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I'm Still Haunted by the Sexual Violation They Told Me Wasn't 'Real'

I didn’t get very much sleep last night, and what I did get was wracked with nightmares. You see, the last thing I did before turning off the light was skim this article on the EDS Society Facebook page. I didn’t do that intentionally, it’s just what happened to pop up on my newsfeed as I was closing down.

In an instant, it brought back one of my own nightmares, and that was the end of any illusion I had that I could get some rest. Nights are difficult for me anyway. Every night is filled with deep, excruciating pain and discomfort, so I have to manage my fragile environment in all kinds of minuscule ways; are there no cracks in the curtains? Are the right meds within reach? Do I have the pile of pillows on hand ready to prop joints in the dark when they strain or pop? Are the extra blankets within reach if the temperature drops more than a couple of degrees? Is there water by the bed? And I need to decide which level of pain and sleep medications to take before turning off the light.

Despite taking the strong meds, I tossed and turned, flung pillows and moved them constantly. I overheated and shivered in turn, and did something I never do — I took a second set of medications in the wee hours of the morning knowing very well that could mean consequences for the day ahead. But I desperately needed an escape from my nightmares that didn’t come… and even more desperately I needed sleep. 

Over 20 years ago, as an extremely naive and fragile young wife and mother with a family history of skin cancer, we had just moved to a new city and I needed to find a new doctor for a skin test. I’d been having them every second year for about a decade, and while in theory I was supposed to have them annually, I already had so many then-undiagnosed health issues, finding new doctors filled me with dread and fear. So I was behind schedule already, and I had the extremely rare opportunity of having my mother-in-law in town. I convinced her to look after the babies while I headed to the local GP for the first time. 

I was used to undergoing skin tests with a variety of doctors and specialist. I was used to stripping to my underwear and lying on the examining table with a sheet to cover the bits he or she wasn’t currently checking. I had never been asked to remove all my clothes, as most underwear allows movements to the left, right, up or down, to cover every inch of skin. I’d never been left without any kind of covering.

So I was left a little disorientated and uncomfortable when the young doctor insisted I remove everything. There was nothing to hide behind, nothing to protect my dignity in any way shape or form, and I felt extremely uncomfortable and unable to protest without feeling silly. I felt humiliated and vulnerable and exposed. I didn’t know what to do with my hands and I desperately wanted to cover as many bits as possible.

But there was nothing I could do so I gave myself over to him and closed my eyes, trying in vain to disappear to somewhere else in my head. I wasn’t all that good at doing that back then, and it wasn’t working, but I concentrated with all the strength I could muster. So when he suddenly spread my legs and proceeded to do an “internal examination” I got the fright of my life. I didn’t even stop to think, I instantly pulled away and protested, but he was insistent and told me he needs to check for suspicious moles on all skin, internal as well as external.

I could barely breath, the level of violation became extreme and I felt totally powerless. I don’t remember getting dressed, paying for the privilege and getting myself out of there, but I arrived home a mess.

My mother-in-law (a prominent psychologist) saw immediately something was wrong, but I first needed to phone my husband and ask him to come home. I then phoned the local sexual abuse hotline. I spoke immediately to a social worker who assured me that on so many levels what the doctor had done was wrong, even if some internal skin needed checking (though in the two decades since I have never experienced it again). She gave me instructions on going to the police station to make a formal complaint on the day it had happened and talked me through the process.

I then told my mother-in-law what had happened, but she unsupportive and didn’t want me to get my husband involved.  

I decided I would like to speak to a policewoman anyway, so my husband drove me to the police station. I told her my story and she responded by telling me not to waste police resources, and that they only dealt with “real rape cases.”

I went home feeling more humiliated than ever.

And so it was decided by the authorities and those I trusted and looked up to that I would say nothing, do nothing, and that I would spend the rest of my life in silence… until last night!

I was 24 years ago in another city and another country a lifetime ago… but it has simmered deep in the background of my soul till today. The violation, the humiliation, the control, the betrayal. My heart breaks for those women in the article who had opened up about their sexual assault — and I’m so in awe of the bravery it took to stand up and tell their stories. I shed tears of thankfulness. Could I have been that brave 24 years ago? And if I had been, would anyone have listened?

Getty image via Elena Shikova