Stealth (part 2): Why am I telling this story?

Some texts from The Aftermath

CN: stealthing/rape, brief mention of domestic violence.

[Part 1 of this post is here]

On my way from his place to the tube, I stick my headphones in and whack on some loud, jaunty tunes. Force of habit. There’s an upbeat soundtrack playing to the blood thumping in my ears. Walking to the station after getting stealthed I remember thinking that I should probably be crying. I should be sad. I should be feeling used and hurt and frightened and small. But I’m not, not right now. I’ll definitely feel all those things in the coming days, but right now if I have to label it the thing I am feeling is ‘rage.’ I’m not ‘sad’, I am incensed. I have a lot of thoughts about what happened, but the one that’s clearest in my mind is that I will tell this story.

As per last week, remember: this post was written shortly after The Incident but I’ve deliberately left a gap before publication. I have also removed identifying details to try and reduce the risk of legal action. Please don’t try to guess who this person is. I promise if you’re thinking ‘is it so-and-so?’, you’re wrong, and it would break my heart to have any of the lovely guys who feature on this blog tainted by idle wondering. I will delete any comments which imply identity (don’t be mean to my boys!) or fish for further info (I have no interest whatsoever in identifying this man). Secondly, I’m not writing this to try and garner sympathy or help – I am fine. Since this happened I have had friends and family supporting me, legal advice on how/whether to report, and invaluable help with libel before hitting ‘publish’ (huge thanks to Neil Brown of decoded.legal – he’s a hero and I’m so grateful). I am extremely privileged to have this support, without it I’d have swallowed this story, as so many people have been forced to swallow theirs. 

The first time, I tell the story because I want to capture what happened. The second I sit on the tube I start to compose an email to two of my closest friends. I open with a content warning. Explain that it won’t be funny like my other dating stories: this one’s dark. I give a brief overview of what just happened, sticking to the facts with only a few notes on my initial feelings. I give it the subject line “Just sending this so I’ve said it somewhere” and fire it off as soon as I’m home. Time stamping my account to around an hour after it happened.

The second time I tell this story, it’s because I think contemporaneous notes might be useful evidence. I send it quickly to a group chat on WhatsApp, different friends: “The guy I shagged tonight stealthed me. Just pretended to put on a condom and then fucked me without one.” Time stamped. In the moment. Fresh and clear in my mind.

The third time I tell this story, it’s to let him know that I know. When he pops up in my messages to claim it was a misunderstanding and beg me to talk to him, I do not give in. I don’t soften. I will not lie to myself to try and save the traces of the friendship I once enjoyed with this man. I tell him: “I’m really fucking angry that you would do something like that.” When he tries to tell me it’s all a mistake, that he found the condom after I’d left, that we should meet and talk because “we owe it to our friendship” I tell him no – “you owed me more respect, don’t put this on ‘we’”.

Why am I telling this story?

As I walk from his place to the tube, blood thumping in my ears and jaunty tunes putting a stomp in my step, it’s comforting to know that no matter what else I do, I will tell this story.

In the past I’ve smoothed over all manner of disappointing behaviour from men: tying myself in knots to avoid specifics when I write about the shit ways some guys have treated me. I hold back because I love them despite their mistakes, and because fuck knows I’ve made some awful mistakes of my own. It’s partly down to basic respect, as well. Ethics. The people who feature here let me take our private moments and share them publicly. No matter what else they do, that consent and trust is very precious. I don’t ever want to treat it, or them, lightly.

But this story’s different.

Ethics don’t compel me to soften it in the telling, even if I were minded to (which I am not). I have no desire to publicly shame or destroy this man, but I know that I don’t owe him my silence.

If you don’t want to star in a story like this, you shouldn’t rape the UK’s chattiest slut.

I understand this so clearly in the moment, as I sit fuming on the tube: I know that I will tell this story. I won’t swallow it. It’s gross and upsetting and enraging and boring and annoying and self-indulgent and definitely far too long. But I will tell this fucking story because it’s true.

