“And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”
These words are not mine, but written in an open letter from the woman who was raped by Brock Allen Turner in January 2015. She was found unconscious on the ground of his University, behind a dumpster, with her dress pulled down over her shoulders to expose her breasts and pulled up to her waist, her knickers lying on the ground next to her, her necklace wrapped around her neck and hair full of debris from the ground. Meanwhile, two men on bicycles were chasing after Turner – the men had seen Turner thrusting over an unconscious body and when they went up to stop him, he ran off. The woman was taken to hospital, where she woke up without knowing what had happened to her. She was told she was the victim of a sexual crime, but no further details. About a week later she found out what had happened to her, through a newspaper article she happened to read.
She wrote an open letter to Turner to tell her story about how her life became a living nightmare after he raped her. How she relived the trauma from being raped, could not sleep at night, unable to keep up with work and withdrew from social life, and her trauma was amplified by his denial to the crime and the prolonged court cases she and her family had to go through. Her letter to the man who raped her, ended with her wish to be a lighthouse for other girls out there who need light and to know they are not alone, she fought for her justice and she fought for their justice. The letter really deeply touched my heart. Reading her story of that night when she had not planned to go out, but in the last minute went along with her sister to a university party to have a laugh and dance some silly dancing. Wearing her cardigan, like a grandmother as her sister teased her about.. She had too many drinks too quickly and the night became a blur and she cannot remember what happened until she woke up in the hospital surrounded by nurses and doctors who helped her cam out the debris from her hair. As well as taking pictures and examined her vagina and anus. To drink too much in a party easily happens, it has happened to most people in their lives, it is not a crime, that’s for sure!
Her story makes my stomach crunch since it demonstrates how thin the line is between fun and nightmare. Reading her words give me shivers thinking about how easily it could happened to anymore – me or you!
I read her letter for the first time when it published last year in June. It took about 48 hours for her story to fully sink into me, before I realized.. In the midst of a yoga session, suddenly surfaced memories from the past and they HIT ME like a strike of lighting – and I quite literally fell out of the pose I was in! Hang on..! What about, what about That night, that I have tried so hard to forget about..? Stored away in my unconsciousness with big letters of warning DO NOT OPEN – DO NOT GO NEAR!! HIGHLY CLASSIFIED SENSITIVE MEMORIES!! Suddenly I realised on that yoga mat; her story is mine. I was raped that night. The feeling I have had was suddenly confirmed. Sex without consent is a crime. Having sex with an unconscious person is a crime, it‘s spelled rape. I did not know that at the time it happened to me, that it is a crime, but I felt it in my whole being, in my body, in my trembling soul, that I had been so deeply violated. I felt raped. But since I could not remember what had happened to me, I could not know if I had seemed up for it, so within me, I classified it like the night when I raped myself. Now I know better. Cause no one can rape them self, how would that be possible..? So that stored away nightmare I had buried, suddenly the memories resurfaced, and I could finally see it for what it truly was..
In many ways, I still count that as my blessing that I did not know, that I did not realise that a crime was committed to me. I was in the midst of completing my Masters, MSc International and European Politics at the University of Edinburgh. Like her, it was a student party in my case which went out of hand. To talk about what had happened was the last thing I wanted to do, and besides that, there were no time to think about or worry about prosecutions or police reports, that would have taken even more precious time away from my dissertation! It was so much easier to blame myself than the man who raped me. That way, by putting all the guilt on me, I could take on the burden on committing the crime to myself, swallow the pain from knowing that I had raped myself, but at least it allowed me to focus back on what seemed most important – my masters dissertation! I still regard it as a blessing that I did not know that it was a crime, even though I felt the violation in every cell of my body, cause I would not have wanted this man to steal anymore precious time and energy away from me and me focusing on my dissertation.. It was enough that I was paralyzed for about a week in my house. Unable to do anything. I could not concentrate, it was impossible to get on with my work. I felt scared to leave the house, not even for a run. I did not want to see anyone. I did not want to tell anyone about what happened. I remember that time as the week when I sat staring out the window in my flat, unable to do anything.. I was so deeply frightened by the situation, that I had lost the control to the point that I could not remember what had happened, and I was upset that I could not focus on my work. When I told my mum that I could not concentrate, without telling her the reason for it, she told me to try harder. So I did. And I came up with a list of 10 things that I was not allowed to ever do again. I decided, if I stuck to my 10 rules, it could never happen again. I repeated the rules over and over to myself. Now I can’t even remember what they were. The only one I remember was to never do shots again, which is not a bad one, but what was missing from the list was “stay away from drunk men, especially students” that would have been useful too..! Now, these rules were all about what I was not allowed to ever do again.. It was easier that way, to take all the blame, cause I do not know how I would have been able to move on otherwise from it..
