CW: Sexual Assault
Unless you’ve been living under a particularly sizeable rock for the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed the deluge of media activity surrounding issues of sexual assault and its (under)reporting. You’ve undoubtedly been barraged with articles expounding the importance of more accessible and less accusatory reporting protocols. I’m sure you’ve been informed by every media outlet available that assault is not ok, that victims are never asking for it and that the vast majority of rapists used to be friends and partners. We all know this. Often, however, it seems to me that the main people pushing this anti-victim-blaming message are the already-outspoken activists. They’re the repeat offenders, the people who push all the messages – they’re vocal and opinionated on everything from jug prices at ANU Bar to campus-wide master development plans. This is great – the exposure of sexual violence issues beyond the interface of private counselling and compulsory seminars is a huge step forward for raising their awareness. The people often conveying this message, however, do not even begin to encapsulate the voices of all victims, either in personality or in current circumstance.
I am a student just like you. I was privately educated, live on Daley Rd, and am just another of the generic on-campus residents who seemingly innocuously goes about their daily business. But I’m also not like you, because when my brother mentions how his school footy team “got absolutely raped” on Sunday morning, I freeze. A boy from that school used to rape me. I’m not like you, because when I get asked why I’m not attending a screening of The Hunting Ground, and am instead going out for dinner, I cringe and make up some bullshit reply. You see, I myself was hunted on the grounds of our very own campus. The grounds I have to force myself to walk across every day. I am not like you, because for me, statistics about sexual assault are not stickers on the back of dingy toilet doors, but a trigger: a reminder that I am one of those who has been touched in all the wrong places by sexual violence. Literally.
This is not a sob story. This is not me asking for your sympathy, or your condolences, or a fruit basket delivered by Heartfelt Cards and Greetings Inc. This is me providing you with a voice you’ve probably never heard articulated before. How could you have? I represent the silent portion of the community affected by sexual assault and its ramifications. I am the one who cannot speak, because that would legitimately put me in physical danger. Speaking could result in the breaking down of familial relationships, and in calls for proof of authenticity too painful to provide. I’m fucking terrified that someone reading this will recognise my style of writing, my cadre, my story, and will find me. God forbid, he could.
I’m petrified, but I’m taking that risk. I think it’s all too easy to forget the significance of each individual case of sexual assault. We are drowning in the midst of the frenzied media bandwagon that has, in recent months, characterised the discourse surrounding sexual violence. What is one more testimonial when it’s merely embedded in yet another hyperlink on yet another Facebook post? Well, it’s an actual human story. But more disturbing than that reality, is that another human is to blame for it. And yet the worst bit is still to come. For every one soul brave enough to speak up about their experiences and begin normalising the reporting process, there are countless people like myself – those who can’t speak out because the consequences are too severe and too scary. It’s all well and good for you to say that we should just value ourselves and our self-worth enough to spread the word about sexual assault. You, however, don’t live in the hall beside the man who still has you scanning Union Court compulsively for his familiar gait, or getting friends to scout out interhall social events before you dare enter.
So when Facebook next offers you clickbait to a story on sexual assault on campus, chuck it a like. Like it for the people most in need of your support: the ones who, as a result of their inability to safely speak out, find unanimity and comfort in even the most tokenistic of solidarity. A quick like costs you nothing, but it means the world to someone who’s struggling to deal with the implications of their own story.
It’s a big deal to acknowledge that for you, sexual assault has transitioned away from being a Serious Topic, lumped in with ‘mental health issues’ and ‘the effects of over-consuming alcohol’. No, now it’s something that affects your everyday sense of self and security, your ability to begin new relationships, your freedom to live without a constant sense of dread and fear and panic hanging over your head. It’s really shit, to be brutally honest. And the worst part? You did nothing wrong. You didn’t ask for it. There may well have been a friend or partner that you lost all faith in as a result.
Like that post for me, sitting behind my computer and cowering, masked by the anonymity of a nameless article. Go to that seminar and really listen to the emotional devastation left by ruined relationships and fractured trust. Try to understand, if you can, how difficult it would be to kindle new romances when all of your previous memories of intimacy are tarred by a bruising brush.
To me, sexual assault is very fucking real. I live it every day, whether it’s by hearing an offhand comment, or by walking past his building, or by having to have a friend pick me up when I’ve scurried of to hide, sobbing, after an encounter. You’d never know it looking at me – I’m probably sitting in the very tute that you’re neglecting by reading this article. I, and others like me, will honestly appreciate you making the effort to understand sexual assault, to be informed and maybe even outraged. It means more than you could possibly imagine.
So, like that post.