In the wake of Donald Trump's tape scandal and the ongoing global horror at how the Republican candidate could ever have been considered worthy to preside over the United States in the first place, one particular voice critical of Trump's obscenities caught me off-guard.
In a response to Trump's boasts about grabbing women "by the pussy" and his perpetuation of rape culture, writer Kelly Oxford Tweeted:
"Women: tweet me your first assaults. They aren't just stats. I'll go first.
Old man on city bus grabs my "pussy" and smiles at me, I'm 12."
Some 14 hours later, millions of women had shared their own experiences of sexual assault. I saw the stories retweeting on my timeline and felt sick and sad and angry that so many women had experienced such hideous things, but viewed the streams of violations and violence with a small patch of distance. And then it hit me - this has happened to me too. But until now, I'd never considered it assault. I'd always believed, just a little bit, it had been my fault.
I was 15 years old, in a London nightclub. Underage, looking underage too, with goth eyeliner, 90s platform boots, and a radiating naivety. I thought I was cool, yet was full of teenage self-loathing - a trail of scars on my arm to prove it. A man approaches me, he's at least 20 years old, if not 25 or more. We chat and dance, I am drunk, and then he kisses me. I allow this. But suddenly, right there on the dance floor, he puts his hands down into my knickers and touches me. Even through the fog of that night's alcohol, and the fog of time that's passed since then, I remember sharply that I did not like this, that I felt uncomfortable, but that I did not know how to react. Then he takes me to an area tucked away, pushes me to the ground, and gets on top of me. I panic, wriggle free, find my friend and run out of the room, out of the club and down the street. I don't look back, I worry he will be angry.
For so long, women have been misled into taking the blame and shame onto ourselves. We presume we have done wrong. From men touching our bottoms in the street to not leaving us alone while we're waiting at bus stops, we all experience everyday micro-aggressions that make us feel frightened, but which also make us numb to the severity of what is going on.
I thought that experience in the nightclub was my fault for a long time. I thought I had invited and ALLOWED it. I rail against sexism and misogyny and abuse against women, but only a few years ago did it click that this experience was Not My Fault. Only later still did I realise the problem was HIS. And only today - twenty years later - do I look objectively at it enough and see that being touched without consent and being pushed to the ground is an assault. It is not OK.
Scrolling through Kelly Oxford's timeline, the realisation hit me hard. Because if it wasn't 'assault', what had I thought it was? A miscommunication? A man who got a little hot-headed and carried away? Just 'one of those things'? No. To give it a name is to face it head on. I don't have lasting pain from the incident, but to say what it really was finally clarifies the experience for me. It was not my fault. I had not invited it. And I didn't deserve it. It was assault.
Nearly six years ago, I wrote a short play that took this nightclub experience as its springboard because I knew I had something to say about it - but even then, in 2011, it felt radical to consider discussing such ideas, especially in a little theatre space above a pub near Liverpool Street station. The play is full of dated references to Facebook and Bieber and Twilight, but at its core, the issue is just as relevant. Teenage girls increasingly disbelieve their right to respect, sexual pleasure and intimacy. Trolling, abuse, sexual violence against women is an everyday occurrence. Because I wrote this play a long time ago, it does nothing but sit on my computer in a documents folder. So I'm pasting it below. It's there if you want to read it or use it - if it is helpful, take it. If you're a teenage girl, see if it resonates. See if things have changed. Maybe it's patronising and bullshit and girls today can tell me their experiences are far from similar. I can update it, I can make it modern, but I thought, why not put it out there and see if it helps communicate the issue a little bit more? It's barely ten minutes long. It won't change the world. It's just some dialogue. But it's there.
I am so lucky that all my long-term relationships have been with kind and respectful men. I feel grateful for their support and help in my life. But I know full well how we are often led to believe that we should just put up with shit, that we deserve what *they* give us, not what *we* want for ourselves. About a year ago, I was in the audience of a talk by the brilliant writer and activist Eve Ensler. She was asked how we can help young boys understand better how to treat girls. She said it wasn't just a matter of learning about consent, it was a matter of learning about intimacy.
This stayed with me - we must continue to educate about the importance of appreciating the other person's comfort and pleasure, of knowing the joy and importance of closeness, of learning what it really means to value another human being and respect their boundaries. We must be able to say what we want - and not take on shame for our bodies for just existing, or for how other people react to them. That is not our problem. It's their problem. I just can't believe it took me so long to realise this about something in my own life, too.
The Club - a short play.
Copyright Amy Abrahams. Written March 2011.
