If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, please seek help with a qualified counsellor or by calling 1800 RESPECT.
About two months ago, I was sexually assaulted by a friend’s boyfriend while I slept.
If that were the only sentence I had to write about it, it would be cathartic. But it isn’t the only sentence. There are more to come – no doubt, because of the way loss and guilt weave themselves into these situations, even in my mid-thirties.
My friend’s boyfriend seemed a lovely guy; a guy that somehow found himself in this world of hers, and mine. I was never emotionally or sexually attracted to him, but my friend and I would discuss their life and financial difficulties, and I supported them in their quest to spend their lives together.
This came crashing down one Saturday night. My friend was out of town at a Hens do and I was entrusted to go out with him and a friend of mine on the town. It was the first time we were together without her.
The other friend went home sick and we decided as mates to carry on and eventually go to his favourite bar in town. We had a larger night than we both expected: Me meeting a group of other Hens and dancing, and him partaking in seated conversations with their outer group.
Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Jessie Stephens discuss the practice of ‘casual sexual assault’ on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.
The night ended in the early morning and I decided we should get a cab. Knowing his intolerance for alcohol, I decided as late as it was, he should stop at my house, sleep, and get up in the morning for the final ride home. At least that way we would both be accounted for, and I wouldn’t have to explain to my friend her boyfriend’s strange disappearance or worse.
I let him sleep in my bed, thinking nothing of it, and knowing it would only be a few hours. I woke up with his fingers inside me. I woke up fast and soberly, but in shock. In that shock, I knew I had a split decision to make, and that neither situation was ideal.
I thought about telling him to ‘f*ck off’ but then realised the second I did, I would have made an automatic decision to tell his girlfriend and cause a world of drama, a decision I wasn’t yet ready to make. So I stayed still and feigned sleep.
I stopped to think about it for longer than I wish I had allowed. One part of my mind was whispering that these two people had made a life commitment, and that some things weren’t worth worrying about, especially when they affected the happiness of friends and their emotional livelihoods.
I waited for him to stop assaulting me, so that I didn’t have to admit any of this to his girlfriend or, it turns out, myself. I waited for him to fall asleep, turning myself to make it impossible to penetrate me, measuring his breathing so I could extricate myself from my bed to get away from him.
I did get away without him raping me. I am glad of that.
But what occurred next was the horrible appearance of guilt: That I had, in some way, contributed to the act that wronged me and by extension, inability to take control of it had also wronged my friend.
The next morning, I couldn’t be in the same room as him. I kept moving myself, while still attempting to be polite and give myself options. But judging his response, it simply hadn’t happened. There was no acknowledgement whatsoever of what had occurred.
In all this, I felt completely guilty. The guilt was oppressive. I didn't overlook the fact this was ultimately his decision, but women sometimes have this tendency to feel responsible for behaviour outside their realm of control.
I then made a decision that I wouldn’t make a decision to tell or not tell my friend until I saw her. That was a manageable decision until I did see her a few weeks later.
I knew after that meeting that it was the right thing to tell her, even though the thought of forming the actual words filled my stomach with bile. When I made the decision, I felt nothing but numb, stressed, guilty and sick for five days. I had the conversation a million different ways in my head. I suspected that she would either spit on me, yell at me, look at me coldly and walk out or – the very worst - not believe me. I thought she would think I was lying. I even felt like I was lying, even though I wasn’t. That’s how effective some perpetrators can be at manipulating situations.
I met her for the worst drink of my life, on what will remain one of the worst days of my life, to tell her one of the worst things in our lives.
Her reaction was a complete shock to me. It was apologetic, which only compounded this phantom guilt. She was one of the most gracious people I knew I had ever met in those moments. I said I wouldn’t hold anything against her if she stayed with him, and would support her, but I could never again see him.
I have spoken to her once since then, the next day, and I feel that’s the last time I’ll ever speak to my friend.
Our mutual friends have been silent since I reached out to them for news on her wellbeing. This just echoes the guilt I feel about something I ultimately didn’t get to choose.
I imagine them all together, talking with one another happily -- and I feel sad that now I must sit on the sidelines because of what happened. But I know I couldn’t live with myself or her if I didn’t tell her the truth.
I miss her dearly. These are the real emotional costs to the innocents.
Mamamia’s Survivors of Sexual Assault Week is about providing support for the one in five women Australian women who will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. To read more from Survivors of Sexual Assault Week, click here. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, don't suffer in silence, contact 1800 RESPECT or visit www.1800respect.org.au