Real Stories

Safe Space

There are times I feel like I am living two separate lives, and I don’t know where to put my attention. Fourteen years after I was *sexually assaulted/raped, I will go to court and potentially come face-to-face with the man who broke my spirit and changed me in every way. I currently live in New Zealand, but the assault happened in the UK.

Due to the time difference, they are still deciding whether I give evidence from New Zealand or if it would be best to give evidence in the UK. Honestly, I don’t know what I would prefer. New Zealand would offer me the comfort of a screen, but that means bringing that part of my life to where I now live.

I could also use a screen in the UK, but I’ve decided If I have to go to the UK, I will sit in the courtroom and face him. Hours of therapy, time in the ocean, meditation has taught me I am not the one who has anything to be ashamed of. Although, for years without realising it, I wrapped the shame of his actions around myself like protective armour. Nothing could get through; I was safe from ever being hurt again. Over time its weight became too heavy as it dragged me further away from everyone I loved. For ten years I kept myself moving. Always working, always out with friends, always too busy to think. Love was getting nowhere near me, as deep down, I didn’t feel like I deserved to be loved. A long-held belief, that the assault cemented into my soul. After all, if I deserved to be loved, it would never have happened to me.

I became unhappy in London. Always searching for something to make me happy. I could be surrounded by friends, and on the outside, I was smiling and laughing, but inside I was numb. I caught myself at times stepping out of my body and observing my own life. I’d watch this crowd of people and know that I didn’t belong. But I had no idea where I did belong. Years later my therapist told me, that my superpower, was my ability to dissociate from what happened.

Eventually, I ran to the other side of the world and hoped that it would fix me. And in a way it did, but not in the way I expected. I arrived on the shores of New Zealand in late 2016, and I had another three and a bit years of keeping myself too busy to think. Although, something changed. I started to tell a few people what had happened. I’d always say I was OK, but an uncomfortable feeling would settle in the pit of my stomach. But I pushed it away. Until 2020 came along. Thank you, Covid. We had a strict lockdown in March & April of that year. My industry was stood down. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t surf, I couldn’t see my friends.

For the first time in a very long time, I was alone with my mind and as hard as I tried, for the first time I couldn’t shut it down. That’s when the nightmares began. I’d wake up in my flat, but I wasn’t in my Auckland flat, I was in my London flat, in my old bed looking directly at him. My body weighed down by the emotions and memories that I’d trapped inside it. I had nowhere to go, no one to run to. My subconscious wanted me to feel it. I did not. It won. Those following days and weeks remained dark as the night in question continued to play on a loop in my mind. When I’d cried enough over that event, it would remind me of other moments in my teenage years. Each time I would see their face and re-live the event, shrouded with blame and shame. They wrapped themselves around me and held tight, ensuring no light could break their hold over me.

I used to be able to stare into space and switch off. I would take myself to a safe space where nothing existed and disconnect from all memories and emotions. I tried to do that, but my mind refused to let me switch off the pain. I wasn’t strong enough to get through it on my own. For the first time I asked for help and contacted a therapist. He worked with me for months and helped me to open up and see that it wasn’t my shame. There were days I wanted to run. To slam the door behind me and lock away everything I didn’t want to face in that room. Yet I never did. I sat with it all even when I was sure it would break me.

After months, I realised I couldn’t keep this to myself. I couldn’t keep hiding what happened to me if I ever wanted to move through it. I already had a blog, but I’d never written anything quite so vulnerable before. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was pressing submit on that post. My body tensed whenever a notification pinged on my phone. I was expecting judgment, blame, and disbelief. Yet, I was inundated with love, support and kindness. Many others shared their story with me. Stories that some had never shared. I thought that would be the end. That sharing would make me feel free.

