This is written by a fellow Imperfect Mum who wishes to remain anonymous.
Five years ago (when I was fifteen) I was sexually assaulted and raped by a man almost three times my age. I was a victim, but today I am a survivor and today I would like to break the silence that surrounds sexual violence. Because it is this silence and the stigmatisation that fuels and supports these crimes.
Five years ago I was a young, naïve and very depressed girl. I believed the best in everyone but myself and it was this that got me into trouble. I was with people whom I trusted who introduced me to a person they apparently trusted.
I was offered far too much wine, which I drank because again I was naïve and it provided a thrill and some type of escapism. I was offered marijuana which again I accepted for the same reasons.
I started to become scared, paranoid, and uneasy of the older male looking after us but I didn't like myself, let alone trust my own instincts, so of course I didn’t listen to them.
I should have and I wish I did because if I had then maybe the terrible wouldn't have happened, but it did and I’m not here to go into gory details. What happened, happened and I wouldn't wish it on anyone but I’m not here today to talk to you about the ACT of sexual violence.
I’m here to talk to you about the BEFORE and AFTER of sexual violence. Those two things, which can often be over looked in favour of shock stories in the newspaper, are far, far more revealing to me.
After this happened to me I went to the people that I thought I could trust the most: my closest friends. What resulted from my disclosure was, to me, more horrific and more damaging then the act ever could be.
Stigmatization is a terrible, terrible thing and often it is over looked. Actually a lot of people believe that in the case of sexual violence it just doesn't happen anymore (“Nobody blames the woman anymore!” “Everybody KNOWS it’s the offenders fault” “Anyone who says that people blamed them are lying for attention or lying about the act” yes I have actually read and heard these things!). But that could not be less true!
When this occurred I was still in high school and the friend who I was with that night was very close to me. We hung out in a group of 5 every day, we were practically sisters. When I opened up about what had happened everyone was supportive.
They convinced me to go to the police and stood by me whilst I made my statement. However things started to change.
I’m not entirely sure what set things off and I’m sure I did or said things that may not have been the best, but I was hurting so much. I was very depressed, suicidal actually. I was reclusive and not myself. And I guess they couldn’t understand this.
My boyfriend at the time (now my fiancé) stood by me through all of it (through the PTSD symptoms, the suicide attempts, the depression, the trial… everything) and I clung to him like my own little security guard and my friends did not understand why. So as I clung to him they started to fall away. And then things got ugly.
My friend who was with me that night retracted her statement, started saying to people that I had wanted it, enjoyed it, and that I just didn’t want to admit I had consensual sex with him. I was a liar. Other friends in the group who had made statements started to change what they had said, again making me out as a liar.
They completely shunned me in classes and talked loudly behind my back. Another girl found out and said I was pregnant with the perpetrators baby and again, I had wanted it. I lashed out at them and myself and as such the whole school thought I was crazy. I was ridiculed not only for my sexuality (I was continually called a slut, a whore) but also for my appearance, behaviour and intelligence.
I had no friends during high school but two girls (one wasn’t at the school and we hardly ever spoke) and the other person was my boyfriend.
I was miserable. When we finally got to court my “friends” got up and told their changed stories (which yes was caught by the judge but the jury doesn’t forget what has been told unfortunately) and the man got off.
However, it wasn't the not guilty verdict nor the act of violence that killed me inside, it was the stigmatization and the complete broken trust.
Why am I telling you this today? Because this needs to change! This is what happened to me but this level of bullying and torment happens to plenty of others in school, in the workplace, even in families. And these things are what can kill a person. A person CAN survive sexual violence, they CAN become whole again.
You add in unrelenting stigmatization and bullying and survival becomes a hell of a lot harder. It took me 5 years to come back from this.
Even today I only have a very small handful of friends who I don’t really know how to interact with because of what has happened to me. When I use to be a social butterfly I am now a recluse. It took me 4 years to overcome my depression.
But what causes such a level of misunderstanding and torment? Lack of education. And that brings me onto the topic of BEFORE.
What I’ve noticed in schools and in the community is that there is a lot of talk about reducing sexual violence, there is a lot of talk about violence against women, there is a lot of talk about the word NO. What there isn’t talk about is CONSENT.
What I think most of the stigma surrounding sexual violence is based upon is a lack of understanding of what constitutes consent.
So what is consent?? When you say yes right? So if you say no then you aren't consenting and that’s when it’s a crime, right?
Well yes but that isn’t the biggest form of consent and most crimes occur when other forms of consent are broken.
So what is consent? Consent is when you say yes in a cognitive state of mind. If you are extremely intoxicated, if you have taken drugs, you cannot consent. This isn’t touched on very often. If you can’t really decide whether to drive or not then you shouldn’t be having sex.
If someone coerces you into sex, and no it does not have to be with violence, then that is not consent. So say someone tells you they will harm themselves or leave you or bullies you in some other way that is not consent, that’s force.
If you did not want and you showed signs of this to the other person, that is not consent. If you are in a relationship with someone that does not imply constant consent. If you are asleep you obviously can’t consent (yes, some people don’t realise this) whether it’s your partner or not. If you orgasm or in some other way physically respond to the encounter that is NOT consent.
If you said yes but then decide that you no longer wish to continue that is NOT consent (as long as this is communicated). So what is being taught in our school about consent? That yes means yes and no means no. Many young people believe that if they say yes to a kiss, a fondle, whatever then that is a free pass to continue.
Many people believe that if they say yes after being coerced in some way then that is consent, it isn't. Most young people believe that if you have sex when you are drunk then that’s consensual. A lot of people still believe that being in a relationship means that it’s always consensual unless there is violence.
And even more people believe that if there isn't violence then it isn't a crime. And THIS is what causes stigma. And stigma and bullying is the real killer behind sexual violence.
So how do we change this? We need to teach our children what consent is and how to protect themselves.
Men don’t stop rape, women don’t stop rape, a community stops rape.
As a community we need to educate everyone on what is and is not okay. We need to teach body ownership from a young age and above all we need to listen to people.
Sexual violence does not discriminate. Men, women, children, everyone is at risk. By reducing the social consequences and breaking down the silence we WILL reduce these crimes.
So instead of thinking about stopping sexual violence through the perpetrator, because we can’t control another person’s actions, we should try to reduce it through education, awareness and understanding.
Thank you for reading about my experience.