It took me 10 years to understand I'd been raped - we need to talk about consent

One CommonSpace reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, shares her story following Michelle Thomson MP's revelation in the House of Commons that she'd been raped in her teens

SHAME, self-reproach and detachment are all feelings I recognise from MP Michelle Thomson in my own rape story.

Revulsion too, that someone had taken my choice and my dignity away from me, leaving me a lesser person than I was before, as I saw it.

But there are some key differences which make my story less worthy of the House of Commons. They are points that I suspect many raped men and women will use to convince themselves to stay quiet.

I knew something had happened I hadn’t consented to, outdoors while the sun was setting on a summer evening. I remember very specific, graphic details. I remember wanting to confide in the friends I was with.

I wasn’t a child, I wasn’t near home and I wasn’t completely sober – the latter was what I felt discredited my story the most. I wasn’t even completely alone – my friends stood chatting, laughing and drinking less than 20 feet away.

It took me almost 10 years to realise I had been raped as an 18-year-old. Much like Ms Thomson, I had blocked the event out to an extent, though not in the way she describes.

I knew something had happened I hadn’t consented to, outdoors while the sun was setting on a summer evening. I remember very specific, graphic details. I remember wanting to confide in the friends I was with.

But I also remember sensing that no one would want to hear my side of the story, so I didn’t report it. I arrived at this conclusion after watching my rapist laugh at me with his own friends while he unashamedly recounted the story first, acutely aware and yet blissfully ignorant of what he had done.

The absence of listening ears is something else I recognised in Ms Thomson’s brave declaration, as she stood in a near-empty house.

Like so many other women, this is possibly why I didn’t immediately call my own experience rape. Like so many other women, I knew my attacker.

But I also remember sensing that no one would want to hear my side of the story, so I didn’t report it. I arrived at this conclusion after watching my rapist laugh at me with his own friends while he unashamedly recounted the story first.

And yet the concept rapist can be such an alien idea for people who have never experienced it. Convicted rapists are "SICK SEX BEASTS" if you’re reading The Sun. They don’t apply to you.

But I would argue that rapists are often frighteningly recognisable. I would argue you probably know one yourself.

Here is a little about mine.

He is Scottish.

He was educated.

These details are crucial because they remind me my rapist is a person – not a faceless predator who lurks in dark alleys, although that may be the case for many.

He was incredibly popular and always seemed to be surrounded by a crowd of people.

He liked karaoke.

He was loud, funny and attractive.

At over six foot tall, he was muscular from playing rugby, but not stocky.

His other interests included travel, football and his pet dog.

He was close with his family and spoke fondly of his mother.

He is a thinking, feeling human being, and his absolute ordinariness is what makes his crime all the more disturbing.

Before the age of 20, he had had sex with several people – the exact number remains to be seen – but he was renowned for not being particularly skilled at it.

He delivered back-handed compliments with ease. How is it POSSIBLE that you’re single?

He was open about wanting to have sex with me, and on the night he raped me, he repeatedly asked me to go to a secluded place - with a cheeky smile.

After he was refused several times, he postulated that his interest in me was my fault and therefore my responsibility.

After the fact, he seemed unaware that he had done anything wrong. Worryingly, he seemed to think it was normal. He later pursued another girl and took her home that night.

He was from a middle class family and worked full-time.

He possibly didn’t think rapist applied to him, just as I didn’t think rape applied to me. It took nearly 10 years for me to set that noun and verb in order.

He supported Britain remaining part of the European Union.

He is currently engaged.

These details are crucial because they remind me my rapist is a person – not a faceless predator who lurks in dark alleys, although that may be the case for many.

He is a thinking, feeling human being, and his absolute ordinariness is what makes his crime all the more disturbing.

Make no mistake, he was a normal guy.

What we should be making an effort to normalise is a nationwide discussion on the meaning of consent.

He possibly didn’t think rapist applied to him, just as I didn’t think rape applied to me. It took nearly 10 years for me to set that noun and verb in order.

Like Ms Thomson I feel horror at the implications for all people who face sexual abuse and violence on a regular basis – what it will do to their sense of self, how they will communicate love, what they might normalise for their children.

What we should be making an effort to normalise is a nationwide discussion on the meaning of consent.

Consent is something given freely, not under extortion. It cannot be given by someone under the age of 16 in the UK. You cannot give consent while you are asleep, uncertain or intoxicated to the point you cannot stand.

Once your consent is given, you are entitled to take it away at any time. If you give your consent once, you are not obliged to give it again. When there is no consent, it’s not non-consensual sex. It’s not sex at all, it’s rape. Consent is yours, and is not open to interpretation by anyone else.

When there is no consent, it’s not non-consensual sex. It’s not sex at all, it’s rape. Consent is yours, and is not open to interpretation by anyone else.

I was conscious, of sound mind, of legal age. I didn’t give my consent because I didn’t want to.

Rapes happen because of the rapist. If those words don’t mean anything to you, I would urge you to think about consent instead.

If you know that yours wasn’t duly given – at any stage in your life – I would further urge you to talk to someone, be it a friend, your GP or on the Rape Crisis helpline.

Picture courtesy of Valeri Pizhanski

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.