Victims of Abuse: “You always hold on to the idea that you could have said no”

Sexually aggressive behavior takes many different forms. It doesn’t always have to be accompanied by violence and it can gradually creep into a relationship. Vox spoke to three students who were victims of abuse. They talk about the taboos and the (mental) consequences they still have to deal with.

Julie* (24): “She can get really angry”

Jolie was 13 years old when she first met Diana, a 21-year-old woman she had met online. She had little contact with her peers and pressured Diana.

She knew very well what to say to a 13-year-old. I was “very mature for my age, very smart and very private.” Then you would eventually believe it. The connection remained online at the time, but it intensified, as Diana also began to Asking for explicit photos and recordings.” I kind of knew I shouldn’t have agreed to that. You hear it everywhere, and my parents also regularly warned me not to share anything online. At the same time, I had a feeling this was different. That this was true love.

After a while, Diana broke off the connection. She would have known the troubles she could run into if communication between her and underage Julie had leaked out. Years passed, until, at the age of 21, Diana became close to Jolie again.

That was a very strange moment. Because I was really attached to her at that time and wanted nothing more than to be with her. But at the same time, I was very angry about what happened. I also wanted to know if she had any pictures of me. This was the reason I accepted her contact request. And then plunge into the relationship again.

The two began a long-distance relationship, seeing each other occasionally in real life and the relationship becoming increasingly bleak. “She could get really angry and suddenly be done with me. In the end, I did everything I could to avoid it, and I became completely isolated. Until she was the only one left.

As a result, Jolie almost automatically did what Diana asked of her. “For example, she expected me to keep the phone line open with her all day and even at night so she could hear me. When the line went down, she got angry. When I made my own plans, she got angry. If she wanted something sexual and she didn’t understand it, she got angry.

“Abuse doesn’t necessarily mean being dragged into the bush somewhere”

It so happened that Jolie had unwanted sex with Diana several times. Otherwise, they will become aggressive. Giving up was an easy way for me to keep her from going crazy. Those were the hardest moments, the ones I then thought: I wish I had said no. Jolie always felt that she was to blame. This is the complexity of a situation where you are not being forced physically, but mentally. To always have the idea that you could have said no. I could have said no, but at that moment I felt I couldn’t.

This is also why Jolie is now sharing her story. Abuse doesn’t have to mean being dragged into the bush somewhere and getting a knife to your throat. It could also be that someone makes you feel understood and takes advantage of you in this way. Julie is now in therapy and can talk about what happened to her. “I felt so guilty and dirty for so long. It’s now getting to the point where I feel angry. This is actually very liberating.”

However, events will always be a part of her life. “I’m through EMDR therapy [Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, een behandeling voor traumaverwerking, red.] Luckily it’s actually a lot less panicky. I will always find it hard when people get mad at me, but I hope I can learn to deal with it better in the future.

Illustration: Ivana Smuda

Wies* (22): ‘If I was in pain he said it was part of it’

Last summer, Wies met Stefan* via the dating app Bumble. The dating was going by the book, but Stefan gained more clout step by step. When Wies points out that he doesn’t want to have sex, he convinces her to do it anyway. “Then when I was in pain, he’d say it was part of it and that I should accept the pain rather than stop it.” Since he was constantly talking about her, Wies began to think that it was only natural for this to happen. The shock followed only later.

“I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder [posttraumatische stressstoornis, red.] And it was treated using EMDR. The diagnosis came as a blow. It was a lot at one time. I also had many questions. What happened to me again? why me? Why didn’t I realize Stefan was abusing me?

The questions were accompanied by a feeling of guilt. “I felt like it was entirely my fault. I really had to work hard on that with the psychiatrist. Also, some people around me didn’t understand why he didn’t end the relationship with Stefan sooner. How could I stay with him when he treats me in such a bad way?”

“He was constantly trying to make me dependent on him.”

She points out that sometimes breaking a relationship is more difficult than you think. Someone can exert so much influence over you that you feel like you can’t leave. He constantly tried to make me dependent on him. For example, against Wes’ wishes, he bought several expensive gifts and soon started talking about living together. I didn’t really want any of that. At the time I could not return the gifts and was aware of the perverted power relations that would arise.

At the time, Wies didn’t realize that Stefan was overstepping her bounds. “Part of my environment couldn’t understand that, it was too hard for me.” I learned more about this from a psychologist. The brain can apparently suppress shock for a very long time. As a result, you can literally forget about what happened.

She hopes that in the future people will be less quick to make their own judgments, especially when victims talk about their experiences with offending sexual behavior for the first time. My advice is: listen. And if you have questions, check first if it’s okay to continue talking about the topic. The EMDR test is now complete, but Wies still speaks regularly with her psychiatrist. Even after treating a trauma like sexual assault, you won’t suddenly be back to normal. I’m officially in recovery from PTSD, but my memory and focus issues still have a huge impact on my life.

Daoud * (25): Hold my head.

David was abused as a child. Later, he had a relationship in which sexual abuse occurred and during his school days he faced sexually aggressive behavior on several occasions. “Honestly, it’s kind of a recurring theme in my life.”

The last time David was abused was when he came home with a boy after a board meeting. He wanted to try all kinds of sexual acts. Apparently he also felt called to penetrate me. I managed to pull it off, but it took more persistence than I expected.

David says that disrespecting each other’s personal boundaries is more common within associations. It’s loose. There is a lot of alcohol out there and a one night stand is very common. I’ve found that people quickly think it’s permissible to cross boundaries that you haven’t even been able to set clearly yet.

“By putting forth these experiences, you can make a huge impact.”

This was also the case during a date with another boy he met in board life. “There was nothing really wrong until he grabbed my head and pushed around his cock. He kept pushing. It just came out of nowhere for me. I thought ‘we’re not going to do this’ and left.”

Although there were many counselors at the university, David did not go there. I am having enough trouble with my studies at the moment. In addition, I have been in treatment almost full time for child abuse in recent years, and continue to do so. I think that’s fine, but it leaves no room for embarking on a completely different, emotionally charged path.

David also found it difficult to bring up these incidents with his board of directors. You’re in a group where you all know each other. By bringing up these experiences, you are making a huge impact. If you are firm enough in where you are at that moment, it doesn’t necessarily have to be negative, but I have other things on my mind. David leaves it at that. “These experiences are the ‘light’ variant of what I’ve actually experienced in the past. Sexually aggressive behavior is common in student circles. I don’t feel I really have a choice but to accept that.

Although David himself did not seek help on campus, he believes that the university can make students more aware of unwanted behavior. “Consent is a very nice concept, but after a few beers it is no longer in everyone’s lexicon. Fortunately, what you experienced won’t happen to everyone. But the unwanted touch is there in a little corner. Pay attention to that and talk about it.

*All names appearing in this article have been changed at the request of the interviewees. The real names are known to the editors.

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