I have always been comfortable around the opposite sex. I have a circle of close friends consisting of both women and men. I have open and honest conversations with my male friends as I would with my female friends. I listen, share my opinion and give advice from a female's point of view on relationships and near enough any subject we approach. However, up until recently, there have been a couple subjects I am learning how to become confident to talk openly about from a personal point of view: Rape, Consent and Domestic Violence.
I was involved in a volatile relationship which lasted nearly 3 years. In all honesty, I was surprised I got out of it alive as I was severely depressed and suicidal. This man was drawn to my smile but did everything he could to take it away.
I was 19 and met this guy in the Autumn of 2001 after attending a rave in Peterborough, UK. My girls and I were sitting in the car with the windows down so we could still hear the music blaring from the event across the road. We noticed a car pull up attempting to park in a tight space. We were giggling at his parking skills as he seemed to be struggling. He and his friends saw us laughing and stepped out to spark a conversation with us all. He gravitated to me and made it known he liked me and would like to see me again. As we were leaving, we wouldn't have the opportunity to continue talking, so I gave him my number. He was handsome, charming, respectful, well dressed and had a good sense of humour. Before saying goodbye, he said he'd call me soon. My response was 'Ok'. I was blushing and had a smile like a Cheshire cat while the ladies were teasing me and giggling before we drove off to head back home in Nottingham.
He continued to be Prince charming and attentive as we started dating and seeing each other regularly. He lived in London; however, the distance was not an issue. We saw each other near enough every other weekend, and sometimes he would surprise me and pop up mid-week. He never held back his feelings for me and wasn't shy to express how he felt towards me in front of my and his friends and family. When we met, he was the most loving, attentive, affectionate, complementary, generous, supportive guy, the list goes on... Unfortunately, after a while, he started to change, and I didn't understand why. How did we get there? I lived in the hope that it would go back to the way it was when we first began. We would go back and forth; together, not together, together, not together...
We had open discussions about everything and anything. After being with him for a little under a year, he started to ridicule me about my points of view. He would question my every move, tell me how to dress, be manipulative, verbally and a few times physically abusive. He would cheat, be argumentative, be disrespectful and call me names. The list goes on.
There was an incident when I found evidence in his room that he had cheated on me once again. Instead of admitting to it, he blamed another guy who he shared the property with. I knew he shared the house with a few people; however, as far as I was aware he did not know any of them, everybody kept to themselves. So to blame this guy I thought was ridiculous. It was the morning, but he was drinking alcohol heavily regardless and ordered the guy to come into his room and sit down. He started shouting at him and took out a knife and said if he didn't admit that what I found was his, he would kill him. The guy was crying, I cried and begged him to stop. He would not stop. Waving the knife near the other man's face and body until this one shouted 'It was me, it's mine'. I didn't believe him. I knew he only said whatever he could to get out alive. I sobbed and said 'Ok, ok, now let him go'. He let him go and then started hurling abuse at me, saying that I push him to act crazy and that it was all my fault. Once again, I found myself shit scared and apologising to him for being the reason for yet another one of his outbursts.
He'd recently moved to Nottingham and rented a flat to be closer to me. One night when we were discussing our issues and the reason we broke up for the umpteenth time, he wanted to have sex, and I did not. I knew I still loved him and stupidly missed him, but I was not ready to be sleeping with him just yet, especially as he cheated on me. Before I knew it, he was inside of me, and although I said 'no' numerous times and tried to push him off of me, he took what he thought was rightfully his. The ordeal went on for a while, so I thought it might be over quicker and easier for me to stop fighting him and just take it until he finished with me. Finally, he was done, rolled over and fell asleep. I felt numb, confused and honestly didn't know how to articulate what had happened. Did he care or even realise what he had done to me? Did he not know what he took from me? My body did not belong to him, I was not his property. I confided in a close friend; however, within that I was questioning, blaming myself and asking how could it be rape as he was my boyfriend. We spoke of how in sexual relationships, you can play around and say no but really mean yes, but this incident was not one of those moments. I said no, I was not smiling or teasing, I was screaming no, why didn't he stop and listen? I never told anyone else and to be honest, I didn't believe anyone would believe me. On the outside, we seemed like the perfect couple, but being with him was my closest comparison to hell. I was traumatised, but we never spoke about it. We just continued in this tormenting dramatic cycle that I convinced myself I was not worthy to escape from.
I started to question if and when consent has a place in a romantic or sexual relationship? Why is it that nobody ever seems to speak about rape happening in relationships. I realised that abuse isn't just something that strangers do, people you love can hurt you in the worse way too.
