I Was In Love With A Man Who Repeatedly Raped Me For A Decade
I’d always been taught the bad men were the ones lurking in the bushes. No one ever told me they could be the man you marry.
I tried to kill myself by overdosing on pills. It was the only way I thought I could leave him.
In the emergency department, they asked me why I did it, and I told them, “My husband raped me four times this week, and I just don’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to exist anymore.”
When I first met Bill*, we had a whirlwind romance. We met through disability sport – he’s an amputee, and I have a spinal cord injury – so we’re both in wheelchairs, but he is quite able-bodied. Our relationship moved so incredibly quickly, and I was just swept off my feet with it all. Before I knew it, he had moved into my house and we’d decided to have a baby.
And the birth of our son, the sexual abuse started.
But because Bill was my partner, I didn’t register it as abuse at first. It went against everything I’d heard about what rape. I thought it happened between two strangers and involved a gun or a knife.
But this was my husband. In our home.
I remember thinking to myself, “I feel like I was raped.” And I was, but it took a long time to identify that. So I started internalizing it; analyzing everything I’d done. Maybe I led him on? Did I cuddle up to him that night too suggestively? Was I not clear enough in my refusal?
The next morning, he’d always tell me he was sorry, and didn’t mean it.
He’d say it wouldn’t do it again. It always seemed genuine, this heartfelt apology. Bill would cry, and tell me he felt like a bad person for what he’d done, and so, I’d forgive him.
And then it would happen again.
And he’d say all of the same things.
Sometimes he’d just tell me he couldn’t help it. That he had “needs”, “desires”, and that it was normal, because “men have higher sex drives than women”. He’d blame my low libido and eventually turn it around from being, “I’m sorry, this was my fault,” to “I’m sorry, but you didn’t want sex enough, so you made me do this.”
I started believing him. It was true, I didn’t want sex. I’d just had a baby. It had been a while since I’d initiated anything…maybe I should be more proactive? But it had nothing to do with either of these things. It was never an issue of a couple navigating intimacy. It wasn’t about the sex. It was about his exertion of control over me. Because he’d rape me every four to six weeks in the beginning, and it got progressively worse over the next 10 years, until the end.
My anxiety got more intense. I started having bigger mood swings, and eventually, I got to a point where I just stopped eating. I ended up developing anorexia quite severely. I couldn’t control what was happening to me, but I could control what I was eating, and this turned into a vicious cycle. If I didn’t eat, then I couldn’t think clearly and I didn’t have to deal with what was going on. I could totally step back from the situation and pretend it wasn’t happening to me. It also gave me the chance to go into hospital for months at a time, which got me out of the house. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was my escape. I was safe there, until I had to go home.
By this point, Bill and I had developed a dangerous, co-dependent relationship, full of gas-lighting and manipulation. Because I’ve got a disability, he’d constantly tell me I needed him to look after me and do things for me. So I’d accept it and ask for help, and then he’d say “You’re too needy. You need to do things for yourself. You’re not independent. You’re a baby.” So I’d do things for myself, and then the violence would escalate again, because he needed to get that control back.
Bill would constantly tell me he didn’t need me, but that I needed him. It wasn’t until he was forced out of the house by police that I realized it was a nasty, toxic, co-dependent control thing, where he needed me to need him. He made me reliant on him because it fulfilled something within him.
People don’t seem to understand that when you live with someone who’s manipulative like this, it’s like being brainwashed. You can’t “just leave”. You’re belittled and downtrodden and beaten until eventually, you have no confidence in yourself as a person.
Every decision I made in my life when Bill was around was a decision he’d want me to make, that was going to make him happy and would keep him appeased. I had no agency anymore. My agency belonged to him. People with a disability are told our whole lives that, “It’s going to take a really special person to want to love you.” So when we get into relationships, we often tolerate things that other people wouldn’t, because we think no one else is going to want us or love us.
Women are often murdered when they try to leave a violent relationship, or just after they leave, and even asserting myself slightly around wanting to leave would cause the violence to escalate.
The discourse surrounding spousal abuse tends to paint a picture of the strong, empowered victim who gets up and says “I’ve had enough of this, I’m leaving and going to the police”. But I was in a position where I would never have left him. I would never ever have gotten the courage to leave that relationship. I was so incredibly stuck.
It was only after I tried to kill myself, and landed in the emergency room, that someone removed him from my life, for me.
Then and there, somebody from the hospital called child protective services and the police.
Thankfully, Bill was honest with everyone. He admitted everything.
Even still, I sat there, petrified of what was going to happen to me in his absence, convinced I couldn’t look after myself. So much so, I begged the police not to take Bill away.
“We know you can’t see this right now but eventually you will. And you’ll thank us,” they reassured me.
And they were dead right. I had to be dragged out of that situation kicking and screaming. He had to be taken away from me. And that is what I try to tell people. When the police stepped in and said “He is not going back to your home. You are not going to be living with him anymore,” they didn’t take my agency off me, they took it off him. After that, they surrounded me with services to help me regain who I was and get back my agency.
I have a new relationship now. I’ve recovered from my eating disorder. I have a grandson. I work. I get the opportunity to write about what I experienced, and speak out about it, which is so empowering. I advocate for victims of domestic violence, and my life is completely different. You wouldn’t recognize me compared to the person I was back then.
But ultimately, I was raped for 10 years, and that has had a massive impact on my mental health. I still suffer severely with PTSD, and it takes its toll on my new partner, as fantastic and understanding as he is.
I don’t know if the memories will ever go away. There are still nights where I have nightmares, or wake up sweating and crying.
Recovering from sexual abuse is a lifelong journey. I know that makes people feel uncomfortable. Everybody wants a happy ending. But if you feel uncomfortable right now after reading my story, how do you think I feel? I’ve got the mental and emotional scars from my abuse to live with for the rest of my life.
*Name has been changed.