This piece contains references to rape and sexual assault.
I was raped by one of my best friends.
It taught me a lot about rape. In some of my worst moments, shaking with rage and anguish, I looked for hotlines; support groups. Although I could never actually bring myself to contact anyone, I learned a lot. In the UK, approximately 11 adults are raped every hour. 1 in 5 women aged 16–59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. Like me, around 90% of victims know their attacker.
At the theatre where I work, we staged a production that featured a violent rape scene. They toyed with adding a warning on the website and in the pre-show email, but in the end, decided they’d wait and see if people complained. Lots of women did. I read their emails and, at my desk, from far away, felt a blaze of anger but also of fierce solidarity. I was connecting with their stories in a way they’d never intended and it made me feel stronger – less alone.
I also learnt a lot about friendship. How can someone you’ve spent formative university years with – living with, going out with, travelling with, sharing secrets with – see you as nothing more than a place to put their dick when you’re out of it and they feel like getting laid? Why does sex overwhelmingly trump friendship?
My best female friend from university was also there that night. She saw me drink to excess. She saw me get into bed and fall asleep. She saw him get into bed with me, and heard him tell her to leave the room. She believed him when he told her he would wake me up. She left.
I don’t know if he woke me up or not – I can’t remember. It’s not hazy – it’s a complete blank. I’ve strained and strained to find a flicker of detail, but it’s utter darkness. So I’ll never know if he managed to ‘wake’ me. I hate that it makes a difference to her.
What do you do if your best friend defines rape differently to you? I’ve spoken to her about how it made me feel. About how my flesh crawls at the thought of him. About how that night was the first time I’d drunk alcohol since being prescribed much stronger antidepressants than the ones I’d been on before. About how I can’t contemplate ever being in the same room as him again.
The last time she came down to stay with me, I hadn’t seen her in months. I’d missed her so much. She texted a few days before she arrived saying she was going to meet up with him while she was down and she ‘assumed I didn’t want to come?’. I crumbled inside, but said it was fine. While she was with him, I went to a different party. On my way home, I had to walk past the pub where they were having a drink. I texted her and told her I was outside – we’d agreed to meet so we could walk back to my house together. She didn’t look at her phone. I looked through the window and saw two people who used to be my best friends having a drink together; laughing. I stared in and sobbed and sobbed.
I want to ask her to choose. I want to ask her to never speak to him again – to cut him off forever. I tell myself I’m waiting for her to realise it for herself. But if I’m being honest, it’s because I’m too afraid of who she’ll choose. If your best friend picks your rapist over you, where does that leave you?
The hardest lessons I’ve learned from all of this have been about myself. I have always been a sworn feminist, taking the hardest line possible on sexual abuse. If any of my friends had told me my story, I would have urged them to report it. So why did I feel so small and ashamed when it happened to me?
I hate lad culture. I hate men who boast about their sexual conquests. I hate men who make sexist jokes, who reduce sex to its basest form, and revel in the sense that it somehow degrades women. So why have I spent five years being friends with a man who typifies all of these traits to the highest degree? He had a child by a woman he had only spent one night with, and wrote a letter to the mother saying he wanted nothing to do with his baby girl. He deleted the mother from Facebook so he wouldn’t have to see the any photos of his daughter. He pays absolutely nothing in child support. I knew all this, and I still associated with him. I was silent through all of his words and actions that made me cringe, because when I tried to speak up, I was mocked and shut down by him – but worse, by female friends as well. I put up with it all through a pathetic desire to fit in, and a dread of being alone. In some of my worst moments, I feel as though I deserve what happened.
I’ve always been a bit of an outsider. I’m an only child, and making friends has never been easy for me. I was always getting heartbroken by best friends in the playground and in more profound ways as I got older. The hardest thing I’ve ever been through was losing a best friend when I was fifteen. Almost all of my lessons in heartbreak and loss have come through broken friendships. But I never thought that a friend would value me so little that they’d use me the way that he did.
Friends are precious to me, and so I’ve always tried to be a good one. I find it hard to make the first move when it comes to making friends, but once it happens I’m loyal and loving and supportive. I like to think my friendship is precious, but I threw it away on someone who wasn’t just unworthy of it – he disregarded it in the most violent way possible. If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s discernment when it comes to choosing friends. I’ve learned the hardest way possible – but at least I’ve learned.