Sleeping around: 'Someone I'd trusted had tried to violate me'

'The only thing between us and a potential date rape was a layer of silk and lace'

Catherine Townsend
Wednesday 17 September 2008 00:00 BST

Recently, I found myself on a first date that was going amazingly well. Peter and I never ran out of things to talk about, and by the time drinks turned into dinner it was already after midnight.

By 2am the conversation was still flowing almost as quickly as the margaritas, and neither of us was ready to go home.

So when he walked me to a taxi, I asked him how he would feel about me coming home with him. "I don't want to have sex, because I'm not ready for that," I said. "Are you OK with just hanging out and talking?"

Back at his flat we listened to music, drank more wine and kissed. I stripped to my bra and knickers, and we cuddled in bed. As we drifted off to sleep, holding hands, I felt totally safe.

But I would be lying if I said that the thought never occurred to me that the only thing between us and a potential date rape situation was a layer of silk and lace.

Peter was 6ft 5in, and if he had wanted to take things further, I'm relatively sure that no jury would have convicted him. After all, I was stupid enough to come back to his flat, wasn't I?

Judging by Dame Helen Mirren's comments that date rape is "one of the many subtle parts of the men-women relationship that has to be worked out between them", many people feel this way.

She also suggested that Mike Tyson wasn't a rapist, because there had been "no violence" (his victim weighed seven stone).

That night at Peter's, I had a dream about something that happened to me when I was 16, back when I still thought of rape with something that happened in alleys when strangers beat women to a bloody pulp.

I had stayed overnight with a very charming 24-year-old friend of a friend, and woke up in the night to find him with one hand on my throat and the other ripping down my bottoms, not taking no for an answer. I screamed, and luckily for me he stopped when his flatmate came into the room.

I went home, and never told anyone about what happened.

Later, I told myself that it had been a "grey area", or a misunderstanding. This was easier to accept than the harsh reality that someone I'd trusted had tried to violate me.

Back in the present, Peter and I both woke up laughing about our hangovers. I'm constantly seeing headlines about women drinking heavily and putting themselves in dangerous situations. But the incidence of rape goes up for both sexes after they have been drinking.

When men are plastered, they are much more likely to misinterpret body language from women, and to believe that "no" means "yes". We could do with a national campaign for more re-education when it comes to men making sure that they get clear consent?

If I cooked a romantic gourmet meal for Peter, and he decided that he wasn't hungry after the appetisers, I would not force feed him foie gras until he vomited, and blame him because he sat at the table.

I've been lucky since my bad experience, and always dated men who were respectful.

But I still wish that I could go back in time and tell my 16-year-old self that forcing a woman to have intercourse isn't something that can be cured with a nice cup of tea and a bit of polite banter. A "subtle" chat with a man who doesn't understand that "no" means "no" ought to end with him in handcuffs.

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