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"Who would have sex with that?" The price sexual assault survivors pay to tell their stories.

Warning: This post is about sexual assault and may cause distress for some readers. 

Time and time again we see it. You can simply click on any article, or scroll through Twitter or Facebook comments to witness it first hand.

For journalist and anti-sexual assault advocate Nina Funnell, it is still happening years after the fact.

There are still people commenting – yes, from their personal social media accounts with their real names – that she “isn’t worthy of being raped” or “a guy would need three viagra to rape [her]”.

Mamamia’s daily news podcast The Quicky explores why taking control of the narrative is so important for many survivors of sexual assault. Post continues below audio.


Of course, these comments are disgusting. They’re indicative of a culture that misunderstands, mocks and condones sexual violence and puts the shame and blame on women, if it even believes them at all.

When a survivor comes forward with their story of sexual assault – already a difficult, nerve-racking decision for many – they open themselves up to the very worst public scrutiny and abuse, as Funnell explained to Mamamia.

“In the context of the #MeToo movement, there has been a backlash where members of the public accuse whistle blowers of seeking attention and they rarely understand the actual price of going public,” she said.

“When somebody does make the decision to become a whistleblower, there’s no magic truck that turns up with a bucket load of cash and it often costs the person tremendously to speak out about their experience.”

For many survivors, taking control of the narrative and their name is an important part of their journey.

Earlier this month, California woman Chanel Miller came forward to identify herself as the woman sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, a Stanford University student whose swimming achievements were given ample air time in the media. He was sentenced to just six months in prison, and walked out after serving three.

victim statement
Chanel Miller. Image: 60 Minutes.
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Miller will release a book on September 24 that "illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life," according to publisher Viking.

In November 2018, Funnell launched the #LetHerSpeak campaign to lobby for law changes in Tasmania and Northern Territory, which currently have laws that stop sexual assault survivors from coming forward with their identities. These laws also stop anyone - including their families, and journalists - from identifying them publicly, even with consent.

It took a Supreme Court fight against these laws to allow Tasmanian woman Grace Tame to tell her own story, though her abuser had spoken publicly about his crimes, even bragging on social media that the abuse was "awesome" and that other men were "envious".

Funnell told Mamamia coming forward about her own abuse was "a straightforward decision, but that's not to say it was therefore easy".

"It was something I wanted to do and I'm glad I did it, but of course I've copped a lot of backlash in the process.... What is really poorly understood is exactly how brutal it can be to speak up publicly about any kind of sexual harassment or assault."

#LetHerSpeak campaign
#LetHerSpeak. Images: Facebook.

But you better believe survivors are acutely aware of those costs.

"Whenever I interview a survivor the first two questions I ask is 'What is your objective in speaking out?' and 'What are you most afraid of right now?'," Funnell said.

"Overwhelmingly, their objective in speaking out is to prevent it happening to somebody else and when I ask what they're most afraid of, they're highly sensitised to the risks. They're aware of the risks, that they'll be blamed, shamed or disbelieved. That they will be called all kinds of names, that the perpetrator might seek revenge.

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"There are a percentage of survivors who will still make the decision to go public because their sense of social justice outweighs the risks to themselves and the personal cost of going public."

Funnell is used to reading the comments about herself. That's sad - but the horrible, abusive comments do not have their desired impact.

Abusive comments reflect on the people who make them and a society that allows them to feel like their insults are warranted, maybe even encouraged, and okay to air publicly.

nina-funnell-comments
Comments made about Nina Funnell on the Facebook page of Bettina Arndt.

And it actually reinforces Funnell's work. We still have much to do to address rape culture and victim blaming, and these attitudes that minimise sexual assault.

It also doesn't make her question her decision to go public. In fact, it does the opposite.

"For me personally, it steels my resolve that I've done exactly the right thing and it makes me even more determined to fight back against a culture where sexual assault occurs and victim blaming occurs.

"But I think it's important that the public appreciate that while it might be - in my case it was a straightforward thing that I wanted to do - but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's without cost or that it's an easy thing. But if I had my time over, I'd still make that same decision."

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please 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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