By Gaia Cawley, 3rd Psychology with Criminology
Warning: This story mentions sexual violence, which could be triggering to some readers.
Hi, my name’s Gaia and as part of Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week, I want to talk about something that happened to me 2 years ago. By sharing my story, I want to empower others and to highlight sexual abuse is never okay, whoever the perpetrator is.
As a young girl, you grow up learning about a plethora of amazing things about the world, broadening your mind to love science, culture, the arts. However, you’re also taught other things such as to look out for stranger danger, never walk alone at night, make sure you dress a certain way, so you are never ‘asking for it’. Society and the media teach you that dangers lurk in dark alleys, and that they are always stereotypically creepy, older men. It is never truly highlighted, that the people who can sometimes do the most harm to you, are in fact people you love and trust.
Rewind back to 2 years ago – my fresh-faced, optimistic self was just starting my 1st Year at NTU. At that time, I also had a boyfriend, now ex-boyfriend. People always say university is supposed to be this amazing 3 years of opportunities and the chance to meet friends for life. Unfortunately, my 1st Year at NTU was nothing like I’d dreamed of. Throughout it, my every move as a university student was controlled by this ex-boyfriend, from being ‘allowed’ to go on a night out with an all-female group, to being screamed at down the phone for not calling him during the time I had a timetabled important lecture. Looking back, everything about the relationship spelled out Domestic Abuse and to this day, I wish I’d seen it sooner. He abused me emotionally, psychologically and physically.
Due to the stereotypes you grow up with about what sexual and domestic abuse is, during the 10 months I was with him, I never really saw the red flags. He gaslighted me so much, that even when I had gut feelings that things were turning toxic, I constantly doubted myself because he convinced me to believe that he would never harm me – because he ‘loved’ me. It didn’t help that I yearned for a happy, loving relationship, not realising that in fact all he offered me was a fantasy, with an underbelly of abuse. Even at times when I felt uncomfortable, I began to drill it in my head to just endure it, just get through it because if not, he’d have a go at me. He painted this picture in my head over time that if I didn’t like whatever was happening, that it was because there was a problem with me, never that it was in fact him. Eventually after several months of his death threats and me trying to delude myself that he had my best interests at heart, I finally left him.
However, the trauma didn’t stop there. In fact, after the breakup, it felt as though Pandora’s Box had opened, with all these questions from others surrounding what I went through during the toxic relationship. At first, I’d deny that he had coerced me into things because I still was partly fooled that he was a good person, but slowly even that delusion began to fall away. To this day, I still am not over the psychological and physical abuse I endured and how it changed me as a person. For months, his actions haunted me, and I had moments where I hated myself for being so naive. It felt like I was a lamb led to the slaughter.
Fortunately, I used the anger I felt towards him and turned it into motivation to power myself forward. They always say happiness is the best revenge, and even though I am not the vengeful type, I want him to see he couldn’t crush my spirit. I’ve achieved so many personal successes throughout my academic life since him, including writing a blog for UCAS, and my YouTube channel ‘Gaia Rose’, where I post weekly content about my university journey, has gone from strength to strength.
This is why I wanted to write this blog post, to remind others who have gone through sexual abuse or have had similar experiences to my own, that you should never feel silenced or ashamed for what happened to you. A lot of the time, this type of violence is done by loved ones, such as partners, and just because it was a loved one, doesn’t make the healing process any easier. For many months after, I also felt as though I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to be a victim-survivor because on paper, my life seemed fine and I worried my story didn’t fit society’s stereotype of sexual abuse. If you are a survivor of sexual violence, no matter how or when it occurred, know that it was not your fault and you are allowed to heal in whichever way is best for you.
It’s so important to start having more conversations about this to end the stigma surrounding victim typology, and to spread awareness that sexual abuse and violence is never okay. Also try to talk to someone if this is happening to you, because I wish I’d told someone a lot sooner the stuff I went through.
If you are in need of sexual violence support know that you are not alone and here at NTU we are there to support you. Check out our webpages for more information
For help and advice whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.
- Support from NTU
- Silvercloud: SilverCloud is our online system designed to help with a range of mental health issues.
- Health and Wellbeing resources
- NTSU Information and Advice service
- Wellness in Mind: Advice and support for anyone in Nottingham experiencing issues with their mental wellbeing
- Student Minds or Student Space
- 10 Keys to happiness