CW: Descriptions of rape, sexual assault and harassment; victim-blaming; sexism; shame and stigmatisation.
(Artwork by Issie Cameron)
The fact that young girls and women, and for that matter, woman-presenting identities are still treated like we are nothing, like we are much lesser, even in the so called ‘developed’ regions of the world ...
I ride my bike into work and on most days I’m the recipient of catcalls and stares from men driving in their pickup trucks. I pretend not to notice and keep cycling.
I go out into a club and as I’m partying, some guy rubs his crotch on my butt. I move out of the way.
I go swimming. Some guy compliments my ass and says it’s the nicest ass he’s ever seen. He thinks he’s done a service, he lights up like a Christmas tree, all proud.
A person has expressed that they want ‘to be physical together, and when I said no, they immediately invited me over to their house to ‘see their new kittens’. They told me specifically not to bring any person along with me, and later, I found out through some mutual friends that they didn’t have any kittens. I’m glad I didn’t go.
Countless times—even before I was old enough to know it was sexual assault—men have followed me to places and have touched me in places I did not consent to being touched.
Parties. School. Friend’s houses.
This is the sick, sad truth: women and those who present as women/femme aren’t strangers to these types of experiences. It happens to men and other masculine-presenting individuals and sadly, these men and men-presenting individuals are rarely taken seriously and believed, however the rates at which it occurs to women and their related identities cannot be paralleled. Some women and feminine presenting individuals have spent their entire lives being wary of sick, creepy men. Men grinding on women without consent in the club is so common, no-one even bats an eyelid at it anymore. Instead, we’re told to go clubbing with friends, or, if possible, to totally avoid going to the club totally. Club environments are notorious for sexual assault. My friends and I bring our male friends to the club, hoping that it might deter some of the creeps away from us, but recently, I have stopped going to the club in general as I feel too unsafe.
We are on guard whenever we walk past a construction site.
We are on guard whenever we walk on the streets.
We are wary of wearing what we truly want to wear, as we feel it will attract unnecessary attention to ourselves and our bodies.
A few weeks ago, I experienced sexual assault/violence from a man who was married and had a young daughter. He had invited me over to his house to watch a movie with his family. ‘Friday movie night’ he had called it. He touched me in places I didn’t ask to be touched. After a lot of haggling, I was able to leave his house. My excuse was that I had to finish an assignment. ‘BAD’—the only thing running through my head at the time. The police were unable to assist me after I had recounted my story, their statement being, ‘You did not communicate to this person that you were uncomfortable with their touch.’ By now, with all the happenings in the world, with all the brave, brave women/women-presenting individuals stepping forward and casting light over their stories, surely local authorities should know better—that the absence of verbal comments does NOT equate to consent?
How can we expect a person, who is frozen by the fear of being raped, to voice their concern, while the threat of being raped or killed is imminent? While it dangles right in front of their face?
See, this is the thing that prevents us women/women-presenting identities from speaking up. That trips us up when telling our stories. That trips us up when trying to get help, when trying to get justice. You’re never sure if you’d be supported, if you’d be believed. You’re not sure whether it’s an issue big enough to be reported, and you’re not sure what the people in positions of power will do to assist you. These victims gaslight themselves, on top of the dehumanisation and the absence of power they’ve already felt, because society still doesn’t accept these truths at face value..
I remember when I was 12 years old—still with no idea of what sexual assault was—I went to talk to my teacher about boys in my class constantly touching my genitals and breasts. She scolded me for always talking about genitals and breasts, she said it was indecent to keep having these conversations. I was shut down for telling my truth about sexual assault. The silence led to me being a victim of sexual assault in a school setting for years, and most recently, I’ve come to realise that much of what happened to me fit the definition of rape. When I was 12, I was repeatedly raped in a school setting. This realisation only hit me like a brick 7 years after rape happened, and it was set off by the sexual assault incident at the neighbour’s house which was like a final Jenga piece to topple everything off. It devastated me, and even after all these years, it still hits me raw, like a hangnail that you just completely took off. It is very hard to heal; there are some days I wake up and I find everything without purpose, I find that everything is out to get me. I find that I don’t deserve happiness, since it’s such a foreign feeling amidst this pain that overwhelms me.
But I’ve had enough. I’m sick of people who are like me—sisters, mothers, wives, partners, friends, humans —being victims of inequality and having nowhere to turn because of distrust in people who are lying in positions of power and in turn, this shames us to speak our truth. I’m in the process of healing, and I can swear to you, it’s so hard. It’s a struggle to wake up every single day. It’s a struggle to forgive yourself and forgive those who hurt you. I still feel uncomfortable wearing certain items of clothing that bare my skin and my body. I feel uncomfortable around men. I feel uncomfortable in darkly lit rooms, and I feel vastly disoriented in settings that have alcohol in them. I take disclaimers about content related to sexual assault and violence very seriously, and I’m out of the room even when there is a disclaimer. But I know that I have been hurt, and I cannot take any chances, at least, at the moment.
