In light of this worryingly prominent culture of assault, I felt it was necessary to get the perspectives of those who had been through similar traumas. Consequently, some brave students came forward. My aim with this two-part article is to ensure no victims are silenced anymore. Each and every voice deserves to be heard.
Through opening up about being groomed as a child online, this student hopes to show that all voices matter in the #MeToo movement:
I knew about the #metoo campaign for a whole week before I dared post a single tweet on my anonymous Twitter account, with nothing else but the innocuous hashtag. Nobody, especially nobody that knew me, could know from that what had happened to me. Nobody could judge me for my experience, or judge my experience against others. Still, a week-long back and forth in my mind took place because I wasn’t sure if what had happened to me would ‘count’. I didn’t know if I was allowed to call myself a victim. I didn’t feel justified in holding my experience up online alongside people who had been raped or sexually assaulted.
The truth is that I was groomed and taken advantage of online at the age of thirteen. A man over twice my age took a liking to me in a skype group chat I was in. We started having private conversations, and he started flirting with me. To my everlasting shame, I flirted back. This eventually led to the exchange of illegal images, skype calls, and the biggest mistakes of my life. I hid everything from my parents and friends. I told nobody, and so I felt isolated. This man became the only person I could be open with. I would hide under the covers, he would let me talk until it got light. He would let me fall asleep in a call, so I didn’t feel alone. I would let him see pictures of my developing body while he returned the favour with his own. Me, the idiot that I was, thought we were in love. I dreamt about us moving in together and getting married once I was eighteen. I shudder at that thought.
After a couple of years of this, we stopped talking. In retrospect, perhaps – disgustingly – I got too old for him. On the surface, I went back to life as a ‘normal’ teenager surprisingly quickly, but some things remained within me. I had started to self-harm at some point during the whole thing, and, to tell the truth, I still haven’t completely stopped. I’m trying to, believe me, but relapses happen, and I forgive myself for that.
It has taken me years to realise just some of the ways in which this experience has affected me and continues to. I expect to find that there will be more in time. I didn’t have a sexual encounter with a man again until I was eighteen, during my first year at university, after only having known him a week or so. The result? I cried. I burst into tears in front of a man I felt conflicted about liking because he wanted to be intimate with me and I felt scared and lost and, most of all, ashamed. I was lucky, though, that I had found someone kind and patient and understanding who I am still in a relationship with 10 months later. I told him that night what had happened to me, as he hugged me and promised we didn’t have to try anything until I was ready. It was the first time I had revealed that much to anyone, and it felt both incredible and awful all at once.
The important thing, though, is that I am so, so, so glad that I did. I’m so proud of myself for not backing off, breaking off the budding relationship, and withdrawing back into the unhealthy denial that something needed to change. I stuck with it, and there were more tears (still are, sometimes), and more long hugs, and more kind words. More relapses, more drinking, more decisions there needed to be less drinking, more drinking. I told some of my friends at university about my experience (usually whilst slightly drunk), and it felt good. It felt good not to have to pretend that I always have been and always will be okay. It felt vulnerable, but good.
Right now, I am okay. I haven’t self-harmed in weeks and I have a healthy relationship, romantically and sexually, with my boyfriend. This is all great, but it’s why it took me so long to say #metoo; why I hesitated before saying it now by writing this piece. Now that I’m doing okay, I shouldn’t need to make a big deal about what happened, right? Half of my brain kept saying that. The half that also likes to call me an attention-seeker, tell me my boyfriend doesn’t love me, or that people are only friends with me out of pity. That half of my brain needs to shut the hell up.
The reality is that saying #metoo isn’t about me after all, it’s about you or anybody else who could have had something similar happen to them. Maybe they haven’t told anyone yet, maybe they’re still struggling with coming to terms with it all. Maybe they feel like they’re so nearly there but are struggling with the guilt that it was all their fault. Newsflash: it wasn’t your fault, you are not alone, and no matter where you are in the process of recovery, you will be okay, even if that means crying out your story to someone you’ve only known for eleven days – the single best thing I have ever done.