This essay is a true story and contains information about sexual assault which may be triggering to survivors.
Weeks later, when the detective interviewed him, he didn’t deny that he’d inserted his fingers into my vagina and wiggled them round. I thought it was consensual, he said.
Perhaps he interpreted my shocked gasp as pleasure and decided that was the sound of consent, because I
shook my head
nudged his arm away
edged further away from him
pushed his arm away
said “stop” quietly
said “stop” again, louder
looked him directly in the eyes and said “stop” loudly and clearly during the part in the movie just before Sully crash lands the plane into the Hudson
he didn’t stop
and none of that seems consensual to me.
Nor does the part where I had to forcefully yank his arm out of my vagina with both of my hands, and he resisted, pushing in further, and I pulled harder and turned my body so I was curled in my seat with my back to him, pulling my tights up and my dress down.
None of that is yes. All of it is heart-thudding: the plane thunders into the water and his fingers are back in his own lap.
Maybe he meant the part where I acquiesced to holding his hand. If I was holding his hand, he couldn’t do that flick again, that’s why I did it. That flick of my dress, lying on my knees, suddenly exposing the hemline of my tights for him to pull them down. The flick, the pull, the dry unexpected shove. Two fingers, maybe three.
He didn’t get as far as that the second or third time he tried though, only the first. Because the next few times, when he let go of my hand and began the flick, I was ready to hold my dress down. I held my dress down and stayed sitting there, because I wanted to know what happened in the movie and I didn’t want to disturb anyone by running out. It seemed important to know what happened in the movie because there was a good guy in the movie, and the small hushed battles over my dress didn’t bear thinking about. I was safest in the cinema, because there were people around. If he followed me out with that entitlement in his fingers, that strength in his arms, I wouldn’t be safe.
Initially, after we’d met a couple of times, he’d invited me to his place, said he’d cook me dinner. I’d had to cancel that future plan because of childcare and we ended up going to the movies at short notice. The reason I went to the police was partly because Gemma was so appalled by what happened that she called them, and they asked her to encourage me to go in. But mostly because if I had gone to his house I am certain it would have been much worse when I tried to say stop, and someday, another woman will go to his house and I do not want it to be worse for her.
I was nice to you, he said. As if the fine print for buying me a movie ticket and a glass of wine granted him access to the inside of my body. I just thought I was watching a movie and having a glass of wine.
I just want him to get a fright, I told the detective. I want him to know it’s not ok. He didn’t believe me that it was not ok. He said I was a horrible girl after I ignored 17 calls from him and finally sent him a message saying he needed to learn to take no for an answer. Go stand on your feminist pedestal somewhere else, he said. God girls are dicks. You made life so much more shit. And you need a shave, he said. All of this was screenshot and emailed to the detective.
If pubic hair would have put him off I would grow a mane between my legs. I would grow a dark vulvan version of Rapunzel’s locks to repel him.
I got a bit of a trim I suppose, not that he’d ever know that. It was two days later that I went to the police, and after the initial interview where I somehow managed not to cry, I ended up in a blue gown at the forensics clinic while kind, softly spoken women took clippings of my pubic hair, and scraped my vaginal wall with a stick, scraped under my fingernails with another, and put my dress and several pairs of underpants in their own individual bags. I only wear black briefs and I had chucked the pair I wore that night in the laundry basket along with others, so I couldn’t tell which I had been wearing. The forensics team took custody of my dirty laundry. I wondered if their voices were naturally that gentle and calm, or if they had cultivated that softness for their jobs. How to talk to violated women while they touched parts of their body that shouldn’t have been touched in the first place.
I thought it was consensual, he told the detective. The detective told me that he couldn’t press charges because he didn’t deny what happened, and therefore it was he-said-she-said. If he’d denied it, he would have been charged. The jury want blood under the fingernails, the detective said, and I didn’t mind because I didn’t want to testify in court in the first place, I just wanted him to be scared.
Blood under the fingernails, because his DNA scraped out of my vagina wasn’t enough. I almost asked the doctors if they could do my regular smear while they were down there, but something about being sexually assaulted and having my genitals examined by strangers – gentle as they were – didn’t seem quite the right moment for jokes.
He was scared, though, said the detective. After I turned the cameras off, I gave him the hard word. He was crying when he left.
I liked the detective. I liked all the people I dealt with at the police station and the clinic. They were respectful towards me. The support people. The doctors. The receptionist who made tea. The interviewer out in Lower Hutt at the special interview place where they record everything and make sure there aren’t inconsistencies. You come across well, they assured me. Your story is believable. I felt sad for the women who aren’t as educated or articulate or who don’t have an arsenal of feminist literature and memes in their handbags. The women who don’t come across well and aren’t as believable. The women who aren’t white, or calm, or average in every way, like I am.
The jury wants blood under the fingernails, the detective said, and he was angry.
It’s ok, I said. I just wanted him to be scared. I wanted it on record so that if he ever gets reported again, the next woman will have her story validated and he will go to court. I wanted the incident to become a data point in the statistics on sexual assault. I reported it for all the women who think they aren’t believable or safe and don’t report what happens to them. The statistics tell a terrible story but they don’t tell the full story.
I wanted it on record, even though I hesitated to go to the police, because I wanted their resources to go on domestic violence cases and rape cases. I declined counselling because I was mostly fine, and I have fierce wise friends who supported me. I wanted the limited counselling resources available for the women who don’t have that support, for the woman who gets blamed or ignored because she shouldn’t be such a prude or it’s a compliment or just get over it or did it really even happen.
The statistics don’t reflect the time a man followed me along a dark street and stood next to my car while I took a deep breath, pretending I didn’t know he was there, mentally playing out the exact moves it took to unlock and start my car so I could drive away fast even if he opened a door. The statistics don’t account for the time a man stood in my path to block me, mimed the shape of my body with his hands, and then brushed past me so close his entire body slid along mine and he almost pushed me over. That will never go on record, but the non-consensual penetration at Reading Cinemas on Courtenay Place did.
He works at my university, and I haven’t had much reason to venture into the science buildings before now, but I recently had to talk myself into going to the lab for my physics paper, two years later. I wore my hood up and comforted myself with the knowledge that I would be on alert, but he would be the one taken by surprise. I haven’t seen him.
The detective offered me my clothes back, but that was the only time I’d worn that dress and I didn’t want it. I left it in the brown paper bag with my dirty underpants in the formica-furnished interview room for him to throw away. I thanked him as I walked out.
Charlotte Fielding – Find more of Charlotte’s writing here.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, raped or abused, there is help available. We acknowledge that disclosing/reporting is right for some and not for others, and that there are benefits but there can also be costs. If you are weighing up whether or not to report a sexual assault to Police, we recommend seeking advice and support. No sexual violation should be considered “minor.” Here is a list of free and confidential services that you can access:
- Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation – counselling, support and resources for survivors and their families.
- MOSAIC – Supporting male survivors of sexual and child abuse
- What is sexual abuse? Just the Facts.
- Wellington Rape Crisis Support, counselling, advocacy, information, referrals and education for those affected by sexual violence. Offers free childcare on site.
- Reporting sexual violence to Police – What to expect.