opinion

#MeToo: An anonymous 28-year personal history I wish had never happened to me.

Content warning: The following post contains themes of sexual assault and abuse which may be triggering for some readers.

1. I am four. My cousin and my sister are seven. We are playing Atari in his bedroom. When it is my sister’s turn to play, my cousin says he has something to show me under his blanket. He gets in an awkward position and puts something soft in my mouth. My sister asked what we were doing under the blanket and he says it is a secret.

Despite the fact that he continues initiating these confusing games, or perhaps even because we have a special secret, he continues to be my favourite person to play with.

2. I am five or six. My cousin and my sister are about eight. We are having a bath together. Our mums are in the kitchen chatting. I can hear their voices. My sister gets out of the tub. My cousin asks me to bend over so he can lick my ‘brown eye’. I don’t even know what that means but I assume it is naughty so I say I don’t want to. We might get in trouble.

He calls me a chicken and says it will be fun, so I comply. My mum enters the bathroom and shouts at us. I claim to have been just looking for the bath plug. She may or may not have believed me. I tell my cousin that I don’t want anything more to do with his secret games. He calls me a sook but he agrees to stop. I am relieved.

3. I am eight. My mum asks my sister and I if we like our uncle’s teenage step-son, and if we would feel safe with him babysitting us. We say yes. She proceeds to educate us about personal safety and making sure we understand we have to stay together the whole time he is babysitting us and not to let him touch us, undress us or make any secrets with us.

After hearing her clear explanation of inappropriate touching, it dawns on me for the first time that my cousin did inappropriate sexual things with me. I wondered if I was going to be damaged because of it. I feared it would affect my future. I am confused. Sick in the stomach. I can’t sleep for the rest of the week in the lead up to that day. I’m convinced my teenage male babysitter will try to molest me. I am extra kind to my sister that week so she might feel inclined to protect me from him. He turns out to be great. He teaches me how to plait my sister’s hair.

4. I am ten. My mum is in tears because my uncle’s ex wife has accused him of molesting his step-daughter. Mum asks my sister and I if he ever touched us inappropriately. I said no. I loved my uncle and I am sad I won’t see him while he is in prison. She goes to court with him to hear the evidence against him. She hears his defence: he was just tickling the girl, with her brother, while they both had their shirts off. She decides he is innocent and she takes us to his low-security prison farm to visit him in a show of solidarity.

5. I am fourteen. My now drug-addicted cousin is seventeen and in a group home for delinquents. He is charged with gang rape of a girl in their group home. He insists it was consensual group sex, and the girl cried rape when the social worker walked in and caught them in the act. My mother and my sister believe him. I do not. I didn’t know people could have group sex. I had heard of rape but not of gang rape. I am suddenly very frightened of him now.

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I ask my Mum not to give him our new address when we move next month. I tell her I’m afraid of him but I don’t really specify why. My sister defends him and refuses to abandon him. My sister is allowed to continue to see him but she cannot give him our new address. My sister’s hate for me grows but my mum’s decision makes me feel safe.

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6. I am a 16-year-old exchange student at a festival in Italy waiting in a line for the toilets. Two men make small talk with me about kangaroos. Later I see one of them at the bar and he hands me a drink. My friend asks where I got the extra drink from, and prompts me to tip it out.

When I return to the toilet an hour later, I’m grabbed from behind and dragged into the nearby woods. It is the man who shouted me that drink earlier. He opens my trench coat and kneels over me. I’m pinned down, trapped in the sleeves of my trench coat. He tries to take off my clothes with one hand while he holds me down, but he wasn’t counting on me wearing thermal underwear and Doc Martin boots. He seems very angry at me for having worn so many layers, and he swears at me in Italian; words I don’t understand but I know they are fierce and degrading. He wedges his forearm into my mouth so I can’t scream. Or breathe. His jacket is so thick I cannot bite through it and trying to only hurts my teeth more. I wish for a moment I had drank his spiked drink so maybe I wouldn’t be awake for this part. My head is freezing cold in the snow. My neck feels like it is burning. My jaw aches deeply.

I resolve to stop fighting for breath, and hope to die quickly. I lay still and try to suffocate while he fumbles and scratches around between my legs, trying to get them more open despite my pants being bunched up above my boots. Then he notices I’ve stopped fighting and I’ve stopped breathing. He jumps up to see if I am alive. He starts speaking English again. “Hey. Do you wake up?”. His knees are no longer pinning my trench coat down.

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I take my opportunity to kick him hard with both feet and I run away through the woods, grateful that I can pull up my pants. I don’t know if he is chasing me. I don’t know which way is out and I cannot hear the music of the festival anymore but it must be nearby. I wonder if the snow in my ears has made me deaf, but I can’t think about that now. I reach the perimeter of the town and think about running into it but everything is closed on a public holiday.

