real life

"I told my best friend I was sexually assaulted. She said I 'cheated' on my boyfriend."

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers. 

I woke up to his fingers inside me. As I looked up, I saw the taxi driver’s face in the rearview mirror. 

His expression said that he knew what was going on and that for him, it was fine. Perhaps he even got off on it.  

My friend was sexually assaulting me in the back seat of the cab. But it was my fault because I’d got too drunk and passed out. I’d stayed out later than my girlfriends. I’d put myself in a vulnerable position.  

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Fast-forward to today, and I’ve had lots of conversations about consent. 

With friends, family and my husband. As a mother of a one-year-old, I’ve thought about how I’ll talk to her about these issues. 

But in the midst of it all, sits the incident from around 15 years ago. A 30 minute cab ride in which someone I knew and trusted betrayed me.   

The biggest betrayal wasn’t from who you’d think though. It wasn’t from the man who I’d thought of as my friend. Who I’d allow to stay periodically as guest in my home between his travels around Australia. Who I’d unquestioningly stayed out dancing with when our other friends went home.  

No, the biggest betrayal was from my best friend.  

You see, the man who did this was originally a friend of my best friend and flat mate. 

Someone she’d met on her travels. A Canadian backpacker who we welcomed into our home whenever he needed an Australian base. He and I had become friends too, and I’d never questioned having him stay in our home.  

When the realisation of what was happening hit me in that cab, I asked him to stop, he didn’t. Should I have yelled out, demanded the driver pull over? Probably. Did I? No. 

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I simply froze and waited for it all to end. Does that make me complicit? For years I thought perhaps it did.  

The next day he was due to fly home to Canada. How convenient. 

I waited until he’d gone, before I walked into the kitchen, hungover but angry. I told my friend what had happened. I expected tears, hugs, recriminations about his behaviour. 

Instead I got doubt, questions about my responsibility and threats to tell my boyfriend that I’d strayed.  

My doubt in my own reactions in that cab allowed me to accept her reaction and made me question whether she was right.

Why didn’t I yell? Why did I shut down? What would my boyfriend think? For years our friendship carried on as normal and to this day she calls me one of her best friends, almost like her sister.  

But over the last few months, as issues of consent continue to dominate the national conservation, I’ve started to reframe my thinking. 

These conversations are triggering. They bring up instances that perhaps we’ve tried to forget. But they also help us place the blame where it really should sit. 

What happened was not my fault. It was his. And my friend should have listened to me. She should have believed me. And she shouldn’t have swept it under the rug.   

I am still working up the courage to address it once more with her. 

She has still not cut him out of her life. I struggle with how to react to that and what I should ask to of her. It’s easier to turn a blind eye to it as he doesn't live in Australia. But it does also beg the question of what we should expect from other women and our friends when these things are done to us.   

I’ve spoken with my husband about it. His outrage about my experience and willingness to listen and help me work through it has been incredibly welcome. But my experience isn’t unique and his outrage shouldn’t just be present because he knows it happened to me. 

Where is the outrage when it happens to others?  

As I think about my own little girl, I’m determined to have the tough conversations with her. To talk with her about consent and her rights. But we need mothers of boys to do the same

Yes, the last few months have been horrific. Yes, they’ve been triggering. 

But for me, the focus on the experiences of women in this country has also helped me process my own experiences. 

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To come to terms with them and to reconcile my misplaced feelings of self-responsibility. I’m grateful for these lessons and I know that they’ll help me to navigate these conversations with my daughter.    

But they’ve also been a reminder that these conversations should also inform how we learn to be better friends, allies and supporters.  

How we react when someone shares their experiences can have long-term consequences.  

Our response can either validate or dismiss what they have endured. Let’s talk about consent, but let’s also discuss how to actively assist those who come to us for help. Let’s arm ourselves, and our kids, with the tools to navigate these situations and experiences. 

What we say and do when someone is not afraid to be vulnerable with us really does matter.  

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.

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