I Am Brave. I Am #NotGuilty

Trigger warning: sexual assault

 

I never believed in those advertisements or campaigns that always had some cliché slogan of, “Are you strong enough?” or “Can you overcome adversity?”. I never thought that they applied and I scoffed that we needed an advertisement to ask us if we had valuable traits that everyone should have; courage, bravery, resourcefulness, strength.

It wasn’t until I was sexually assaulted by a stranger outside my inner North Canberra apartment that I actually asked myself these questions. Would I let a single encounter destroy my life, my independence and my confidence? Was I strong enough to do something about it? Was I really brave? I spent a week locked in my room watching movies, YouTube clips and reading books to distract myself from what really happened. I could pretend I was just procrastinating for a few days about an assignment and not have to admit that I was slowly wilting into nothing; no courage, no bravery, no resourcefulness, no strength; nothing. And that’s okay. I was happy to shut the world out until I was ready. I had trusted a stranger and he had broken it. He had violated a place he had no right to touch; and worse, he had gotten away with it. He still possesses the ability to walk around at night and attack other young women walking home from university, work or the gym.

I remember that right after it happened, inside I was screaming at myself as I stood there, stuck to the pavement. Why didn’t you kick him in the balls?! Why didn’t you scream louder?! Why didn’t you call him a pervert as he calmly walked away?! Why did you give him directions?! Instead I was frozen, terrified and gasping for breath. I felt like I was drowning. I still do sometimes.

I always knew that things like this happened to women, but it wasn’t until the full gravity of what actually happened hit me that I realised how scary those statistics actually are. Hindsight is both a wonderful and terrible thing.

My attacker’s face and his hands are permanently burned into my eyeballs and body. He is everywhere. He is in a crowd at work. He is walking down the street behind me. He is in my nightmares. Sometimes I feel like I’m asleep and haven’t woken up.

My life was ruined. In one single moment, this man had destroyed every aspect of my life.

I’m terrified to leave my house. When I do, I’m hit with flashbacks and a sick feeling in my stomach. I’m freezing cold no matter how many layers I wear. Every single noise is loud, grating and scary. Every middle aged man is him. Every person walking behind me feels suffocating. I have no appetite. I can only sleep during the daytime. I can’t check my letterbox without looking over my shoulder, knowing it happened right there.

My hands shake. I can only smile when people ask me if I’m okay. I’m not. I’m too distracted to study. I can’t go on campus or to the gym. Going to work and seeing him in the blur of faces, even though he’s not there, is terrifying. I spontaneously start crying, even if I don’t want to. I feel weak, helpless and terrified all the time. Exactly how I felt while it was happening.

I’m not actually sure what was worse; when it actually happened or what happened after. The police attended my call quickly, however any bravery I thought I felt for calling the police soon disappeared. “You shouldn’t have been walking home in the dark. You should have had someone walk home with you. You could have caught the bus. You could have used a taxi. You should be carrying a whistle or torch with you. You shouldn’t be listening to your ipod when walking home. You shouldn’t talk to strangers. You shouldn’t have given him directions. You shouldn’t have let him approach you. You shouldn’t have shaken his hand. You should have walked away”. YOU SHOULD HAVE……..

But I didn’t, and here I am. Another victim of a crime that happens to women every single day. After the police left, I sat there, alone, so cold that I felt the chill right down to my bones and nothing I did kept me warm. I cried harder than I’ve ever done before.

But my life is not ruined. I am still here. I have decided I am not weak, I am brave. I have the courage and strength to overcome this. My attacker doesn’t have power over me and I won’t let him. I can still help other people. I can still live my life. I can still be confident. I won’t let him stop me from walking to university and back. I won’t let him make me afraid of being at work and shaking peoples’ hands. I won’t let him make me afraid of every man I encounter. I won’t let him make me rearrange my entire life because of one moment. I won’t let him change the person I am.

It was not my fault. I am not guilty for being sexually assaulted by a stranger.

I am strong enough, and so are you.

Together we need to stop victim-blaming and trivialising sexual assault. We need to make ANU a safer place for both on and off campus students.

We need to make ANU a community where people feel safe, not only physically but mentally, so they can voice their experiences. We need to empower women and allow them to feel safe, supported and most of all, brave.

#NotGuilty. In solidarity with Ione Wells, an Oxford University student who wrote an open letter to her attacker in the Oxford University paper, Cherwell, on 24th April 2015.

 

If you are a victim of sexual assault or experience something you believe could have escalated, please report it to the police, or a friend, or colleague or ANU.

 

 

Online Support Resources

The ANU Counselling Centre has developed some online resources for students dealing with crisis and trauma – http://counselling.anu.edu.au/online-resources that include: “Responding to Family, Friends and Colleagues Affected By A Traumatic Event” 

 

REFERRAL NUMBERS FOR ASSISTANCE

For all emergencies call 000

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre (CRCC) 7am to 11pm, 7 days a week on (02) 6247 2525 for support, information or advocacy; or

Canberra Sexual Health Centre (CSHC) available business hours on (02) 6244 2184, or

Canberra Hospital switch board available 24 hours on (02) 6244 2222.

24 hour, 365 day a year on-call service.

1800RESPECT (a national sexual assault,domestic, smily violence counselling service) 

SUPPORT AT THE UNIVERSITY

ANU Health Centre:

Front Desk (+61) 02 – 6125 3598

Nurse (+61) 02 – 6125 9695 between 2pm and 4pm weekdays

9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Thursday

9:00 am to 4:00 pm on Friday. Closed 12:30 – 1:25 & Public holidays

Medical support, information and referral

 

ANU Counselling Centre: 6125 2442

9am – 4.45pm, Monday to Friday. Closed 1pm – 2pm & Public holidays

Counselling, support, information and referral

 

Heads of Residential Halls and Colleges – for students who live on campus

Academic and personal support, referral and information

 

Dean of Students: 6125 4184

Academic and personal support, referral and information

 

ANU Security: 6125 2249

ANU Security maintains a 24 hour presence on campus in order to ensure the safety and protection of all students’ assets. ANU Security maintains a 24 hour patrol, responding to emergency situations and providing First Aid.

 

Primary contact for ANU Critical Incident

Registrar Student Services: office hours 6197 0110

 

PARSA

Welfare Officer: 6125 2603

9:00am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday

Personal and academic support, advocacy, referral

Legal Officer: 6125 2444

Monday – Wednesday

Legal support for students

 

ANUSA: 61252444 E: sa.assistance@anu.edu.au:

9:00am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday

Personal and academic support, advocacy, referral

Legal Officer: 61252442

Monday – Wednesday

Legal support for students