When I finally make it back to my host family’s house hours later, nobody is home. Everyone is out celebrating at the festival and I’m freezing and frantic. I go inside and try to phone to call the police but I don’t know the number and I can’t find it in the phone book. I’m suddenly so tired from fighting and running that I cannot bear the thought of trying to communicate with a stranger who doesn’t speak my language so I go upstairs and have a shower. I sit on the bottom of the bathtub and cry hysterically for the longest time. I hope someone comes home soon. I hope they come in and carry me out of the tub and wrap me up in a blanket because I feel too defeated to move myself. If they see me like this they’ll know what happened. I won’t have to say it. Nobody comes. The water runs cold. I wrap myself in a towel and go to bed to warm up. I fall asleep instantly.

I wake up thinking it was a bad dream for a moment, then I notice the twigs in my clothes and my trenchcoat is still wet. I have a sore jaw, wobbly teeth, some sprained groin muscles and what feels like broken ribs. I’m angry at myself for having fallen asleep. I rush downstairs to find my host mother and I realise that life has just been ticking on as usual. My host mother is smiling and the house is full of chatter. There are croissants. Would I like one? I feel rude interrupting the breakfast conversation. It’s not appropriate talk about this in front of small children. I wait for the right moment. I open my mouth. It is never the right moment.

Then the consequences start rolling through my mind. If I tell them what happened they will tell my mum in Australia. She will forever feel responsible for having let me go overseas. She will be heart broken. My gut churned at the thought of professional counselling, but I know it would be non-negotiable. I will never learn Italian. My friends will ask why I came home early from Italy. I have a supportive community. I’m not ashamed. The possibility of victim blaming doesn’t even cross my mind. I just can’t face the pity party.

I decide it is not worth the sacrifice. I am safe now. Besides, he didn’t actually manage to rape me so even if the Italian police find him he probably won’t go to jail. I develop pneumonia and the next month is spent sleeping upright against a cupboard and wincing every time I cough with broken ribs. I consider this pain karma for my selfish decision to keep my assault secret. I pretend to be happy, and I’m convincing. Somehow I convince myself too. It all gets better and the rest of my time in Italy is brilliant.

LISTEN: Mia Freedman, Jessie Stephens and Holly Wainwright discuss the #MeToo movement (post continues after audio...)

7. I am 17. I am in the Year Twelve common room during a free period at school. I overhear a guy struggling with his homework. He asks his friend for help but his friend doesn’t know the answer. He is an Albanian student and they have a reputation as tough guys in my school. They are pretty intimidating but I’m not going to be afraid of them because of their reputation. I offer to show him how to find the answer. He is very appreciative and we have a friendly chat. The next week I walk into the common room and it is only him and his friends there. Some of them have spent time in refugee camps overseas and it interrupted their schooling so they are a bit older than the rest of us. They have full beards and look like the kind of men you wouldn’t want to pass in a dark alley.

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I almost turn around to leave but my new friend greets me and tells me he got a good grade for that homework I helped him with. His mate is sitting slouched on the couch, and watches us chat for a moment before interrupting us.

“Do you f*ck?” He asks. “If you do, get on the table and spread your legs. If you don’t, get the f*ck out of here”. Our mutual friend awkwardly defends me and assures him “She’s cool Bro”. He apologises for his mate’s behaviour and looks embarrassed. I slowly back out of the room. Despite having been not used any public toilets since the attack in Italy, I run to the girl’s toilets to calm down and gather my thoughts. It is the only place I could feel safe at that moment.

8. I am 17 and walking alone to the bus stop after school. A drunken hobo starts walking alongside me making conversation. I politely converse with him and try to cross the road. As I wait for a break in traffic, he asks me if I’ll come with him to the supermarket. I say no, and lie about meeting up with my father. He pushes me to the ground and tries to drag me by my schoolbag in the direction of the supermarket. I freak out and stop thinking rationally. He is frail and feeble and I could get up and run but I feel frozen.

A boy from my school walks past me and sees me battling with the hobo but he doesn’t stop to help. I pull the man onto the ground, then grab my Impulse body spray from my open schoolbag and spray him in the eyes. He starts crying and shouts “You’re not a nice girl!”.

I run back to my school. I find the gang of Albanian boys hanging out the front and I tell them everything that happened. They all run off to find him and they leave me alone. I feel instant remorse. I realise he is very mentally unwell and the spray in the eyes was probably overkill. I’m worried they might bash the hobo to death. Luckily they can’t find him. The next week at school I find out that they bashed the boy who witnessed it but didn’t help me. Now I have an enemy I didn’t ask for and protectors I don’t trust.

