I Wouldn’t Even Have Recovered: How Humour Made Me Whole Again

by Charlotte Ann

UKIP Liberalists – Life Stories

“I think he wants to rape me, mum…”

I was young the first time that I was sexually assaulted. I must have been no older than 14 when my mother and I missed our flight home from Barcelona. We didn’t have much money or even travel insurance, and in hindsight, the whole holiday was probably a mistake. Being an internet-savvy teen with a euro in my pocket for the internet cafe, I’d discovered that the train and bus network from Barcelona to Calais was remarkably cheap and this led my mother and I to plot out a stop-to-stop route all the way back home.

We’d already had an unnerving moment when we arrived too late at the bus stop to catch our ride and been confronted by a would-be mugger. He was a double amputee missing both hands, and demanded that we hand over what little money we had to him for that reason alone. We’d had to run, chased by him for longer than I can remember, and we eventually found ourselves in the airport at Girona where we slept for the night.

The next day we took a train over the French border and ended up in the seaside commune of Cerbere. We arrived at 7pm and it was already beginning to get dark. We had plans to take a further train to Toulouse, but found that the timetables we had gathered were sorely inaccurate. The train we’d arrived on was the last train of the evening, and we were yet again stranded. The station wasn’t the kind of place to bunk down for the night. We racked our little brains for a solution, but came up with nothing. The hotels in the area would eat a hole in our budget, and there seemed to be no transport beyond the train station.

Then, our saviour arrived. A handsome young Frenchman who spoke perfect English, smartly dressed and smiling.

“Are you ladies alright?” he asked us. Ladies, I thought, how romantic! My mother explained our troubles briefly, and it seemed that he had an answer. He told us of an overnight chalet intended for railway engineers that was close by. He said we could stay the night, maybe for a very small fee or perhaps even free. He boasted of a private room with two single beds, ideal for a mother and daughter to wait out the night and return to the station to catch our train in the morning. 

Now is as good a time as any to paint a picture of my mother and I. She was a former weightlifter, a heavy-duty woman whose huge arms were covered in tattoos. I, even at 14 was around 80 kilograms, stocky and built like a farmer’s daughter. We were strong and confident, and had little trepidation when it came to a situation in which many girls would rightly feel vulnerable.

And so we accepted the offer, and followed that kind stranger out of the station and up a path leading to a wooded area. The sun had almost set, and after ten minutes of walking, the man, who had been speaking in French on the phone, told us that his friend would be taking us the rest of the way as he had to get back to the station.

Sure enough, the friend arrived promptly, a large man of at least 6 feet in height and all-meat from the waist up. We waved goodbye to our handsome man with some reluctance, and continued to follow our new friend farther into the hilly woodlands. He spoke no English, and the journey was mostly silent. It must have been another 20 minutes of walking, maybe more. My mother and I whispered about how the situation seemed to be growing more and more troubling, but our whispers caused a glance of confusion from the man, who seemed to insist that he understand what we were discussing, should we discuss anything at all. My mum squeezed my hand, and I looked around in the now pitch black forest, thinking of making some kind of escape.

Then suddenly, there was a click and a bright light shining upon us, illuminating the woodland path around us. It was a floodlight, switching on as we passed through its motion sensor. It lit up the chalet in all its splendour, and that which was promised had been delivered. My mum and I both sighed in relief.

The man took us up the steps and through the door. Inside and we saw a clean corridor and walked through it to see a number of rooms with tidy little beds. We walked past a kitchen where another man was having a beer. He seemed surprised to see us, and said
“Hey girls! Come and take a beer!”.  Things seemed like they couldn’t have gone any better, and I think we were both feeling bad for misjudging the whole situation.

After a while of relaxing and talking in broken Frenglish, the man who spoke no English said he would show us our room, an offer that was translated for us. My mum was smoking a cigarette out of the window, and so I volunteered to go down the hall and see where it was, then return with the room number.

I followed the quiet man, only a few metres from the kitchen. He led me down the hall to a room at the end of it and pushed open the door.

