While I was living in London, I had a really good friend who was male. I absolutely adored him, and he adored me. He was gay and we shared a comfort that was rare to find between a man and woman. He was my brother, best friend, staunch defender, biggest critic all in one. What I loved about him was that he ‘got me’. He understood me. He would build me up if I was feeling sad, but wasn’t afraid to challenge me when I was wrong about things.
Once, we were out, chatting as friends do about anything and everything. As long as I had known him, I knew he was gay, but I was always curious about whether he had ever had a relationship with a woman. He divulged that he had, but it had always felt wrong. The girl he was with was lovely – but he was just ‘going through the motions’, he knew it was never going to work. So I asked him what his first gay experience was like…
He explained that whilst he was at university, he had a part time job at a bar. The bar manager was not particularly good looking, but there was something about him, and he realised quite quickly, though my friend had not ‘come out of the closet’, that he was gay. A mild flirtation began. My friend wasn’t particularly interested in his manager, but he enjoyed and took part in the flirtation all the same…
One night, the bar closed late and my friend had missed the last bus home and didn’t have enough money for a cab. His manager offered to drive him back home – which my friend gratefully accepted. When they arrived at my friend’s flat, his manager asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to invite me to your flat?’ My friend shrugged and invited him upstairs…
The next part is unpleasant. If you are sensitive, please stop reading now.
They went into the flat, and somehow my friend and his manager started kissing. Let me rephrase – the manager started kissing my friend… Let me explain, my friend was at least 6 feet tall, he was a big, strong man – but he found himself taken aback, whilst the other man, very experienced, knew exactly what he was doing, started kissing him. Before he knew it, before he could object or even really knew what was happening, his manager raped him.
My friend didn’t use the word rape. But that’s what it was.
I was horrified. My poor friend. My poor, lovely friend, who wouldn’t have hurt anyone. Who was always kind and gentle to others. Who always did whatever he could do to help, talented, bright, smart. His first experience as a gay man, was rape.
In a court of law, what would they have said? They would have scoffed in disbelief that my friend, a man who looked like a Viking, at least 6 ft tall, strong and muscular – he had been raped? He didn’t turn around and wallop the guy? He clearly wanted it, why else invite someone up to your flat? Let’s face it, even some of you reading this will be feeling the same doubts that I have just outlined.
I knew he wasn’t lying. There was no need to lie to me. I saw it in his eyes. He saw the look of horror in mine, and tried to shrug it off and change the subject – which ordinarily I wouldn’t have let him do, but in this instance respected. He followed the story up with, neither he, nor the manager ever referred to that incident ever again, and soon after my friend got a new job and moved elsewhere.
Why am I writing this blog? The week that has just past, my husband and I watched the first two episodes of the documentary about R Kelly. To be honest, we had a frank discussion and decided that we couldn’t continue watching any more of the 6 part documentary. We couldn’t take it anymore. Hearing the accounts of the young girls, who were no more than 12, 13, 14 at the time when he began preying on them – I just couldn’t listen to anymore of his monstrous behaviour. The outrage that we both felt – that a multitude of people knew that he was abusing young girls, yet did nothing – we just couldn’t stomach it.
The thing is – this type of predatory behaviour is more rife than you think. If you asked every woman you know, and some men – everyone would be able to recount an experience where they were either molested, assaulted, or escaped by the grace of God. Many, many experiences that women go through, would have been before the age of 16.
One experience that I will share with you, most of you will think that I was pathetic to even be bothered by it. When I was at secondary school, I would have to catch the bus to and from school. I never really minded it, it was absolutely fine. However, when I was 14 years old, I would dread catching the bus home. Everyday, on the 3.57pm bus, it would be the same creepy driver, who would do his best to make me feel uncomfortable. I would do my best not to look at him, but he would refuse to issue my ticket until I did. He would then smile at me, with the air that he had won, then make a pouting kissing gesture as I would walk away.
Everyday, I would feel sick to my stomach, I would try to catch the later bus, but that meant that it would be darker, fewer people would be around at the bus stop, and once I had tried that very thing – and as luck would have it, he was driving the later bus. If I was with friends, he would do it more discreetly, let his eyes linger on me for longer. He didn’t do it to them. Just me. So I felt vulnerable – my friends never saw it happen, so they didn’t really believe me. Even though he never did anything. He never said anything. The menace, the threat was there. He must have been in his 40’s. Grinning away, enjoying making a 14 year old, in school uniform, feel extremely uncomfortable. And he was successful at it, because I was terrified.
Eventually, I’d had enough. One night, my mum and her friend were talking at night, and I felt really distressed, I just didn’t know how I could solve this situation. I spoke to them and they were both outraged. My mum’s friend just said, ‘When you see him again, and if he does anything like again, you shout at him, and tell him to stop doing things like that, or you’ll tell the police. Don’t be scared of him. Don’t show you are scared – shout at him!’
She was right. Her talk made me feel empowered. Instead of being scared, and letting my fear and discomfort show, I snarled at the driver, told him to leave me alone otherwise I was telling the police. Honestly, from that day on, he didn’t dare to look at me as I paid for my ticket, he simply stared ahead, and within a few weeks, he stopped driving that particular bus at that time, as I never saw him again.
I learnt a valuable lesson. Do not let people intimidate you. There are sick people out there who enjoy and get a kick out of having power over others. I am completely aware that my bus incident is a complete non-story to many of you. But to me, it was massive. I felt helpless and frightened everyday on my journey home from school. No child should have to feel that way.
My friend, who I wrote about earlier – he was overpowered by someone who had the intention of raping him, it wasn’t about attraction, it was somebody abusing their position and taking advantage of somebody who was vulnerable. R Kelly allegedly groomed girls, made them feel like he was going to help them further their careers – and then controlled them and abused them without any consequences for years.
And although the incident that I shared was so small – it was again about power. The ability of a man to make a young girl feel frightened and visibly distressed – and enjoying it.
One thing I do want to highlight before I wrap this up, is one of the reasons that I didn’t speak to anyone earlier when I was younger was because I felt a sense of shame. He wasn’t doing it to my other friends – he was only behaving like that with me – and I felt that I would be blamed somehow, for his behaviour. We just need to be really careful with children – so many children don’t say anything about feeling uncomfortable about people or situations because their feelings are so easily dismissed, or rubbished.
The next time a child tries to tell you that they are not feeling comfortable about something, or is worried about something – please listen to them. Get them into the habit of being able to talk to you without judgement – it could be the most important thing that you do in your life – you never know what they might end up telling you. I’m glad that my mum has been there for me on more than one occasion. Be there for the ones you love.