The final straw came when I found out I was pregnant and he was cheating on me again, this time with someone I knew of. I was in the worst state mentally, I was really struggling to keep up my pretence. Around this time I used to listen to Glen Lewis album 'World Outside My Window', the song I had on constant repeat was 'Take Me'. The woman he spoke of in this song sounded just like me. Hurt, lost, desperately hoping someone would save her. It's weird to look back as I never displayed this broken individual to anyone else. I was the tough cookie who was always smiling and entertaining others. Where did the strength to act this way come from?
He started to be nice to me again once he found out I was pregnant. I knew it was an act. I made the hardest decision at that time to have an abortion as I honestly couldn't see myself being alive for much longer. I was in a really dark place and didn't want to bring a child into this chaos. Before the procedure, I rubbed my tummy, apologised profusely for everything and asked God for forgiveness. Forgiveness for all the choices that lead to that moment which included giving him my number, staying with him after all the abuse, not speaking up or reporting the rape, and of course, going through with the abortion. I remember sobbing my heart out to one of the nurses who was holding me tight like she was my mother when I was given general anaesthetic. I slowly fell asleep. I woke up still crying to the same nurse. I was in pain and discomfort. It took me a few weeks to recover physically; however, the memory of this decision would weigh heavy on my heart and soul for a much longer time. He would turn up to my flat begging for me to go back to him, but I gathered the courage to say 'no' each time
A few months later, I bumped into the woman he last cheated on me with. I saw her in the town centre, she stopped me to ask a few questions - woman to woman. I answered them all honestly. She asked if I wanted to go back to hers and continue talking, stupidly, I said yes. We carried on talking, and to my surprise, she revealed that they were still together and she called him on the phone. This was clearly a setup. Before I could get out, he had already turned up and started hurling abuse at me, calling me names and saying the baby was not his and I was a whore. After all the hard work I had done to rebuild and get over him, I found myself in pieces.
To add fuel to the fire, every time I was out and saw this particular woman, her and her friend would hurl verbal abuse and want to fight saying he cheated on her with me. Even though I was with him for a couple years before they even met. It made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Luckily I was always with friends who had my back.
As the situation simmered, maybe a year later, I found myself in the midst of a disagreement with a male family member who had developed a bullying nature over time. I stood my ground and quite honestly had enough of his aggressive attitude. But the next thing I remember is seeing him raise his fist and POW feeling the first punch to my face. This continued on for what seemed like hours. All hits were above my neck, to my face and head only. The last thing I remember about the attack is losing the feeling in both of my legs and believing I was dying as I lost consciousness. I was taken to the hospital; however, I never said who attacked me and never went to the police. It was a family issue and was to be sorted privately. I understood the systematic racism and racial profiling within the police force. I was more concerned about his welfare than my own. At the same time, when I finally returned home, I looked in the mirror and saw the reflection of a swollen balloon-shaped face. She did not look like me. She was not me, I told myself as I stood there flooding in tears.
Many years went by, and I was still triggered and not over the ordeal as the family member continued to bully me. He never hit me again, but his behaviour remained aggressive, erratic and unpredictable. Our relationship to outsiders and even to me looked ok. Still, deep down, I was scared of him and cautious not to say anything wrong that could set off his rage.
On both sides of my family I am surrounded by very strong and outspoken females. From my Grandmother to female cousins, they are bold, sharp but also possess the warmest hearts. I remember there being a profound debate and standoff on serving the men of the family dinner first as there was only a certain amount of chairs around the table. It was said that, as the women cooked, we should eat first and the men after. I was only a young girl at the time and found it hilarious. Now looking back, I understand that it was a powerful moment I witnessed first hand and many healthy conversations and debates regarding gender stemmed from there. So, how could I be bullied and feel in danger with this man if women of the family were really respected?
Was it just me that was soft and a pushover? Would my family be able to handle the truth about the sexual attack? Would it turn into warfare if I did speak up? Was it too late to report it to the police? Why, after all these years, was I finding myself in abusive situations? From my boyfriend who was supposed to love me to a close male family member who should love me but instead was taking his frustration out on me. How could I really open up about still being traumatised from being raped when I was being bullied by someone from my own family?
Yes, he was being 'spoken to' however that didn't stop him and his outbursts. I felt like there was so much focus on his behaviour and issues that I had been forgotten, again. Me, the actual victim in all this.
But then I would question if I was the victim. He was clearly hurting me because he was hurt. What came first, the chicken or the egg? I was rattled with mixed emotions and feelings of hurt. Scared, but also concerned as I love him so much and only wanted the best for him. But what did I want for myself? Did I want to continue being on edge? NO.
