real life

'He sexually assaulted me, then gave me a lollipop to say sorry.'

The senses can pull you back into a memory.

You’re walking along the street and a sight or smell can plummet you into reminiscence. When scouring the Internet for the scientific term for this, I was unable to find anything but the term ‘trigger memory’, so that will have to do.

I have many ‘trigger memories’. The smell of hand sanitiser reminds me of travelling across India. The taste of pink Starbursts whisks me back to the time I had an ear infection and had to take a pink medicine to cure it. I enjoyed the taste of the medicine so much; I later tried to convince my mother I had another ear infection. These memories are pleasant and usually met with a smile.

But one trigger memory is far from pleasant. A memory that sends shivers throughout my body. The memory is triggered by a song. I hear the intro and my stomach tightens. The opening line makes my breathing feel heavy and by the first chorus I am fighting tears.

I was a teenager, and heading to a party. I’d lied to my parents about where I’d be, just like I had done on many occasions and would continue to do until I was in my late teens. I sat in the car with some girlfriends, Amy, Steph and Kylie, giggling while Kylie’s mother was inside the bottle shop. She had offered to buy us alcohol for the occasion. I handed over a crisp $20 note and asked for a four pack of Cruisers, blue if possible.

Kylie’s mum dropped us off at the party, departing with a wave and a time that she’d return to collect us. I greeted everyone and then opened a Cruiser eagerly, taking a sip. It was delicious.

There was a group of us sitting around, drinking and laughing. I knew most people from school.

I downed my drinks quickly and went on a search for more, finding more drinks in the fridge; I downed them.

I could barely stand. Giggling, I fell over and one of the boys, Jason, picked me up. He carried me into the dark and empty house and put me on a bed. He laid himself next to me. I had barely enough energy to breathe the word “no” but I tried to push his hand away. I remember him saying, “Your pants are too tight,” as his hand lingered above the waistline of my jeans. I blacked out after that.

LISTEN: Tracey Spicer joins Rachel Corbett and Holly Wainwright to reflect upon the #metoo movement, and why the time was so right. Post continues after audio…

When I woke up alone, I didn’t know how much time had passed.

I got up from the bed, shaking. I zipped up my fly and refastened my bra that was hanging loosely off my chest under my shirt. I found my way out of the house and headed to where some of my girlfriends were standing.

Then I threw up.

If you have not eaten much, Cruisers taste exactly the same coming up as they do going down.

I finished vomiting and we all laughed.

I’m not too sure what happened during the rest of the party, but one moment has stuck in my mind throughout the past eight years. We were all sitting in Jason’s room, lying on the bed, singing along to Wonderwall. One of the boys pulled out his lighter and swayed it in time to the music. I sang along, trying to tune out the screaming that was ringing in my head.

We got picked up not long after the sing along.

I went to stay at Kylie’s but I couldn’t sleep. My mind was a ticking time bomb and I was trying to defuse it. I did not want it to explode the truth, not yet.

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The next morning, I head Kylie and the girls whispering beside me. I turned to see their guilt-stricken faces.

“Lucie, I need to tell you something,” one of my friends said. “Jason told me he did something to you last night.”

Boom. The bomb went off.

"It was my strength that gave me the courage to open up and share my story with others."

It is often said that if you do not die in the initial hit of the bomb, the aftermath can be just as destructive. Sexual assault is more likely to cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than any other event. 94% of women experience PTSD symptoms in the first two weeks after their rape or sexual assault. The aftermath of that night plummeted me into depression.

Self-harm and suicide attempts followed.

I had to see my attacker every day at school. The Monday after the party, he approached me to apologise. He held out a lollipop with a sheepish look on his face. 

I took the lollipop but I never ate it. It stayed in my bedroom for a long time; I was unable to throw it away.

I didn’t report him. I am not alone. In Australia, less than 15% of rapes are reported to police.

My depression meant my relationships suffered. Friends deserted me. My family was unable to understand what I was going through and my boyfriend at the time lacked the maturity to support me. At one point he said, “How do I know you weren’t awake and enjoying it?”

I became the object of victim blaming and for a long time I believed it was my fault. Why wouldn’t I? One in five Australians believe the woman is partly responsible for rape if she's drunk.

When my parents found out what had happened, after I had given permission to a psychologist to tell them, they told my sister. She’d been struggling with all the attention I was receiving; even 20-year-olds need their parents' attention. We got in an argument and she spat at me, “It’s your fault it happened.”

I saw a psychologist who specialised in treating rape and sexual assault victims. I sat across from her as she said, “Rape often makes us stronger.” I wanted to laugh in her face. Rape doesn’t make anyone stronger. Nor does bullying or death or violence or any type of trauma we experience in our lives. No. It is those experiences that show us the strength we already possess and it is those experiences that require us to use that strength to pull ourselves through.

It was my strength that got me through many years of depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts and allowed me to be who I am today. It was my strength that gave me the courage to open up and share my story with others.

I thought I’d be too afraid or angry to finish writing this; however, I felt a sense of relief as I typed the words out. I felt a sense of letting go as each sentence filled the screen.

I don’t know what happened to that stupid lollipop he gave me and I don’t care. I used to hope that one day I’d be able to listen to Wonderwall and not feel anything. But I don’t think that will ever happen and that’s okay. F*ck Wonderwall.

Names in this story have been changed.

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