real life

'In Grade 9, I met a boy who would go on to abuse me for five years. I thought it was love.'

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers. 

In Grade 9 I met a boy who would go on to be my abuser for five years. 

The first time he physically hurt me was at school, in front of other students who simply laughed as I dusted myself off and hid the tears. 

In my mind, I had convinced myself that this was love, that it was a fairy tale and that my continuous discomfort wasn’t that bad because ‘he just loves me so much, right?’ 

Watch: Women And Violence: The Hidden Numbers. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

I would run away from home to stay with him, and that’s when the abuse really started. Often I was left naked, humiliated and hurt on his bedroom floor as he rolled over to sleep, done with me. 

For a long time, I didn’t realise I was being raped, or even abused, until one day my parents saw the bruises. Until this point, I thought rape could only happen with a stranger, in an alleyway… I never thought it could be at the hands of a boyfriend.

I was numb from shock; I had just begun to process that I had been raped throughout the entire relationship. 

My mum took me to the hospital and I was given a full examination. I remember it being very long and extremely clinical – we left for the hospital in the evening and didn’t come home until the morning. 

I recall being naked in nothing but a hospital gown, being examined by strangers – a pap smear, vaginal exam, STD test and the morning after pill. 

I was then shown a diagram, with circles representing where I had physical trauma. Almost every part of my body was circled.

My mum was with me during this procedure. After they had finished showing both my mother and me the diagram, I vividly remember the female doctor saying to Mum: “It’s not that bad.”

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s a comment that has stayed with me forever, and to this day I still get goosebumps thinking about it. 

This episode of The Quicky is one to play to the men in your life. Post continues below. 

The statement ‘it’s not that bad’ is crucial when we talk about gendered violence, assault and misogyny. 

Almost every victim of abuse has used the term to comfort themselves, to justify their circumstances and essentially minimise the actions of their abuser. 

What we need to look at is WHY so many women are burying their own, and their fellow females’, discomfort, hurt and pain. 

We’ve seen and heard misogyny discussed in great depth over the last few weeks, however not much focus has been put on how we, as women growing up and living in this culture, have internalised it ourselves.

It’s in all the ways we’ve been taught to dismiss our experiences as ‘not that bad’. 

It’s in the ways we silence ourselves, for fear of being too dramatic, too emotional, too weak. 

It’s when we tell our friends ‘oh, I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that’. It’s when we tell ourselves ‘not to make a big deal out of it’. 

It’s when older women tell us ‘we’re becoming too entitled’. 

When we put the comfort of others above our own needs. 

When we teach girls that they exist for the pleasure and consumption of others, we create the perfect victim; the one who doesn’t even realise she is one. 

A proud survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault and resulting mental health challenges, Vanessa Haldane is leading the conversation on why rediscovering one’s self worth is the key to leading a happy and fulfilling life. You can find more from Vanessa Haldane on the Journey To Worthy website, on Instagram, or listen to her full story on her podcast.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.