For Female Survivors, Male Survivors
I was sexually assaulted. There is no sugar coating it. I have experienced massive trauma, I have a family history of sexual indecencies and I have been through severe mental health problems. But this is not a story of ‘woe is me’. No, this is not a ‘because of’ story, this one is ‘despite of’.
Sexual offenses are a violation against human rights. No person, man, woman or child should be a victim of this, yet the concept of consent still seems to confuse some. The law states that there must be “free agreement” and that both parties must agree to a sexual act for there to be consent. Because the law states this, it also outlines a number of circumstances in which someone is automatically considered as unable to give consent; including if you are asleep. This is exactly what I was on that life changing morning.
I had recently come out of a long term relationship and was struggling with anxiety and long term depression. The perpetrator in this story was a friend; someone whom lent me a shoulder to cry on while going through the break up and who cared for me during bouts of panic attacks and crying. Foolishly, I slept with him after an alcohol filled birthday just a few short weeks after being single. From that moment, he was pushy, controlling and insistent with me and our friendship- all things I repeatedly told him to stop being. I kept trying to push him away, but he said things, did things, and even bought things that made me feel like I had no choice but to keep him in my life. Later, I would come to understand that this type of behaviour is textbook emotional manipulation.
One night after I had been to a birthday, he asked to come over because he had been a party around my neighbourhood and did not want a long Uber home. I agreed because I wanted to be kind, but never intended on sleeping with him that night.
When I sleepily woke in the morning to what was being done to me, I did not react in the usual ‘fight or flight’ response. I recently learnt through sessions with my psychologist that there is a lesser known third response- called ‘freeze’. In my half-awake slumber, I tried to push his fingers out of my body by rolling over and grunting, but when it didn’t stop; I shut my eyes tight and tried to keep sleeping until it ended. I don’t know how long it was going on for before I half woke- as his fingers were already inside of me.
I have spent countless hours being confused and unsure of what happened to me. It took me a lot of reading and researching to finally admit and accept that I, a caring, positive, happy, strong, intelligent and motivated woman, had indeed been sexually assaulted. The South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault includes rape if someone sexually penetrates you without consent. So then, what exactly is penetration? Sexual penetration is defined as putting the penis, or an object or another body part (like a finger or tongue) into the vagina, anus or mouth. By all definitions I- who had a finger inserted into my vagina without my free and willing consent, had just been raped. But yet, it wasn’t with a penis…so could I have just been over reacting? And even if it wasn’t to the “level” of rape, I was sure it was sexual assault.
Despite what I had read online from credible sources, here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the things said to me by people who found out (some by the perpetrator which will be indicated by an asterisk and most are paraphrased as I have tried to block these negative thoughts from my brain and have trouble remembering them word perfect):
- If you sleep in the gutter you can’t expect to not get dirty
- What did you expect letting a boy sleep next to you who you know is attracted to you
- HA, well remember when he was into me…yeah sorry bout him
- I was hurt in a worse way than you, so I can’t be the support you need (I didn’t realise sexual assault was a competition)
- Don’t I mean anything to you*
- But we’ve done stuff in the morning before, how is this any different * (I WOULD HAVE BEEN AWAKE, THAT’S THE F***ING DIFFERENCE)
- It’s not that serious
- Why go to the police, they won’t do anything but tell you he thought you were his girlfriend (note: VIC police recognises assault can occur even when in relationships, even if I was his girlfriend, which I wasn’t)
- Yeah well, glad you’re ok now Not really, I’m not ok Oh, well…glad you’re ok
- I tried to tell you he was weird
- But it wasn’t his dick though, so…
- Emailing a supervisor about my situation… Silence. Not a word. Ignored.
