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Abuse during sex and degrading porn: This is what sexual coercion can actually look like.

May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month and, at Mamamia, we're sharing women's stories of bravery and courage. If you have the means, please donate to RizeUp to help women and families move on after the devastation of domestic violence.

This post deals with domestic violence and might be triggering for some readers. 

Consent and sexual assault continue to be hot topics in Australia.  

But I find my own experience is hard to articulate and I don’t often see it reflected in the current consent and sexual assault discourse.

My name is Geraldine Bilston, and I am a victim-survivor of intimate partner violence.

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Sexual coercion is when a person is threatened, tricked, forced or pressured into unwanted sexual activity. 

My experience of sexual assault intersects with intimate partner violence, and the whole experience is often still very blurry for me.

Despite the time that has passed since I escaped, I still feel a deep sense of shame around what he did to me.  

This was a relationship that deeply affected me. Copping a barrage of verbal abuse in day-to-day life left me pretty broken... but being told I was a useless f**king b**ch while having sex destroyed me in such a profound way that I believed myself to be utterly worthless.  

I began to see the world through a different lens, one where I started living in a way where I saw his acceptance of my existence as something to be grateful for. 

Hardcore porn DVDs and online sites were never hidden from me; in fact they were so accessible to me, I completely normalised it.  

I did however see the degrading nature of their content with a dark sense of foreboding, now knowing what may be in store for me.  

I don’t know how I would ever explain to you what it felt like to live with a man who regularly verbally abused me while we had sex, and who I still yearned to be loved and respected by. 

I don’t quite understand it myself.  

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Winding back the clock to when we first met, things were great, and progressed quickly.  

But not long after we moved in together, there was a time when I was too tired to have sex. He became very aggressive, and he kicked me out of the house.  

I was upset and confused, and when he began to tell me how he had never met anyone with so many mental issues I completely accepted his diagnosis of me and begged for him to love and accept me.  

On reflection that moment in time set the tone for the rest of our relationship.   

This is a man who was bigger than me, physically stronger than me, and was wielding power over me... what I understand now is that he was never, ever braver than me.

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I never provided any real resistance to being sexually degraded and abused because I felt threatened enough to understand what could happen if I did.  

I now know that there cannot be consent where there is this level of coercion.

When I did finally escape and establish my physical safety and freedom, I began to experience further abuse online. 

The content was often sexually humiliating, and it was relentless.

I recently had a victim-survivor talk to me about her own experience.  

She had suffered at the hands of her partner who had used tactics of coercive control and sexual assault to harm her.

He had also been openly unfaithful to her, completely destroying her self-esteem.  

When she was able to leave this abusive relationship, she found she had been left with a sexually transmitted disease.  

This is the type of uncomfortable reality many victim-survivors are going through. It is difficult to talk about, and many people are not ready to face these truths. 

But the guilt and shame victims carry is not fair. It is heavy, and does not belong to them. It should be placed at the feet of perpetrators who must be held accountable for their behaviour.  

While I can show you the bruises his physical abuse left me with, it is harder to explain to you the damage that isn’t visible.  

It feels like some of the irreplaceable parts of who I am have been stolen.

That I can’t be who I was before all of this. She is gone, and I sometimes still grieve for her.

However, when I think of all the things my perpetrator has stolen from me I am also reminded that he has not been able to take away my hope.

We must continue to push to hold perpetrators to account for their behaviour.  

We must also be willing to face the uncomfortable truths many victim-survivors are living through.  

There is serious harm that occurs when psychological abuse intersects with a person’s sexual autonomy.

We must face that so that we can realise and action our hope; for a country where every single person is able to live free from all forms of violence and abuse, including sexual assault.

More from Geraldine Bilston:

'His comment during my labour shocked the midwife.' Why we need to criminalise coercive control.

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. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

Feature Image: Getty.