'I didn't realise it was abuse.' I've been sexually assaulted by four of my partners.

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

I am no longer ashamed to reveal that violence has occurred in four of my intimate relationships. Each of those partners raped me. Except for the fourth, I did not even realise at the time that I had been raped.

About one in three Australian women over the age of 15 have experienced physical or sexual violence at some time in their lives, although what these statistics don’t reveal is that a woman may experience such violence more than once. 

Watch: Sexual assault survivor and advocate Grace Tame on the power of abuse survivors' stories. Post continues after video.

Video via ABC.

Although all rapes are violent and traumatic, what I experienced was towards the least violent end of the continuum. They were over quickly, left no bruises or bleeding. I was not forcibly pinned down. Just men laying on top of me, having their way when I had clearly not consented.

I had said: No; Stop; I am not ready; What are you doing? (when I was woken up in the middle of the night whilst sleeping alone in a downstairs bedroom).

I was told: It is my right; No woman has ever said no to me; This will make you feel better.


On three occasions I just lay there, didn’t move, and said nothing afterwards.

I told the fourth, "you raped me". He replied, "well, it didn’t last long". The next day I had coffee with a girlfriend and told her what had happened. She became angry with me for not shouting and struggling and trying to push him off. She said that’s not rape. But I knew it was, I was wising up.

The year before I had been to a domestic violence workshop at Caboolture. Several policewomen were present. The speaker began talking about rape. It dawned on me that I had been raped, not once, but three times. I began to cry uncontrollably and had to leave the room. Someone came out and hugged me and said I need to get some counselling.

When a woman is hurt by someone who says they love her, often she does not realise that what she is experiencing is abuse. This is complicated when the perpetrators themselves minimise or deny what they have done, refuse to accept responsibility. Because of this, it took me many years to realise their abuse was not my fault. I did not make them hurt me. Rape me.

Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast. In this episode, we discuss the petition where thousands of people shared their horrific experiences of sexual assault. Post continues after audio.

Decades later I had counselling with one of these men. I wanted to clear things in a safe environment, apologise for hurt I had caused him and spell out the hurt, the trauma, I had experienced from him. In a very calm, soft voice, I mentioned what had happened that night. 


He was indignant. He loved women. He worshipped them. He had never done anything to hurt any woman. He turned on me, became nasty. I said: Get out. Get out of here. He got up and left the room. The psychologist said she was going to tell him to leave. Said I should have no more contact with him.

The damage would have been softened by him merely saying, "I am sorry. I had no idea. I didn’t mean to hurt you." Is that so bloody hard? Or had he forgotten? Did he honestly believe it never happened?

The rape must have traumatised me. Every few years, something happens when I get triggered. Even though I have very little to do with him, occasionally I get involved because of work stuff. Once he lied about something quite innocuous that had happened the previous day. 

My friend RAGE reared up. I was furious at him for lying. The next day I had calmed down, but was still rattled, so decided to ring him and have a reasonable discussion with him, ask him why he lied, but at the sound of his condescending voice talking to me as if I was a child, ‘now, now Mary’, there I was screaming at him: ‘YOU FUCKING C**T. YOU RAPED ME.’ C**t is a word I’ve seldom used. I cringe when I see it used on Twitter.

I was told that for weeks afterwards he was deeply distressed and shaken by my attack on him, for saying "that word"!

My psychologist again said to me, "Why are you having anything to do with him?"

Intimate partner sexual assault remains under-reported and difficult to prosecute. Some researchers have estimated that as few as 10 per cent of rapes are reported to the police.

Of these, only a small proportion are prosecuted in court and less than half of these result in a conviction. Women are discouraged from proceeding with charges. I would never for a second have considered reporting any of these men.


Queensland was the last state to criminalise marital rape in 1989. Today, it has the most outdated consent laws in Australia. Our current law includes the 110-year-old legal defence of ‘mistaken belief’ – a mistaken, but honest and reasonable belief that sex was consensual.

According to Queensland legislation, the accused does not commit rape if they believe the complainant is consenting, even if they are not. Perhaps the four men believed I had consented, even though I was asleep when one climbed on top of me. No meant yes. I’m not ready meant yes. Go ahead.

I know they raped me. I have the scars.

Mary Garden is a freelance writer, with a PhD in journalism (USC). She is the author of The Serpent Rising: a journey of spiritual seduction (1988; 2003), a memoir of her years in India in the 1970s. Her latest book Sundowner of the Skies: the story of Oscar Garden, the forgotten aviator (2019) was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Award 2020. You can read more of her work here

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.

Feature image: Getty.