Content Warning: This article covers rape and the feelings of shame and guilt that can come of these. Please read at your own discretion.
There is an unique charm to the back alleys of East London tourists will never know or understand. For a moment it feels like time has stopped, and the buzz of the city quiets down to a murmur just a few minutes away from the main tube station. Sheeva lives in one of these streets in a building with no lift and barred doors.
A few years ago, Sheeva would have introduced herself as a confident young woman, who loved her friends. As many others, she spent the first few months of university forging new friendships and getting to know the city around her. As many women, also, she was raped.
We have already spoken about rape in this blog, but I must reassert my point that rape is not sex. Rape is not a misunderstanding, and least of all is it the woman’s duty to prevent it. Rape is rape. In the past years we have seen an increasing trend in American universities to take a stand against this systematic epidemic found everywhere. I have gone to university in two countries, and I have to say that as far as I can tell, it isn’t a geographical social pandemic, it is global.
Sheeva had gone out at night with some friends when they met a group of French boys. One dead phone and an unworkable debit card later, Sheeva found herself crashing at one of the boys’ flat. The sofa she had been promised was non-existent, and she had no option but to share the bed. The boy then proceeded to rape Sheeva in an ordeal that lasted all night long.
“On my way home I had difficulty walking because I was in so much pain, and I thought I was bleeding. I knew something very wrong had taken place, even though I couldn’t for the life of me understand what.”
In the immediate aftermath, Sheeva was prompted by her friend to call a Crisis center.
“Have you showered?” they asked her.
She tells me that in that moment she only wanted to cleanse herself and rid her skin of the night before. Regardless, she was thoroughly examined, and a file was opened in her name with all evidence available.
As we relive the painful process of moving on and regaining her life, Sheeva stays strong and serene. This is the best word that describes her. Serene. After the night of her rape, she went to therapy provided by different public services, including the rape crisis center and her university, until she found her current therapist in Islington. Now she is exploring how she relates to the event, and tells me of how it has only been recently, about 4 years after the night, that she has come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t her fault.
If she went back in time, she would tell herself that things will eventually be OK.
“Make life easier for yourself and call mum and dad already!”
Feminism quickly became a source of relief and safety. Seeking a community that would support her, the movement was key in helping Sheeva understand her situation. Back in the day, she was told by some that she should have been able to prevent it. After all, she was a young girl in the big city. Did she not understand that men were men?
“I was [afraid of men] for a really, really long time. Slowly I figured out it hadn’t been my fault.”
Feminism tells us that assuming men are inherently more sexual and more violent than women is as harming for males as for females. It burdens women (cis and trans) that their protection is their own responsibility, and if it is violated, it is only because they didn’t take enough care. Let’s make it clear: rape is the rapist’s fault. We shouldn’t have to say this. I shouldn’t have to scream it and Sheeva shouldn’t have to defend herself.
Sexual abuse, rape, and coercion are acts of violence. As simple as that. Calling rape and sexual abuse a misunderstanding basically silences the victim’s experience, and it undermines the depth of the aftermath.
Recovery is a concept that is often seen as a journey with an end point. We go to therapy and we work to move past trauma, but rarely do we admit the truth: recovery is not forgetting the incident happen, it is not leaving in the past, but a way of understanding it and being able to live a fulfilling life. It is a way of not letting it define you. Recovering from any type of abuse is a task of epic proportions that will take a toll on anyone. It is not impossible, and in fact many victims go on to live happy and fulfilling lives with successful careers.
I asked Sheeva what she would say to teenagers everywhere:
“You should live your best life. If that means one night stands, or not dating anyone, to be careful or carefree […] If something bad is gonna happen, it’s gonna happen. Enjoy your life, people might surprise you. It won’t be the end. Don’t lock yourself in a room for the fear of it happening to you.”
Sheeva went on to become the Women’s Officer at City University London, and is now looking to graduate in a MSc in War and Psychiatry from King’s College London. She hopes to work as a trauma therapist in the future. You can click here to hear more about her story.