I am writing about this so I can gain back my power from the injustices and inequalities that I’ve endured. During the duration of writing this piece, I have also talked to some of the people who have violated me and my body. I’ve posted letters to people who’ve sexually violated me without a return address, documenting how they’ve hurt me and what they’ve done. I have messaged a guy who violated my body and touched my breasts on camp in year 7 and outlined to him how much his actions hurt me. He said I didn’t deserve it. I called a close friend who identifies as gay and asked him why he grabbed my body and my breasts at a festival. I asked him what he was thinking, and did he know that it was violating. He said a strange sensation came over him that day, that he was exploring, and that he seemed not to be in control of his own body. He said he went home and cried on that day. I recently messaged a guy who was one of the people that raped me in year 6, and I told him that his actions were rape. He said that he didn’t know any better at the time. I have asked friends to talk to people for me, telling them on my anonymous behalf that their actions have impacted and seriously violated a woman/woman-presenting identity. I have written, spoken about and told my story on many social platforms. I don’t know whether it’s to give others relief and solidarity, or for me, to heal from the shame that plunders on as a rape/sexual assault survivor or a person that ‘couldn’t do anything to protect themselves’. The narrative has been a grappling war against myself, making sense of the experiences that tear at me, and it is constantly fluctuating between, I ‘didn’t do anything to protect myself’ to I, ‘couldn’t do anything to protect myself’. It’s a boiling, simmering vat of pain, of shame, of guilt, of confusing stories without narratives and of distrust, and most of the time, you’re swimming in an endless sea.
I was watching a poetry slam where this young man was talking about his experience post-rape. Where his rapist appeared on the Suggested Friends tabs on his Facebook. Where he saw his rapist’s life: 61 likes on a shirtless gym pic and three mutual friends. So, do you want to add this person to your friends list? Where one single click feels like you’re closer and closer to being raped all over again. The lines of time and space are blurred for victims—you could be doing something so mundane and insignificant and then flashbacks come to you. You imagine that you’re right dead-centre of the event and it is happening all over again. The touches that are uninvited. ‘No one comes running for young boys who cry rape’ was the final line of the poem. This young man also said that people constantly ask him why he didn’t fight back. Even his brother asked him this. But this is what he is doing to find his power back. He is reading a poem that he wrote, from the bottom of his heart to the world.
As survivors, we often think about why we didn’t fight back. Why we didn’t say anything. Why we didn’t do anything. It’s harder when people ask you, because they don’t know how much you have grappled with that question yourself. People don’t know how sometimes, you can’t even look at your own face without the disappointment, the grief, the guilt. You don’t even feel like you’re deserving of your own love. You can’t even give yourself touch. You’re floating miles above your own body, every single day. So please don’t ask us this. Please know that we constantly ask ourselves this every single day, every single minute of the day. We can’t quiet our minds because of this question, it seems to invade every crevice of every single waking day. Our single waking consciousness. And the grief. The loss of a past version of yourself. The self that was molested, assaulted, raped, violated. The loss of body parts that they have touched, penetrated, rubbed. The loss of your self dignity, your self respect, your confidence. The loss of your purpose and happiness. The loss swallows us whole. I couldn’t speak for a month. I cried like a baby for a month. Every day I mourned for myself, for the things I couldn’t get back. Every day was a funeral for me, for a broken, violated woman.
People think the stuff I have done is strong. They say it helps people. My justification? I do it because it is necessary. It is right. It cultivates justice. It is a necessary action for me to protect myself, to find my confidence, my purpose, myself back. In this case, altruism is a byproduct. It appears hand in hand with selfishness. I talk about it openly to remove the shame. I write about it so it could stop haunting me, the hows and whys regarding everything. But I’m glad that some say that it is helping them.
So, I end my piece today with the hope that my writing has been able to give some of you comfort, knowing that a woman/woman-presenting/identifying individual has been through rape and sexual violence. Or I hope that you could be educated further on issues that impact survivors through my piece. I hope you know that a body is governed by consent, and consent only. Perhaps those actions that you might’ve thought were fine previously—touching someone on the knees, the upper back, making remarks on someone’s body—may actually not be. No one is allowed to make advances on your body, no one is allowed to touch your body, and no one should be making remarks on it without consent. If someone doesn’t explicitly say “yes” then it’s a resounding ‘no’, even if they change their mind halfway. #MeToo