There was an incident 3 years ago, where after a lovely day out with the family we went back to his house. Til this day, it is not clear what happened or what I said to offend him. I just remember him shouting and swearing at me as he was pacing up and down the living room. He warned me that I had to get out of his house before he does something he may regret. My mind might have trained itself to block trauma, but my body didn't. I was full of fear and only had a matter of moments to figure out how I was going to get out. And I did, I ran out of the house at 3am in the morning holding my shoes, handbag and coat. Tears started flooding my eyes and questions flooding my mind 'For real Naomi, when is this going to stop?'. He had apologised after hitting me the first time, so was he not actually sorry?
I had moved to London many years before this incident, and my visits home were very few and far between. Regardless, they were occurring often enough to keep me fearful. I never got over it like I was being told to by others. They would say 'He's only barking he won't bite', but I remembered when he did bite and it hurt, it hurt so bad I thought I was dead. How could I get over the constant reminder of the attack? No matter what anybody said or did, I knew it could happen again. I accepted this was just the set up for my life. As they say, 'you don't choose your family'. The good times would outway the bad and every family has their issues. This thought process would not last.
I had many moments of looking at my life, reflecting, thinking about my future. I envisioned finally having a family of my own. The questions started to flood again; Would my partner stick up for me? Would I want him to stick up for me? What about my children? Will they feel scared and uneasy around this individual feeling my unspoken fears? Did I even want him around my future family? I decided to start standing up for myself like I never did before and say enough is enough.
Of course, a couple more incidents took place. It was hard but necessary to stand my ground. I couldn't continue living like this. It was hell. After receiving a phone call where he was dictating when I could or couldn't speak and swearing at me, I found the courage to put the phone down. I asked myself 'who's phone did he call?'. Well, it was mine, and I paid for it, I didn't have to suffer his abusive calls. I texted him to f*ck off, leave me alone and informed him that if I ever felt threatened or received a threat from him again, I would call the police. He went mental. He sent voicemails of abuse, and I proceeded to block him. A month after another incident, I received a message through a family member of him threatening me again. I realised it was now or never. Would I be a woman of my word? I went straight to the police and made a pocketbook statement, not a full statement, so they would question and warn him off me. I still loved him dearly and didn't want him to be arrested. I just wanted to scare him so he would leave me alone, go and seek help for his mental health as it was clear he was not well. Or maybe I was making excuses for him once again. Either way, I have had peace since and I intend for it to stay this way. NO MORE CONTACT, NO MORE ACCESS TO ME. I AM FREE. FINALLY. I AM FREE!
I took back my power from asking myself "who owns my phone" which lead me to 'who owns me'? The answer is me and me. Then, why would I allow myself to be treated and abused this way? Where did I learn this was ok? How do I feel? Do I want it to stop? How can I make it stop? What should love feel and look like? These simple but effective questions woke me the fuck up and made me realise I am the boss of my own life. I direct and write my script day in and day out.
As a woman and especially being a black woman I have billions of receipts of experiences on men singling me out. Being fetishised, talked over, controlled, manipulated, "owned" like my body is theirs or degraded when I don't give in to their advances, are just a few of the abuses. These 2 stories affected me the most and took every part of my strength before I could put a stop to them and protect myself. I loved these two men with all my heart. How was it possible for them to hurt me this way? Did they not feel love? Did they not see love when they thought of me or saw me? The older I got I realised that love is not everything and the saying 'Hurt people, hurt people' is even more so prevalent. They both had issues and needed to heal but instead chose to take their issues out on me.
Reflecting on these stories is so strange. As strong as I seemed in the past, I was so fragile and felt hopeless. Although I've always been genuinely upbeat and the 'Soul of the party', some of my previous smiles were a disguise to cover much darkness. Today I am happier, I am healing and forever grateful to my Spirit Guides, Ancestors and the Higher Being for guiding me and showing me the visions of my future-self who I couldn't give up on.
I have slowly been opening up and speaking to a select few about being raped. That was since a young lady shared her story with me. I realised there is so much power within speaking your truth. My uncle always says 'Your tests are your testimonies' and God knows this is the truth for real. So now is my time to stop feeling ashamed as I never did anything wrong, this is no longer my dirty little secret.
My intention in sharing my story is to bring the subject of 'Consent' into conversation. Rape does not only happen when a stranger pounces. It could be your partner, friend, co-worker and husband. No means NO. Domestic Violence does not only occur within romantic relationships; it takes place within families too.
Question - Are your girls protected or being subjected? What does consent look like to you? Teach your children not just about sex but consent also. Teach them to respect and love one another. Please discuss gender amongst your families. Are certain behaviours given a pass because a gender or a person is seen as superior to an other?
Thank you for reading.
Love & Light,