On the record

The fourth time I tell the story, it’s to a kind health worker in the STI clinic. I rush there the next morning and get seen within the hour. I tell it straight: no emotion, just basic facts. I do it so calmly that she feels the need to ask, with infinite gentleness: “do you know that’s sexual assault?”

“Oh YEAH I do,” I almost laugh. “And he does too, I told him.”

She asks if I’m going to report it, and offers to make notes on my records. Initially I hesitate – I’ve a train to catch in an hour or so and they still need to take bloods and a vaginal swab before giving me a Hep B vax and PEP. I’m pushed for time.

But I remember a different story another woman told me many years ago, about going to the doctor after her husband gave her a black eye. The doc told her “there’s not much I can do for that, just ice it.” She insisted that there was something he could do, though. “Document it, please,” she said, and he begrudgingly obliged. Wrote in black and white on her medical records: black eye, husband hit her. Later, if anyone ever doubted what had happened, there’d always be a light to guide her back to the truth.

So I tell the health worker “thanks, yes please,” and the fifth time I tell this story in much more detail, because I want to get it on the record.

I tell it again and again over the next few days, repeating the salient facts. The sixth, seventh, eighth time I tell it, I’m only doing so because it feels like lying if I don’t. I am a gobby, inappropriate oversharer at the best of times, wouldn’t it be suspicious if I changed personality now? So I repeat it to friends: “Bit fragile, sorry – I got stealthed yesterday.” Matter-of-fact tone, no shame, no euphemisms. “Sorry I’m not up for partying, I’m on PEP cos I got stealthed. Side effects make me feel like I might shit myself.”

That weekend, I tell my best friend ‘I got stealthed’ so often that he starts to recognise when I’m using it as an excuse to be a twat. Partway through a bit of playful banter I tell him he’s not allowed to be mean to me because I got raped yesterday. He checks his phone, notes that it’s after midnight, and fires back a petulant:

“TWO days ago.”

We collapse into laughter.

This mundane bullshit

By the ninth time I tell the story, I am actually starting to bore myself. I’m so intent on repeating the facts that I forget I’m allowed to have feelings. I’m laser-focused on what the police will look at if I choose to report it later.

“You got raped, you say? Then why do your texts from two days after tell your friends ‘I’m fine’? Hmm?”

They take your phone, did you know that? When you report a rape the police will take your phone.

“If you were so ‘raped’, why not mention it?”

So when people ask how I am, I fucking mention it: “Not bad, ta. Work’s going well, but I got stealthed which was shit. Swings and roundabouts I guess? Haha!” I don’t want people to worry, but I do need to say it aloud. And in text. In writing. I’m telling the story because I worry about my credibility if I don’t.

Your rapist can sue you for libel, did you know that too? The police look for ‘recent complaint evidence’ to show you’re telling the truth, so if you report it later down the line they need you to have mentioned it. But if you mention it too publicly, your rapist can sue you for libel. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, so I might as well tell the fucking story.

Perhaps extremely unfairly, I tell the next man that I fuck. Explain that he’s my first consensual shag since I got stealthed. I know. I am incorrigible. In my horny, eager haze I tell him because I genuinely believe it’s flattering. One of my guiding principles is to never leave a compliment unspoken, and in that moment it felt magic that I wanted to fuck him at all. I’d assumed I wouldn’t want to be touched by anyone for a very long time, but then he turned up all hot and cool and flirty and my cunt immediately responded.

It was probably unfair on him, it’s a very weird thing to hear. I am not immune to the odd mistake, and in that moment everything was raw and my judgment was horribly off. But hey! That guy chose to fuck me! Girl on the Net! I am the living embodiment of TMI! I tell people the stories that society wants us to keep private! This story provokes a lot of awkward silences, and fair enough: it’s gross and upsetting. But I’m determined that it will not be private.

“You must be…”

Every retelling is aggressively and meticulously consistent.

