Trigger warning: This post deals with sexual assault in detail
An estimated 33,000 people were sexually assaulted in 2001-2002, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. For many, that number is cringe-worthy. For some, though, it is a piece of information that is reassuring, enabling them to understand that they are not alone. That somewhere, someone has experienced the same trauma that they are dealing with, and even though they’d wish it on no one, it helps to know that someone TRULY understands.
When I was 13, I became a statistic. I was at the local skate park with a friend, who was lapping up the attention the boys gave her due to her large breasts. When they realised they weren’t getting anywhere, they turned on me. I was afraid, I was uncomfortable and I was urging my friend repeatedly to leave. Call it peer-pressure, call it stupidity, call it what you want. I found myself in a position where I couldn’t leave and was coaxed into a secluded spot on the adjoining park.
When I got there, I was raped by one boy while my friend and another boy looked on. Luckily for me, my rapist’s phone rang and I was able to quickly dress myself, before I was raped by the other boy who didn’t notice me trying to pull myself together because he was trying to get his footing right.
I never went to the police, I never went to my parents, or even a friend. When I got home, I cried in the shower and scrubbed myself raw. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I still felt so dirty. I couldn’t walk properly for a week and couldn’t sleep properly for the first couple of days because of the pain. Every day I went past that spot, and every day I heard his voice in my head telling me that “he never got it in”; that I was just a virgin and I didn’t know better.
"I am angry at him for what he did, I am angry at myself for not going straight to the police, I am angry at false accusers for ruining the name of genuine rape victims..."
When I started having consensual sex, it hit home that the justification I had lived with for almost a year was wrong. He HAD got it in. I DID know what it felt like and he DID penetrate me. For the first time, I spoke to my friends and they asserted that I was raped. Still not making sense of what had happened to me, I found myself secretly reading sexual education books in the school library that eased my confusion. It seems silly now, looking back. If someone came to me and they think they’d been raped but didn’t know, I would probably laugh. Yet, that is exactly what happened to me.
When I was a few months off my 15th birthday, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It had come as a result of being raped, as well as a one-off experience of sexual assault as a child. I was reassured that everything I was experiencing was normal, which was like dropping an anvil I’d been carrying around. The incident had caused me to hallucinate, have panic attacks and behave in certain ways, all as a part of the PTSD.
As I got older, got into more serious relationships and started to really feel the impact of what had happened, I was told something that would shape how I felt about myself forever. In one of my breakdowns, I was explaining to my partner how I felt robbed, that my virginity was taken from me and I had since felt impure and worthless, my partner told me “virginity isn’t something that can be taken. Virginity is something that you have to give.”The concept that virginity was the time you were first penetrated by a penis was something that I had never challenged. Accepting consent as a crucial part of virginity was something that alleviated the burden of the thievery I felt had happened.
When I fell pregnant with my first child, I was warned that having a daughter can be a trigger for sexual assault victims. I didn’t believe that something so precious as the gift of a beautiful daughter could ever associate itself in my mind with the repulsive act of rape.
Still, when she was around two months old, my mind went into overdrive and I had possibly the worst relapse into depression I have ever had. Several suicide attempts, three hospital trips, two smashed phones, and about six months of crying myself to sleep later and I started to feel okay again. Now that my second daughter is here and we have just passed the two month mark, my partner and I are anxious beyond words as to what may lie ahead. The warning signs are beginning to rear their ugly heads and I am doing everything I can to combat them.
December will mark the eight year anniversary of my rape. It will mark eight years of highs, lows, acceptance and forfeit. For eight years I have lived with a burden that no one will understand unless they have experienced sexual assault. I feel the guilt of not reporting it to protect other people. I feel the worthlessness and worry of not being believed if I speak out. I face the emotional trauma of the indignity, shame and burden of feeling like my body is nothing more than a publicly accessible object of enjoyment. I have had to live with my inability to cope for so long, I have to live with the scars on my wrist, the memories of failed suicide attempts and all the triggers, some of which I am only just discovering.
I have been lucky enough to have been blessed with a partner who is capable of caring for and understanding me in a way that soothes the burn of the trauma and challenges my perceptions of my own worth.To this day, I am angry. I am angry at him for what he did, I am angry at myself for not going straight to the police, I am angry at false accusers for ruining the name of genuine rape victims and I am angry at the universe for allowing these sorts of things to happen. I’ve done my years of the “why me” and I’m moving on to the years of “because I was strong enough”.
With all that I have learned in my recovery, I have some advice for everyone. If you said no at any point and they didn’t stop, it’s rape. There is no confusion. If you ever find yourself in that situation, before you rush to unsuccessfully scrub the filthy feeling away, go to the police. Do it for your future, do it for the peace of mind that at least you have your justice.
Before I was raped, I had all these ideas in my head of how I would do things in that situation. What I learned when I was raped was that not a single one of those things ever happened. I didn’t do any of the things I told myself I would do and I never imagined it would make me feel the way it did.
Rape victims have nothing to be ashamed of, so let’s stop treating them like they have something to hide.