real life

'I was sexually assaulted by an ex at 18. Four decades later, my daughter had her own story.'

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

I feel both angry and bewildered right now. You see, my daughter was sexually assaulted on the weekend. I’m not sure if I can even call her lucky in a strange way, because the assault was minor in the whole spectrum of assaults, or unlucky, because she was chosen, not for the first time, but the second.

Spending time with my daughter made me think about my life. You see, 43 years ago, I was sexually assaulted for the first time. The first of what I would term ‘major’ anyway. And I am actually part of my daughter’s ‘me too’ club, because I managed to talk my way out of it, before it became even more serious than it was.

Watch: The hidden numbers of women and violence. Post continues after. 

Mine was an ex-boyfriend, whom I considered a really nice guy, although many others had warned me that he liked control. I was 18. I had gone out with another person after we had broken up. He asked me to a party when he saw me at a pub with my parents. I had not long broken up with the other boy, and off I went to the party with him and his mates. The party was non-existent. Instead I was taken to a river, and he basically attempted to get what he assumed the other guy had had. His brother and mates drank outside of the car while it was happening.

It is a strange feeling when someone you know and trust does this – I didn’t feel in danger of my life, but I did feel that I had no choice in what was to happen. Somehow, sometimes, an instinct also kicks in, and it did for me that night, as has done for countless women, before and after me. The guy I had just split with, was a cop in the city. I used that as my threat. I used it over and over again, until he stopped; he told the others to get into the car and drove me home. Yes, he drove me home. So I was lucky, wasn’t I?

I had to face my mother who was so worried because it was so late, and I had to try to talk her down on her seeing ‘love bites’ all over my neck. Yep, I was still being humiliated, even though I considered that what I had done was a good thing. On top of that, I had a proud, hot-headed, protective father, who would’ve ended up in prison if he had known, so I had to say nothing. This way of dealing with things, at least has changed. My daughter can tell the world, and I want her to tell whoever she likes.

Since then there have been at least two other occasions where assaults have happened. I call them fairly minor I suppose, but they involved tongues and touching, so you always remember them. Each and every one. And in saying this, I don’t even include the bra strap snapping at school, the teasing about your appearance, e.g. boobs, tits, bum, etc., the wolf whistles as you walk past an all-male work site, the touch ups you receive in pubs, or the abuse you receive when you tell some blokes you’re not interested.

ADVERTISEMENT

My daughter got into, what she thought, was her Uber on Saturday night. It wasn’t. She’d seen the ‘Uber wave’ when he pulled up outside the bar. She was distracted and didn’t check the number plate. She found out her error when her real Uber driver called her when she was a few blocks away. Now, let’s look at why she was lucky. She was lucky because he went the way of her home, because as she always does, she told him the easiest way there. She was lucky because she managed to get out of the car, when he finally stopped, when he made his move.

However, it wasn’t before she was touched. And it wasn’t before she had spent 25 minutes in fear of what was to happen at the hands of the stranger in the driver’s seat. Thankfully, her instincts kicked in too, just as they did with me and many, many women in between. She talked to the driver, she told him she had a boyfriend at home, she told him he must be mistaken, and when he said she had shown she liked him at the bar, she became assertive and told him she would call the police. Somehow, she scrambled and opened that locked door, when he stopped the car, lunged at her and assaulted her.

She was what you call unlucky / lucky I suppose. I think it is the way all women who go through any kind of ‘minor’ assault view themselves – unlucky / lucky.

Mamamia’s daily news podcast The Quicky explores why taking control of the narrative is so important for many survivors of sexual assault. Post continues below audio.

A few years ago, the same daughter was walking home from the tram. Her home was only 200 metres from the stop. She walked through a wide, and very short alley way – the shortcut everyone uses in the area. She passed a man coming the other way, who said hello. She walked on by but had that instinctive feeling that it wan’t right. As she turned around, he was coming at her. Obviously, he needed not to be seen, because he took off. But not before he had touched her. Again, she was lucky, wasn’t she, or was she unlucky?

The things about these assaults, is that in amongst that ‘luckiness’, the woman (I refuse to use the word ‘victim’!), is left with the after effects. There is the inevitable fear. There is the extreme anxiety you feel when you normally wouldn’t. There are the physical symptoms you feel, like the quickened and hardened heartbeat, pumping out through your chest. There is the hyper-sensitivity to sudden noises at night. And then there are the emotional feelings, where tears come easily. For lots of women there is the feeling of detachment from those you love. There is the distrust of good people that builds, that you have to overcome. These are only the minor symptoms. So many women suffer so much more and the symptoms are even more extreme. Some are never able to function in relationships, some self-harm, some can never tell.. and the rest.

Then there is the self-questioning. What did I do to lead them on? How did I cause it? Was the dress I was wearing too short? Did I somehow give him the impression I was interested? Did we make eye contact? We ask these questions because somehow we have been conditioned to think that we women do cause it. My generation was certainly given the idea that it is our responsibility to keep a man at bay – it was almost like we were told that men couldn’t control themselves. In the age of mini-skirts, our parents were so careful as to what we were wearing. We girls way back when, were told not to let a boy put his hand above your knee, because that was leading him on. Don’t…. don’t…. don’t…. lead him on. Don’t be a tease.

ADVERTISEMENT

This is not an anti-man rant. I am lucky. My daughter is also lucky. We have very good men in our lives. Her father, my husband, is a perfect example of ‘love is patient, love is kind’, and I am not even religious. Her partner is also an example of a great bloke. I am sure he is wondering whether he is doing the right things for her right now, but he cares, he empathises.

My husband says he doesn’t know how to respond when I talk about this, because he doesn’t understand how it even happens at all. He doesn’t get it. That is a good thing. He shouldn’t know. He does however, wonder what he should do when he passes a woman. He feels the judgement of other lesser men badly. He feels like he could be judged if he smiles, if he says hello to a woman he passes. We must never place all men in the same basket. We have to somehow empower the good ones too. There are so many very good men out there; they far outnumber the ones like the ones we speak about above. They are not real men – they might think they are, but they are not.

I am only speaking from me here. What has changed? Not much. What needs to change? Plenty.

For a start, our laws must change, so that when women are hurt in any way by a man, that excuses like ‘she made me think…’, ‘she teased or taunted me….’, ‘she……’, etc, cannot be used as defence. The victim blaming must stop. When our women are murdered, excuses like ‘I didn’t mean to kill her’, cannot be used. If a man starts with another evil purpose, through power or rage, then ‘accidentally kills’ her, it is still murder, and the crime should never be reduced to manslaughter.

Then there has to be a cultural change, and that is the trickiest part of all. I know I probably won’t see enough of it in my lifetime, because cultural change can take generations, but somehow we have to teach our boys to respect our girls as equals.

Recently, I was teaching a class about resilience, ‘bouncing back’. I asked the class how they feel when they are called nasty names, in an argument, for example. I called one very confident little girl out the front and pre-warned her of what I was going to do. I said, ‘You’re ugly’. I asked the class then how they thought she would feel if I was really doing it, with the purpose of leading to resilience response strategies. One usually great little seven-year-old girl put her hand up and very innocently said, ‘You could have called her an ugly slut’. This little girl had definitely heard that before, and I suspect it wasn’t in the schoolyard. Teachers can usually tell if it is an experiment with language. Of course, I could be wrong, but it rolled off the tongue like everyday language. She thought it was fine – she had no idea. She was completely oblivious. And she comes from a normal, everyday, functional family.

Yes, we need a cultural shift. Yes, the world sure has changed in forty years, but not nearly enough has changed for women.

The author of this post is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The featured image is a stock photo.

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.

00:00 / ???