explainer

'I am the victim-survivor of child sex abuse. It's left me unable to get a job.'

All I can think about is him

I can remember vividly, fragmented moments that are so real it makes reality look like a faded memory. I hear his voice, see his face, the smell of his deodorant – time stops in these moments. I can feel my heartbeat become slower, my breath is shallow but they’re a distant sensation. I’m lost in this looping fragment. Over and over again it plays in high definition each time a new detail emerges – the colour of his eyes, individual strands of his hair. Each detail is carefully examined before the loop restarts. 

Abruptly, I’m jolted back to the present. In a strange and confusing swirl, the present moment and memory switch and I find myself rocketed back into the reality of sitting in a cramped office, opposite a young woman who looks impatient. Where am I, again? Oh, yes. The job services provider. 

She asked a question. Do I know the answer? She asks, and by the look on her face, for the third or fourth time. "Why can’t you find a job?" I shake my head. It only helps to clear it a little. How do I explain to her, what I can barely put into words myself?

How do I tell her about him, about all of the hims? Why does she have to know what I can barely acknowledge?

In Australia, 43 per cent of women who experienced childhood abuse rely on a government benefit or allowance as their main source of income. Reading this data shook me to the core. I wasn’t alone. There were enough of us in this crucible that we could be identified and quantified, at least for the survivors who were willing and able to be counted.

"We can’t keep giving you extensions," she tells me. "Maybe you should see our psychologist, you get six sessions."

How do I tell her that six sessions with a stranger will not make me 'job ready'? How do I tell her about the terror, the deep depression, and horror? I can’t. But if I don’t, she has the power to cancel my payments. Anger swells in my gut and it spills over – I feel my cheeks redden, my heart beats faster. She pushes again to know, and I come within a breath of losing my last shred of dignity. I can’t afford to lose my welfare payment. My phone is already cut off and three months behind, and I don’t know how we’re going to pay rent this month, or any month. 

Ashleigh Rae is one of the 43 per cent of women who have experienced childhood abuse and rely on a government benefit or allowance as their main source of income. Image: Supplied.  

ADVERTISEMENT

I’m desperate. I’m angry. I almost scream at her, but instead a different voice comes out of me that I haven’t heard before – it’s coiled and deadly. 

"I do not have to share that information with you. It’s private, and you have not earned the right to hear it," I tell her. 

She looks at me blankly for a moment, then she explains that unless she hears an acceptable reason for my lack of job readiness, she’s going to cancel my payment. 

That’s it. That coiled voice lets loose and reels off every reason it can articulate – the police investigation, court hearings, lawyers, depression, anxiety, terror, post-traumatic stress – the list goes on, and on. I don’t care if she keeps up with it. 

I leave the appointment in a rage. It’s impossible to know how all-consuming being the victim of sexual assault is, unless you’ve been through it. It seeps into every part of your life. 

Already, it’s cost me several jobs, two from the same company. It’s irreparably destroyed my family, and alienated me from people who I thought were friends. I’ve had people question how much of a victim I really am, including a clinical psychologist who asked if I enjoyed it. Every effort to confuse and undermine me was made – and it rendered me broken and vulnerable. Instead of being supported, I felt punished for something that was never my fault. 

What little bit of clarity and functionality I had left was dedicated in its wholeness to surviving each day. I became masterful at stretching what little money I had, but it was never enough. People around me would say, 'You just need to budget better, trim the fat,' and I would think, there’s no fat to trim. There comes a point when it’s really not about what you spend money on, and it's actually about having enough money to begin with. 

I couldn’t afford a new bra that fit me, so I told people that bras were an instrument of the patriarchy – you know, free the nipple and all.

I needed winter clothes, but I couldn’t afford those either. 

ADVERTISEMENT

I couldn’t remember the last time I could afford an orange, mandarin, or kiwi fruit, or the cheapest cut of steak. My bed was broken, and I lived in fear that my dryer or fridge might suddenly break. How would I get them repaired? How would I survive without them? Not to mention the flood of unprocessed memories fighting for my focus, the longing for everything to just... stop, to curl into a ball enveloped by my favorite blanket and have everything fade away into nothingness. Or the countless call outs to the Crisis Assessment Team. 

When you live in this much fear every day, your priority isn’t having a pretty resumé and attending job interviews. 

It's surviving. 

Ashleigh Rae is an Advocate for Survivors of sexual violence, Disability Rights, and Anti-Poverty. She lives in Melbourne, Victoria and loves coffee. She is a Social Work student, and dedicates much of her time and energy to educating the public and is building a community on  TikTok

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.

Feature Image: Supplied. 

Like a $50 gift voucher for your thoughts? For your chance, take our quick survey  .
MMSurvey