When I was 17, I was sexually assaulted by a friend.
I should say, he was kind of a friend. He was a year younger than me in high school and we had had consensual sex before. At the time of the assault, he had a girlfriend and I was seeing someone else.
It happened the night of our semiformal. I was very, very intoxicated. My friends and I had rented a hotel room so that we could stay downtown after the dance. There were a couple of parties going on at the same time: one in West Vancouver and an after party where my friends were, back at the hotel. I went to the party in West Van to meet the guy that I was dating at the time.
At around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, the party was wrapping up, and I wanted to go back downtown to sleep at the hotel with my friends. The other guy, the younger one, was there, too. He lived near the party and walked out with me as I was leaving.
I thought I was getting a cab. But he kept trying to get me to go to his house. I was like, “No, no, no. Where is the cab?”
Things are fuzzy for me at this point, but I guess because I wouldn't go to his house, we ended up at this elementary school right across the street. I told him again that I was going to call a cab. He tried to kiss me. This next part, in my brain, I've disassociated from. I remember that I was saying, “No,” and then I was underneath him, crying.
At one point, he said, “Can I just finish? I'm halfway there, you may as well just let me.”
I don’t recall exactly what I said. I just remember that I was cold. I had on a Canada Goose parka, because it was March 3 in Vancouver. I was wearing a cocktail dress and heels, and I was laying on the ground. I definitely didn’t want to be there.
After it was done, he was like, “That was messed up, let's not tell anybody.”
I think because we’d had consensual sex previously, some part of him felt justified, or, at least, I think that’s why the line was blurred for him. But he had a girlfriend, and in my mind I was like, I'm not a home wrecker. I'm not interested in you. I don't want to be here with you whatsoever. I want to go sleep at the hotel with my friends.
Thinking back on it now, I want to scream. Why couldn’t he just go home and have sex with his girlfriend? How come he felt he needed my body so badly, and so desperately, in that moment in time, that he didn’t care how I felt? It just makes no sense.
After that night, things got kind of quiet for a time. I didn't want anybody to know what had happened. I was focused on getting into school at the University of British Columbia. I didn't want this thing to take over, and to blot out everything else. I worked hard to convince myself I was fine.
He went out of his way to make it so we were “friends” again, too. And, I think, for a bit, I followed along. I was still seeing his friend, but this guy, the younger one, would almost attack me in social settings, in places where I had no escape. “How come you want to be with him?” Or, “Well, I think I'm in love with you.” He was just very manipulative, in that sense, and he continued to look for opportunities to try to hook up with me again.
It was a weird time for me. All of my friends were moving to Ontario to go away to university. I was the only one staying in Vancouver, and he was also there, because he hadn't graduated yet. It was certain situational things like that kept me connected to him for so much longer than I should have.
It wasn’t until this past summer that I started to process that what had happened was sexual assault.
I remember being taught what “rape” is. It’s such a big word. For so long, I didn’t feel that I was worthy of saying, “I was raped.” In my mind the situation with this young man wasn’t violent, or gruesome, or gross enough to be considered rape. I’d think, I knew this person first, it wasn't random. Or, He didn't leave me there bleeding—things like that.
Some of the people I confided in didn’t help to change that mindset. One former friend I tried to talk to about it told me I had to be really careful about ruining people’s names. “You can't just say that he raped you,” she told me.
I was like, excuse me? I'm not an idiot. I'm not tarnishing his name. I didn’t put his name on blast or anything, to anybody.
But really, that concerned me too, because I worried that in keeping quiet, I was allowing him to be out there, targeting someone else. I’d heard stories about him through friends of friends that concerned me, and I didn’t want anybody else to have to go through what I went through.
I think that's what most girls feel when an experience like this happens. And it’s funny, because while you’re thinking how awful it is, at the same time, you’re also gaslighting yourself, because you don't want to act like you're the victim. No one ever wants to be the victim. But the fact is, I was so drunk that night, I was not in any position to consent. And I was crying. It definitely was not enthusiastic consent.
Other friends have made things better for me. My trainer is one of them. I tell her everything—she's like a second mother figure to me. She knows about my assault, and she’s helped to make the barn this incredible place for me—somewhere I can go to have this pure love and joy for the horses, which I’ve held onto from such a young age.
I live 45 minutes away from my barn, and I ride five days a week. I always say to my friends, “I have a lot of time to sit in my car in traffic and think.”
And I’ve thought a lot about this experience. I don't want negativity to define me. This experience has created an opportunity for me to dig deeper into myself, and to find out who I really am. I’m learning to be comfortable in my skin. I look back at who I was, even a year ago, and it's like I don't recognize that person.
I think choosing to share my experience with others not only helps to get it off my chest, it lets other people know they’re not in this by themselves.
Because, the thing is, we aren’t alone. I can say that almost every single girl I know has been put in that position, in one way or another. Recently, I learned that a friend I used to ride with found herself in very similar situation while we were staying together at a horse show. I had no idea at the time. Honestly, it’s very easy, in certain sexual situations, when you’re saying no, especially when you’re younger and a guy keeps pushing you, and pushing you, to eventually find yourself giving in. For a long time I thought that was okay. It’s not. It’s forcing yourself on someone.
“No” really means “no.”