The lorry went to the next roundabout, and turned right in a three-quarter turn, whereupon the shoulder happily re-located. Relieved she told the driver "No need for A&E, carry on round the roundabout. Drop me at the next exit." The driver did a one-and-a-half turn of the roundabout, around which her whole life would turn. We continued adjacent to western end of the then USAF Greenham Common airbase. I wanted to get to Green Gate to join the other women but he mentioned something about reaching his tachograph limit and, after his kindness, it seemed churlish to refuse a brief stop for… coffee. At the cross-roads for Green gate, he turned right and stopped in a siding. He rolled a cigarette from Old Holborn tobacco, poured from his thermos and settled to drink when ... a rather too ‘familiar’ arm came around my shoulders. I offered him all my money, to which he replied: ‘That’s not what I’m after’. Well, at least it was clear.
A physical struggle ensued in which a physically smaller man battered this relatively strong young woman with great violence. Encountering further resistance, he took either end of the birthday scarf acting as a sling, held her aloft by her neck and strangled her so that she believed that she had literally breathed her last. [Covid-19 breathing symptoms are, it turns out, just like strangulation, nobody tells you.] One of the most shocking things was how little time it took, within 5 or so minutes, I was physically exhausted, and protecting the recently dislocated shoulder, which I feared might re-dislocate or even be ripped off. His hands were round my wrists and tried as I might I simply could not get free. Top tip: keep hands out of male grip for as long as possible. In a very short time, I was completely overpowered by a smaller man, further physical resistance was simply no longer possible. There was just nothing left except ...my brain.
Freezing in this situation is classic but the brain of this eighteen-year-old Quaker went into overdrive. “Sex” “Rape” “Consent”, “Sex” “Rape” “Consent”, rattled at speed through my brain. So how do I withhold consent when Judge Pickles said “women say “No” they mean “Yes”?” The law places the onus on women to decline consent but is remarkably lacking in the practicalities thereof. It is also curious how the pivotal issue of ‘consent’ was absolutely clear to me at this moment in 1984, when it has only been recently that sexual consent is discussed, in public discourse, some thirty years later.
Yet, though many women freeze, this young woman had the ‘advantage’ of a rape education courtesy of one Peter Sutcliffe. One attack took place in our local park, and not one but two bodies were found on separate occasions at either end of the parade of shops where my family did our weekly supermarket shop. There is a very weird 'law of unintended consequences' in which I may actually owe my life to that reign of terror by Peter Sutcliffe because when my turn came, I was... ready! I imagine women without a backstory or consciousness are in a form of denial, I guess I tried that by offering my money.
Like other women and girls across the North of England, I lived in lock down for several years with very real and very sensible discussions. My GP Mum “gender identified as a man”. After an hour in a police checkpoint, an appalled police officer sent her straight home. I wont use the 6 letter "R" word, the name a sensation driven press gave him. Nobody asked the women of Yorkshire about calling him anything to do with Yorkshire.That word sensitivity proved to be highly significant, and probably due to autism - of the high functioning variety, only identified in me more recently. [I also can't bear to call it "Aspergers" because he was a Nazi, even though I would get more understanding from others by using it.]
That earlier visit to "Embrace the Base" meant I was also part of feminists communities in Leeds. That gave me another knowledge that there was such a thing as a rape ‘survivor’. I am certain that all the difference in creating this difference to a non-standard uncompleted rape. Another major advantage/disadvantage. It is always this way in rape, some double or multiple edged sword. I did not yet understand it but I was (and remain) … a lesbian, of the completely female and homosexual variety - as one needs to say these days, for the avoidance of doubt. One thing had always been clear – that sexual intercourse with a man was total revulsion with respect to... male genitalia. I had zero instinct for "if I go along with this he might not kill me".
I even considered telling him I was a lesbian but realised, that was likely to add to sexual fantasies & likely to make things far worse. Not to mention “corrective rape” especially by courts, police and media. We have moved so far with homophobia but hardly a millimetre with respect to sexual violence, we may even have moved backwards. As has been mentioned in the 40th anniversary celebrations, hardly a week went by in those days without some disparaging article in the tabloids about the lesbians protesting at Greenham Common.
In the cab of that lorry, at the opening to a field, in my minds’ eye, it was as though, circling above their heads, were police, judge and juries and media, all cheering him on as I realised how every single action would be twisted by a defence barrister (lawyer) in court. (In a relatively short time, the volume of thought processing is quite astonishing). Something very powerful asserted itself:
‘He may be able to take it, but I will give him nothing that he can think it is in any way given’
Recent NVDA (Non-Violent Direct Action) training in Leeds kicked in. I became a dead weight, like we had practiced for arrest by the police. No assistance, no resistance, he had to move a motionless body that might as well have been dead. Well, it's not "sexy" is it, shagging a dead body! While this eighteen-year-old Quaker prepared for an ordeal that one in five women face in their lifetime, (Rape Crisis England & Wales), one-in-three globally, she repeated in dullest, emotionless monotone:
‘I don’t want this to happen, I don’t want this to happen…’
over and over and over again…
In this life and death struggle, I had zero expectation that this in fact application of historic Quaker themes and Greenham NVDA would work but it did! I really didn't comprehend that until 2016, when I just had this instinct I must report it to the Police. 32 years later and going literally through each gory detail and seeing past the “myths and stereotypes” of rape and sexual violence, as well as the trauma of the event for me to understand it for the astonishing victory it actually was. Another bizarre hurdle was a lesbian naivety about the reality of male sexual function, I had nothing to compare it with. I felt really stupid about that, my GP mother's sex education had been exceptionally clear.
