For two and a half years I’ve been silent about being raped by my partner because I’ve been ashamed and afraid of speaking out publicly about it. I’ve felt confused, guilty, hurt and too traumatised to bring the rape to the public sphere…until now. Now I feel ashamed and afraid to keep it silent any longer. Rape is a reality that too many women experience. And date rape by partners who claim to love us is a form of trauma that no woman should have to navigate alone. I’m done being silent. I’m speaking up. This is my story.
I was tied up, held down and forcibly anally raped by my partner Benjamin McCullagh-Dennis in October of 2009 while we were dating.
It Can Happen To Anyone:
It’s hard for me to talk openly about what happened and what led up to it because the details are intensely personal and they share the most intimate things about my private sexual relationship with Benjamin. This isn’t an easy thing to make public, but through therapy and through the process of finally beginning to work through what happened to me, I’ve realised the importance of full-disclosure of the assault including the actions and behaviours leading up to it, in order for people to be fully informed about who Benjamin is and what he has done, as well as how date rape can happen to anyone.
I’d spent a large part of my life learning about positive sexuality, open communication and informed consent because these things are important to me as a woman, a feminist and a survivor of previous sexual abuse. In my relationship with Benjamin I was open and honest, up-front and clear about setting boundaries and trying to create a dynamic that was safe and consensual for both of us. I nievely thought that I was beyond being raped, that I was somehow past the possibility of being put in that position by my partner. I was a strong and active feminist; I hosted workshops and wrote articles on consent; I took women’s self-defense classes; I knew so well how to say “NO”; I was confident and secure in who I was and felt solid in my ability to keep myself safe. Because of that, it was so much harder for me to speak up about it when it happened… because I thought that I must have somehow been to blame for the rape. I felt like I should have been able to protect myself, or should have been able to stop it, or should have been able to say “no” more often or more clearly. But rape is never the fault of the survivor. It is the fault of the perpetrator, and the perpetrator alone.
Not Just A “Mistake”:
I want people to know that the rape wasn’t just a “mistake” or a failure to “check-in” during sex, although these are lines often used by perpetrators who have raped to describe what they did. I believe it to have been a pre-meditated intentional act of forced rape, despite Benjamin claiming that he “didn’t know what he was doing” or that he simply “was confused.” My reasons for this are based on an entire history of sexual coercion and pressure throughout my relationship with Benjamin, leading up to the rape. I can look back and recognise other behaviours throughout our relationship that were clear indicators of something wrong. I realise them now and wish that I’d had a better understanding of them before they led to rape. I hope that others reading this can learn to recognise threatening sexual behaviours and spare themselves what I’ve had to go through.
Throughout my relationship with Benjamin he would try to pressure me into have sex with him in ways that I didn’t want to, despite me saying “no” repeatedly. His main fantasy was for anal sex. I told him that I’d tried it before and that it was painful for me and I didn’t want to do it any more. I told him that I was certain in my decision and that he needed to respect my boundaries around it. But for months he continued to try to pressure me into it, saying that it was his favourite position, that it felt the best for him, that it was the ultimate. He said that he was better at it than other guys and that I probably just thought I didn’t like it because I hadn’t had good anal sex before. He also told me that previous partners of his had also said “no” to it at first, but that after they tried it with him they ended up liking it. I told him that I thought that was coercive and disrespectful behaviour. I told him that he needed to accept my decision and respect that I had said “no.” But he continued to try to talk me into it, making me feel bad for not letting him have what he wanted sexually. As a feminist and someone who felt really strong and capable of saying “no” and setting boundaries, I was surprised and upset with myself that I started to feel bad for not letting Benjamin have the kind of sex that he wanted. I’d always thought of myself as someone who wasn’t affected by pressure and who could stand up for myself. But the constant pushing, begging, asking for it wore me down. I found myself feeling like I wasn’t good enough in bed if I couldn’t give him what he wanted. I found myself feeling like maybe he was right, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all, maybe I should just go ahead and let him try it. I thought if I let him do it once then maybe he’d stop asking for it.
I want to say right now, that is NOT a good sign. If your partner will not respect your boundaries and accept “no” as an answer, then it is probably a good time to get out of the relationship. If a partner cannot be respectful with your decisions about your own body, then he is not a safe person to be with, no matter what he may say.
Other Red Flags:
Benjamin would also send me text messages describing what he wanted to do to me sexually. He would describe having sex with me in ways that I’d already said “no” to. He said that these were just fantasies, but they made me feel uncomfortable and reinforced his pressuring around our sex life. He would describe wanting to “bend me over” and “slam his cock into my ass” after I’d already told him repeatedly that I didn’t want to have anal sex.