To a friend I want to meet for drinks: “I can’t come out, and I don’t want to make up a lie. I got stealthed. I’m not up for fun.” To another friend who drops by the next day: “This is going to sound weird, but I need to say it: I got stealthed the other day.” I tell the boyfriend of a friend who I happen to bump into on the train! “Hey mate! How you doing? You’ll never fucking believe this but I got stealthed last week.”

I tell partners and ex-partners too, of course – one pours sympathy and care and I’m-on-your-team banter into my WhatsApp. It feels comforting and just what I need. Another gives me cuddles and warmth and his textbook dry wit and that’s perfect too.

I tell my sister. My powerful, brilliant sister. We meet for a drink on a random Friday because she happens to be free, and I spill the whole thing because I need a grown-up to guide me through it. Her jaw clenches with wrath as she listens without ever interrupting. She does what she always does, which is be the best big sister I could hope for. Dispensing practical help combined with emotional support: a warm blanket for comfort and a suit of armour if I decide I want to fight. It’s a relief to feel so heard and protected. I should have told her sooner. Finally, on this (the thirteenth or eighteenth or twentieth) retelling, I allow myself to have a proper cry.

There are so many more of these snippets: I have told nearly everyone I know. I tell friends I am visiting, friends who visit me. One friend, at the end of the story, offers up a “mate, I’m sorry. You must be…”

…and for a split second, in that pause, I worry what I’ll say if he ends that sentence with ‘sad’ or ‘frightened’ or something else that grates like nails down a blackboard. But it’s OK, he knows me, and here’s what he says:

“You must be livid.”

“Correct,” I sigh with relief. “I am fucking incensed.”

I email the first draft of the full story to heroic, kind, and brilliant lawyer Neil Brown, so he can help me reduce the risk that I’ll be sued for libel when I inevitably run my mouth over here on the blog. I tell a couple of criminal barristers too, who answer my questions on the process of reporting and give me tips on ‘recent complaint evidence’ and the likelihood of securing prosecution. I tell staff at one of The Haven sexual assault clinics in London. I have an anonymous chat with their police liaison. When I drop in to see how his family is doing, I tell my best friend’s Mum.

And now, you lucky fucks, I’m telling you.

I will not shut up

I’m not telling you because I want to hurt that guy (I am not interested in him) or because I want your sympathy (I am not sad). In the immediate aftermath of The Incident, I told the story because I wanted to ensure contemporaneous notes in case I did choose to report.

Later, I told myself it was worth doing to help others feel a little less alone. Telling my grubby tale because other people don’t always have the freedom to tell their own: weighed down by shame; frightened into silence; shyer than I am; more traumatised or hurt or justifiably frightened of getting sued, or worse. Sometimes lacking the understanding of just how egregious this behaviour is (stealthing is rape. The law in the UK is clear. There will be men reading this post who have done it, and guys you need to know it’s fucking rape) – not everyone is as buried in Sex Discourse as I am and some have never even heard the word ‘stealthing’. And there’ll be others who are fully aware that it’s a sex crime but have been thoroughly let down by a justice system which failed them when they told their own story through the official, useless channels.

But above and beyond all those reasons, I’m telling this story because I simply cannot keep it in. Telling stories is what I do. Not in a lofty, earnest ‘I have a powerful calling to The Truth’ way, in a far more basic and probably ugly way: I’ve got a giant mouth that I’m incapable of shutting. I started this sex blog all those years ago because I’m drawn to telling stories, and I wanted a space in which to do that where the audience was purely opt-in. Maybe writing stuff down would stop me banging on to people in the pub about how much I love blow jobs?

(spoiler: it has not).

To me, talking openly about sex and all its joys and jokes and horrors feels… not ‘right’ necessarily… even to me it often feels vulgar and weird… but ‘authentic’ at least. This is who I am. Despite always yearning to be aloof and enigmatic, I am not and have never been a mystery: I’m the fuckup who’ll down four pints and then tell you how often I wank. I’ll give you the intimate details of my latest kinky fuck if you ask me nicely! And sometimes even if you don’t! This compulsive oversharing is not something I’m proud of. On most days, outside of work, I see it as a problem. A character flaw. A terrible habit that I’ve tried to break and failed.

