“I wake up startled by the wobble. This is not good: someone comes into my bed. ‘What are you doing? I don’t want this,” I manage to say, half asleep. ‘I feel so alone’, I hear. It’s Chile. A colleague who is staying with me tonight for lack of a nice house. “I’m just coming to lie down next to you.” When I feel his hands on my body, I freeze. I can barely notice him undressing me. What he does to me next I only know from the nightmares that will return for years to come. Not until he’s back in bed – fifteen minutes later? Or was it two o’clock? – I come to. Still stiff, I wait for the alarm to go off. I just want to shower.

    Interesting new colleague

    The last 20 years of my life have been marked by that one evening. The night I was raped. Although I dare not use that word until now. I knew Chiel from my work at a music venue. My colleagues and I were close. When Chiel joined our team as a newcomer, he was welcomed with open arms. He came from the big city, where his friend had been killed in a shooting. As a witness he had to go into hiding in our hometown. I don’t know if it was true, but I thought it was very interesting at the time. Too bad he’s gay, I thought when he claimed he didn’t like women.

    Chiel barely had any furniture in his new home, but we wished him a warm home after everything he had been through. My colleagues and I took turns letting him stay with us. The men and the women. I didn’t hear any crazy stories from anyone. When he was supposed to sleep on a mattress in my dorm room, I didn’t care. Until he got into bed with me.

    Why hadn’t I done anything?

    I was too scared and in shock to defend myself. At night, but also the morning after. After taking a shower we even walked to work together in a ‘nice’ way. Fortunately, I dared to confide in a colleague about what had happened. Chiel left our company not much later.

    Nowadays I realize more and more that it is not self-evident that people believe your story and that action is taken. I was lucky that people took me seriously and saw me as a victim. Because I found it difficult to see that myself. Why hadn’t I done anything when Chiel undressed me? Why didn’t I scold him on our walk to work and tell him what he’d done to me? “If something like this had happened to me, I would have pushed him off me!” I was told every now and then. Of course you think that in advance. But when someone lies on you, you are so afraid that you can’t do anything. When I wanted to explain to people why I froze, it always helped me to compare it to a fear of heights. Everyone has seen someone who does not dare to move at a great height. Whether it’s rational or not, fear makes you stiff. Whether you like it or not, you can’t move.

    Trauma came back during childbirth

    For twenty years I dreamed about the rape almost weekly and I lay frozen in bed again. During the day I pushed the trauma away, but I was always suspicious. In the dark on the bike I always had a cigarette in my hand as a ‘weapon’. I tried to live a normal life, but I kept getting stuck. I didn’t finish a study, I didn’t maintain a friendship. It was a miracle that I met a sweet, gentle man whom I trusted and with whom I developed a relationship. But all my pent-up fear came out when we had a baby together. The place where something very beautiful would come out was also the place where something very bad had happened before. The fact that there were now complete strangers in the delivery room while I was giving birth triggered my trauma.

    Therapy was a liberation

    In the months after giving birth, I had the nightmare of rape so often that I went to therapy. It was a liberation. After 23 years I finally dared to recognize that freezing is normal. That I was raped. And I was told that I could still file a tax return many years later. It was a long and arduous trial and, as expected, the rape could not be proven. But it felt like justice to me that my rapist still got someone at the door to remind him of what he did to me. I may not have been able to get rid of that night, but I did 20 years later.”

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    August 5, 2022