opinion

'It's like touching an infected wound.' Right now is a painful time for sexual assault survivors.

This story discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.

When my son was a newborn, a friend complained about her toddler waking her up a 4am. I was sleeping in two to three-hour stints, and I remember thinking, ‘I would kill to sleep all the way through to 4am’. It was all about perspective. 

I’ve had that same feeling again this past fortnight, with the national conversation about rapes connected to our parliament. I don’t want to discount our collective response here - we’re shocked, we’re confronted, we’re disgusted. But it’s additionally painful when you’ve experienced sexual assault yourself. 

I was raped when I was 16, with similarities to both the situation of former political staffer Brittany Higgins and the unnamed woman with a historic rape claim against Attorney General Christian Porter.

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At the moment, news and commentary about rape is everywhere; you can’t avoid it if you wanted to - and I wanted to.  

Initially, I disengaged. I didn’t click on links in my newsfeed, I ignored alerts from family WhatsApp group discussions.

But soon a morbid curiosity got the better of me. Like an infected wound. You know you shouldn’t touch it but sometimes you’re tempted to, just to see if it still hurts. It does.

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Conversations are harder. Almost like you’re watching yourself from somewhere outside of your own head, reminding yourself to stay cool and participate.

When someone talks to me about these rape allegations, I feel like a frazzled new mum again - hearing from someone who is in a totally unenviable position themselves but who has forgotten how bad it can be.

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We are all shocked by this behaviour in our halls of parliament. We want to understand it, to unpack it, to prevent it from happening again. But we need to remember the pervasiveness of sexual assault and have this important conversation in a trauma-safe way. 

Start with self-reflection. How does what we’re saying add to this discussion in a productive, progressive way? How do we ensure we don’t cross the line from ally to voyeur? 

This goes for both everyday Australians chatting in the offices and at school gates, and politicians and high-profile commentators who proliferate our newsfeeds and get beamed into our homes. 

We also have to leave our assumptions at the door and think, how would our words would change if we knew a sexual assault survivor was on the receiving end of them?

One in five Australian women are sexually assault survivors. My advice: just speak like you’re talking to a rape survivor. It’s pretty safe to say that at some point, you will be.

Feature Image: Getty.

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. 

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