I know I’m late in sharing in the #MeToo hashtag but I’ve been going back and forth about it for a week now. I caught myself debating whether my stories were “serious” enough or not, and then I realised that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really matter what other people think about your story. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you felt uncomfortable, where you felt like you wanted to get out – your story is serious enough. And, if you want to share it, it deserves to be heard. So that’s where we are now. I want to share my story. In hopes that it will maybe help someone else out, or that it might give someone else the courage to speak up about theirs. And, if I’m being completely honest, I’m also doing it for selfish reasons: I really need to get it off my chest.
I need to start off by saying that I’m usually one of those women who think “this has never happened to me before” or “this never happens to me at all” whenever someone else speaks up about being harassed by a man in some way or other. But then something happened: I was out shopping when I suddenly saw someone across the street whom I immediately recognised, and something clicked. There have been situations in which I felt intimidated by a man, in which I felt unsafe and violated. And the person I saw that day had been part of one such occasion. Just a few days after that realisation Alyssa Milano started the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter, which prompted me to – finally – start writing this blog post and share my story. Because, yes, me too.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) 15 October 2017
The very first time I became aware of how creepy an interaction with a stranger can be was years and years ago, when I was still a young girl – I had literally just started secondary school. I was walking my dog in an area that I would not normally walk her in, simply because I wanted to have a change of scenery (and thought she might like exploring a new environment, too). As I was heading back home, I was approached by a young man on his bike. He stopped me and started talking to me about my dog – which is something that happens quite often when you’re out on a walk, so I dind’t really think too much of it. But then he started saying he’d seen me around before and he thought he knew what school I went to. He tried to kind of push me to confirm (or deny), but luckily I never revealed anything that would’ve helped him stalk me. You might think that word is a bit of an exaggeration, but that is what it felt like to me at the time. I felt threatened by his questions, and very uncomfortable. It got worse when he asked me to maybe come visit him sometime and play some (video)games, and I think he even offered to accompany me home. Luckily I had my wits about me and declined, saying I had my dog with me and she would keep me safe just fine. I still live in the same town, and so does he, so I do see him around quite often when I’m out and about, and every single time I immediately feel uncomfortable and hope he doesn’t recognise me – it’s really not a pleasant feeling at all.
Another time, a few years later, I was taking the train to Antwerp to celebrate my sister’s bachelorette party. Since it was a special occasion, I was wearing a nice dress and high heels – which is something that makes me feel uncomfortable anyway because I’m not really used to it. As I was sat on the train, I was suddenly approached by a blind or at least very near-sighted man (I originally thought he was blind, but upon further reflection that seems highly unlikely given the progression of events). He sat next to me, and I didn’t really think anything of it until he suddenly asked if I was wearing high heels. Since I was so surprised and taken aback by that unexpected question, I simply answered, not expecting anything else to happen. I don’t fully recall how it happened exactly, but the bottom line is that he asked if he could touch the shoe. I have to admit that it was pity that made me decide “you know what, why not? what’s the harm?” – so I took off one of my shoes and handed it to him. As weird as that was, it definitely got a lot worse. He then admitted that he likes to feel feet, and he very much wanted to put on my shoe for me. Now, as uncomfortable as I felt, I felt too guilty to reject his request and said he could. Upon putting my shoe on, he kind of caressed my foot and I left the situation feeling very violated – even though a foot isn’t even such an intimate body part. It’s just very unsettling to be touched like that by a complete stranger. Obviously I know I could’ve or probably even should’ve said no, but I was so stunned by the whole situation, and the fact that (I thought) he was blind made me feel as though refusing would’ve made me a bad person. I know that that’s my issue, and not his fault, but he still chose to put me in that uncomfortable situation which he shouldn’t have done in the first place. Because I refuse to believe anyone in their right mind would not know that that is an inappropriate situation to put someone in. When I got off the train I still felt very scared and I rushed to meet my sister. I immediately told her and she was as creeped out as I was. Again, this is a person I still occasionally see at the train station, and every time I do I’m reminded of those events and it makes me feel uncomfortable all over again.
And then the worst thing happened. When I started my teacher training back in 2009 I obviously met a lot of new people. One of them was a guy I immediately started crushing on. Hard. We started talking and were communicating with each other pretty much every day (mostly through MSN Messenger – who remembers that?) and I felt like it was really going somewhere. I was very shy and insecure though (who am I kidding, I still am), so I didn’t believe that he could be interested in me. And then I told him that one of our friends had set me up on a date, and that date would – from sheer necessity – spend the night at my house, together with our mutual friend and her date. I guess he got jealous, and he said he wanted to be the first to spend the night at mine. We weren’t officially dating at that time, but I felt very flattered. The guy I had a crush on was worried something might happen with another guy I was going on a date with – that’s basically a declaration of love, right? For obvious reasons (hello, I was completely smitten), I agreed and he came over a few nights before the big night of the date. We had fun and things progressed to a point where we were lying in my bed completely naked. I don’t remember why, but we’d had conversations before about how I was still a virgin and waiting for the right person to come along. So, he definitely knew. He knew I wasn’t ready. And as he was on top of me, he asked me if I wanted to take the next step. You know, that one big final step. I said no. I knew I wasn’t ready for that yet, even though we’d obviously been doing other stuff and, like I said, we were both naked already. He said he understood and he wasn’t going to do anything, he just, you know, liked being on top of me and feeling my naked body. And then he casually just slipped it in. Even though I’d said no. Even though we’d had multiple conversations about how important this was for me and how I was still waiting for the right person. I didn’t stop him, that’s true. I could’ve, I think. I think I could’ve managed to push him off me. But in my mind it was too late at that point. He was already in. It had happened. I think I was kinda stunned and I just let it happen. I let him do what he wanted and that was that.
For a very long time I didn’t tell anyone. In my mind, I was silly for thinking he raped me. After all, rape is only something that happens in dark alleys where drunk strangers rip off your clothes, right? I had romantic feelings for him, so it’s impossible for him to have raped me, right? We were both already naked, so surely I wanted sex too, right? We started dating after and had sex lots of times, so that first time couldn’t have been rape, right? Wrong. Just because it happens in your own home, in your own bed, doesn’t mean it’s not rape. Just because the person raping you is someone you love, doesn’t mean it’s not rape. Just because you’ve consented to other bits, doesn’t mean you’re automatically consenting to sex. Just because you’ve consented to sex with that same person on other occassions, doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape that one time. It took me a really long time to accept all of that, and I realise that there are still a lot of people – even in my own environment – who would think that I’m exaggerating, that he did absolutely nothing wrong. Hell, even now as I’m typing this I still think that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it wasn’t rape after all. Someone’s going to come along and tell me that I’m playing the victim and have no right to.
If you’re reading through the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter, or seeing stories people are sharing on other social media platforms, and something resonates with you, you think “me too” and an event pops up in your head – just know that you’re not alone and your story matters too. And if you’ve gotten to the end of the post and are still here, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. It means a lot.