And he would cross my boundaries in other ways during our relationship. He would initiate sexual contact without consent, including while I was sleeping, although that was against my boundaries. He would ejaculate on me without asking and also urinate on me after sex, although those were both against my boundaries. He would continuously hyper-sexualise me and send me text messages about his sexual fantasies, even after I’d told him what my boundaries were. And he would disrespect my trigger boundaries by covering my mouth or face during sex, even though I’d told him that it’s triggering for me from past sexual abuse to have my mouth or face covered by a partner.
After four months of dating Benjamin, despite my constant verbal boundaries and my active attempts at a consensual and willing sexual relationship, I finally broke down to his pressure and agreed to have anal sex with him on his birthday. I did this even though I didn’t want to. I felt like I somehow owed it to him as his partner, even though I knew that to be wrong. It was confusing for me because I’d always felt like such a strong woman in my adult sex life, capable of asserting my boundaries and protecting myself. But this time I found myself feeling bad about not giving Benjamin what he was asking for. I found myself feeling uptight or like I couldn’t be a fun or sexy or fulfilling partner if I wouldn’t let him have his way sexually. This is embarrassing to admit, but I want for people to know that it’s not uncommon and it can happen to anyone. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, even though the guilt and the shame are very real emotions.
So I finally broke down and allowed Benjamin to have anal sex with me for his birthday. I was nervous and uncomfortable with it, since I’d had anal sex before and found it to be incredibly painful. I talked with Benjamin for a long time before starting, and I explained some very specific boundaries that I had around that interaction. I explained that I could not be entered anally from behind or with him on top of me, even though those were the positions he wanted, because those positions were incredibly painful for me. I told him that I needed to be on top, facing him, and in full control, maintaining communication with him throughout, and that I needed to go very slowly and use lubrication so that it would be as painless as possible.
Afterward I told him that I still didn’t like it, despite his reassurances that it would be better with him, and that I didn’t want to do it again. My answer to anal sex was still “no.”
However, two months later when I was visiting him, while all his house mates were gone for the night, he anally raped me in the exact way that I’d told him was painful for me. He anally raped me against every single boundary I’d set throughout our relationship.
I’d consented to being tied up for a role-play that night in which he would play the dominant role, but we hadn’t discussed or agreed on any sexual play. He tied me up and led me into his bedroom where he laid me on his bed, face down, held my arms tied behind my back with his weight on top of me, and without consent or warning anally penetrated me from behind, without hesitation and without lubrication, until he ejaculated. I was shocked. I gasped involuntarily from the pain, but otherwise was completely frozen. I couldn’t stop what was happening because it happened too quickly and the pain was too intense for my brain to make sense of it all. I laid there frozen while he forced himself into me anally, with him on top from behind — just like he’d described in his text messages earlier in our relationship and just like he’d tried to pressure me into for so long. It took him a few minutes of forceful thrusting to penetrate me and reach orgasm. He didn’t go slowly, he didn’t use lubrication, he didn’t ask for consent, he didn’t check-in before, during or after, he didn’t even stop to see if I was OK. He just held me down with my arms tied behind my back and my face down on his bed and anally raped me and then ejaculated on me, against all of my boundaries. Afterwards he didn’t even ask if I was alright. He just untied me and I went to the toilet to clean myself up. The skin around my anus had been torn and was bleeding from the force of the rape, and I had to go to the doctor afterwards for the injuries. It took a few weeks for my anus to heal and I had to see the doctor again for a follow-up to make sure there was no permanent damage done.
Because we live in a rape-culture where these kinds of things are normalised and minimised when they happen, I feel like it’s important to define what “rape” is — in legal terms, by popular definition and in my own understanding. According to the law in NSW where the rape occured, rape is defined as sexual intercourse without consent, including sexual intercourse that was forced or coerced. There are also laws to include attempted intercourse without consent and intercourse with impaired consent, as well as to include other forced or coerced sexual acts other than intercourse. Rape is defined by popular definition as sexual assault against another person without that person’s consent, which may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. These definitions fall well within my own understanding of rape. I understand rape to be any penetrative sexual act forced on a person without their willing consent, whether through force or coercion. The night of the rape I did not consent to having any kind of sexual activity with Benjamin. Additionally, I had repeatedly said “no” to that particular type of sexual activity and had set clear boundaries around it as non-consensual. That night Benjamin did not seek consent nor did he respect previously made agreements around what was consensual sex. He used both force and coercion to commit the rape. This clearly falls under the definition of rape, both legally and personally.