I’d never seen anything as disgusting in my life. The only light was that which shone in from the hallway, and it lit a decrepit collection of broken wood furnishings smashed on the floor and veiled in cobwebs. Atop the pile of rubble and smashed wood was a dirty mattress, half flat on the floor and half poised on the rubbish beneath it to form a slope where the dust had pooled in the creases. Above us, the window had been painted back with gloss, hiding the outside world from view.

I was confused, having seen so many empty bedrooms in livable condition. Then I thought that maybe we had offended him somehow, and this was our punishment.
Then he touched my breasts.

He pushed me against the wall close behind me and touched everything he could get ahold of. I was shocked. I’d never imagined being in that room, in that town, with that man, with his hands all over me. He didn’t understand the word stop, or no, or get off me. I wriggled and managed to slip through the doorway and back out into the hall where I rushed back to the kitchen. My mum was putting out her cigarette and laughing.

“I think he wants to rape me,” I whispered to her, wary of the other man in the room. I told her what had happened, and she seemed to swell up with resolve.

The man appeared in the kitchen doorway, and my mum rose to her feet.

“Show me the room.” she said to him, and it was translated by the man at the table. He obliged and I followed them both.

Part of me knew that my mum needed to see that room for herself. It needed to be a part of her life story, just as it was a part of mine. Otherwise it would not seem real at all. She walked in and saw it, and I waited in the hall. I knew she had a plan.

A minute later and they both emerged from the room.

“What’s the word for torch, do you know?” she asked me, and I didn’t know.

“Light is lumiere, I think.” I told her, the best I could do being a reference from a Disney cartoon.

She gestured that we needed a lamp of some kind, and combined with the French word it was enough for him to understand. He turned around and disappeared up the stairs.
“Ok, time to go.” she said, and we both made our swift way down the corridor, out of the building and into the dark forest. We ran in a straight line as fast as we could, down to the train tracks that we had travelled down once already on our way into the town. We were shaken, and silent. We took time to think about what had happened, where we were, whether we were safe.

Then, we joked. We laughed. We wandered down into the town in the relative cold and we had some of the most comforting moments that my mother and I have ever had together.

“I might have let him for a night at the Hilton.” she said.

“You? Premier Inn, maybe.” I replied, as we mocked each other until the sun rose on our nightmare.

“If you fucking touch me again, I’ll likely cut your dick off.”

Years later at the ripe old age of 22, I was to find myself at a local meetup for folks with special dietary requirements. Being a vegan, it was the perfect place, I thought, to make some new friends and maybe connect with people with the same ideas as me. That was where a very awkward seeming bloke struck up a conversation about starting up a vegetarian business, and I was keen to offer my words of warning and encouragement. I had, after all, owned exactly such a place for almost three years. It’s rare that people with such specific ambitions and insights get the chance to talk at length, and so we ended up talking at length. After the meetup, we continued to talk shop at a local bar, and after exhausting our funds in this particularly expensive craft beer bar, he offered a trip to his home wherein he had drinks, and a collection of vegan products that I might like to try. I accepted, and we drove out to his home in the next town.

At that time, I was in the process of closing my business, and had also just come out of a serious five-year relationship. I was looking for company, but I had made it more than clear that I was not looking for anything romantic. This seemed to be respected fully by my new acquaintance, and I felt more than comfortable in seeking out a deeper friendship with such a gentleman.

We arrived at his quaint home, he showed off his vegan food collection (I know, right… red flag…), and enjoyed a couple more drinks, nothing that either of us couldn’t handle. I introduced him to a form of meditation, and we watched Youtube, listened to music, and chatted until nightfall. By that time, my phone battery had died and he didn’t have a charger for a Blackberry. He’d had one too many to drive, and the after-hours cab fare from his town to mine would have been extraordinary.

So he offered a bed for the night.

