I’d just been out to dinner with a group of old friends and was excited to be in Sydney on a rare child-and-husband-free night away.
“Just drop me anywhere here,” I’d told my best friend who was driving me home.
“I don’t know….” she said, looking worried. “I’ll be fine,” I assured her. “There are people around. My apartment’s only a hundred metres away. I’ll be fine!”
I’d already seen them as we looked for a place to pull over. A group of young, twenty-something, well dressed guys singing what sounded like soccer chants and looking like they were having fun. There was nothing sinister or threatening about them. I didn’t give them a second thought as I waved her goodbye, stepped out of the car and walked towards them.
What happened next happened so quickly it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when or why the mood shifted.
As I got close, one of them broke away from his mates and came running towards me. Grabbing the back of my head, he tried to force his mouth onto mine.
As I tried to push him away, his friends surrounded me in a tight circle. They were still singing and chanting, jumping up and down crushing me between them.
Suddenly I was pushed against a wall. There were hands grabbing my breasts, my crotch, squeezing my butt, tugging at my clothes. Bodies pressed into mine, rubbing themselves against me.
I’ve often wondered how I’d react in a situation just like this one. I remember thinking that this was it – I was going to get gang raped. I thought of the cars driving past and how public the space was, but I was completely obscured from view. I’m not a tall person and anyone passing by would have just seen a group of cheering guys.
Miraculously, I stayed calm. I tried reasoning with them, telling them I had two young kids, that this wasn’t ok and I’d had enough.
There was a gap in the group and I made a run for it, right into the middle of the busy road. I walked quickly in between the cars until I got to a crowd of people.
Shaking all over, it was then that I began wondering what I’d done wrong.
Was I an idiot for walking by myself at night? Channelling Joan from Mad Men, I’d worn a knee-length leopard skirt out that night. But I wondered – did that make me look slutty and up for it? Was I completely naïve to think that walking towards a group of drunk guys wouldn’t spell trouble? Was this an ‘I told you so’ for not learning self-defence?
The lack of respect those men showed me meant I also felt shame. It took until the following afternoon before I could tell my husband and I have only told one friend about it since.
Now I’ve had time to digest what happened, those feelings of guilt and self-doubt have been replaced by anger.
Regardless of what I was wearing or where I was, I didn’t invite that situation. Just because it was late at night and they had been drinking – it was absolutely not okay for them to threaten me with sexual violence or degrade me in that way.
According to the ABS, 1 in 5 women have, or will, go through what I went through – by a group or by an individual – only many of them won’t be lucky enough to get away like I did.
No matter how buoyed we might feel as women by ‘Slutwalks’ and Reclaim the Night rallies or that, on the other hand, we don’t ‘need’ feminism because the battle for gender equality has already been won – the stark reality is 82 per cent of recorded sexual assault victims in Australia are women.
And chances are, subtle questions continue to swirl around the victim when it happens.
What were they wearing? Had they been drinking? Did they clearly say no? Where were they when it happened? How were they behaving?
These questions send a message that what women do and how we conduct ourselves is the trigger. By asking these questions the message ‘don’t get raped’ becomes louder than ‘don’t rape’.
It surprised and disturbed me greatly to learn that for all my perceived enlightenment about this topic, when I became a victim I initially asked myself these same questions.
In a stable, peaceful and progressive country like ours women deserve to feel and be safe and be treated with respect; no matter where they are, who they’re with or what they’re wearing.
No question – it’s our right.
Katrina Blowers juggles the care of her two young children with work as a journalist, writer and communications consultant. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Please note if this post or any of the comments bring up any issues for you, or if you need to speak to someone please call the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017. It does not matter where about you live in Australia, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.