Yet occasionally I think it comes in handy.

One of the most common responses to this story, from women I know and love, was ‘me too.’ Of course. Around half the women I spoke to about The Incident in the few weeks after it happened told a similar tale – a guy pretending to put on a condom or deliberately removing it without her knowledge or consent. I’m not going to guess the actual number of people in the UK who’ve been stealthed, but it’s way more than I thought before it happened to me. As one of the criminal lawyers I spoke to told me: this mundane, sneaky, creepy behaviour is likely the most common form of rape.

In the UK, there has only ever been one successful stealthing prosecution.

We are our stories

Some will think I should shut my mouth about this: notably men who pretend to put on condoms but slyly drop them before they plunge inside; guys who remove one when they’re fucking you from behind then later pretend that it must have just slipped off; dudes who whine that they can’t feel anything through latex then expect you to believe they didn’t notice when the condom disappeared.

Whoops! How did that happen?! Might as well keep fucking, though, right? The damage has been done! Come on babe, lie down, don’t worry, this shit happens all the time!

These pricks will hate me for telling you this, because the more often we tell these stories the harder it is for them to pretend it was all a mistake. To dissemble and obfuscate and gaslight and distract. Succeeding, in that crucial moment, in nudging us through doubt and into denial.

I’m so grateful to the women who told their stories before it happened to me.

That’s not to say you should feel compelled to tell your own story, though: you do you. One of the things that boils my piss about rape and sexual assault is that when it happens (to us, to a friend, to a colleague) on top of the harm that is the act itself, the perpetrator is handing us an additional awful dilemma. Should I report it? Should I talk about it? Should I warn those around them who might be in danger? The onus is on us to do something. Make a decision! Report, share, talk, challenge, whatever.

Why do rapists get to give us fucking homework?!

You do whatever you need and want with your own story, you’re on your journey and that’s so much more important than whatever anyone else thinks you should do.

But fuck it, I’m Girl on the Net! Of course I’m gonna tell mine!

I’ve anonymised and had this read for libel and as far as I am concerned there is no way this man is identifiable, so telling this story cannot cause him any harm. Meanwhile, keeping quiet about it is actively causing harm to me: it’s the emotional and professional equivalent of biting my tongue till it bleeds. This shitty thing happened, and it’s my literal job to rinse my life for content. It didn’t destroy me, but it did affect me. So I’ll rage about it and be disgusted by it and joke about it and link to it and talk about it on podcasts and in the pub and in bed and on fucking social media. I will mention mention mention it till I’m sick of the fucking word ‘stealthing’. This is a real thing that happened to me – a jagged tear in the fabric woven from all the stories that make up my life. And I tell stories: it’s what I do.

There are many different reasons to tell you this one. If I’m truly honest with myself, I’m telling it because I don’t know how not to. Because it’s stuck in my throat and choking me and I can’t move on with my work until it’s out. Because I can’t write better stories until this chapter is done.

I’m telling you this story because it’s true.

 

 

All comments are pre-moderated. 

 

9 Comments

  • Bee says:

    I’ve just caught up with both of these and first of all I am so sorry this has happened to you. But, most likely the same as you, my predominant emotion is pure fucking rage. How fucking dare someone walk over your clear boundaries like that, what gives him that right. And worst of all, this is someone you called a friend. If you can’t trust your friends, then who can you trust?! But also, how do you move forwards from that, without that newly found distrust creeping into current and future relationships.

    Sorry, I was attempting a coherent comment but I’ve just ranted and raged!

    • Girl on the net says:

      CN: maybe my comment is a bit victim-blamey because it’s dealing with anxiety and self-hatred post-rape, pls read with care.

