My meeting with Paul was really just a typical 'boy-meets-girl beginning. I was an eighteen year old single mother. Initially, there was no attraction for him, but I developed one. He was good looking and very funny. He moved in with me.
I didn't know what early warning signs were at the time, but boy, if I had known then what I know now! He was overweening at first, courted me with roses, charm and passion. But he was terribly posessive, and didn't like me talking to other men, and had a sort of strutting, stereotypical masculinity. He could be very crude about women at times, and I found myself constantly justifying him to family and friends.
The violence started, as I now know it does, with namecalling, which graduated to pushing and hairpulling. It eventually became violent battery. I was ashamed, and covered the bruises. I feared him, but I also pitied him. I didn't know that he used his story of a terrible childhood to manipulate me. All I saw was an abandoned child.
Many friends left me because I would not leave him. Desperate to hang on to the few I had left, I started to lie and say he was not hurting me, that he'd changed. In six months, I was not the young woman he'd met. Life depended on keeping him happy so he wouldn't hurt me.
At first, I believed him when he said he was sorry, and that he would change. I started to not believe it after a while. But by that time, I was terrified. I fully believed he was capable of killing me (he did go on to murder a male).
The story of how the sexual violence began is more fully told here
. But it was just something that I thought was not real rape because he was my partner, even though it hurt. Also, I believed I deserved it.
The sexual violence seemed to utterly despoil all my fantasies of loving and being loved. He would sometimes tell me I was a stupid, prudish bitch who needed a good fuck; he seemed to enjoy desecrating my highest ideals. I wondered if they were worth hanging on to.
I didn't know what to be to stop it; it didn't occur to me to think it was strange that sometimes he said he was doing it because I was a whore, and at other times, because I was a prude. I now know that it was not about anything that I was or was not. It was about him. At any time, I was never permitted to say no. Strenuous refusal met with beatings.
In hindsight, I am able to see that he used rape as punishment whenever he felt I'd bested him in some way. Certainly, it was an act of having power over me. One particular experience I remember was a time when I went away from my hometown with Paul to meet some friends of his.
I was aware that he had run with a pretty wild crowd in which there existed a strong ethos of real manhood as proven by fighting, drinking and keeping girlfriends under control. It is probably fair to say that the ideal of machismo was fairly extreme in this group.
At this stage I was still determined to stand up for myself sometimes. Paul came on the receiving end of some derision about "his" woman having a bit of a mouth. It embarrassed him no end. He beat me twice on this visit and refused to give me my train-ticket home.
The final punishment for being a little too big for my boots came when he arrived home one night with a friend. I pretended to be asleep as he and the friend talked for a while.
Afterwards, the friend lay down on a couch in the room, and Paul got into bed with me. He immediately rolled me onto my back and attempted to mount me. I was incredibly humiliated at having another person in the room, and I struggled with him. The struggle was brief; I lost - my arms were peremptorily pinned and he raped me. I knew the friend was awake and aware; aware that Paul could and would prove he could control me like a man worthy of membership in his friend's group.
After, I lay on my side crying with humiliation.
I will never forget the friend's knowing, sly looks for the duration of our visit, or how I dropped my eyes, vanquished and ashamed. It did not occur to me to wonder why he had, in his silence, championed my violation; I already understood why.Paul had shown who wore the trousers; my degradation was his redemption from wimphood and restoration to real manhood.
It would be a long time until I knew it wasn't because I was 'bad'; healing (and anger!) started to come when I recognized the cultural sanction of rape as an act of manhood, and that it was an expression of power over me.
Leaving and Living
As bad as things got, I never stopped thinking about escape. While I was busy telling him that yes, I was looking forward to marrying him so he didn't beat me bloody, I was secretly looking for a way out. Being honest about leaving meant beatings, violent rape, death threats. I tried to leave several times; once I got the police to come and get him out. The lady across the road persuaded me to take him back.Of course, I sometimes felt that I loved him too...
The clincher came when I could see what the violence was doing to my little boy, who was becoming more and more withdrawn. I couldn't have it. I had had a child by Paul, too, and I could not have her growing up with it. I didn't know then, as I do now, that I was also worth being free for. I actually made arrangements to be evicted from the flat I lived in.
I told Paul that as soon as I could find somewhere else, we'd move back in together. That was not true; I had no intention of doing that, but did not dare say so. I moved in with a friend. He still came every day, still beat me when we were alone. But eventually I made the break....when others were about. I was stalked, raped again and threatened, emotionally blackmailed. I got a court order. I came out so sick, so depleted. I was hospitalized for severe depression; what I now know was PTSD.
But I clawed my way back. I met and married my current partner, who, because of Paul's crime of murder, adopted my baby girl. I went to university because I wanted to get professionally qualified to help other women who'd experienced what I had.
It's been a hard slog. The search for validation had been tough; I became used to eyes glazing over when I told people that my rapist was my partner...I could see the listener categorizing me as hysterical, and my experiences of rape as not real.
I wasn't to understand, until I was in the middle of writing a literature review on marital rape, that the sexual violence, which still sat in me and shamed me so badly, was absolutely real; that all those feelings I'd had *(and which are shared at different parts of this site) were valid. I kept stopping writing to cry and shake as it all came back...
I got sad, and then I got mad. I saw what the view of rape in relationships tends to be, and that invalidation certainly did not fit my feelings. I asked myself what if the feelings of women raped by partners are actually what is real, and not the invalidating views? I knew I'd found truth in that.
I came to understand that I hadn't made him do it - he'd wanted to keep me down, and had known that raping me was a good way to snuff out any rebellion.
I decided I would equip myself with all the knowledge I could on rape by partners, so I could reach out to others and let them know that they are not alone, and that there is healing for them. It hurts me that women experience this in aloneness.
I am a laughing, clever, warm, loved and loving woman who survived. I still have my moments, but I did survive, and I now thrive. I want others to know they can too.
Comes the Dawn
After a while you learn the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning and
company doesn't mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts and
presents aren't promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes open,
with the grace of an adult, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all of your roads on today because
tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans.
After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure...
that you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
~Veronica A. Shoffstall