Trigger Warning: sexual assault
Autumn is my new start: not like spring, which is overtly new, but as a shedding of experience and an opportunity to ease out those memories I would rather not have anymore. Autumn is the feeling that is furthest away from a boiling hot, humid evening on a Thai beach, although that was the feeling I most needed four years ago in September.
It was to be the trip of a lifetime during University – full with the naïve excitement and curiosities of a twenty-two year old, I set off on a flight to Bangkok with my sister, her boyfriend, and a friend, backpacks and sleeping bags checked in. Thailand had always been top on my Destination Wish List and it had become pretty popular with travellers the World over, with a reputation for paradise-like islands and worry-free happiness.
But our paradise would soon come to an end: two weeks into our trip, bar men spiked our drinks at their beach bar. We were separated from one another and later I awoke to pitch darkness, my attacker’s silhouette framed above me against the light of the moon. I was one of the lucky ones who managed to escape – many others have surely met a fate worse than my own.
That night will be forever etched into my mind. It is a strange thing, what happens to your body and your mind when you know you are in danger. There are two choices – you stay and fight, or you run. I ran. I ran as fast as I could, my legs buckling beneath me.
How I managed to get away, I will never know. Perhaps he did not chase me. Perhaps he knew he would not be found or penalised for his crime so he did not bother to stop me. That suggestion is all the more haunting.
I did not see my attacker’s face, but somehow I will always know who he was. I will always be able to sense his presence.
If it were not for two British tourists colliding with me that night, I don’t know where I would have ended up. They helped me back to my beach hut to find my group. That’s when I realised the vast extent of what had happened.
My sister’s boyfriend was missing; my sister and friend had been sick all over the hut. I remembered that my sister’s boyfriend and I had taken them back to rest, then gone back out to continue drinking at the same bar. Kindly, the tourists helped me tell my sister what had happened and left us to rest.
We knew we had to go and find her boyfriend. So that’s what we did. We looked for what felt like hours along the beachfront that night, weaving in and out of drunken partygoers who were oblivious to our plight. I was not scared at this point. I only felt like surviving and finding him.
Eventually finding him, the expression on his face made my horror all the more real.
Over the course of the next 48 hours we visited the hospital, the police station, and the ferry port. We were trapped on the island for the next night and as I tried to sleep in the beach hut that night, all I could hear was the frogs. And all I could feel was the harsh metal cylinder they had inserted inside me in the hospital, used to see if I had been raped. I knew everything had changed then.
After three days, we finally arrived home in London. I was simply grateful to be somewhere familiar. I longed for the weather to turn cold, so I could shift out of the murkiness and heat that clogged my lungs. I longed for my boyfriend at home to tell me everything was going to be fine. I longed for people to talk to me about what had happened.
Talking about sexual crime is difficult, but more for those who have not experienced it. For a victim, it is crucial you can talk about what happened. I tried talking to close friends and family, but the need to protect their feelings prevented honesty and transparency. After the first year you might decide you shouldn’t be talking about the incident anymore. After the first year, I turned to a counsellor. Without her I wouldn’t have made the positive steps I have made today.
Four years on, in the autumn time, I think about my attack less and less. I have made a career teaching English and have moved to a place I love in South West London with a new boyfriend whom I love and who allows me to talk, without making me feel like I should be over it.
I have talked and written my way out of depression and anxiety. There are times when I slip back into these states, but I know I have the strength to overcome them, and that is all I need.
Hearing about the two tourists murdered in Thailand recently, and the unclear handling by the police, along with the frequent blogs and articles warning girls against the dangers of Fall Moon parties, I feel the need to write about my story, which I share with so many others.
It was a tragic shame that when reporting my case to the Thai hotel staff and authorities, the previously fluent and cooperative people became unapproachable, feigning confusion as to what I was telling them. I dropped the case after a few phone calls with the British Embassy, who provided the Thai police report (the translation showing a completely made up crime of petty theft), but I have felt guilt about letting society silence me since then.
My purpose in writing this is to convey the message that for thousands of women and men across the planet, sexual assault is an everyday reality. But most importantly, I am writing this because I want to share my message that there can be life after sexual assault: there can be healthy and fulfilling life.
If you know someone who has been affected, don’t be scared to listen to his or her pain and heartbreak. Don’t be scared to ask them how they are feeling. Don’t assume they need to keep this secret. This is not their shame; it is the attacker’s. If you have been affected, be aware that the memories become easier to deal with. I urge you to write, to talk, to read, to do anything but shut your thoughts out and try to forget about them.
Four years on and I am happy. I have won.
Currently writing from Hampton, London and enjoying the long stretches of Thames and the deer roaming free in Bushy Park. Lara Brown works as an English Teacher in a secondary school. Her passions are to travel, read and write whenever she can.