This is a forum where I encourage people to share their experiences of rape culture, whether that be experiences of assault, rape, stalking, harassment or the everyday things you do to minimise the risk of being raped.

I live every single day around not being raped. This does not make me ‘irrational’- this is what other people call common sense. I do not go out alone after dark. I get picked up from the train station after work when it is starting to get late instead of walking home. I walk with my keys in my fist. I do not wear headphones when walking. I carry a long umbrella most days, even when it isn’t raining, because I was told that this can deter attackers. I choose not to wear skirts most days at university, because I know I need to get a crowded train home and hear stories every day of girls my age being groped on public transport or having pictures taken of them. I text my mum and boyfriend the number plates of cars which loiter or follow me around the block- just in case. I check in with family members when I leave, am 5 minutes away, and am home so that if something happens they will know straight away. I do not leave my drink unattended, I do not go to the bathroom alone when at a bar. When I leave the house to go out at night I am told to ‘be careful’ and I know what this means: it means to follow all the rules that inhibit me from living like men because I am a woman and these things can get me in big trouble.

I know far too many people who have had experiences of sexual assault and rape yet none of us have reported it or even thought of it as such until years later. I was 16 when at a house party and went into my best friends room to find a phone charger. I was followed by a boy who closed the door, and being taller and bigger than me, started to grab me and try to get me to kiss him. He ignored every single time I said ‘no’, its like he thought it was some kind of game or challenge. He pushed me onto the bed with himself ontop of me and I had to kick him to get out of that room. Did I report it to the police? or even to my mum? No. Why? Because I did not realise that what he did was wrong. I had grown up thinking that he was just drunk and that’s what boys were like. I feared that if I told my mum I would be blamed for going into a room alone and not be allowed out again. I felt I would be punished for his actions.

One of my close friends had so much to drink that she fell unconscious at a party. She told me the next day that she woke up to a guy on top of her, digitally penetrating her, and she did not report it to anyone because she thought it was her fault.

My best friend is only 21 and was in an abusive relationship for two years- but she still doesn’t believe it was abusive. Her boyfriend criticised her appearance, insulted her, degraded her and brought down her self worth every day. He cheated and lied with every single word. He told her that when he thinks of her he wants ‘blood on his hands’. He convinced her that I, her parents and her friends were the problem and hated him for no reason. He isolated her from me. He was fired for threatening a coworker yet she still believes he was the victim of her ‘lies’. He degraded her sense of worth so much that she became reliant on his approval and blinded to how abusive the relationship really was.

The worst of it is that she was raped by him. She was drunk, they were having sex. She had never agreed to anal before, nor talked about it to him ever. He anally raped her and after two thrusts she went into the bathroom, bleeding, upset because she had not consented to doing that with him yet he felt entitled enough to do it to her. At first she felt violated. Then, she believed it was just him ‘missing the right hole’ rather than him knowing she had not agreed to it but doing it anyway.

Someone I went to high school and university with was convicted of raping 5 girls, one of whom was 11. He made fake profiles online, threatened them, intimidated them, had thousands of images of child porn on his laptop and filmed himself raping one of the girls. This is a kid whose birthday I was invited to, and who my boyfriend was friends with up until his arrest. Everyone joked that he was ‘into younger girls’. Him meeting up with 15 year olds did not concern anyone and was normalised. Some of his friends even ‘joked’ about him being a pedophile. If only they knew that he actually had paid to see children be raped on webcam. This culture helped him feel like what he was doing wasn’t so bad. If people were disgusted at him speaking to high school girls, didn’t think pedophilia was something to joke about and didn’t consider his misogyny just ‘dark humour’- we wouldn’t have created the environment that allowed him to rape for over two years. The worst part of the story is that another classmate did not abandon him when he was charged. He even wrote a character statement about how great the perpetrator is, and how he is smart, private school educated, well liked and just ‘made a mistake’.

It is so easy to dismiss stories like mine as me just being irrational, or even believe that I’m somehow exceptional and have been surrounded by rape/sexual assault more than most others. I have been called ‘extreme’ and told I blame others for my ‘phobias’ when speaking about the things I do every single day to try to stay safe.

I am not an anomaly, most women (and some men) can share similar stories of being surrounded by sexual assault and rape. We can also tell you how our everyday lives are shaped by the imminent threat of sexual violence.

I hope that people will open up about their experiences, so that maybe those who don’t believe in rape culture can understand what it is like to be a woman in todays society. Just because we live in a first world nation, it doesn’t mean that we do not live with the fears and harms associated with gender inequality.