This International Women’s Day, one survivor tells her story.
TRIGGER WARNING: This article contain information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.
On the 11th of March 2010, I was raped.
I, like most, never thought it could happen to me. Yet it did, and I have been dealing with the consequences of that night for the last five years of my life.
I was 19. It was a week night, and I was out with friends at a local pub in Newtown in Sydney. We were having a few drinks, enjoying ourselves. I was chatting with my friends and a group who were there celebrating their friends’ 21st birthday.
I will never know exactly what happened next. Health professionals I have since spoken to believe that my drink may have been spiked, but in truth, it doesn’t matter. What happened next, however it came to pass, was a nightmare.
I found myself alone with a stranger, without my friends, with no clue how I’d got there.
He was raping me.
I couldn’t move. I was in excruciating pain, begging and pleading with him to stop, but I couldn’t force him off me. I was completely powerless. That feeling of sheer terror, and being unable to protect myself, still haunts me today.
Hours later I turned up on my friends’ doorstep, lost, confused, sobbing, with no idea how I got there. I woke the next morning with little recollection of what had happened the night before.
Only the hand marks, bruised purple and blue around my wrists and arms, coupled with flashes of pain amidst blackness, began to tell the story I couldn’t yet (or wouldn’t let myself) see.
For many months I didn’t admit to myself, let alone anyone else, what had happened that night. I gave myself (and any friends who knew enough to ask), a simple dismissive answer and changed the subject. I didn’t seek help. I didn’t go to the police. I didn’t admit I was raped.
Then, months later, I had a panic attack, seemingly out of the blue.
I had never experienced anxiety before, yet it soundly had me in its grip. Amidst constant anxiety and recurring panic attacks, I began to suffer flashbacks and nightmares. I couldn’t sleep, and when I did, I was haunted by a pain and fear I couldn’t escape. I sank into a deep depression. I had some immensely dark days, and there were times when I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had been a victim of a horrendous crime, and I felt like it had ruined me. I didn’t know how to deal with that.
It was only then, several months after the assault, that I sought help from a counsellor. I began to work through what had taken place that night, and the impact it was having on my mental health and wellbeing. In time, with ongoing counselling and endless support from my incredible friends and family, I started to get better. I came to know myself as a survivor: I discovered I was strong enough to live beyond the trauma I had experienced. It was a slow journey with many hard days and harder nights, but day by day, month by month, I made it through and things got better.
I have come a long way in the last five years, but there are still days when it hurts. Days when the flashbacks return and anxiety takes hold, and sleepless nights when nightmares shake me to my core. But a dear friend recently reminded me that hurting, and feeling the pain and horror of what I experienced, doesn’t make me weak. Hurting is what makes me human, and not giving up or backing down is what makes me strong. It’s what makes us, all survivors, strong.
Today, I stand resilient: once hurt, but not broken. Day by day, I am taking steps towards being an advocate against sexual violence and the oppression of women. No longer just on behalf of others, but also for myself.
Early last year, I made the decision to report my assault to the police. I am yet to make an official statement, but at least now it is on the record, and will not be one of the many cases of rape that go unreported each year. There’s still a long way to go if I decide to pursue taking legal action, but it’s a step in the right direction. In truth, it’s more than I ever thought I’d have the courage to do.
I am choosing to share this now, on International Women’s Day, because I can no longer stay silent. In a world where most rapes are never reported, most rapists are never punished or held to account for their crimes, and victims continue to be shamed and blamed by society, I can no longer justify not speaking out about something of such great significance.
In speaking out, I do not seek sympathy. Nor do I want to be pitied. I am speaking out because what happened to me was real, it was horrific, and it continues to happen to far too many women in Australia and around the world.
It is my hope that as more of us speak out about these issues, we can begin to change the culture of silence around rape and sexual assault.
My silence ends here and now.