My life changed forever the day I was raped. But one year on, I'm starting to put it back together

I was lucky to be alive. My rapist was 'lucky' I hadn't the guts to report him

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The Independent Online

I was trapped underneath him. He pulled my trousers down. My body went stiff and limp and stiff again as tears dripped down my cheeks. From this moment I changed and my life changed too, forever.

To this day I question every word I spoke to him before he forced himself inside me. I had always thought of myself as a feisty, strong woman. But I felt helpless, paralyzed.

My skin began to crawl and my heart hammered.  I was no longer in a daze or confused or numb. I screamed and pushed away his shoulders as hard as I could.  Would he let me walk away? Would he kill me? I didn’t want to make him angry by trying to escape, but I knew I had to get to the strip of bars on the beach where people could help me. But what if he wanted to finish me off so I could never tell anyone?

“You don’t mess with a Marine, we are strength” he boasted. I can still hear his voice. His thick Dutch accent with broken English is so real it dives to the pit of my stomach every time I remember his words.

I had just turned 22 and was full of hope for my final year at University. But all those hopes vanished the night I was raped.

Nights are hard - the insomnia and nightmares. When I finally fall asleep I wake up in a sweat as I relive my violation. Sometimes I imagine him hurting me even more. It’s a poison in my blood and a madness in my brain. I’m sometimes afraid to go out for a walk in broad daylight. I simply can’t relax in public – everybody and everywhere is dangerous.

My parents tell me how lucky I am to be home safe and well. I appreciate that, a lot, but is that all I should feel lucky for, to be alive?

He’s “lucky” that I didn’t have the guts to report him to the police in Crete, where I was on holiday with friends. Despite seeing him twice more that following week, I couldn’t confront him. Instead, I hid and chose to pretend I didn’t know him.  My eyes shut; I can still vividly see his tall, broadly built frame. The thought that he may still be out there - preying on other innocent women - makes me sick to my stomach.

For a very long time I avoided the mirror and hated showering because I couldn’t bear the thought of catching a glimpse of my naked body. I hated myself. I lost motivation for life and all the things I really enjoy doing. I stopped working out, going out with friends.

The one thing I found comfort in was food. I overate day in, day out. I thought that if I put on weight, and become so unattractive no man would ever do this to me again. It was a combination of guilt, self-destruction and self-protection. It was a vicious cycle, a battle I fought with myself for months. My body may have healed but my mind remains broken. I’m now lucky enough to be receiving one-to-one counselling on a weekly basis.

Getting into university in London saved me. It has been tough living away from my family and close friends back home in Ireland, but I had to get up, get dressed and move on.

My story might look similar to yours, or perhaps it is completely different. If you, or anyone you know has had to experience what I did, make sure help is sought. Being checked out for sexually transmitted diseases is crucial, and counselling is strongly advised. It will be the most difficult thing to do, but I promise you, it will help you take back control of your life.

Almost one year down the line of my trauma, I wear my battle scars with pride and dignity. And I am positive in believing that my recovery journey will slowly continue to make me a stronger person each day for the rest of my life.  My rape experience haunts me, and frightens me, but it doesn’t define me any longer.

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