9. I am 19 at university. My mother phones me from work. She starts with a calm voice but it breaks quickly and she soon becomes hysterical. She has learned that my uncle has taken off with his 16-year-old step daughter from his second marriage. Apparently they are in love and have been in a secret relationship for four years. My mum apologises for putting me at risk by continuing to see him after he went to prison years ago. She begs me to tell her the truth about my relationship with him. I confess the truth. My uncle never touched me inappropriately but my cousin did many times when we were little. She grows impatient. She was referring to more serious matters, not “child’s play”. I assure her again, there was nothing serious like that.

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10. I am 21 and I bring my partner of three years to my Dad’s house over Christmas. My Dad refuses to let us sleep in the same room, even though we now live together. Meanwhile, my Dad allows my 16-year-old brother and his 14-year-old girl friend to have a room to themselves.

11. I am 23. I have just ended a five-year relationship and have been single a few months. I meet a fun guy at a street festival. He invites my friend and I back to an after-party at his house and we kiss for hours. I leave and we exchange numbers. I am very excited about him. A couple of weeks later we meet up again at a house party for pre-drinks. He and his friends are snorting lines of cocaine. I decline. We go to a nightclub and they dance without inhibition. I try to drink fast to keep up with his high. I decide to go home because I’m feeling a bit sick and I can’t seem to have as much fun as them.

He follows me to the cab rank and invites me to his house. We make out in the cab. This is it. This will by my first (and last) one-night-stand. We are rolling around on the bed having a great time. I am very excited and keen to have sex with him. Then he produces the hugest penis I have ever seen. Huge. Almost the size of my forearm. He tells me not to be scared of it but I am. I try to back out but he laughs it off and assures me it will be ok. He pins me down, but he doesn’t look aggressive. I want to leave. I look to see if the door is locked but I can’t tell. I am naked. I don’t even know where I put my phone or my bag. If I fight him, will he just do it anyway? I think so. So I brace myself and let it happen. It hurts. There is no pleasure only pain. He asks if I am on my period. I say no, and wonder why he would ask that.

Afterwards I pass out. I wake up to the sound of him playing guitar on the deck with his housemates. There’s quite a lot of blood on the bed. I go to the toilet and vomit. I get dressed and find his phone. I delete my number from his contacts, then I open the notes app on his phone and type “I’m sorry but I value my pelvic floor”. I get a cab home and make a five-point plan to prevent myself from ever losing control of a situation like that again. That five-point plan holds me back from doing many fun and probably harmless things in my twenties that my friends were doing. But I’ve remained in control of my body since then, and that is what is most important to me.

12. I am twenty-five and at a music festival with friends. I’m walking to the toilets and a guy asks me if he can have a photo with me. I think it a strange request but I know it is best not to argue with drunk men unless it is necessary, so I awkwardly comply. His friend points the camera and says “Say cheese!”. Suddenly he unzips the front of my dress, exposing my bra. I call him a dickhead and kick him. They both laugh and run away. I give up on music festivals after that.

(Image: Getty)
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13. I am 30 and at a conference. I meet a lovely man who is married. He arranges to meet up with me at the conference gala dinner so we don’t sit alone. After the dinner he offers to walk me back to my hotel room. I insist I am fine to walk alone, and point out the road is well lit. Truthfully I’d prefer to be escorted back, but I don’t want him to misinterpret my acceptance of his escort as an invitation to stay the night in my hotel room. He walks alongside me all the way home and I’m sort of relieved he’s there.

He compliments me on my dress and my shoes and my figure. I try to talk about my boyfriend and ask him questions about his wife and kids. When he gets to my hotel he takes both of my hands in his, steps in close and attempts to lock eyes with me. I awkwardly wriggle my hands away and turn around, calling my goodbyes back to him on my way in the door. I double-check that the door is locked when I go to bed. He adds me on Facebook the next day. I accept. I get it. If we don’t talk about it, it never happened.

14. I am 33. I was inspired to write this list. I wondered if I could recall 10 personal experiences of sexual intimidation, gender inequality or assault that have shaped who I am. I got to 25 different experiences. I decided to cull some points because…maybe they aren’t significant enough… maybe they’ll sound petty to anyone else but me… it’ll be too repetitive and nobody will read the whole thing.

15. I’m 35 and it’s been two years since I documented this list of experiences. At the time I shared it with a friend, but no further, for fear of my mum seeing it.

The #MeToo campaign on social media this week prompted me to write this anonymously. I can’t do it any other way. I want the world to know that behind every “me too” there’s a back story. Every victim pays a price for speaking up. Sometimes the words are too hard to find. Sometimes that price is too high to pay.

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual or domestic abuse, please contact 1800 RESPECT. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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