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'As a Christian, I used to be against abortion. Here's what changed my mind.'

This post mentions sexual assault and could be triggering for some readers.

As a young woman, Jas Rawlinson had already survived more than her fair share of trauma – including close to a decade of family violence – when she was sexually assaulted at the hands of a man she trusted. Now, Jas found herself in a position she'd never expected: having to consider what she'd do if she were carrying the baby of the man who'd assaulted her. In this extract from 'The Stories We Carry' - a powerful memoir of her journey beyond family and sexual violence to becoming a globally renowned speaker, anti-human trafficking ambassador, and writer - Jas Rawlinson shares how this moment reshaped her beliefs as a Christian about the decisions women make on behalf of their own bodies, and how she found the strength to move forward from the man who assaulted her.

Watch: Coercive control is a deliberate pattern of abuse. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

From beneath the covers of my bed, I gazed lazily toward the sky blue rafters, watching the way the cobwebs swayed like delicate, frayed tissue paper. Somewhere in the distance, a cow bellowed, and a kookaburra cackled wildly. There was a soft creak of the roof as it expanded from the warmth of the sun, a bark from a neighbour’s dog; signs of life that told me it was well and truly time to get up.  

Underneath my blankets, I lay motionless, weighted down by the invisible concrete blocks that pinned me to the mattress. Two across each arm; another one on my stomach. I could feel the death of my soul as it leeched into the mattress, leaving an imprint of pain and shame it its place. The weight of all that I was carrying, all that was weighing me down, felt enormous. I wondered if Blake* had any idea how I was feeling; if he was still walking around with a smile on his face, the same way he had on the morning after he’d assaulted me.

Get up, screamed my head. Forget about him.

I wanted to. I really did. But I was so confused by what had happened that I couldn’t stop going over and over and over it. I was a pedantic mother with a fine-toothed comb, clawing through every inch of her child’s hair as she searched for the last remaining knot; the one that she couldn’t quite fix. I analysed it all: the nice breakfast that he’d taken me out for in the hours after his assault – as if his actions the night before had been merely a bad nightmare. The way he gaslit me – as he had so many times before – acting as though nothing had ever happened. And then, somewhere in the background, I heard another voice: that of a friend I’d confided in. The half-apologetic, half-judgemental way she’d stared at me. "It’s not assault, Jas. You’ve been on dates with him... so you can’t blame him."

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You can’t be raped by someone you’ve kissed before, is what she was really saying.

The voices circled around and around, each one pushing my body further into the mattress. Eventually, with just enough strength to roll out from under the covers, I shuffled my way out of my room. Like a robot completing a checklist, I moved through each action. Shower. Find ugly blue uniform. Eat. Grab keys. Drive to work. Survive the day. Smile at people and pretend everything is okay.

At work I stood behind my desk, printing off some package labels, when suddenly a male voice broke my concentration.

"Hi."

He was tall, middle-aged. Nothing abnormal to him at all, and yet, just the sight of him sent a terrifying rush of fear through my body. Jas, it’s fine, chastised my head. Pull yourself together. It’s not Blake, it’s fine.

My body, however, wasn’t listening. There was a tornado rising within, and it was growing stronger by the second.

The man plopped a pile of items onto the counter. "Can I buy these? Not sure if I have an account. But you can use this if you need," he said casually, flicking an ID card onto the bench. 

I nodded politely, averting my gaze and trying my best to force my lips into a thin smile. By now my fingers were trembling, my jaw clenched so hard I thought my teeth might break. The stranger shuffled on the spot, his eyes narrowing in on me.

"Hey, are you okay?"

Briefly, I stole a quick glance upwards, taking in his kind eyes and the worried etchings between each brow. 

"I'm..."

My speech slowed, my head whirring. Inside, the tornado spun faster.

Please don’t hurt me.

The words begged to be released, but I held them back, allowing each one to continue circling inside my throat. Instead, I forced a lie; an excuse. "Oh, it’s been a tough day, that’s all." "Just feeling tired." I could barely remember the words as they left my lips. I just wanted the man to go. To leave. To never come near me again.

After what felt like an eternity, I handed over his receipt and pasted on a clumsy smile, the tornado slowly dissipating as he retreated. Only when he – and the storm – had disappeared did I see the aftermath of all I had been left with, as a survivor of sexual assault. The ‘R’ word that I just couldn’t quite say. And it was Loss.

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Loss is what I had been left with.

In the back of the layby department, hidden from sight, I grieved silently for the girl who had been lost. I grieved the loss of her innocence, and all that Blake had taken in the space of just one night. Not just her trust in him, but in herself and the world. Something as simple as going to work now felt like an enormous mountain that had to be summited every day. Something as simple as speaking to a male customer now felt terrifying. 

Once upon a time, I only worried about being hurt by men in clubs or in dark alleyways. Now, that danger felt like it was everywhere. It made no sense logically – what had this man standing before me done to hurt me? Nothing. But that’s the thing about trauma – it manifests in unique ways; ways designed to try to keep us safe. And my trauma was telling me, loud and clear, these four words: You are not safe.

There were so many things to worry about now; more than ever before. But my worries were not just for me, they were for what might be going on inside my body.

