If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, please seek help with a qualified counsellor or by calling 1800 RESPECT.
I didn’t want to have to justify existing while female. I didn’t want to hear the comments saying I asked for it or I somehow deserved it. I didn’t want to have to tell them what I was wearing and have that outfit torn apart, like it was my fault. It started with tickling, wrestling, and teasing. When I was 11, my cousin’s husband began molesting me.
I admit that I was initially excited by the flirtatious behaviour. In my naiveté, I didn’t understand the gravity of what was happening. When it was tickling, teasing, and wrestling around, I was fine with it. I thought we were just having fun, like a couple of kids.
The moment he, a 27-year-old man, carried it over into sexual behaviour, I became distinctly uncomfortable with it. I can still remember what I was wearing and how he smelled the first time he kissed me.
I remember the sense of disgust when he pinned me to his bed with his body and wouldn’t let me up. Despite my screaming that he get off me, despite begging my cousin to pull him off, he remained there with his body pressed against mine. When he squeezed my pre-teen breast, a sob escaped my throat. Vomit threatened to emerge, I swallowed it down.
I remember the fear I felt when I told him I wanted him to stop touching me and he wouldn’t. I placed a pillow in front of my face whenever he tried to kiss me and moved to another couch or the floor when he sat too close—I tried to make it clear that what he was doing wasn’t OK.
That summer, I turned 12. On the way back home to my parent’s house, he slid his hand up the inside of my pants while his wife went into the gas station to pay. I tried to scoot back into the seat as far as I could to escape his probing fingers. Panicking, and completely grossed out by what he was trying to do, I would have smashed out the back window if I were strong enough. I twisted my body until his arm bent at an awkward angle, forcing him to finally remove his hand.
When we pulled up to my parent’s house, I whispered a goodbye to my cousin and fled. Never looking back, I ran to my room and cried. I tried to calm myself down before my parents started asking questions and when they noticed my red eyes I claimed I was going to miss her. I never said a word about what happened, promising myself I’d never go back there. I wrote about it in my diary and then buried it in the backyard.
Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Jessie Stephens discuss the practice of 'casual sexual assault' on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.
The following summer, when my cousin asked me to come visit, I made up excuses. The year after, she begged me to help take care of her kids while she was in school over the summer. I relented.
I tried to set clear boundaries between her husband and myself. I didn’t laugh, tease, wrestle, or even talk to him much at all. I didn’t return his glances, hugs, or apparent interest. I wanted him to know that I didn’t like him and I made every effort to get the message across: Hands off.
Then, one night, my cousin decided it was time for me to experience alcohol for the first time. I’d never been drunk before, but coming from a family of alcoholics I had seen my fair share of drunk people. She promised it would be fun.
We played a drinking game with vodka and I quickly became intoxicated. Polishing off my last drink, I let her know I couldn’t handle any more. She was sober. While she was out taking her friend home, I crawled to bed, one foot on the floor trying to stop the room from spinning.
Lying there with my eyes closed, I felt his forceful lips on mine and then the weight of his body. He pinned me to the bed, hands probing, demanding that I have sex with him. I shoved him off of me and fell to the floor. Feeling intensely nauseated, I dragged myself to the bathroom, fumbling with the bathroom lock.
He forced it open.
While I sat there, my head in the toilet, completely vulnerable, he assaulted me. He tried to remove my pants and I fought back. He slapped his hands onto my thigh, gripping me, and bit me on the buttocks. I cried and screamed for him to stop. He said one word, “No.” When his wife came home, she found us in the bathroom. She shattered the door jamb in her effort to get inside. He tried to tell her that he was just taking care of me, while I sobbed and hugged the toilet. She asked me if he had tried anything with me. I lied and said no.
That summer, I turned 14. That summer, I was violated against my will. I waited another two years before considering visiting her again, thinking I was strong enough to fight him off if he tried anything. I loved my cousin and her two kids, I wanted a relationship with them, determined that he wouldn’t take that from me too.
He tried to flirt. He tried to touch me. He tried to force me to have sex with him. That summer, when he grabbed me from behind, I dug my nails into his flesh and ripped out as much skin as I could take. He shoved me away and called me a whore.
That summer, I fought back. And he has the scars to show for it.
That summer, my cousin left him and we found out that he had most likely been abusing his daughter.
Knowing that I couldn’t keep this to myself any longer, knowing that I had a duty to protect my family, I told my cousin everything. I told her what I was wearing, what he was wearing, what he touched, what he said, how he smelled, how I felt. She claimed to believe me; she cried. She thanked me for being brave and asked if I’d testify in court against him. I promised her I would.
The next day I received a phone call from his mother threatening to take me to court unless I kept my mouth shut. He showed up at the front door, kissing his wife as he entered her new apartment. She embraced him, forgetting everything I told her. Terrified, I promised his mom I’d never say a word. I hung up the phone with a shaking hand and fled.
I never went back there again.
Rumours swirled through the family. My relatives said I was asking for it. He showed up at family events, a smarmy look in his eye whenever he came near me. He’d try to get me alone so he could touch me.
I fought back and made it clear I’d kill him if he tried.
Nearly 15 years later, I was raped on a date. I never reported it.
When people ask me why, I tell them the story of a 14-year-old girl who was raped, betrayed by her favourite cousin, and the things her family still says about her. I didn’t want to be that girl again.
I didn’t want to have to justify existing while female. I didn’t want to hear the comments saying I asked for it or I somehow deserved it. I didn’t want to have to tell them what I was wearing and have that outfit torn apart, like it was my fault.
I just wanted to forget it ever happened. But, of course, that isn’t possible. Survivors never forget.
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