During And After:
During the assault I didn’t say anything. I didn’t try to fight him off or struggle to get away. I was too shocked by what was happening. I froze. I dissociated. My mind shut down momentarily and I imagined myself in the back yard, sitting in the grass, waiting for the assault to be over. I remember feeling cold and paralysed and wanting to look up at the sky. My mind went somewhere else so that it could spare my body the weight of having to deal with the rape. It was strange. My body knew what was happening but I couldn’t make sense of it all. It’s like I didn’t feel like I could do anything about it, so I just shut down until it was over. For a long time I blamed myself for not being present enough during the rape to try to stop it. But I’ve since learned that freezing and dissociating during traumatic events are common reactions when the victim feels powerless to stop what is happening.
Benjamin didn’t say anything about the assault afterward, and I was too hurt, confused and ashamed to say anything about it at the time. That night I slept next to him in his bed without talking about what had happened, and the next day I went home and broke down. I screamed and cried. I felt sick and scared. I felt like my body had been turned inside out. Benjamin sent me a text message the next day to say that he loved me. He didn’t mention the rape.
I told a few close friends what had happened, but I didn’t know what else I could do about it, especially since Benjamin was still my partner. I was unaware at that time that there are programs that could have helped me or that I could have accessed therapy for the assault. So I didn’t do anything.
It took me 2 months to bring it up to him. The next time I visited Benjamin I found the courage to tell him that what I’d experienced that night was rape. He agreed that he’d sexually assaulted me. He said that he knew what he did was wrong at the time, but that he did it any way. I told him that I didn’t feel like I was able to speak up publicly about the rape, but that I wanted him to know what he’d done. I was confused because we were still in a relationship and I still thought that I loved him. Even though I told him that I felt uncomfortable around him sexually and that he wasn’t allowed at my house any more, I still thought that we could work through what had happened and continue to be in a relationship together. I felt torn because we’d made plans together and because there were a lot of things about him that I still liked. He was still charming and fun to be with. He still used all the right words to make me feel respected and loved, even though his actions had been the complete opposite. He said that he was sorry for what he’d done, that he still wanted to be with me, that he could be responsible for his actions and change. He said that he’d made a mistake, that he’d never do it again. I tried to believe him because I wanted to. I tried to believe him because it’s easier to believe that your partner simply made a mistake than that your partner raped you.
And so I stayed in a relationship with him for 2 more months after that. I’d only told a few close friends what had happened, and to everyone else I pretended like everything was fine. I didn’t tell my family because I knew that they wouldn’t understand, and I didn’t tell his friends because I thought that they would just take his side.
But things can’t ever be the same after rape. I didn’t feel comfortable or safe around him any more. I wasn’t sexually attracted to him, and I began to feel repulsed and disgusted by him. I started getting anxious about being near him and found myself wanting to be farther and farther away. During that time he continued to try to pressure me into having sex with him by using guilt and coercion, after I’d told him that I didn’t want to. He would say that it was unfair and that it made him feel bad about himself for me to be so distant from him. It was a horrible position to be in. On one side I didn’t want to be near him, but on the other side I still wanted for us to have a good relationship and I wanted to believe him when he said that was possible. Breaking up with him was a difficult decision to make because he made me feel bad for wanting to leave him. He would tell me all of his insecurities and say that it hurt him too much to lose me. He would say that he’d changed and that things would be better. But he continued to disrespect my physical boundaries until I finally cut off connection with him completely.
Confusion And Manipulation:
I believe Benjamin spent the time during our relationship grooming me, by telling me that he’d just “forgotten” or “made a mistake” every time he crossed my boundaries, so that by the time he raped me I was ready to believe him when he said that he didn’t mean to. Every time he would initiate sex without consent or ejaculate or urinate on me or cover my face during sex, I would remind him of my boundaries and he would apologise, saying that he simply forgot. It happened so often that I remember wondering to myself how he could be so forgetful on things as important as sexual boundaries, consent and triggering actions. But I truly believed him when he said that he didn’t mean to hurt me. I believed him when he said that he loved and respected me. I believed him when he said that he wanted to have a good and positive and healthy relationship with me. And so I stayed with him, despite all the red flags. Because this is how sexual abuse often works. Perpetrators are not just “bad guys” who hurt people. They are also charming and great to be with in a lot of other ways. They can be comforting, reassuring, supportive and even vulnerable, which makes identifying their predatory behaviour confusing and difficult. They can manipulate our emotions to make it seem as if they are the ones being hurt, and not the other way around. Despite crossing my boundaries throughout our relationship, Benjamin also showed me a very tender and vulnerable side to him, which he would use when I tried to address his behaviours or leave him. He would tell me again and again that he’d been hurt by women before and that he was afraid he wasn’t good enough for me. He would tell me that he felt bad about himself and that if I left him it would reinforce his negative self-image.