The horrible night and times which followed from it, was caused by that I had gone to a party with my friends. My body was exhausted by working until 5am the night before to finish my essay. I had only a few hours sleep and in the evening I went to capoeira and then straight to the party. I remember how I felt too tired to even go to the party. My body wanted to sleep and eat, and part of me said “can we just go home instead? Please?!” but since the party was decided since a long time, I went along anyway and sipping vodka and shots kept the spirit up and made me forget about tiredness and hunger.. only to wake up the next morning without knowing how that night ended, without knowing how I got home, but even worse, without knowing who had taken me home and who had been in my house with me.. The night was a huge blackout but my body was shivering from a feeling that something had gone horribly, Horribly wrong! When I opened my eyes in the morning, it was a relief to see that I was at home in my own bed, but the release faded instantly when I realised that I was naked under my duvet – I didn’t know where my clothes were or who had taken them off! No one was in the room apart from me, but I could feel a sense of panic growing in my chest, cause I had this in-explainable feeling in my body, like a vague memory from a dream that you can’t recall, that someone had been there with me.. but I had no idea who..
That open letter.. Her story was mine. The only difference, and my blessing was that I was not found behind a dumpster, but woke up in my own bed, but like her, without knowing what had happened to me and with a feeling of panic, absolute panic running through the body which made it so hard to breath, of not knowing what had happened..and with the feeling, the knowing in my whole body that something had gone horribly horribly wrong… And my nightmare was promptly confirmed –when I stood up on shaky legs I found a small hand written note on my desk – a ridiculous message, a name and a number.. I didn’t even have time to register the name before I had shred the paper into 1000 pieces between my fingers. I turned around and saw, hanging from my photos above my bed, a used condom..! It was a miracle I did not explode from the internal pressure in that moment.. I did not know whether to feel complete panicked over that the feeling in my body had just been confirmed, someone had been there, someone must have had sex with me, or at least my body the night before, or whether to feel relieved knowing that a condom was used? Relieved is probably not the word, it really added more horror to my terrified body. I felt so deeply scared and chocked over how I could have lost the control so completely that I could not remember a thing, and so deeply violated by not knowing what had happened to me. Thus, there was also this huge feeling of incredible shame of how I could have allowed myself to lose the control and how all of this had happened. I felt horrified and so scared by not knowing if I had invited this person home or if he had invited himself over by force? My last memories of that night was kissing someone, I remember being on the dance floor, and the last memory, being outside in the dark, the world was spinning and lights were blinking and I knew I needed a taxi.. Next thing I knew I woke up in my bed, and I had this feeling, like a dark shadow from a nightmare, I just had the feeling in the body that someone had been there. Finding the note and the condom did not help my memory. I could not remember a thing. All I knew was that I had kissed a guy who stood next to one of my uni-friends, only cause he reminded me of someone. But that’s it, nothing else. All just black. Horribly, horribly black.
Thus, can you imagine, these incredible painful memories had been stored away in my body for five years, stored away to never be thought of or remembered ever again, however her letter brought them up and brought all to the forth again. Despite of having to relive the painful memories when they came over me, I will forever be grateful to her, for bringing the memories back, and for seeing them in a new light. Cause, firstly you cannot heal what does not exist, and even if my mind had sort of forgotten it (or chosen not to think about it or ever talk about it) my body had not forgotten it. The memories had been tucked away, stored in the body, but they were still there, as painful as if it all had happened to me yesterday. However, not only did they surface with all the initial pain, additionally, there was this HUGE realization! Having sex with an unconscious person, is a crime. I didn’t commit the crime to myself as I had thought! That, was earthshaking news to me..!
