"And I would say what I've learned is that we have to behave as if everything we do matters because every once in awhile, it does. And also, if you're in a situation in which you might have more power than the people around you, be sure to listen as much as you talk. And if you have less power, be sure to talk as much as you listen, which can be just as difficult if you're accustomed to hiding. Just balancing listening and talking is the first step to a much bigger democracy."
- GLORIA STEINEM
Today I decided to report a crime. It was the first time I've ever reported a crime and to be honest I had no idea what to do or how to do it. I called Victim Care and they advised me to call the police and/or women's aid for additional support.
So what was the crime? Well that is the problem, it took me 3 months to even register to myself that it was a crime. I kept calling it a disrespectful situation or just some arse hole. Used phrases like "took advantage" and "selfish" - I belittled the incident to myself until I woke up to the fact what happened was not ok.
3 months ago I was dating a man and we had sex for the first time. Prior to having sex I had told him about my past history or assault and abuse, discussed boundaries and stated that as I was not on birth control we had to use a condom. We got back to my house and enjoyed consensual sex - or so I thought. After sex I noticed the condom on the floor and asked why it was there. He said he took it off. WHEN? I screamed. "A little while ago. It's not like you were complaining?" I didn't know! I said, why didn't you tell me. "What? I didn't cum inside you don't worry" that's not the point I insisted "look it's fine, it was tight so I took it off. It's not a big deal" - we went round and round for a while, he clearly did not get why I was upset and in the end I was convinced that it wasn't a big deal.
Then my period was late. Then I went to the doctors when I found a blister/lump and suddenly it all became a very big deal very quickly. I wasn't pregnant and thankfully the lump was an ingrown hair but the seriousness of the incident suddenly catapulted back into my brain.
I KNEW I had said we had to wear a condom. I had consented to sex BUT protected sex NOT unprotected sex.
By definition, it was not consensual and therefor a crime. I knew I wanted to talk about consent and boundaries in my campaigning for women's rights and suddenly I realized that I needed to see what it was like to report a crime.
The process itself was transparent and easy, the experience decidedly awful. I kept feeling like this wasn't a real crime, that there were way more serious crimes happening. I found myself apologizing and saying "I don't want to waste anyone's time. I just..." the officer on the phone was so supportive and reassuring telling me that what happened wasn't ok and they were taking the incident very seriously. They would make it a priority to see me as soon as they could and thanked me for reporting it.
"Someone consents to vaginal, anal or oral penetration only of s/he agrees by choice....consent to sexual activity may be given... with conditions such as
WEARING A CONDOM."
When I worried that they would contact the man in question they assured me they wouldn't without my permission and they were a 'victim led' force. This made me feel better as it felt like it suddenly escalated really quickly. I had rung for advice and suddenly I was reporting a crime and an officer was on his way to my house!
When I got off the phone I felt really shaking and overwhelmed. Although this was a minor incident in relation to things that have happened in my past it was the first time I felt able to report it. I started to cry, partly because it was all very overwhelming and partly just feeling like I was finally able to let go and feel like I could do something. I had a voice, I was being taken seriously.
It was really hard calling the police, I felt really nervous, I even felt guilty and judged myself. When I was asked how long I had been seeing him I said a week (which was true) and immediately heard my own demons calling me easy and a slut and well what do you expect if you just jump into bed with these people. I started to blame myself - you should have done this or that. Not sure what I think I could or should have done in this incident but I was convinced it was somehow my fault. Thankfully the police were having none of that and continued to reassure me that this was a crime.
When the police officer arrived at my house he was kind and courteous. I was slightly surprised that he was, well a he. I thought that this would warrant a female officer so I asked if female officers get assigned to these cases. I felt comfortable with being interviewed by a male but wondered if other people didn't. He said that yes they could be requested but it may take longer and usually they tried to get someone out as soon as possible regardless of gender. He asked if I was ok to proceed or should he call for a female officer. I said I was happy to proceed as was (which I genuinely was).
He explained the process to me, that he would be recording the statement as well as taking notes, he would then confirm my statement back to me and ask me to sign it. I started to cry, feeling overwhelmed by the whole process. I explained I had been assaulted before and never felt able to do anything about it and now I was and it was a little overwhelming. He asked if I need some time or if we should just proceed. I said I wanted to continue.
We then we sat down. He turned on his camera - pointing upwards so it only caught the ceiling and my audio and went through my statement with me. Afterwards he explained that he would log it as a crime, text me a crime number and pass it on to the PPU who would be in touch to discuss what, if anything, I wanted doing about it. He was reassuring, told me I had done the right thing and though they strongly recommend completion - pressing charges - he also said it was up to me to decide what was right for me and my mental health.
The police officer said he had a son and discusses consent and respect often but worried that others don't and schools are lacking. I feel empowered for having reported it but honestly, I don't know if I will take things further. I felt listened to, believed and respected. I also had both officers on the phone and in person saying that it was wrong, disrespectful and not consensual.
My experience with the police was extremely positive but I've heard of so many stories that aren't. I can't imagine how traumatic reporting rape and sexual assault must be right after the incident or what it must be like if officers are not trained, empathetic or aware of issues surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence.
So why am I telling you all of this? This month I am discussing boundaries, consent and respect. As a survivor these are issues that I deal with daily. One thing I have noticed is we often talk about consent after an incident, and quite rightly, most often refer to when serious incidents such as rape or domestic abuse are reported but there are so many "little" ways in which consent is ignored, boundaries are crossed and respect and perceived entitlement are brushed aside as not a big deal. These micro-agressions, sexist behaviors and coercive behaviours - which in some cultures would be prosecuted as rape- need more attention.
We need to teach consent, respect and healthy boundaries. I will be telling my story and those like it on every stage, platform and in front of every audience I can until I see some real changes in the systemic misogyny, sexism and horrendously lacking sex and relationship education in this country and further afield.
I'm 31, I'm exhausted and finally I've found my voice. I will not be silenced again.
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