After the rape, he pleaded with me to stay with him. I told him that I didn’t want to stay with someone who had raped me because I needed to respect myself enough to get out of that relationship. But he would make me feel bad about my decision. He’d tell me that he could change and that it would be better. And when that didn’t work he’d lash out and say that it was unfair and that I was hurting him and making him feel bad about himself. He would use those lines when I told him that I didn’t want to have sex with him, or that I didn’t want to sleep next to him, or that I didn’t want for him to touch me or try to hold my hand. I felt horrible. I felt like a bad person who was hurting someone that I’d loved. It was hell. He even asked me to marry him shortly after the rape, and it’s embarrassing to think about now but I actually considered it for a few months because I thought it showed a serious commitment to me and to the possibility of a lasting relationship together.
Leaving someone who has been sexually abusive is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s confusing and it’s conflicting. There was so much of me that wanted to stay with him, that wanted to believe him when he said that we could still have a positive and healthy sexual relationship post-rape, that wanted to believe him when he said that he loved and respected me. But in the end, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stay with someone who had raped me. It just tore me up inside. It was incredibly difficult, and I feel like it was only possible for me to leave because of the support that I had from friends of mine who reminded me that I deserved more than that.
Breaking The Silence:
Now, 2 and a ½ years later, I finally feel like I have the support to be able to speak up publicly about what Benjamin did to me. I’ve initiated a community-based accountability process within his community and I’ve reported the assault to the police, which will be on file in case someone in the future also reports him for sexual violence.
Despite his continued statements of commitment to being a responsible sexual partner, he has shown me no proof of that. After the assault, he’d made an agreement with me that he would disclose his rape-history to all future partners as a way to hold himself accountable for his actions and give new partners the respect of being able to choose their level of engagement with him. But I’ve found out now that he’s had several partners since me and that he hasn’t disclosed his rape-history to them. I fear that he’s continued to be manipulative, dishonest and coercive in his sexual relationships. Which is why I’m going public with this.
At this point I understand Benjamin to be a dangerous sexual predator who has perpetrated pre-meditated forced rape and who uses coercion, pressure and guilt to get what he wants. I understand him to also be an incredibly charming individual who uses dishonesty and smooth-talking to get out of being held responsible for his actions and to manipulate those closest to him. Because of this, I’ve chosen to go public about the rape in the hopes of alerting others to Benjamin’s predatory actions and behaviours, and also to help raise awareness around date rape so that people can recognise the red flags and hopefully not go through what I’ve had to.
Myths And Realities Of The Rape:
Rape is not an act of passion nor is it a mistake that is made by someone who is confused, although those are common myths around motivations for rape. It is a tool of domination that is used to dehumanise and terrorise its victims. It is an act of control over the rights of someone else’s body.
All of the actions that Benjamin took the night of the rape were very clearly discussed agreements and boundaries between myself and him regarding our sexual relationship, so I can’t understand the rape to be anything other than a pre-meditated and intentional act of sexual violence by Benjamin against me. There was no room for confusion or simple mistakes in the assault. We had previously talked about in-length each of the actions that he took that night, and had previously agreed upon our boundaries in what was consensual, non-consensual, triggering or assaultive sexual actions. Benjamin knew clearly what he was doing that night, and yet he did it any way. He pressured and sexualised me throughout our relationship despite my communication and boundaries, and I believe that he set up the situation that night in order to put me in a position of powerlessness (being tied up in a role-play with no else around) to take advantage of me and rape me in the exact way that he’d tried to pressure me into all along. Because of this I understand Benjamin to be a dangerous and sexually violent predator.
No One Deserves Rape:
If you have also been sexually coerced, pressured or assaulted by Benjamin please speak up about it. I’m afraid that without public awareness, community pressure, and long-term counselling for sex offence he will continue this pattern with new partners. I know that he is charming and talks a lot about consent, respect and being responsible, and I know that he has had some respectful and consensual sexual relationships as well. But his actions with me have been the complete opposite. I believe that he took advantage of me as someone who loved and trusted him and who ultimately allowed him to constantly push my boundaries. I believe that he chose me as a target for rape and planned his actions carefully and intentionally. It’s taken me a long time to be able to speak openly about this and to be able to face him and what he did. But I think it’s necessary to talk about these things and to make them public so that they can be addressed and so that there is less chance of perpetrators being able to continue these behaviours.
I didn’t deserve to be raped by Benjamin. No one deserves to be raped by their partner or by anyone else. I hope that by speaking up and speaking out about this I can help to break the silence around rape and we can begin to address it directly and openly within our communities.
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