Only it didn’t. Six months later It didn’t feel like it was over. When I spoke to a friend, he told me to go to the police. My body shivered in fear. I’m a woman, we all know what that means if it goes to court. Then he said the magic words. “What if he does it to someone else?” It wasn’t long after that conversation that I lodged a report with the Met police in London. In October 2021, I sat down in an Auckland police station and for five hours I relived that night over and over again. In February 2022 It was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service to see if there was enough evidence to press charges against him. In August 2023, I was informed that they would be pressing charges. In November 2023 he pleaded not guilty. In July 2024, fourteen years after the event, four years after the nightmares began and three years after pressing charges, I will get a chance to end this chapter of my life.

There is a part of me that wants to sit in that courtroom and face him. I want him to look into my eyes and see the impact that his choices have had on me. I want him to watch as his lawyer tries to rip me to shreds, to change the story in his favour. As he and I both know, every word I have said is true. The following hours and days after he did what he did are hazy at best. My mind has blocked them from me, probably for good reason. So, another part of me fears what memories and feelings will be awakened by facing him.

I’m trying to live my life, make the most of the New Zealand summer and enjoy myself. Yet this case is always just a thought away. I’m not sure where I want my life to be after it’s over. Or what I want it to look like. There is not a day that goes by without the pending court case entering my periphery. As hard as this year may be. I’m one of the lucky ones. My case got to court, I have the opportunity to stand up for myself and tell people what happened. So many of these cases don’t. There are even more that are never reported for fear of not being believed, for the shame of believing what happened was somehow their fault. Because society tells us we won’t be believed, society tells us that it is our fault.

I was raised in a society that told me and every other female that if anything happened it was because of something we did. Two very common sayings fill me with rage. The first one being “Well she was asking for it.” This is a saying that is uttered by all genders. Let me re-iterate no woman is ever asking for it. EVER! It is never about what we wear, what we say, what we don’t say, what we do, or what we don’t do. Yet, time and time again, we hear that saying. Or other comments that have the same implication, “Well she was drinking”, “Did you see what she was wearing”, “What was she thinking”, “I would never go there alone.”, “She shouldn’t have been there.” “She probably just regrets it.”

On the flip side, we hear “boys will be boys.” Which automatically takes away any responsibility from them. The implication is that they have no control over what they do. Girls are often told in schools that they can’t wear certain clothes because the boys can’t concentrate. The boys aren’t taught to concentrate, but the girls are taught that the boys’ responses are their responsibility. After all, boys will be boys. That saying is offensive to men. It implies that they have no control over their urges. Which is not true. I know so many incredible men, that would never dream of doing to any woman what was done to me. However, many will because they were raised in a society that told them there is an excuse for their behaviour if needed. It’s not their fault, after all, they have urges that they can’t control, and women wouldn’t act in a certain way or wear certain things if they didn’t want it.

The #metoo movement was amazing. It empowered so many women, myself included to come forward. There are still many women who don’t feel they can because of the comments and beliefs above. People will say most of those things in passing, without meaning harm. Yet maybe they’ll say it in front of someone who’s gone through something or worse still, will go through something. Those comments will reinforce the belief that they are to blame and ensure they don’t tell that person what happened to them. As the last thing anyone who has been through any sexual assault wants, is for someone they love to blame them, as much as they blame themselves.

These dialogues have to stop. As a society we’re getting better, men and women alike are becoming more aware of consent and what it means. We have a long way to go. There is a part of me that wants to fight. I want to be in the middle of it all and ensure that my nieces never have to go through what I have been through and am yet to go through. I want them to know I am their space if they ever need it. I am anyone’s safe space if they need it.

*The term applied to what happened to me depends on the country you live in. In the US it would be rape. In the UK, where it happened it is assault by penetration.

by EstieC

For the past ten years I have had a blog, which I don't update often, only on the big moments. I share very openly and honestly about the good and the bad. I talk about my own sexual assault journey, depression and how the ocean has helped me find myself and my femininity. Writing has always been a part of my life, but now I'm ready to make it a more prominent part.


More From Real Stories

Embracing Resilience!

by Benedria Smith

Dear Postpartum Body

by Tijana McAllister

My Disability Story

by Charis Gambon