Anna, 19

Here’s a collection of incidents that have stayed with me over the past few years. The first few are more serious, shaping the way I form relationships and react to intimacy. The last two are just moments when I felt dismissed, and the last one likely a common shared experience for many femme-folk when on a night out.

I’m 16, at boarding school:
I have a bit of a crush. He’s my first kiss, of the times I think mean something anyway. He’s handsome, smart. We’re watching a movie, when he pushes the laptop away and climbs on top of me. I’m uncomfortable, I ask to leave his room, but I never directly say no. Condescendingly, he asks “you’re not a virgin, are you?” Without waiting for a reply, he says “trust me, I’m older, this is how it works.” I don’t say anything, because my body just freezes.

Later I’ll be told that it’s not just fight or flight, apparently freezing is an evolutionary survival mechanism too. Just stay still for it to be over quickly, maybe it’ll hurt less.

It still hurts, excrutiatingly. I feel like I’m floating above my head, hearing the thump thump thump of my head hitting the wall.

After, he walks me to my room and kisses me good night. I desperately want him to leave. When he does, I sit on the bathroom floor, crying. I’m bleeding and bruised, but nowhere people would see. I sit under the hot shower for a long while, wash my hair three times, scrubbing my skin red to get the smell off.

That cycle, my period is late. Retrospectively, probably from the stress. I am sure it’s my fault. How could I be that irresponsible? When my period comes, I am so grateful. I shut it from your mind and don’t talk to anyone about it for eight more months.

Four months later, drunk, I have sex with him, just to prove to myself that’s what the first time was, just sex. Anything more is just my imagination.
Although I was stone cold sober that night, for nearly a year I drink too much.

I’m 17, at a party:
I’m having a few drinks with friends. He’s there, but not really a friend. He keeps putting his hands on my body, I keep moving them away. It’s innocent, I think, he’s young and he just doesn’t get it. This is still in the eight-month timeframe, I haven’t admitted anything to myself or anyone else.

The 8 people in the room all leave individually, for a smoke, more booze, weed. Only he is left. He tries to climb on top of me, kissing me forcibly. I am almost paralytically drunk. Luckily the rest come back before things escalate.

The next time I’m at a party with him, he pushes a shisha towards me, and the coal burns my wrist. It was an accident I convince myself. He was drunk. But I’ll always have a scar.

A year later I hear he’s raped a girl. Things escalate, don’t they?

I’m 18, at a club:
I’m out with a society from university. The club is crowded, and I can feel the anxiety building up, not being in control of your personal space, which happens sometimes due to my earlier experiences.

It turns into a full-blown panic attack, and I end up crying in a corner. One of the people I was there with comes to check up on me. I don’t know him, and I don’t really want to talk about it, so I try to convince him I’m fine.

The next time I see him, some months later, he makes fun of me for being too drunk to function. That’s what he thinks happened anyway. I don’t blame him, but stop going to the society.

I’m 19, at a club:
This encounter is not special or different, but it stayed with me. I’ve never met him before, there’s no connection. I’m getting drinks from the bar for my friends, when he pushes himself against me from behind, hard. I can feel his erection through my dress. I’m physically stuck between him and the bar, and I can feel my heart racing, my body freezing over.

It’s a busy night, and none of the bartenders or bystanders pay any attention. My mind blurs. It feels hard to breathe, both because of the panic and how hard he’s pushing. Not sure how, but I slip away, tears running down my face. My friend sees me and just reads my mind, taking me out for fresh air.

Somehow he follows me around all night. I’ve almost forgotten about him, when walks up to me, waiting for an über with a girl. Luckily she has a cold head and a sharp tongue on her because I freeze completely. He wants me to go home with him, perhaps the both of us, very persistently. She shuts him down, laughing. I end up in her bed instead that night.

Positive end-notes:
My assault at 16 (I still struggle finding the correct terms for it) pushed me to help develop my school’s sexual harassment policy, which was previously nonexistent.
After over a year I reported it, for my own closure, and was taken very seriously.