By Rosie Hodsdon (Guest blogpost)
Over the Easter holidays, I caught up with an older work colleague of mine over a coffee. Now, Starbucks may not be the typical place you’d imagine as a setting for a discussion about sexual assault, but our conversation somehow navigated in that direction, and it emerged soon that both of us had experienced incidents of sexual assault.
However, there was a second commonality between our two stories: both of us had been sexually assaulted by another woman.
In my case, I was eighteen years old. I had been in Durham for less than two weeks. She asked me out for drinks. I accepted. I believed I spent the night drinking orange juice and lemonade. We talked and enjoyed ourselves. And then, at a particular point, my memories become fragmented. I woke up the next morning in an unfamiliar house, not knowing where I was or how I had gotten there.
Later, they started to come back to me. I remember her boyfriend, but not his name. I remember being forced into acts I did not want to participate in. I remember using my safeword, and I remember both of them continuing. I remember drinking the only wine I’ve ever liked the taste of while I was crying afterwards.
The next day, she texted me to ask if I was okay. I never replied.
When my colleague and I each discuss our own stories, it is not what we experienced that surprises people. People are not shocked by the fact that we were both forced to engage in sex acts against our will, or that we were intentionally incapacitated (both of us believe our drinks to have been spiked in our respective incidents), or even, in my case, the follow up from it; drinking wine and morning-after texts, as if this were any other normal, consensual sexual experience. What surprises them the most is that these acts were perpetrated, at least in part, by a woman.
The discourse that surrounds assault is often very much focused within a heterosexual and patriarchal power dynamic. Men are the perpetrators, and women are the victims. In doing this, the stories of those who do not fit within this particular frame are ignored, toned down, considered “less serious” than those which fit the assumed dynamic for most assault incidents.
It is worth questioning the assumptions that underpin the reasons behind why it is so much more shocking to have been assaulted by a woman. Is it because a person is perceiving women as weaker, incapable of violence themselves and instead are only on the receiving end? Is it because of the patriarchal power dynamic applied to sexual assault, in which men are the perpetrators and women are the victims; a theme often seen within even survivors networks, which serves to invalidate the experiences of those whose personal stories do not fit this cookie-cutter standard? The commonality of experience does not serve to encompass all, and in focusing solely on that one particular experience, it excludes all those who stories do not comply with that particular model.
Sexual assault is serious. This is not changed by the genders of those involved in an individual case. Whatever gender the perpetrator identifies as and whatever gender the victim identifies as does not affect the validity of the impact it has on a person. The underlying assumptions that permeate sexual assault discourse need to be reconsidered if the movement is to advocate for all those affected .
If what you encountered does not fit within the standard, prominent model that surrounds sexual assault, it does not lessen your experience. My story is just as valid as the next persons, and the next, and the next, regardless of the circumstances that surround it.