You know those moments where someone innocently says something which totally throws your sense of reality into a black hole? I had one of those today. I wouldn’t say it was particularly enjoyable. At all. However I suppose it was helpful…
Today I had my first university lecture in about ten months. Needless to say, I was feeling very nervous, but was also looking forward to it. Typically, the first lecture was a two-hour one in the largest lecture theatre on campus…so the second I walked in, my heart was racing. There were just so many people. I felt a wave of panic; how do I make sure everyone’s okay? How can I possibly look to see if there’s anyone dangerous hiding in the crowd? What if there’s an emergency….there’ll be a stampede. What if someone in the crowd needs help and nobody knows, and they get lost? Shit so many people in one room….
I’m funny with crowds. In certain situations I can handle them, though will always feel anxious. But in some situations I can have full-blown panic attacks at even the thought. This crowd nearly caused a panic attack. I was on the front row. I sat with my back to the crowd, staring at the empty screen, and playing music until the lecture began so that I didn’t hear the crowd-noise. I felt pathetic. First lecture, and I started it trembling, having to consciously focus on my breathing, and ready to run within a few minutes. How on earth was I going to last two hours?
Once the lecture began, I did relax. The air was now still, not chaotic, and it was somehow easy to forget there were 400 people behind me. The lecturer also was very interesting, and dryly comical, and I was able to focus properly on my degree for the first time in a long time. The lecture was an Introduction to Law, and was very interesting.
Towards the end the lecturer started going into finer details about case studies etc. This is where it all went a bit pair-shaped. I paid, if anything, closer attention to this because the detail wasn’t on the slides, and it was also very interesting to learn about how law has progressed over the years and about real-life cases.
I was doing okay. Then he started talking about contracts and promises, and a case where a person had suffered from GBH but insisted that he’d given consent and it had been a deal/contract. The court, however, didn’t let it go and a prosecution took place. The lecturer explained – “a person cannot consent to having GBH (grievous bodily harm) done to themself.” I.e, a person may feel that they gave consent, but in reality nobody can give consent…legally or actually physically. It may well be a person was put under pressure to agree, or manipulated, bribed, forced to sign a contract, was already mentally ill etc but this is not therefore of a value which allows fully informed consent to be given. It’s just not possible to give consent to have GBH done to yourself.
I froze when he said it, and felt a cold sick feeling light up in my chest and spread throughout me. What he was saying made total sense, and something I half-knew and had been told repeatedly from friends etc for a while now. But for some reason, hearing it from him…from a real-life case…it made the whole thing more real. I could not have given consent to having GBH done to me by others.
And yet, I thought I had. I did sign contracts. Wasn’t that binding? I learnt today that no, they were not binding. But then…did my abusers know this and make me feel responsible? Probably. I didn’t want to face this but the more the lecturer spoke, the more I had to face it. At times I did say “please hurt me more”….but then I’d been told that if I said it hurt too much, someone else would get hurt. So…does this count as a threat? My mouth felt dry. Of course it was a threat. I never gave consent. I felt like I had and believed I had, and believed myself to be largely responsible for certain events and therefore somehow undeserved of treatment and recovery. But…no…I didn’t sit and happily give consent. I was forced/manipulated/blackmailed into agreeing to be tortured.
I’m not sure what’s sicker. Being tortured or being forced into agreeing to it. I didn’t want this realisation. This realisation shattered the one remaining string of hope that somehow…somehow… it hadn’t been abuse, but rather my own stupid fault. It’s so much easier to blame myself and punish myself. There’s control over that. I wanted to scream at the lecturer to shut up, or I wanted to play music again…but I couldn’t stop listening. For, although he was unknowingly shattering a strong part of my beliefs, he was also offering a large level of validation and sympathy somehow, despite not ever speaking to me personally. He talked about the fact that nobody could give consent. That means me too. That means what happened to me was wrong, and not my fault. That means I never asked for it, or gave consent. Not really. I was just made to believe that, so that I felt more ashamed to ask for help.
I spent the remainder of the lecture frozen solid, certain I was about to be sick but somehow unable to move, with my heart racing and my mind racing…my mouth dry and my hands trembling. I felt in shock somehow. Shock as finally the remaining bit of my head desperately trying to find any reason why it was my fault was shattered. The realisation was absolute now. I was abused, horrifically. I was tricked into thinking it was my fault, and it never was. I was tortured and made to beg for more.
I left the lecture in a daze, and sat in the toilet, where I felt safe enough to let the dazed mask off. With my head in my hands, the tears came thick and fast…some tears for a new wave of grief for myself, some for relief that I could finally stop blaming myself, some for anger and some just for absolute heartache at the brutality of it all.
I was abused.
And it wasn’t my fault.
I never ever gave my consent.