"I had been on a few dates with a new guy I met through mutual friends. We went to the cinema together, then he walked me back to the bus station where he started to kiss me goodbye against a wall. It was nice to kiss and I responded, then he undid his trousers and wanted to go much further. I said I wasn’t ready for that but he kept going. I tried to push him away but he pinned me against the wall. I saw someone walk past so I shouted for help but they didn’t come. The next thing I knew was a sharp pain as he entered me. I think I went into shock. I went numb and had a weird out-of-body experience. I just want the memory to go away and to move on, but I’m not finding that easy. I haven’t told anyone because I don’t want it to get bigger than it already is. I don’t know what to do."
I’m so glad you have made contact as I am sorry to say it is not going to work to try to bury what has happened and ‘move on’. You have been through a very traumatic sexual experience, which is defined as rape – sex without your consent. That is a crime.
Although it will be upsetting to talk about what happened, your brain needs to process this overwhelming memory. Getting the story out will gradually help to calm it down inside. However, it only helps if you can do this in such a way that you don’t get retraumatised in the telling of it. Monitor your stress levels as you talk, and if it gets too much, take a break. Don’t get back to the point where your mind splits off from your body as happened in real time. This is called dissociation. It is a profound way of surviving at the time, but not healthy as an ongoing coping strategy.
Find someone you trust with whom you feel you can talk about it. You don’t need to get it all out at once; you can spread it over several conversations. If you don’t know who to turn to, then use our Lifecentre helplines (Tel: 0844 847 7879; text 07717 989 022; or email email@example.com) which are all staffed by Christians who have expertise in this area.
There will be a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in your area, which is a multi agency centre dedicated to supporting people who have been raped or sexually assaulted. They can help link you to specialist counselling, help you with any medical concerns, and provide you with an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor who can get alongside you to support you. They will also offer you the option of having a forensic medical examination if you go to them soon enough after the incident. Forensics last on the body for different amounts of time depending on where they are, but generally speaking, you have up to around a maximum of seven days for vaginal swabs; however, semen remains indefinitely on clothing, even sometimes after it has gone through the washing machine, though of course it is better not to wash things if we are trying to preserve evidence. You can ask the SARC to do the examination and just store your information and not pass it onto the police until you say so. Since there are no children involved, you do not have to report to the police – it is your choice. Log on to rapecrisis.org.uk.
If you did decide to report to the police, there will be other evidence they can pull together, not just your testimony – for example, CCTV footage or witnesses. Even if they cannot bring the case to court or get a guilty verdict, you will still have achieved something. You will have let him know that it is not acceptable to treat women this way; he will go through the angst of being arrested, put in a cell and questioned. You will have regained some power in this situation.
If you don’t want to go through a SARC, then find some specialised counselling. There is information on how to do this on lifecentre.uk.com. It is also important to rebuild your sense of safety physically, to allow your emotions space to heal. Get a personal alarm and/or carry a small hairspray in your handbag for self-defence – it’s not legal to carry pepper spray. And remember: it is his dirt and shame, not yours.