Chloe and Samantha are both 15. Samantha (Sam) walks in, taking off her coat:
Samantha Go check it.
Chloe God, what? What?!
Sam Just changed your status.
Chloe BITCH! What did you say? [checking phone] “Chloe has her period”! Sam!
Chloe And? Urgh. “Chloe loves Justin Bieber”! That is not even slightly true. He's disgusting. He's like a tiny, little, tiny... weasel.
Sam Whatever. You love him.
Sam Bet you'd love to see his tiny little weasel willy!
Chloe You went too far.
Sam I did, didn't I?
Chloe Yes. So stop with the fucking Bieberphilia. It's nasty. And delete those posts.
Chloe Good. I'm waiting...
Sam fiddles on phone.
Sam makes a face.
Chloe Well done.
Chloe touches up her make-up.
Chloe God, I'm so bored.
Sam I just got here.
Chloe So let's do something. Unless you want to sit downstairs and watch CSI:Miami with my parents. Yawn.
Sam It's odd how they love those programmes.
Chloe Fucked up, I say. Give them murder and torture on the telly and they'll let me get up to all sorts as long as I keep the noise down and shut the front door gently.
Sam Could get some cigarettes?
Chloe So we can stink?
Sam Want to crank on the Wii?
Chloe Kids stuff.
Sam Since when?
Chloe Since, I don't know. Since now. We've just done our GCSE mocks. We're old.
Sam DVD? What you got?
Sam No way.
Chloe You sure?
Sam Not again.
Chloe Suit yourself. But I will always love Jacob.
Sam So, go on, what happened last night?
Chloe It was cool.
Sam Tell me then. That's what I came round for.
Chloe I thought you wanted to see me cos you love me?
Sam Fuck off. What's the gossip?
Chloe You'll just get jealous. It was so good.
Sam Ugh. Unfair.
Chloe You missed out.
Sam My parents are such losers.
Chloe They're like fucking Mormon or something
Sam Except they're Jewish.
Chloe Well, yeah. But Mormons are like Jewish people, yeah?
Sam I don't think so.
Chloe What do you know anyway, pig eater?
Sam More than you.
Chloe Aren't the Jonas Brothers Mormons?
Sam I don't know. I think they're just, you know, Disney.
Sam Stop avoiding the issue.
Chloe What issue?
Sam How was last night?
Chloe Actually, it's not that big a deal.
Sam Yes it is. Don't play it cool. Come on, tell me everything. What did you wear?
Chloe OK, I wore that black Topshop skirt with the lace bit on the side and the tights with the little hearts all over them from River Island. Katie nearly wore the same skirt, thank God she didn't. I would've died. Instead, she looked like some try-hard Rihanna wannabe. It was hilarious. Though obviously I told her she looked fierce.
Sam Sounds really funny.
Chloe It was. In fact, it was hilarious because we nearly didn't get into the club, the bouncer was not having any of our fake ID – fucking waste of a tenner I'm going to kill Simone on Monday – but luckily Katie's uber-prostitute style got us noticed and in the door. Yes!
Sam Amazing. Then?
Chloe Then? Then we, you know, did what you do at a club. Danced around, talked shit, drank Barcardi Breezers, bought lollipops from the toilet lady, talked to men.
Sam They have lollipops?
Chloe Yeah, I got strawberries and cream. Katie got cola.
Sam So you did talk to boys?
Sam It was just a question.
Chloe It's a club, Sam. There are boys in clubs as well as girls. Obviously not the ones you've been in, Sue Sylvester...
Sam I love Sue Sylvester.
Chloe Me, too.
Sam Look, just tell me about stuff. You know I don't know anything. I am never allowed out to do anything exciting, like ever.
Chloe Why don't you just lie and say you're staying at mine?
Sam They'll know. I can't lie to them, my mum –
Sam Exactly, I go all red and guilty.
Chloe Yeah, that's true.
Sam Like remember when I told them we were watching Toy Story 3 in the cinema, but actually your brother lent us District 9. And that night my parents took me out for dinner, but I started crying when I saw the prawn tempura?
Chloe Yeah, I remember. You're doomed.
Sam I know it. So stop being a dick.
Chloe Fine. OK. So... So, I did kiss this one bloke.
Chloe Katie was well jealous because there was this guy sniffing around her, but he was so minging. Really sweaty. But this guy talking to me, he was really smart. Said he worked in the city, like a banker or something. Or maybe a lawyer, I can't remember.
Sam What was his name?
Chloe Chris. Chris. Definitely Chris, I think.
Sam Did you get his number?