You react how you react, on instinct but following Quaker themes of ‘speaking Truth to (violent) power’, I did in truth risk enraging him, and with it my life. 32 years later I came to the realisation that by actively asserting the absence of my consent,
“I had in fact taught a man consent while he was raping me”.
What this man had not understood through the appalling life-threatening violence he had deployed, he finally understood from my refusal to furbish his sexual/rape fantasies. He came to his senses, removed himself and… burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably.
A GP once commented “There are two physiological reactions, it is very hard to fake. It is possible that he never did that again, that he did learn.” That was my other nightmare, that he would rape more women after me but in 2016 Hampshire Police told me there was nothing like it in any of their databases, which was a huge comfort. Maybe, just maybe, a man whose name I never knew, wouldn’t recognise if he passed me in the street, had learned and harmed no more women. He is probably dead now. I have been angry with the criminal justice system, angry about how the legal system still seems constructed to encourage male violence against women but I have never felt angry with the poor sod who nobody ever taught. He had the shock of his life that day!
The man let me out of the cab for some much needed ‘verticality’ and thereafter, behaved, with what I have no doubt was sincerest remorse. Many women do not have the luxury of their assailant admitting the reality of the transaction. There we were, not far from the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, with me in severest shock and with him ...desperate… to get me to a place of safety but realising it wasn’t quite his place to offer. (I remember vividly a man in Leeds, frantic to get us home safely "But you can't know I am not him" ie Peter Sutcliffe).
Somehow, we negotiated that we could put my large rucksack stowed in the rear between us I did actually get back into the cab, even ‘joking’ to myself: ‘So what can he do? Rape and kill me…again?’ He huddled to the driving side of the cab, not wanting to frighten me and I clung to the door with my hand on the lever, knowing I would definitely open the door and jump out at any speed, if I had to. [I am terrified people don't understand how dangerous electronic car locking is.] He kept his word and took me to the junction, closer to the Women's Peace Camp, where I asked to be dropped off. I chose to look away when I could have seen the number plate. I knew the number would be burned on my memory to populate my nightmares for a lifetime.
It was 18 months before the appalling ordeal of the Jill Saward, the Ealing Vicarage rape but even as I walked away I knew it would be a national story at least, and that there was no hope of retaining my anonymity and that I would need that to put my life back together. There was that conflation by the press of Greenham Women and lesbian problem and I had a gut feeling of headlines that might even be positive about "corrective rape" of lesbians. You do what you do but as the van drove away, I positively looked away when I would definitely have remembered the registration number. I was acting to protect myself from trauma which included the single piece of identifying evidence.
At the cross-roads a car came from Green Gate, a Peugeot classic of hippy Greenham Common supporters, evidently a day visitor. The only way I could communicate my difficulty was to collapse in the road. To this day I have no idea who they were but one person walked with me up to Green Gate, while the others took the car to alert Green Gate to my pending arrival. I was delivered to Green Gate, I remember one woman under each shoulder taking me direct to the best bender of Annie "Mechanic" King, named mechanic because she was invariably to be found with her head under the bonnet of a car.
Within half an hour they had also located an Australian doctor who could not have done a better job of taking care of me. Was the subsequent two years or so HELL? Yes it absolutely was but it would have been worse had I not received her brilliant care and that of this women-only community. Every movement was painful, and it was It was literally like my brain had been turned inside out, Women started dropping by to say hello and to commiserate, among them were those who said "Me Too" so not only did I not have anyone blaming me, I had role models that there was an 'after'. There was a moment when a woman I recognised came and it was like "Oh so that means I am alive." Nobody told me it was my fault, they just let me heal, curiously, I never felt ashamed or dirty, nobody even offered me a bath!
I know that at no point since 19 April 1984 have I ever called myself a rape v-i-c-t-i-m, I imagined that I used the word as a statement of faith, that subsequent to the assault I refused "victimhood" but in fact, I came to the realisation that he had not finished what he started "bit of a score draw" you might say and that I had failed to be a "v-i-c-t-i-m" even while I was being battered, strangled or raped. That may explain why I have a visceral reaction to someone calling me a "v-i-c-t-i-m" when I have clearly stated I am a rape SURVIVOR.
2016: Reported to Hampshire Police 32 Years later
In 2016, I had a strong instinct to report to the police to discover I had slipped over the boundary into Hampshire, so it wouldn't have been Thames Valley Police as I feared. I wrote out a statement to take with me, and you do have to go into gory detail. It wasn't easy but I managed that OK but in fact the moment I felt too overwhelmed to continue was when describing the perfect care I received that evening and in the following couple of weeks in a women-only community, who absolutely enabled me to heal in the right way. In fact, with the fence between us, I was even able to have a chat with one of the squaddies who couldn't have been more sympathetic. I may have had the best rape aftercare before or since. This little known story from Greenham Women deserves celebration. As Quakers say:
"in an ocean of darkness, I drowned in the Light..."