real life

'A radio personality, a date, a colleague: My painfully unexceptional history of sexual assault.'

Content warning: this post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers. 

It breaks me that the following is all too familiar. That it’s probably also happened to you. Or a friend. Or someone you know.

A girl goes to a work party. Drinks flow, people talk, the music’s loud and then she gets groped by a senior colleague. It happens in public, in full view and yet no one says anything and worst of all, the girl never speaks up.

That was five and a half years ago, and I can still feel his hand forcing its way into my bra, grabbing at my bare breast.

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I was working in radio at the time and he was a “media personality”. Cocky, confident and full of arrogance, he’d been brought in to cover another announcer for a few weeks.

It was a win for the station and at the end of his stint he threw a party at the rooftop bar of a new hotel. For a small town, it was the place to be, and with food and drinks on his tab, the night rolled on.

My friends and I were at the bar when he came over, full of swagger, and someone suggested a photo. He put himself in the middle, one arm around my colleague, the other draped across my shoulder.

As the flash went, so did his hand, straight down my top, under my bra, gripping my naked breast tightly.

And then it was over. He walked off to talk to someone else. Completely shocked, I turned to my friend, struggling to explain, overpowered and silenced by a man I didn’t know. He was the big shot radio host and I was no one.

And it was so silly, I told myself, it was just a boob grab. These things happen all the time, it’s no big deal. I giggled it off.

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It wasn’t until the next day that I told my closest colleague. Not in an alarming, OMG-HE-DID-THIS kind of way, but just as a point of conversation. I had downplayed and shrugged off the incident so much in my mind that the horror on her face caught me off guard.

Still, it wasn’t enough to prompt me to do anything about it. He was leaving anyway, I thought, why bother?

A year later, I was living in a new city and on a date with a banker from Scotland whose accent made me melt.

He was kind, handsome, down to earth and we totally hit it off. After drinking into the night on the banks of the river, we ended up back at his place and one thing led to another.

There was the momentary pause to slip on protection and everything was going well until he said, “stop, I’m going to come.” Uh, isn’t that the point? “No, I need to put a condom on.”

Without telling me, he had taken the first one off. I pulled away instinctively as my anger rapidly grew. I had consented to safe, protected sex. Not this. I felt tricked, lied to, confused and furious. After a few harsh words, I threw my clothes on and left.

But it was late. Really late. And I was so far from home. While two Ubers cancelled on me and I searched down dark streets for the right bus stop, my anger wore off and I began to feel… silly.

Why had I stormed out in the middle of the night after what was a really great date with a nice guy? I’d made a mistake, I’d completely overreacted and spoilt everything. How embarrassing.

I didn’t learn what ‘stealthing’ was until a year after that – when a man secretly removes his condom in the middle of sex. Still, even then I didn’t feel like a victim. He’d even apologised.

In April last year, I was two months into a new job – which I was having serious doubts about – when my manager pulled me aside to tell me the boss had doubts about me.

He was helping me out, he said, giving me a heads up. I was grateful and sent him an appreciative message as I left work that day, “if there’s anything else I can do to improve, just let me know.”

At 11 pm that night, he called in his favour. He was at a male strip club with a client and over the next 40 minutes sent me 23 texts insinuating that he wanted to send me a dick pic.

I couldn’t tell if he was pulling my leg, hazing me as the new kid or actually being serious.

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I delicately shut the conversation down and that was it. He came into work the next day as if nothing had happened and nothing was ever mentioned.

He must have been drunk, I told himself, and either doesn’t remember what he said or is too embarrassed to bring it up. I let it go because it was silly, and moved on.

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Three months later, I came back from a week’s holiday to find out that he had suddenly resigned, effective immediately. The boss seemed quite sad about it and I worried something terrible must have happened to him or his family.

By the end of the day, I had the full story.

It turns out that during his two years at the company, he’d been sexually harassing four girls across two different teams – particularly, a young intern who he managed and repeatedly questioned about her bi-sexuality and sexual partners. He also said he was the only reason she got a promotion.

Intimated and manipulated, she never spoke up and nor did any of the other girls.

It wasn’t until they were all at an event together one night, when a comment was made about whether he would be faithful to his fiance after they got married (yes, he was engaged), that the truth came out.

After an HR investigation, he was fired. Let go quickly and silently. I thought, as the only other female in the team, that I might be asked about any inappropriate behaviour, but it didn’t happen.

In an exit-interview with my boss, I did tell him about the messages. He was horrified. I also asked about the concerns he’d allegedly had about me.

Turns out, the manager made it all up.

Silenced and embarrassed by the indignity of my experiences, I’d pushed them from my mind. But the feeling of being powerless to stop what happened, hasn’t left me.

Since the rise of the Me Too movement and the Weinstein Effect, there’s been more awareness around sexual assault than any other point in history.

I’d like to think that if any of the above happened to me today, inspired by the women before me, I would have the courage to speak up. Because no matter what happened, no matter how small or insignificant you make an incident out to be, no one should get away with it.

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