Chloe I could have, but he was pretty old. Like 25 maybe. Maybe 30. Hard to tell.
Sam But you obviously liked him.
Chloe Well I told him to find me on Facebook.
Sam Did you?
Chloe Gave him a fake name, dummy. I don't want a stalker.
Sam So why did you do that with him?
Chloe Why does anyone kiss anyone? That's what people do. You're meant to go and meet boys and kiss and that's when you know you've had a good night.
Sam Well, cool. It all sounds... nice.
Chloe Yeah, guess it was.
Sam So what did you talk about? With the – with him, erm, Chris...
Chloe Just, you know, the usual. He was pretty drunk, too. I don't really remember. Although...
Chloe Well, he started kissing me pretty quickly, which was cool. But it meant we didn't really properly bond. But it was proper kissing.
Sam So not like with Dave Morris at Nikhita's evening-in?
Chloe God no, ha! That was like kissing an old cucumber sandwich. This was – this was more... adult. He had his hand on my waist and moved it down. Like, you know, down....
Sam In front of everyone?
Chloe Yeah, obviously. We were on the dance floor.
Sam Where was Katie?
Chloe Nearby. Talking to that sweaty bloke.
Sam Didn't she mind you leaving her?
Chloe I didn't leave her. I was being sociable. She was fine.
Sam If I went with you –
Chloe But you're never going to.
Sam Well, one day...
Chloe You'd be a rabbit in the headlights. Plus, you're a bit immature about these things.
Sam I'm not. It's not like I haven't kissed a boy before
Chloe I'm not calling you a virgin –
Sam Well I am.
Chloe It's just you're –
Chloe Just that, look – I get offers.
Sam Good for you.
Chloe In fact, Chris, in the club. He was really into me.
Sam Sounds it.
Chloe When we were dancing, he properly put his hand down my skirt. Like into my knickers.
Sam Oh. OK.
Chloe Yeah. He sort of started... touching, and, er, you know, more. It was fine, I liked it. It felt nice enough. I mean, that's what happens, isn't it?
Sam I don't know.
Chloe Well it is. But then. Then it was a bit – well, he sort of pushed me, onto the floor.
Chloe Yeah, I don't know, I fell – and I spilled my drink over my skirt which was well annoying. But then I saw lots of shoes near my head so I panicked because I thought I might get trodden on and the floor was pretty dirty with glass and stuff and he was kinda over me, and his hand was still...
Chloe But then Katie pulled me up. And it was fine.
Sam Fine? Were you OK?
Chloe Of course. I was really drunk.
Sam Are you OK now?
Chloe Yeah, obviously. It was totally my fault, I probably tripped, my heels were huge.
Sam Did he hurt you?
Chloe It was just a thing.
Sam A big thing.
Chloe It's all about collecting steps, isn't it? Doing stuff in the order you're meant to. So, I've done that now.
Sam But it wasn't a very nice way...
Chloe Are you meant to enjoy these things?
Sam I think some people do.
Chloe Look, I wasn't 'happy happy' about it, but I'm glad I did it.
Sam But you let him –
Chloe So what? Someone was going to have to. It's moving on, one thing to the next, keep climbing up
Sam I don't know.
Chloe What's to know?
Sam I just imagine these things are –
Chloe Rainbows and flowers and shooting stars?
Chloe It's all uncomfortable and weird. And we just have to do it.
Sam I don't know.
Chloe It's cool. It was a good night and we had fun. Don't be so serious. Katie's already blabbing about my older man. She thought it was hilarious. I've already had two texts from Sarah P – she wants to come with next time. And Megan Facebooked me to say she'd been to that club too and that's where she got off with the guy who was once in an episode of Skins.
Chloe At least she's not sitting at home surfing YouTube every Friday night. There's only so many otter videos a person should watch before it gets weird.
Sam Please, it was one video. And the otter was surfing!
Sam Anyway. So what time did you get home this morning?
Chloe Got the night bus about 1.30. Hideous.
Sam You must be knackered.
Chloe A bit, it's fine. My mum had left bread and peanut butter on the table for us when we got back so that was good.
Sam Sounds nice.
Chloe Yeah. It was really cold and she'd put out all these blankets for Katie to sleep with, so we just huddled together till we got warm and fell sleep.
Sam Sounds nice. For a lesbian.
Chloe Whatever, Mormon.
Sam Yeah, yeah.
Chloe You sure you don't want to watch Twilight?
Chloe Did I do wrong?
Sam I don't think so.
Chloe Don't tell anyone.
Sam I won't.
Chloe I don't want anyone else to know.