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"My cousin raped me when we were teenagers."

Last week, to an audience of thousands, John Laws told Brian, an elderly man who’d been repeatedly sexually abused as a child, effectively to harden the f*ck up.

Because, after all, it’s easy being 11-years-old, stuck on a property 30 miles from town, where the boss is the abuser. It’s a breeze fighting back against someone who is bigger, older and holds the fate of your family in the palm of his hand.

Brian is now a virtual recluse, living in a caravan in the bush, scurrying into town for supplies when he has to but avoiding the world as much as he can. He’s never had a girlfriend. He never told his loveless family.

Imagine the courage it took to call Mr Laws. Imagine what it took for him to finally pick up a phone and tell someone his story.
Then imagine what it was like to be told he should be nicer to people, that he should “brighten up a little”.

Because in the world according to Mr Laws, abuse counselling goes like this:

“… don’t be down all the time, don’t be a wet blanket all the time. Try and have a laugh.

“Go to the pub and have a lemonade for god’s sake. God helps people who help themselves.”

Brian, Laws effectively said, should just stop whining because really, if he didn’t “scream in fright” or “yell out ‘stop that you bastard’” or “lash out with your fists”, it was his fault.

The night I lost my virginity to a boy I fancied in a car at a party full of hormone-fuelled teens, a bonfire blazing and cheap, illicit booze being thrown back when parents weren’t watching, I was raped by my cousin.

Read more: Meet the women who think they don’t need to use condoms.

I wasn’t quite 16. He was a couple of years older. He came to the car, where I was sitting alone (turned out the boy I fancied only fancied one thing). I didn’t think much of it. Why would I? I’d grown up with him; our families shared holidays, Christmas day and hand-me-downs clothes.

"I wasn’t quite 16. He was a couple of years older."

We’d lined up together so our mums could smear bronze zinc on our peeling noses before we headed to the pool to get burnt all over again. I chose my footy team because he followed them, and as we got older and he got tougher I always thought he’d be there if I ran into trouble.

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I didn’t know the trouble would be him.

Like Brian, I didn’t fight back. I didn’t scream. I didn’t tell anyone. Like Brian, I still don’t know why.

But I do know the incident has stayed with me for the rest of my life. I think about it most days, sometimes in passing, sometimes at length. Every awful story of sexual assault that makes the news brings it back, and I become a different, angry, strident person.

Then I wonder if people suspect, and worry I’ve given myself away.

I am still perplexed by the fact I didn’t fight back. I wonder if I should tell my partner, if it would change the way he sees at me, and if somehow I’d be less attractive and someone he didn’t want to touch any more.

Related: “Sharing painful confessions can bring friends closer.”

I’ve never told my family. I’m luckier than Brian - there’s plenty of love there - but it would tear to shreds relationships that are precious to me. So I go to weddings and christenings and funerals, and laugh in family groups that he’s part of and all the while look at my cousin and wonder: Do you ever think about that night? Do you feel guilty? What you would do if it happened to your daughter?

Do you even remember what happened all those years ago?

I have a great life with family and friends and a successful career. But when I hear stories like Brian’s, my heart breaks. I want to tell him it’s okay and that there are people out there who are gentle and kind and would do all they could to help him.

And I want to feel sorry for ignorant, careless people like John Laws. But instead, I want to take his golden microphone and shove it where he will never be able to broadcast again.

At Debrief Daily we are committed to telling honest, personal stories about the real-life experiences of women. If you would like to submit a story for publication either in your own name or anonymously, we would love to hear from you. Please email us at [email protected]