NOTE: Please be aware that the story is graphic and may upset sensitive readers or people who have been through similar ordeals. If you require help or need someone to talk to 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.
“Three years ago I wrote an article for The Sydney Morning Herald that detailed a horrifically violent assault I experienced. I was walking down my Sydney street late at night, listening to my iPod, when I was suddenly grabbed from behind.
I had a box cutter blade held to my throat and I was dragged into a park. The man said “I’m going to rape you and kill you.” He made a fist and struck me on the left side of the face, knocking me to the ground. He climbed on top of me, straddling me, and began strangling me with one hand while repeatedly bashing me in the left side of the face.
Again, he said “I’m going to rape you and kill you.”
Up until that point I’d been lying paralysed in shock. For whatever reason, the adrenaline suddenly kicked in and I went into pure fight mode. I realised that I was in a kill or be killed situation and that I had absolutely nothing to lose. If I did nothing, I was going to die anyway.
I yelled at him “I’m going to kill you first!” and I went for his eyes and face with my nails.
A self defence instructor I once had taught me that rapists are cowards who go for ‘easy’ targets, meaning that if you have been selected by a rapist, they have selected you precisely because they think you are the ‘type’ who wont fight back. You can use this knowledge against them.
This instructor also taught me that most rapists work to a rape script. This is a fantasy of how they want the events to play out. To overpower a rapist you do not necessarily have to be physically stronger. When victims act outside of the ‘script’ they have been allocated they immediately undermine the attacker’s sense of control over the situation.
This all turned out to be true. The moment at which I began fighting, my attacker got off me and fled. I had been bashed, strangled and indecently sexually assaulted. But I was alive and had not been raped.
The police met me at my front door, only a few hundred meters from where the attack took place. Later at the police station, my best friend met me.
“Nina this man attacked you from behind like a pathetic coward. But it could have been me or any other woman. So that’s not just an attack on you, that’s an attack on all women. It’s an attack on our rights as women to feel like we can move about in safety” she said.
It was those words that confirmed my resolve to speak out to the media to raise awareness about violence against women, and to challenge the stigma around sexual assault. In my first SMH article I wrote “I have decided to tell my story to reclaim a sense of control over the situation. I refuse to be intimidated by this man or by the legal process so I willingly attach my name and photo to this article.” I went on to say that I was not embarrassed to say that I had been indecently sexually assaulted, as sexual assault should not be embarrassing to anyone other than the pathetic coward who commits it.
In this article I also talked about how self defence saved my life. And don’t get me wrong. Self defence courses are a great way to improve strength, balance, and bodily co-ordination. But it is problematic to pitch these courses as a ‘solution’ to rape.
For decades we have been putting the onus of responsibility onto women to prevent rape through protective measures; learn self defence, don’t walk home alone, stay alert, don’t wear short skirts, sit in the backs of cabs, don’t get drunk. While being street smart is a good thing, the problem is that this advice has not stopped women from getting raped. What it has done though, is cause women who have been raped to feel responsible if they were drunk, or walking home, or wearing a skirt- or any other of the million things we are daily told not to do.
The other problem with pitching self defence as a ‘solution’ is that it totally misses the dynamics of power and intimidation involved in most sexual assaults. Consider the following;
In 70 per cent of cases the perpetrator is known to the victim- often they are a family member, a current or ex partner, or a friend. In these cases the restraints are rarely physical- they are psychological.
Perpetrators use grooming, pressure and coercion to force their victims into submission. Teaching a physical strategy (like a katrate chop) to deal with a psychological restraint totally misses the point, and ignores the complex dynamics of power and control that exist in such scenarios.
In the remaining 30 per cent of cases victims are assaulted by someone they met that night, usually at a party or club. Once again, pressure, coercion as well as drugs and alcohol are often used to lower the victim’s inhibitions and capacity levels.
Of course self defence tactics can work in some stranger danger circumstances (if the victims doesn’t freeze- as is only natural).
But violent, ‘stranger danger’ sexual assaults make up less than 0.1 per cent of sexual assaults meaning that only 1 in every 1000 sexual assaults looks like what happened to me.
Curiously though, the media continues to perpetuate the inaccurate stereotype of the stranger with the knife in the dark alley. The result is that the overwhelming majority of victims look at shows like Law and Order and conclude that “what happened to me didn’t happen like it happens on TV” the logical extension being that they have not experienced a “real” rape and that they are not entitled to real support and justice.
Ideally what we really need to do is to stop blaming victims, and start targeting the potential perpetrators. A recent study by the White Ribbon Foundation found that 1 in 7 teen boys thinks it is OK to hold a girl down and force her to have sex if she has flirted or lead you on.
This isn’t surprising when you look at the stuff they read. In a recent edition of FHM magazine there was a “manhood quiz”. The quiz allocated “10 man points” (the maximum possible) for having sex with a girl when she has told you she doesn’t want to.
There is no point in putting cautionary drink spiking/ date rape/ sexual harassment stories in women’s magazines if men’s magazines keep publishing such crap; ultimately it is men who need to stand up and take a zero tolerance line on violence against women.
As for me, I’m doing well. I still have flashbacks and occasional nightmares, but I’ve been able to turn my experience into a platform to campaign for the rights of all people to live free from sexual violence. My attacker has never been caught, but I live secure in the knowledge that the best revenge is to live with purpose and pride.”