As you can imagine, an array of mixed emotions followed. I sank into a deep depression and for 3 months could barely function enough to get out of bed each morning. I stopped working. I slept, I cried, I went for walks, I thought about cutting my wrists to kill myself, I thought about walking into traffic to kill myself, I thought about driving into anything to kill myself, I thought about jumping in front of a train to kill myself, I was dark and panicked and frightened of what my brain had become. Each day was honestly a struggle to stay alive, I wanted to just ‘be better’, but at the same time I felt myself allowing depression to consume me. There was so much anger and injustice, the perpetrator was allowed to get away with it, with a simple lie of “she wasn’t asleep” and no hard evidence to really prove I was, despite 2 people willing to testify he notified them that he knew I was asleep. I became a zombie who filled their days walking, watching mindless TV, waiting for her boyfriend to get home from work, sleeping and crying. I became psychotic- I started seeing people in my room who were trying to hurt me and I would wake in the night to voices having conversations around me to keep me awake. I became anxious- I used to love crowds, busy scenes and visual stimulation; now I was experiencing rapid heart rates, panic, stress, crying and depressive thoughts. I was crazy- I told my boyfriend he couldn’t go out with a friend because I was insecure and jealous, I emotional ate, I was insecure about every word I would receive or send in a text from friends. I had so much guilt and embarrassment in my soul for not being able to function. I was a PhD student at the top of her game, who had fallen so far down that I was embarrassed of the unmotivated, unsuccessful, jobless person I had become. I was angry I was feeling this way. My psychologist told me it was a positive that I was so self-aware, but I viewed it as a curse because I knew I was so unwell; I see, feel and acknowledge that I was so unwell but I couldn’t change it. My psychologist told me it was a ‘wave’, to ride it out and wait for it to be over.
Well, now, almost a year later, I hope I am coming to the rolling end of this wave. It’s now time to focus on the ‘despite ofs’. There is so much more I could’ve written about what my poor mental health made me feel/do/believe/see, but that is not a productive use of my time anymore. What is, however, is to talk about all the accomplishments I have made this year, despite my mental health and trauma.
Despite the trauma I have grown and maintained a loving, caring, open and amazing relationship with the person I consider to be the love of my life. Relationships, especially intimate ones after sexual trauma can be extremely difficult. Letting someone touch you, kiss you, hold you in the dark can be triggering and scary, but we have worked through this with patience, love and gentleness and that’s something I’m so proud of.
Despite the trauma I have passed my 2nd year review meeting for my PhD. Getting back to work has been hard, but I was determined to finally become a 3rd year student before the end of 2018.
Despite the trauma I presented my research both at work and at an interstate conference. I used to be so confident with this, but have recently lost my confidence and strength in public speaking. Despite this, I faked it til I made it, and did it anyway!
Despite the trauma I lost 7kg in 6 weeks and continue to tone up, lose weight and lift heavier in the following months. One of the 8 ways to get over trauma, as my psychologist told me, is to get physically strong to feel mentally strong. I recently hit a PB of being able to deadlift my body weight, which is amazing for me!
Despite the trauma I have not been reckless, hurtful or be involved in dangerous behaviour. My psychologist told me whenever I get depressed, to not force myself to ‘feel better’, but to just try to avoid things that would make it worse, such as drinking excessively, taking drugs, smashing windows ect. While at times, I do have the urge to smash windows and slash tires and just be out of control (because I feel I deserve it), I know the best option is to avoid that behaviour.
Despite the trauma I have been a part of two musical productions and been cast in another this year. Musicals have always been a big passion, but I lost it for while even though I was still doing them. My heart was just not in it. I knew the perpetrator through musicals, so I felt disassociated from them. Despite this, I got the courage to once again audition at the end of the year and am now cast in a beautiful show.
Despite the trauma I have had the confidence and courage to enrol in a diploma of acting and continue with my love for modelling.
Despite the trauma I have tried to be a loving friend, girlfriend, daughter and overall person.
Despite the trauma I have maintained a happy home, a relatively tidy room and living space and looked after bills.
Despite the trauma I have taken trips away with my boyfriend and made memories that we will take away together forever. Despite hiccups, nerves, tears and some downs, we had beautiful times and lots of laughs.
Despite the trauma I made my way outside of my house every day to either go to the gym or go for a walk. During my really dark times, this was a huge task, but I did it anyway!
Despite the trauma I am determined to go back to work and finish the last year of my PhD.
Despite the trauma I manage to smile and laugh
Despite the trauma I have friends who love me, who I love back and are there to care for me.
Despite the trauma I am loved
Despite the trauma I am strong, intelligent and beautiful.
Despite the trauma I will allow myself to be proud.
Despite the trauma I am here. I am alive. I am living. I am existing.