If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, please seek help with a qualified counsellor or by calling 1800 RESPECT.
“How many times have you been sexually assaulted?”
This was the question asked on a recent Facebook thread by a group of women wishing to open up conversation about the overwhelming number of media reports about sexual abuse of late.
The responses and ages of those responding varied. Brave women telling their own personal stories with a group of strangers who shared one commonality. We had all been assaulted.
What we are witnessing now is a revolution of women reclaiming their power, their voice, their innocence. Women speaking out supported by other women with one objective, to create change.
As I stared at my computer screen pondering that question I realised something about myself that I had never thought of. I didn’t have an answer. I have no idea of how many times I have been sexually abused, forced to do something that I didn’t want to. I know I have been raped once, but even that is hard for me to say out loud. At the time I certainly blamed myself for it.
I shouldn’t have been where I was when it happened, maybe my skirt was too short? But as I lay on the beach watching the grains of sand absorb the blood that was coming from me I can remember thinking, ‘if I can survive this, I can survive anything’.
Something died in me that night. Something that I have only recently started to believe in again; love and hope. I always saw men as predators that would hurt me. I never allowed myself to let anyone get too close. I would say if you spoke to all my ex partners they would agree that I was the kind of person that would one day be very warm and loving and then the next as cold as ice. I corrupted every relationship and hurt many people that didn’t deserve to be hurt in the process in order to keep them all at a distance.
I was raped in the late 80s. Things were different back then. We didn’t talk about things like rape or abuse. In fact we didn’t really talk about much. These were times when the males in the family were empowered and supported whilst the girls were being groomed for roles in the in the retail industry where they would hopefully meet their husbands and go on to have kids and be housewives. At least that was how it felt.
Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Jessie Stephens discuss the practice of 'casual sexual assault' on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues...
Months after my rape, I told my parents. I am not sure they actually believed me. In fact my father said “well either call the police and have him charged or don’t mention it again”. I took the latter option, I was 17-years-old.
Recently the memories of my childhood were triggered when a group of boys took a photo of my younger daughter without her knowledge or consent and uploaded it to a “Young Slut” account.
My response to what happened to my daughter was like a wave detonating on the shore after years and years of pain, shame and frustration from the injustice of what happened to me.
And it was at this point that I decided to stop hiding my past and start owning it. The woman that I have been for the past 45 years is not a woman to be ashamed of. She is a strong, brave woman who has faced adversity, injustice and attack. But this attack and the subsequent years of abuse has brought me to a place of wisdom, peace and in a position to help others.
In order to move forward with this, I had to explain my past to my children. This was probably the most difficult yet cathartic moment of my life. It reinforced the concept of pure unconditional love that we have for each other. There are so many lessons, our adversity does not have to define us. In fact we can use it to raise ourselves to a higher place than we ever knew was possible.
Along with raising my daughters, my life’s mission is now to support other survivors live their best life. We cannot change our past, but we can own it with pride. These memories are our battle scars, the kinks in life that made us who we are today. I am a survivor of rape and sexual abuse and I am going to start living again, as a woman, a mother, a friend and someone who is no longer frightened to open her heart. I am worthy of so much more.
Author Melanie Sheppard is a writer, blogger and a passionate activist for women's rights. Through her writing, she exposes herself and her life with the goal to open up conversation about every day topics creating a forum that connects people through dialogue, opinion and life experience.
Mamamia’s Survivors of Sexual Assault Week is about providing support for the one in five women Australian women who will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. To read more from Survivors of Sexual Assault Week, click here. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, don't suffer in silence, contact 1800 RESPECT or visit www.1800respect.org.au