“You take the bed, I’ll take the sofa.” he said, and it seemed like a good idea. He gave me some pyjamas that were far too large for me, seeing as he was a man twice my size. I put them on and got into bed, and he switched off the lamp beside the sofa on the other side of the room.

It would have been a nice night, until I felt someone get in bed beside me very, very slowly. I awoke but remained still. Uncomfortable sofa, doesn’t want to wake me, I thought. It seemed fair enough. Then I felt a hand fall onto my waist. My eyes were now wide open, as I waited for a more obvious transgression to protest against. It didn’t take long, and that hand moved up to my breast. I shot up, sitting upright in the bed and looking right at him in the darkness.

“That’s not why I’m here, bud.” I told him, and he was very apologetic. He said he had misunderstood my signals, that he thought that’s what I wanted. I made it crystal clear that it was not, and that I wasn’t ready for that with him or anyone else.

He got up out of bed and returned to the sofa. With a sigh, I lay back down and tried to stay awake. I was pretty sure that he got the message, but in this isolated place, a place entirely unfamiliar to me, I felt somewhat unnerved.

It must have been 20 minutes, maybe less, before he got back into the bed once again. I took a deep breath, preparing myself to battle this persistent fool once again. I remembered how large he was, how much the bed tilted me over with his weight pushing down on it. The hand, it landed gently on me, and began to stroke me from my waist down my thighs. He took a buttock into his hand and whispered, “Come on, now…”

I got up, and jumped out of the bed.

“Where are you going?” he asked, and I told him that I needed the loo. I knew that in the toilet was my bag where I had put my clothes after having changed into PJs. It contained my dead phone, and also a multi-tool that I carry around with me as I am a dedicated cyclist. The tool has pliers, a hammer, a bottle opener, a small knife… all sorts of useful things that are probably banned in today’s Britain. I grabbed that tool and put it in the pajama pocket, then came back out to the bedroom. My brain was racing. I imagined myself running out of there and getting chased down by him in his car. I imagined brawling with him and losing due to his sheer size. I tried to imagine what my mother might have done in that situation.

“I think it’s best if I sleep on the sofa.” I said to him, and he refused. He got out of bed and apologised once again. He said he’d been single for a long time, and he really thought that there was something between us.

“If there’s something between us, you’re going to ruin it by acting like this.” I said, and he sorrowfully took his place on the couch. I got back into bed and took the tool out from the pocket. I lifted out the knifeblade and held it in my hand, not really knowing what use it was going to be. If he came back, what was I going to do? Stab him? And would he come back, when it seemed like our conversation was so clear?

A while passed, and as much as I tried to stay awake, I felt myself falling asleep. Then I got the ultimate wake-up call. He climbed into bed, yet again. I squeezed the handle of my weapon and waited. He didn’t hesitate this time. He took that hand of his and grabbed the elastic of my pants, pushing beneath them and trying to get his fingers between my legs.
I shot up, wielding the knife and hit the lightswitch on the wall beside the bed. 

“Listen to me, if you fucking touch me again, I’ll likely cut your dick off.” I told him, my voice shaking.

“Whoa, what the hell?” he seemed genuinely shocked. “There’s no need for that kind of thing, is there?”

“Pretty sure there is.” I said. I reminded him of our previous agreement that he not attempt to touch me, and how it seemed crazy to me that he was able to ignore that. He behaved like it was all just a misunderstanding. I looked down at my little knife, and back at this huge man, and decided it was best to try to diffuse the situation.

“We can go back to being friends.” I said, and we reignited the conversations we had been having before deciding to sleep. Eventually I folded away the knife blade, but kept hold of my weapon, so hard that it dug lines into the palm of my hand. Maybe it even lengthened my lifeline, who knows.

I remained awake until the morning, watching him sleep. I thought about leaving, but there wouldn’t be any buses in that remote region, the outskirts of Rainow, until God only knew when. I thought he would hear me go, that I’d still be vulnerable.

Eventually, he awoke. He offered me breakfast and I declined. He offered me a ride home and I accepted, which may seem odd, but I saw it as my best chance of getting within reachable distance of other people in the shortest possible time.

