real life

'My friends came home from Europe with incredible stories. I came home with a harrowing one.'

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

It was a sweaty Tuesday night in Dubrovnik at the conclusion of another hungover day at sea aboard the Andela Lora. This is the shining, glorious, enviable European summer. Climbing the city walls, swimming off the jagged cliff face, gelato and an afternoon glass of wine for Arianne’s birthday. Europe in July is the sloppy rite of passage for young Australians, who make their annual pilgrimage to the continent as soon as the first semester exams are over. 

Deep within the city's walls, Revelin is the infamous club in the fortress, in which aged DJs relive their glory days and take up residency for partying holidaymakers over the summer months. As troupes of tourists, predominantly Aussies, enter the nightclub several drinks deep, the insidious potential for trauma amongst the mayhem is worlds away. Ritualised drinking and rounds of shots gives the perfect platform for a heaving dancefloor in which foreigners and locals alike move their bodies in worship of Fat Boy Slim. 

Partygoers pushed up, sweaty against each other, pushing through crowds with disregard for anything between them and the bar. 

Watch Grace Tame on the power of abuse survivors' stories. Post continues after video.


Video via ABC

“Seriously,” said Amanda, as we pushed closer to the bar. 

“You’ve got to watch out for some of these guys,” she glared. 

Her words rang in the back of our heads as we weaved through the club, in search of an empty spot to dance. The eyes of my single girlfriends intermittently scanned the dancefloor for potential matches for the evening. Across the bar, a pack of Australian men were buying rounds of Jagerbombs.

“You’re actually really pretty,” he said. 

He was tall, tanned, and Australian. He was older and from Adelaide. After chatting for a while, what any normal modern courtship would do, the conversation moved to the dancefloor. Surrounded by friends the music pulsed. 

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Amongst the revelry, a hand grabbed me and pulled me closer to the cold stone wall. 

“Come here”, and Adelaide wrote his name in luminous glow-stick across my chest bones. We all kept dancing. This is the shining, glorious, enviable European summer.

At 2am, we were over it. Greasy cheap pizza in our laps, we caught a cab back to the dock and all moved below deck to continue the party. Time starts to move quicker. There were partygoers just 10 metres away but no one noticed me getting neatly pushed into a small bunk bedroom. I used my voice but no one heard me.

Fight.

Freeze. 

Fight.

Flight. 

You are running quickly but you can’t feel your body. A slip, a thump, a thud on the lower deck. I remember a guttural howling. It was coming from me.

***

The Royal North Shore SAS clinic may have the saddest waiting room in Sydney. You make your way in but you’re unable to lock eyes with the receptionist, because she knows what’s happened to bring you here. Behind the safety of the locked door, you are sitting silently with your mum. You’re here to talk about it. You breathe in deep. Tell yourself you’re fine. You’ve already done worse. 

The worst was the phone call to your mum to tell her what’s happened.

You’ve caused her so much pain. 

Your friends message you words of hope and luck. 

You’ve caused them so much pain. 

Sitting in the windowless room in St Leonards, there couldn’t be more distance between you and Dubrovnik. You rip at the edges of your nails. Things always sound worse when you say them out loud.

***

Even if your world stops spinning, the burning European sun still rises. Your legs have been curled up to your chest in the foetal position for so long now it seems impossible to disassemble them. Your phone is pressed, sweating against your ear. 

“You need to get to the police station, get to the hospital and you need to file the report,” calmly explained Daniella. 

Down the dimly lit fluorescent halls of the lower deck there was an eerie echo. 

“Whyyyy aren’t you coming out,” shrilled Marissa, enunciating the ‘why’ as if it was a quadruple breve. 

In my other ear, “as an officer of the Australian Embassy, it is my duty to tell you to go to the Police,” punched the air. 

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The boat docked with a sway and a thud at Makarska. The air immediately felt different; hot, sweaty and unsettled, as if my insides were looking back at me. Adelaide was out there. His boat was in the same dock. I pulled the door, pushed across the lock and set up camp in my bunk bed for the night. Above deck, the drinks gong was ringing, the nautical stripe theme was making fallen sailors roll in their graves, and my friends were taking Instagrams whilst preloading their night with vodka, rum, ouzo and tequila. 

I sat alone, I called Annie, I called my mum. Smart Traveller informed me that in Croatia, you cannot go to the police without being escorted to the hospital for an invasive medical. It works both ways; you cannot go to the hospital without being forced to go to the police. I wasn’t ready to rock that boat. 

Mum booked my flight and I carried the secret on a plane via Athens, via Abu Dhabi, via Melbourne and landed with excess baggage at the domestic terminal of Kingsford Smith.

Shortly after landing, it became obvious to me that the worst question in the world was:

“HOW was your TRIP?!” 

In the privileged circles of Sydney, you attend a summer in Europe and you are only allowed to bring back a tan, salacious stories and with a sense of self that is found. Instead, I had returned to the home front but found my situation was in no-man's-land. 

Crime on foreign territory is a free pass; the life sentence is carried only by the victim. Carrying it comes with its own sense of darkness; being threatened by your own brain. You’ll wonder if the Woolworths checkout boy could wrap his bony hands around your neck and murder you. You’ll obsess over applying gross facts and figures to the groups around you. You’ll feel robbed of your twenties. You’ll wake up from nightmares aware you’re alive, but you’re not too thankful about it either.  

Trauma has a powerful impact on the brain and the way we perceive situations after-the-fact. Sometimes people don’t do what you hoped they would. Promises of ‘you can count on me’ can be words said on stage. When the curtains close and darkness descends, they are easily shed off like costumes, lying useless and crumpled on the floor. 

It is the words of brave women, Michelle Andrews, Bri Lee, and Chanel Miller, that have been the gauze that has begun to pack my wound. Day by day I feel the wound beginning to heal as I see the girl I used to be slowly start to come back to me. 

But I couldn’t have found her alone. 

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

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I see Adelaide in everything I hope changes in the world. I let the scar tissue serve as a reminder that there is real evil in the world but the day we become complacent is the day he wins. 

There is a tax on being loved, and it’s knowing that telling the people that love you your story will break their hearts. My irreplaceable friends are the intricate stitching that has sewn up my insides and in their presence allowed me to feel as if the wound was never there. My beautiful parents and sister are the anaesthetic. 

They heal me whilst I lie still waking me only when they know I’m ready to come back. And my Granny. Her funeral was the exact day a year after that sweaty Tuesday night in Dubrovnik. She died never knowing what happened to me, yet she still took my pain and made it her own. 

I thought I couldn’t finish this story because I thought I didn’t have an ending. What I’ve realised is that I’m still the wonderful walking contradiction I always was. I am a girl of gumption and grit. I am the girl you’d least expect. I am the girl who can dazzle a room full of people and darken the room of my own. 

I am the girl who believes the best defence is a good offence.

I have never had an inside voice so hear me loud and clear. 

The predators aren’t lurking in the dark shadows of back alleyways, they’re eating at share house dinner tables, sitting in corporate meeting rooms, and ordering flat whites at your local cafe.  

Shame doesn’t live here with me. It lives in the homes of the perpetrators. The show is over. Let the curtains close. Let us no longer applaud the men who sit safely behind invisible walls the laws of our society refuse to tear down. 

Last month, Grace Tame won Australian of the Year. I am a rape survivor and I am joining her chorus of voices that will not be silent. This story is for Eurydice. For Aiia. For all the women who did not survive. You deserved so much better.

Alice is a 24-year-old Commerce graduate and business analyst who lives in Sydney. She is passionate about removing the barriers to the conversation around sexual assault and empowering victims to find their voice.

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 and Mamamia.