When the memories came back after reading her letter, they hit me so hard as if the rape had happened to me the night before! That time there was no way to escape the feelings. I was reliving the fear, the panic in the body, the feeling of anxiety and violation running through my body yet again, and this time I had to do SOMETHING to get rid of the feelings! I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, I tried running, but not even that remedy worked. After a couple of days, my responds to the memories was to write my own letter, to the former uni-friend who had stood next to the man who raped me. I still to this day have no idea who he was, what he looked like or his name, but I later found out that my uni-friend knew the man. I addressed the letter to my uni-friend, since one of the few clear memories I have from that night was of how he looked at me and I thought that somehow he knew, he knew that I was not in my right state of mind.. It was painful to write the letter since all old memories were coming back, but it was essentially very helpful to not dismiss the memories but to finally, finally verbalize it!
When the letter was done it felt like it was burning like a hot piece of coal in my hands! As if I had physically puked up this burning piece of coal from the inside, and I didn’t know what to do with it! Initially I didn’t dare to send it to the uni-friend, instead I sent it to my best friends – whom knew NOTHING about this! By passing it over to my friends I was hoping they could somehow help me to deal with it, and that it would somehow cool down so much that I could through it away and get rid of it – once and for all!! Eventually I did send the letter to my former uni-friend.. I can only but imagine that he was very surprised to receive it, but it felt important to do that. I asked him to understand that I did not do it to put guilt or shame on anyone, I just had to share the burden that had been weighting me down for so long with the only person that I thought knew what had happened that night..
Earlier this year, when I was flying out from Edinburgh, I was yet again reminded about the story. I flew the day when Denise Clair won a court case against two men, former footballer, who raped her under the same circumstances, she was too drunk to remember what had happened the night before. Reading about it in the news paper was such an amazing feeling! Her victory was also a victory for me! I admire her so deeply who took these men to the civil court, and fought for her justice. Her victory was mine, and even Denise was a lighthouse for me – her courage gave me hope and strength and yet again, confirmed what I only recently learnt – that someone committed a crime to me, I did not commit a crime to myself! Her victory confirmed the validity of my feelings of feeling used, abused and raped without remember what had happened.
Now, it has been almost a year since my memories surfaced and since the woman offered to be a lighthouse to girls out there who needs a light, and a glimmer of hope. I feel, that now it is my time to honour her and Denise Clair for their courage and strength, by me offering to do the same. I have recently received my own victory in this case – the blessing of forgiving. I can honestly say I never thought I would say this, but I feel as though I have not only forgiven the man who raped me, but more importantly, I have forgiven myself. I no longer blame myself for the circumstances that lead to all this, and it is so obvious to me that what has hurt me most over these years, is the shame and guilt that I put on myself for that it happened.
I hope that my realization that I did not commit a crime to myself be a realization for all woman who has ever been abused, and who has blamed themselves and been too ashamed to talk about it. I’m sharing my story for the sake of all women who ever have been abused or violated, and who have blamed themselves, and who has allowed the shame to keep them quiet and small. Remember, there is justice, there is forgiveness, and there is strength to be regained by daring to talk about these dark, heavy and “forbidden” subjects. Blame, shame and guilt is really what keeps us small and quiet, and which are the reasons for why we don’t dare to speak about rape – or at least so was my case. Now, I feel at peace with the situation, but I certainly didn’t a year ago. I know, I know it is not easy to forgive nor forget. Therefore, I offer you my words written today of gratitude to the women who gave me strength, and hope that my words will reach those women who needs it, and whom might find comfort in knowing that they are not alone. I have also attached a link to the letter I wrote last year. That letter is not like today full of gratitude, but written from a place of anger and pain. I offer both – since I do not want to deny how I felt a year ago and I do not want to pretend as this has always been a situation that brought me gratitude. My heart goes out for all the woman who has ever been used and abused and a reminder to you that you are not alone. I know that, cause I discovered, eventually, that I am not alone. If nothing else, I am with you! May my story be your lighthouse if you need it!
With lots of love and my deepest gratitude to Denise Clair and the “Lighthouse woman” somewhere out there – thank you for your courage and your strength! Thank you for shining your light on me when I needed it!
Sincerely, thank you!
Link to my letter to my uni-friend: