The world rallied against misogyny in January during the women’s march against Trump. It was one of the largest and most peaceful protest in history and showed that women are out there fighting for their rights. But beyond misogyny, women in 2017 are still facing a long struggle to stop the culture of rape and violence that is rotting our society. Leopoldine Mineo is a 23 year old french student who was sexually assaulted at 14 years old. Not afraid to call herself a feminist, she agreed to share her story to raise awareness on the matter.
Like millions of other women across the world you were the victim of a sexual assault. What happened to you?
It happened when I was 14 years old, I went to a party with friends from secondary school and we drank a lot. Amongst those friends there were 2 guys, quite older than me, I think 17 and 16 years old. Because I was drunk I lost control of the situation. They took me aside and started to touch me. At that moment my brain just shut down, it was exactly like being outside of my body, I saw what was happening to me but it’s not really me. I saw a big red light telling me “if you don’t move now you won’t be able to do anything”. They didn’t go until the end, no penetration. I had a panic attack and it kind of scared them away.
Who did you turned to right after it happened?
To be honest I couldn’t even realise what just happened to me. I think for two or three weeks I kept it to myself and at some point I was ready and I talked to my sister. She told me that i had to tell my parents. After telling my mum, the process really started. We went to the police and I started to realise what happened to me. When I gave my testimony the policeman told me “you understand that this is a rape right?” and I told him “no! This only happened to others people, it’s not that”. I was in denial. At the police station, I also had to face my attacker to confront and confirm the story, one of them apologised. Unfortunately they dismissed the case because we were under the influence of alcohol.
How did you feel when they dismissed the case?
It was really hard because you rely a lot on the police just for someone to recognise what happened to you. But the policeman who was in charge of my case was really helpful. At some point he just asked me “what can we do now to help you feel better?” I just replied, “they have to die, I can’t live with that”. He sent me to the special psychiatrist at the police station for victim’s support and I started a therapy there. You know you have the feeling that your whole world collapses. So the only thing you can do is try to hang on.
Did it mean anything to you when your attacker apologised?
The culture of rape makes women feel guilty about it and tell themselves that it’s their fault, like why did I drink, why did I go to that party? So when they apologised it’s a way of saying: “Ok I’m not crazy, something really happened to me. I feel wrong and what happened is wrong” so when they apologised it just confirmed it.
“Every time I was making a new friend I was throwing it to their faces… If the others can accepted that it meant that I can accept it too.. Are you going to love me despite this, and if the answer was yes it means that I can love myself too.”
Did this experience deprive you of building your sexual life in a normal way?
Yes, because for a long time it was the only picture I had of sex. But I had a boyfriend three years after and it kind of helped me to get over it. But even today I have a weird relationship with my sexuality. I am not really free about it. I still fear men a little. I wouldn’t be the one I am today without this. But it is still a problem in my daily life.
“You have the choice, you can just collapse and kill yourself; to be honest I contemplated that for a while, or you take the decision to go on.”
How did therapy help you in your process?
The trauma therapist at the police station was really helpful. Because she was specialised in sexual assault, she was able to put the right words on my pain. It helped me realised what was happening and what was the next step. Therapy is helpful because you have someone that is listening to you. But at some point it became too much to talk about it all the time. For month the events were going in my head over and over again. So I stopped therapy and I continued to live with it on the side. You never really overcome this, it is part of your life forever but at some point you’re just fine with it. You know it’s a part of yourself. You will have to fight it, not on a daily basis but in your life in general. You know that you will have moments that are going to be harder because of it.
“It’s about being safe. About knowing that I can say no and that there is no danger”
Apart from therapy what other things helped you in your process?
The first thing that I would say is that I took my time. And it’s about reading a lot and talking to other people who had the same experience. It’s also about talking to my self and say “ ok it happened, what’s next”? Trying to trust people again.
Do you think that support groups and structures that allow people that experienced this kind of trauma to talk about it and come together to share the experience help?
I didn’t do that but I think it would have helped. I tried to find some support from my friends but when you’re young and your friends are young as well you don’t have the support you need. The thing is, going in this kind of groups require facing what happened to you and that can be hard. But I would definitely recommend it. Talking with people who have the same experience helps you to put the right words on the events and to be understood.
You paint really well, is art, painting and having a hobby helps you to let your emotions out?
Yes, for every trauma, it has to get out of your mind at some point, you have to express it otherwise you’ll burst. So I always liked to express myself through my painting or by playing the guitar, singing or going to the gym. You just need to let it out because it can’t stay inside otherwise it will killing everything inside you.
“Instead of telling women you shouldn’t go out like that, you should tell your son, your husband, your brother, that however the girl acts, rape is never acceptable”
You are now a very successful law student in London, are you proud of what you accomplished and the journey that led you to where you are right now?
I’m really happy, it has been a long fight and now I feel good. I realised that I am the master of my life and I can do everything. I also realised that I can overcome everything. I don’t know if there is karma in this life and I got my share of disasters so now I’m good. But I’m not anxious about what can happened next because I know that I’m strong and I can get over anything that will come my way
Do you have a daily motto, an empowerment technique that you say to yourself every morning in the mirror?
Basically it’s “prove them wrong!” Every time something is hard, I don’t want to go to the gym or I’m not in the mood I think about that. Prove them wrong! Think about all the people who said bad things about you or judged you, they can go to hell!
Crisis helplines and centres:
Rape crisis: 01707 276512/ 0808 802 9999
End Violence Against Women: 020 7096 2067