I thought about the pregnancy test I’d seen in the back of my work area; a half-open packet that had been added to the ‘stolen goods’ bucket. It was a basket where empty packets or unsellable items were kept so that the team could write up a loss statement. Earlier that day, I’d spotted a Clear Blue packet and taken a peek inside. One of the tests had been stolen, but the other was still there. 

I dug it out from the bin, staring once again at the box. Maybe it would be okay if the other one went missing too, I thought. I mean, it’s only going to go in the trash.

Heart thundering, I grabbed the plastic-covered stick and shoved it into my pocket and counted the minutes until my shift finished. Then I rushed to the upstairs bathroom and tore the plain white wand from its protective film.

What will I do if it’s positive? I wondered. Oh God, please don’t let it be positive. I don’t think I can go through with something like this. I don’t want to have to think about things like abortions. What will Mum say if I decide not to have it? What will people think of me? Will I go to hell? 

Suddenly I thought of all the times in high school that I’d looked down on women who chose this route. How simplistically I’d viewed it. That a woman should absolutely, 100 per cent always keep the baby. Now, I thought about reality. 

I was a young woman – barely out of my teens – working in retail. I’d just started university. I was facing a future where, if I was pregnant, Blake might force his way back into my life; might force me to share that baby with him. I’d be a young, single mother whose chances of graduating would be much slimmer. How would I even support a kid on my part-time wage? How would I have the energy to finish my studies? How would I feel when I passed Blake or his family in town, and they saw me with a baby? 

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Nothing was simple anymore. 

Holding my breath, I stared down at the stick. Then I blinked. Is it… is it true? I looked for a moment longer, focusing on the single line. And then, in one long rush of air, I exhaled.

It was negative.

I felt the smallest brick being taken from my back and placed on the ground. I realised, in the bathroom of my workplace, just how much a woman’s life could change in a second. For better or worse. How one man’s actions had put me in a place where I had to question my own values and what I’d truly do in order to be free from him.

                                                                            ***

There are so many things to consider when you’ve been through something as soul-destroying as rape or sexual assault. But the thought of telling my family was about the worst. It was something that, for now, I just couldn’t face… so I went about my days as normally as possible, lying and pretending, while dying on the inside. 

And then, everything changed. 

"Hey Jas! Blake’s on the phone."

Standing in the hallway, I felt my body root into the ground. My face drained of blood and my brain slowed down. In a panic, I rushed in the opposite direction, stepping into the shower. "I'm in the bathroom!" I yelled back. "Can’t talk right now."

Over the next week, Blake tried to call a few more times, but I ignored them. It took me two weeks, but eventually, when I realised that the flashbacks and nightmares weren’t going anywhere, I knew there was only one thing left to do. I had to confront him.

Getting in the car that day to drive and meet with him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. As I pulled up outside the local pub where I knew he’d be hanging, I told myself to stay calm; to hold strong and keep my voice steady. To call him out on what he’d done to me – even if he refused to admit the truth – and not to be rattled by his lies. 

But the moment I saw him, I fell apart.

I yelled, I screeched. I coughed up a garbled stream of words about how sick I'd been for the past few weeks; how nauseous I’d made myself as I struggled with the burden of wondering if I was pregnant. How degraded and angry I felt. How devastating it was to have him take my trust and break it in such a horrific way. The words continued pouring out; a torrent of verbal vomit. And all the while, he stared at me in shock – as though I were a stranger; someone he’d never met. 

With fiery rage, I called him out on all the things he'd done to me; all the things I’d never had the guts to speak up about. Then I levelled my gaze with his. "Get out," I screamed. "Get out and never, ever speak to me again."

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He turned and fled, walking back toward the pub with a shake of his head. I could read everything in that one movement; knew exactly what his first words would be when he found his mates. Wow. What a crazy b*tch she turned out to be. 

Knuckles white, hands wrapped around the wheel, I realised for the first time that this feeling was what had kept me in a cycle of running back to him. That look on his face, right there. For so long, I’d allowed my need to be loved at all costs to rule my decisions; and it stopped me from saying what needed to be said. I ran from the discomfort of my feelings, from the fear of what might happen if I took a stand. And every time I saw him – every time I was under the warm glow of his smile – I began to doubt the intensity of my own experiences and feelings. Was it really that bad or are you just making it worse in your head? Did that actually happen, or is he right that you made a big deal out of nothing? Remember that time that he...? That was real, yes?

Every time he hurt me, I burned and erased the memories; watching them shrivel into soft, flakey ashes – like the high school notebooks I’d tossed into the fireplace after graduation.

Don’t need to remember that anymore.

But now, I couldn’t forget. No matter how much I wanted to.

As I pulled away from the curb, heading toward town, I knew with finality that nothing would ever make me run back to him again. 

The fog of his emotional abuse had lifted, and like a frosty morning – the sun shining beams through the cool haze of grey that shrouded our country road – I could finally see the glimmer of what lay beyond. A road forward; a path toward something more.

*names have been changed. 

Jas Rawlinson is a best-selling author, speaker and book coach who specialises in stories of rising above adversity. The above story is an extract from her upcoming memoir ‘The Stories We Carry.’ Click here to find out more and join her VIP waitlist for book updates.

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: Instagram @jas_rawlinson.