It’a commonly assumed that rape cannot happen between two people who are in an intimate relationship. But it can and it happened to Dawn Teo when she was 17.
“My then-boyfriend and I dated for four years. The rape happened towards the end of the third year,” says the 24-year-old. “We had met at his place to try and resolve an argument. It wasn’t unusual to meet him there, because I hung out in his room a lot.”
“But once we were past the room door, he started to take my clothes off aggressively. There was a lot of pushing, pulling and grabbing, and I got pinned down. Even though I was struggling, I couldn’t overcome him. My shouts became pleas and eventually, I was just crying and hoping it’d end as soon as possible.”
She explains that he didn’t just violate her physically, but also emotionally.
“I had so many questions, like ‘How is this happening? Why is he not listening to me? Does he love me? How did I not see this coming? Do I deserve this? Why am I giving up? Am I to be blamed for this?’”
“I felt so many emotions, from anger and sadness to disappointment. Initially, I directed them towards him, but eventually, I placed the blame and shame on myself. I became disgusted with myself. I was angry that I let it happen to me.”
In an attempt to cope with the trauma, she blocked the rape out of her memory during the one year they continued being together and didn’t once bring up the incident.
“It was only after the breakup that it came back to me in the form of occasional thoughts, horrifying nightmares and outbursts of sadness and anger that seemingly came out of nowhere,” she shares.
“Regardless of whether I consciously acknowledged what happened, my mind and body remembered.”
Dawn decided that she needed her ex to concede that the rape happened as she didn’t want him to believe his actions held no consequences. She eventually managed to get closure from him and considers herself fortunate since many victims don’t get that chance.
“He and I were on speaking terms and I was able to address it when I felt ready,” she says.
“The first few conversations were difficult as I had trouble understanding what rape was, and if it was possible between intimate partners. I was also struggling with being a victim and felt shame over what had happened.”
“He was only apologetic after a couple of conversations where I opened up about what I was going through. My guess was that he had his own struggles and was in denial over what happened. He thought he didn’t do anything wrong then, so it took a while for us to reconcile.”
She also chose not to make a police report.
“I really cared for and loved my then- boyfriend. I felt like making a police report might ruin his future prospects, so I decided to just let it go.”
Despite the traumatic experience, Dawn doesn’t see men differently.
“I wouldn’t say I’m distrusting of men. I’m just generally hyper-vigilant. I’m very aware of physical contact and wary of, say, walking home alone at night,” she says.
“But this wariness hasn’t stopped me from living my life. I still stay out and do whatever makes me happy. I deserve to live my life, and I refuse to let all these negative experiences take that right away from me.”
And she has learnt an important lesson from the ordeal.
“No type of arrangement or relationship should take away a person’s individual right and autonomy over their own body and mind. If you don’t want to take part in a particular act or change your mind halfway through, you have every right to stop and your decision should be respected. Otherwise, it’s violence and abuse.”
Need help? You can call the Women’s Helpline or get in touch with AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre. Dawn has also shared her contact information so anyone going through a similar experience can get in touch with her. She can be reached at email@example.com.