real life

'I live in a jail inside my brain.' A letter to the man who raped and abused me.

This post deals with domestic violence and rape, and might be triggering for some readers.

Please note: *names and places have been changed to protect the author’s privacy.

Alexander*,

I did not know what I should put in this statement. According to the law, I’ve been a ‘victim’ since 2015. But I’ve spent the entirety of 2019 and until now in 2020 trying to convince people that I am okay and that I am not a victim. My parents and boyfriend especially, who have supported me throughout, and have likely felt more pain and remorse than you have.

But the reality is, the duration, and especially the end, of our relationship will impact me for the rest of my life.

You were my first “real” boyfriend at 14 years old. I had never known any relationship quite like ours, and I did not recognise the toxicity for close to two years.

Our relationship had extreme highs and lows. I quickly learnt that these were characteristic of an abusive relationship. I learnt this when I was only 15 years old. I never knew which mood you would be in, and I constantly feared that you would flip.

You could be violent, particularly when you cheated on me. You would ignore me for long periods of time just because you “felt like it”. You thought only of yourself. I existed to satisfy you, otherwise, I knew you would cheat on me again. Mostly it was not physical, the worst was the psychological torture and manipulation you subjected me to.

You played cruel mind games with me. I was a very confident and self-assured girl when I first met you. But that did not suit your purpose. You quickly made me insecure and constantly on edge. I believed you when you “joked” that I was fat, that people only pretended to like me to use me, that I was crazy and not intelligent. I am still rebuilding my self-esteem from this, two years after I last saw you, Alexander.

For you, manipulating came easily. You gaslighted me from the very beginning of our relationship. You told me you would commit suicide several times, you called me incessantly so that I could not use my phone, leaving voicemails mixed with verbal abuse and crying because you “loved me” days before my final high school exams.

You told me I was at fault for your suicidal thoughts because I broke up with you and if you acted on them I would be the one to blame.

You told me that you can’t sleep unless there’s a light on in your room in the text you sent me for my 18th birthday.

Through this, you managed to remain in my thoughts for the entirety of 2019 and 2020. I’m certain I feel more feelings of guilt and remorse than you do yet you are the one who assaulted and manipulated me.

October, after my last high school exam, was supposed to be the best of my life to date. In the beginning, I was spending time rekindling my relationships with friends that I had isolated from during my relationship with you.

These were best friends I had for years before you yet were people you said secretly hated me and used me and that I needed to “stand up for myself” and cut them off.

My friends carried many of the highs and lows of my relationship. I broke down at school on several occasions, and I had to leave more than once because I had become physically sick from the pain and stress.

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They watched through it all, and I lost many friends because I isolated myself during the abuse. They did not, and mainly still do not, understand why I kept going back to you. Although it may have looked like it, I felt like I had no choice. It was textbook abuse; I was completely stuck in the cycle.

Up until then, I was doing a good job of recovering and rebuilding. One night in October, everything changed. It was the first time I had seen you in several weeks. We had broken up by then, and I was doing well, and even feeling guilty for this.

You had continuously told me that you missed me, that you loved me, that you were “waiting” for me. You cried and told me I was the only girl for you and that he would do anything to get me to be with him again. Then you raped me and stole my dignity from me. I was trapped under the weight of your body; I was physically and emotionally numb.

I felt like I was watching myself from above, like ghosts in movies who float above their body after they die. A few seconds later it was over, and I ran inside and stared at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t recognise the girl looking back with me with mascara flowing down her face and into her chest.

Becoming intimate again with someone else was hard. I thought I was fine and that I would be able to have healthy relationships and habits straight away.

That was before December when I found out about the court case. That night, something brushed against my window and I hid underneath my bed and cried. I thought you had come to hurt me. Another day, I was in bed with my boyfriend and he lifted his arm to wrap around me. I flinched because I thought he was going to hit me. I felt destroyed.

When I am intimate with my boyfriend, I need the light on in the room or my mind begins to wander, and I can be pulled into the past. My brain betrays my body and I feel unsafe in moments when everything is physically okay.

I have struggled with constant thoughts that I will never be myself again. One night I sobbed and told my boyfriend “I’m broken”. I felt I would never be ‘normal’ again. I was forced to express these feelings as early as a month into my relationship with him due to the court case, and I feared it would scare him off.

In January, I began the relationship I’m currently in. It’s been over a year and I am still struggling with fully trusting him without reserve, despite his efforts to show me that he is nothing like you.

On the nights that I sleep alone, I have recurring nightmares about you hurting me. It has been incredibly difficult to continue my friendships, as they sometimes talk about you, which brings up feelings of betrayal and devastation.

I am slowly rebuilding these relationships, but they are victims of you in their own way. I am consumed by self-doubt — there is not a single friendship in my life that I feel fully safe in, if I sense that someone is contacting me less frequently, I assume they are pulling away because I am too much and not worth a friendship with. Every time I wash my hair I cry because it is the only place where I can cry unnoticed, as I let the soapy water wash away my tears.

Every day I wonder why you put me through all of this, and I agonise over the very few people who believe your story over mine. I tell myself repeatedly “the only people who matter believe you”, but it is not enough.

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I used to enjoy swimming at Blue Beach*, but if I go anywhere near your house I have urges to both cry and throw up.

I accidentally saw your sister recently, someone who I once considered one of my best friends, and I felt I had forgotten how to breathe. I also saw your brother at the shops, and I live in constant fear that I will see you or your family.

I once saw you at the beach. You were with a new friend, laughing and chatting. I felt disgusted — how is it that I live in a jail inside my brain, yet you are allowed to live freely and make new friends?

From your old friends I have heard that you have moved on and are living a happy and carefree life with new friends.

Although I would like to be able to say that I am happy for you, I am not. If you do have new friends, I am certain that you have spun an elaborate web of lies to vilify me and the other girls you sexually abused. It frightens me that you are allowed to walk around freely for so long after you were charged, even after initially being refused bail. There is nothing stopping you from being alone with girls and women. I know exactly what you are capable of, and I don’t believe you will change.

For me, the worst part of all of this is that you did unforgivable things to me, yet I have this fear that I am ruining your life by speaking up. You made these decisions, and you decided your own future, yet I am still manipulated by you enough to worry about how you will react to this. You are entirely at fault for this court case, and the others.

All I’ve wanted is closure, and to be able to fully move on with my life after this. Instead, a few months later, I found out about the other cases and I have thought about you at least once a day since.

I’ve found this to be really distressing, especially since the only time I offload any of these feelings is when I talk to my therapist, which was only around three times in 2019.

I’ve developed crippling anxiety as well as depression from this experience. I promise you, if anything like this happens again, I will not go to the police.

In my case, I had the rare fortune of police officers who treated me with dignity and compassion, in a criminal justice system that’s designed to protect perpetrators and vilify survivors.

The secondary victimisation I have experienced in the past two years (ongoing) is worse than the abuse and the assaults themselves. I refuse to apologise for that feeling.

Making me sit in a room with strangers to identify myself in hundreds of unauthorised naked photos and videos was humiliating. Getting me to stand in court and be torn to shreds by senior barristers who cost tens of thousands of dollars per session will be humiliating. Being forced to share my story before I was ready was humiliating.

Now, I am taking back my story.

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.

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