entirely. “I changed the way I dressed; only baggy t-shirts and jeans, nothing ‘attractive’,” explains Jackie. “I didn’t go out much, just school and back home. I kept most people at a distance, and didn’t want anyone to get too close to me. Even now, my parents have no idea this happened – I think they might kill him if they found out. Most of the time, I just felt hollow inside. Like, I wasn’t a full person.”
It was only after graduation that Jackie found herself in therapy. “I volunteered at a charity event, and a local women’s group had a booth there. After talking to them, I realised that what happened to me was traumatic, and that it was rape. It all suddenly made sense, and after thinking about it, I decided to go for counselling,” she says.
It is still early days yet, but Jackie feels like she is on the road to recovery. “It still haunts me, and I still don’t drink because of that night. I still hate him for what he did, but I’m glad I don’t have to ever see him again. I do feel guilty for not reporting him, because what if he does this to someone else? Right now though, I’m trying to focus on myself, and being a better person,” she says.