When I first came out of my abusive relationship I was full of self-blame, taking all the responsibility on myself and giving none to my abuser. If what had been happening was sexual abuse, how come I didn’t say no? Did that mean I wanted it? Was there something about me that needed to be dominated and kept under control?

The way we understand ‘saying no’ just doesn’t work with sexual violence. When someone has more power than you, either physically or through emotional or financial manipulation, looking her in the eye and saying “No” is a complete waste of time. She will ignore it, or respect it at the time and then be angry with you the next day for being ‘frigid’, or demand that you have sex with her a few days later in a way that’s even more painful and humiliating in order to teach you that you shouldn’t have said ‘no’ in the first place.

Looking back, I can see that actually I said ‘no’ to her all the time. She just chose to ignore or dismiss all the different ways I told her that I was not enjoying what she was doing to me. Here’s just a few of the things I did and said that mean no:

  • Washing straight after sex means no
  • Avoiding sex means no
  • Moving her hand away when she tries to grope me means no
  • looking unhappy during sex means no
  • never initiating sex means no
  • “I’m tired” means no
  • “I’m busy” means no
  • “Hurry up and get in over with” means no
  • avoiding eye contact all the way through means no

We can be a lot less forgiving of ourselves than we are of our abuser. If my girlfriend leapt off the bed without making eye contact and went off to the bathroom to wash the minute we’d finished having sex, I would be really worried. I’d want to talk to her, to know if I’d done something wrong. My abuser just ranted at me: “I don’t like it when you go and wash your hands, it’s as if you don’t enjoy it. You do enjoy it, DON’T YOU?”

We have to stop blaming ourselves and buying into their excuses and hold them to the same basic moral standards we hold ourselves to. If you place your hand on your girlfriend’s arse and she gently moves it away, would you (a) get the message (b) keep molesting her until she gives in while ranting endlessly about what a frigid selfish bitch she is? If you answered (a), Congratulations! You are not a rapist. We would never dream of doing option (b) to our partner, so she had no right whatsoever to do it to us.

When we are in relationships with so little control, so little self-esteem, so little independence, still we find tiny little ways to resist. Always somewhere some little part of us kept saying no, kept resisting, even when it could only do that in the tiniest most secret ways. Whatever abuse we’ve been through, there is something strong inside all of us that our abuser could never destroy, and that is what gives us hope and makes us survivors.

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