Warning: this article describes sexual assault, sexual violence and abuse.
Relationships can feel like movies when you’re a teenager. They feel life changing, all-consuming and eternal. When I was a teenager, I thought I knew it all.
At 16, I was looking for an escape from my parent’s messy divorce when Nayeem* came along. He was tall, dark and very handsome. He quickly became a replacement parental figure, checking I was home safely, advising me on all aspects of my life. Eventually, it came down to precisely how I should dress. I wasn’t concerned at the time, I was too wrapped up in the warm sensation of feeling loved.
I can’t remember the first time he actually hit me, I was so traumatised I blocked it from my mind. It may have been a pinch to my arm first, or a harsh kick to my leg under the table. The transition of my relationship going from a dream to a nightmare seemed to happen in a blink of an eye.
The police got involved once, but nothing happened. The female liaison officer dismissed it as young, hormonal love.
What I do remember is the outfit I wore the night he raped me. My shoes were the colour of key lime pie; I had paired them with a black gypsy skirt dotted with dainty silver coins, a black top and black and lime green headscarf, and I felt really cute.
I remember Nayeem was watching the football that night, so I went to bed out of boredom. After the match, he came over and held me so tight I couldn’t breathe. Sometimes when he held me I felt safe, other times I felt like he was trying to prove that he could squeeze the life out of me at any moment.
He tried to initiate sex but I was tired, which is what I told him. He didn’t say a word but his anger was floating in the air, and it made me feel sick. I think everyone who has been abused knows that feeling; you can walk on eggshells your entire life but you will never do enough to free yourself of that dread.
He tossed and turned, crushing me at the edge of the bed, huffing angrily. After an hour he said, “Fuck this, I’m sleeping next door”, and stormed out.
I knew he’d be back and angrier than when he left. I looked out of the window and considered jumping. There was no way I could attempt to leave the house through the front door — the thought of him catching me scared me half to death.
But I didn’t think I could jump from it safely. So I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to think rationally about how to leave. But this fear is crippling to the mind and body. So I sat, and I sat, and before I knew it, it was nearly 4 am when he stormed back in.
“Get out.” he said.
I left his house quietly, quickly, head bowed, barely breathing. The skies were now light, the summer sun such a juxtaposition to my fear. I knew I wasn’t going home. This was a game of cat and mouse. I knew I had no time to get to the bus stop before he’d come for me, so I sprinted to a field across the street and curled up in some bushes, head hazy with manic fear.
He called five minutes later.
“Come back here now before I get my boys out looking for you”. I could hear him breathing heavily, walking fast. He was outside searching for me.
I was too tired to attempt to win a fruitless fight. I walked to his house and he was waiting outside with a face of thunder — hazel eyes that were once so warm were now glaring at me with a dark intensity. He dragged me by my hijab with such roughness that my hair came out.
Suddenly I was back on his bed, his hands resting heavily on my chest as he took what was not his and I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see and in that moment I was nothing, absolutely nothing, just a hollow shell leaking salty water, limp limbs of useless flesh, a blind mind in a fear-induced fog.
The glamourisation of unhealthy relationships is installed in us early. We are publicly told time and time again that men who abuse are forgiven. Chris Brown, Johnny Depp, and R. Kelly come to mind. The pop culture we were raised on depicts unhealthy, unstable and unsafe relationships. So it’s no surprise that the tears, the pain and the drama of teenage relationships can all subconsciously feel like a hardship that needs to happen before you reach your seemingly assured “Happy Ever After”, whatever that means. It’s a societal fuck-up.
Maybe that’s why domestic abuse in teenage relationships isn’t always taken seriously. A 2009 survey revealed almost three-quarters of girls have experienced emotional abuse in a relationship. The NSPCC revealed the definition of domestic violence in England and Wales only started to count victims aged 16 and 17 from 2013.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and while that can be true, people don’t talk enough about the often untreated PTSD that comes with an abusive relationship, especially when you’re young and still growing. Yes, time is a healer, but a wound needs to be cleansed, bandaged, monitored. Like flowers, we do not just grow; you need – not only need, but deserve – nourishment, in so many forms. Just don’t confuse flower food for a weed killer, my girl.
If you need some help or advice, the following organisations are here to help:
ChildLine – 0800 11 11
Samaritans – 116 123
Victims Support – 08 08 16 89 111
National Domestic Violence Helpline– 0808 2000 247