      Ohhh yeah no you’re not being incoherent at all, you’re absolutely right Bee and that’s a really important point – “how do you move forwards from that, without that newly found distrust creeping into current and future relationships.” At the time it happened, that was one of the things that massively fucked me up. I think I lost a lot of trust – in people in general, definitely, but mostly in myself. I didn’t trust my own judgment, and I think that’s one of the things I still carry with me and it has been hard to move past it and allow myself to be vulnerable with new men. I’ve definitely had some pretty intense bouts of anxiety since it happened, and I suspect some of that is triggered by the uncertainty. Choices I thought I had a handle on suddenly seem a lot more slippery, and decisions I make in life (about relationships or otherwise) are way more tentative. It was hard to be certain of stuff and tackle it head-on when I had this voice in the back of my mind telling me [wrongly, of course] that if I’d only had better judgment it wouldn’t have happened in the first place. I have lots of posts in draft about various things to do with this incident (don’t worry, I won’t publish ALL of them, it’s just writing is a useful way for me to process this stuff) and one is about this exact issue. Here’s an extract:

      “At some point after it happens, someone makes a joke in response to a horny thing I say about wanting to find someone to bang me in a particular way. “That shouldn’t be too difficult!” they say, and I have to hold myself back from just spewing all this into a comment. You’re right, my lovely and well-meaning friend: it shouldn’t be too hard. It’s just that recently I got assaulted by someone who I’d thought was a pal, and so every possible new person comes with a side-order of massive uncertainty. Is this guy sexy? Maybe! But also maybe his sexiness is a cover for sneaky shit that he’ll pull later down the line. Is this guy fun? Sounds like it! But perhaps that fun comes at a cost that I can’t quite enumerate right now. Do I want to bang this man? Maybe. But sitting across from him in a pub, I find I’m nitpicking every tiny turn of phrase, every pause, every lack-of-a-question, every comment and aside, just hunting hunting hunting for any evidence that he might not be who he says he is. Is he a rapist? Not right now. But how about… now? How about in ten minutes, ten days, or ten months’ time? I don’t know how to know, and the only person who can be the judge of this is me. And in the past, I judged poorly.”

      As I say, I think this is victim blamey and there is no way on this planet I would ever think this about anyone else. But my own brain threw a tonne of this shit at me in the aftermath, and it really alarmed me how easily I soaked some of it up. I think in part because if I can blame myself, even a little, then there’s potentially some action I can take in future to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Actually, the truth is, there isn’t anything I can do to stop rapists being rapists. I just want that comfortable illusion of having a little control and protection. If that makes sense.

      And yeah: how fucking dare he. Prick.

  • f says:

    Hey, I’m so sorry this fucking fucker did this. I hope you can recover your trust in yourself, in your choices, your judgement and later, in men. I hope, actually, is already back. Anyway, just wanted to say that.
    And that although it is a fucking ugly subject, (and I deeply-deeply wish this or any type of assault never happen again to you or to anybody), I really appreciate that you dare to open up and write about it.
    Also because, Girl on the Net, your writing is sublime. Thanks for that!

    And for that man: go fuck yourself you fucking piece of shit!
    PS: I don’t mind if you keep my message unpublished. You can keep it for yourself.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thank you for the solidarity! And don’t worry – I’m happy to publish most comments, I just have to pre mod to avoid any that might speculate about identity etc. But thank you <3

  • John says:

    I’m sorry it chokes you. I hope that telling it many many times will help reduce the choking. And maybe help a few other people.

  • fuzzy says:

    ” I’m telling this story because I simply cannot keep it in. Telling stories is what I do”

    Once more you confirm that you are a real writer. I find that Artists cannot *not* do what they do. Painters must paint, authors must write it will find a way.

    Not ignoring the shitty thing that happened to you, just for a moment focusing on the truth of who/what you are.

    Thank you.

  • Just wanted to say: Respect for this excellent bit of analysis, and the generosity of sharing it for others to benefit.

  • Mark says:

    What an utter shit. I read the first post and it made me feel ill, I wasn’t used to that feeling. I’ve never read something so visceral and rotten, I’m so sorry this happened to you. What an absolute bastard.

  • J says:

    I’m so sorry that he did that to you, that’s just evil. I’m glad you’ve got support around you. And you’re doing the smart thing now with notes and that – I hope whatever path you take from here, it goes as smoothly as it can for you.

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