In the car, he asked me for my address and I told him just to drop me off in the town. He asked for my address several times, but I deflected. The very moment that the car stopped at a red light in a part of the town I recognised, I got my bag and jumped out of the car.

“Here is fine, thanks.”

I dashed towards the pedestrian area and didn’t look back, rushing towards my dad’s house. The last thing I’d told my dad was that I’d be going for drinks with a man from the meetup, and so the first thing he said to me when I got in was:

“Hey you. Out all night with strange men, eh?” My god, did I break down in tears in front of him. He didn’t know what to say. Eventually, he talked about reporting this scumbag.

“For what?” I said. “He didn’t rape me, he didn’t get to.”

“Yeah, because it’s you.” said my dad. “What about another girl who isn’t you.”

Maybe he was right, it was sexual assault after all. But I just couldn’t deal with it. It seemed like an impossible challenge to prove what had happened. It seemed like something I couldn’t cope with along with everything else, closing down my business, moving house, dissolving my old life with my ex-partner, and my father’s grim cancer prognosis that we’d recently been handed.

I remember waking myself up in the middle of the night, punching the wall. My knuckles bled on the plaster. I remember heading out to an abandoned mill in the town and tying a rope to the railing. I sat there for hours, weeping, thinking about how I wasn’t as strong as I’d always thought I was. A good friend of mine, a teacher and a philosopher, brought me around and convinced me to carry on.

I eventually decided that I’d rather move abroad, and I upped and left for China. During my first week in my new city I was threatened by a drunken expat who told me he was going to ‘smash my ginger cunt in’. Off to a flying start.

I felt isolated and fell into watching YouTube to a degree that could be described as constant. I’d talked to nobody in China about the things that were eating me up. Eventually, it became a challenge where I won by ignoring it. I played video games and I watched gaming videos, and eventually I got wind of GamerGate. Anita Sarkeesian was there on my screen telling me that the one comfort I had in my day-to-day life was sexist garbage. I couldn’t believe it. I had to know more about this poison in my well. So I began to watch more and more videos on the topic.

Those that really piqued my interest, were the videos of a one Sargon of Akkad. It seemed that he was able to make sense of many things that I previously hadn’t. I went from understanding so little of my troublesome world, to being able to handle anything. I joined the community of other viewers of the same kind of content, and for the first time I was able to get real critique on my views on all manner of topics, without people making me feel like I was a bad person. I had my vegetarianism ruthlessly mocked, which made it easier for me to defend it. I went from being another angry lefty who doesn’t fully understand what she’s arguing for, to a relatively convincing liberal with solid arguments.

At a point, I was ready to talk about what happened all those years ago. A friend shared a story about how his life was almost destroyed by a false rape accusation and he told it like a stand-up comedian would. I felt like it was time to share mine in this lighthearted chat, and I did so with a comedic flair. I didn’t feel weak any longer, and every laugh made me strong and confident about it in a way I hadn’t felt before.

From the jokes about me being a knife-wielding maniac, to those about a would-be rapist looking for the weakest victims by saying ‘You’re vegan, oh wow, me too!’ and being unprepared for the one who puts up a fight, everything was empowering. The reminder that it could have been worse was substantial: ‘At least he didn’t actually get to rape you, that’d be shit. You’d have been raped and he’d probably be dead by the sound of it.’  At the end of it all, the only joke was the guy who’d made me feel so alone, so crazy, so damn weak. He was the target of these good men, good men and women trying to make the darkness of these horrors that little bit lighter.

As far as the support of near-strangers is concerned, I got more from the guy who said I should be on a ‘Sex Defenders’ Register to let people know that I’m too dangerous to rape’, than I did from those who told me without knowing me that I was ‘strong enough to make it’ when they were trying to be encouraging. For that reason and more, Carl Benjamin and the Liberalist Society will always have my support. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

And the most relieving words I heard from Carl, is that he wouldn’t, even, rape me.

Thank God for that.

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