In 2015 when I was 22 years old I was raped. It took me six years to say it like that. Before it was always, “The night my drink got spiked” or “The night that happened”. I went out with some uni friends on a Wednesday night and one of the last things I remember is some guy dropping a two dollar coin into my drink and telling me that I had to scull. The next thing I remember is waking up on top of that guy.
The hours that followed were like a living nightmare so I’ll spare you the details. I had no idea where I was so I ran from the house until I found a main road. I tried waving down any car I could whilst crying hysterically. Three cars slowed down, saw me crying, and then drove off again. Finally an Indian taxi driver stopped and took me back to where I was staying despite me not having any money. The police were informed, my parents made their way up to see me and I was taken to the hospital.
After my initial interview with the police they asked me to come down to the station and I did. They took me into a small room that reminded me of an empty classroom because it was lined with tables that were stacked on top of eachother. There were five or six police officers in there and once they closed the door behind me they all started yelling at me. Taking it in turns, they told me I was a liar and that I needed to admit it. This wasn’t a calm talk. It was aggressive and they were shouting. I don’t remember much from this moment but I do remember yelling back at them. I remember feeling like a cornered animal who had to fight her way out. I remember one of the officers was a female and she was leaning against one of the tables with her arms folded in front of her. I remember she had a look of disgust on her face and she spoke to me with contempt. I remember thinking, “What a traitor to your gender.”
The harassment from Victoria Police went on for weeks. I kept getting phone calls from them on a private number telling me I had to admit I was a liar. I seriously considered lying and saying I had made it all up just so they would leave me alone, but I didn’t. They told me I had to have a second meeting with them and they kept cancelling and rescheduling this meeting. I remember walking into this meeting feeling like I was walking into battle. I remember the shocked look on the receptionist's face when I told her how many times they had rescheduled the meeting.
The second meeting went much like the first but this time there was only one policeman. He sat behind a desk opposite me and to my right there was a woman taking notes. The officer retold my story to me in sarcasm. He mocked me every time I spoke. He tried to intimidate me into admitting I was a liar. He threatened me by saying he would open a case even if I didn’t want to, which meant interviewing everyone I went to uni with that day, which meant everyone would know about it for the rest of my life. It was a bloodbath. I remember thinking, even if there was a 99% chance that I was lying, how could they treat me like this if there was even a 1% chance that I was telling the truth?
My psychologist believes I have more trauma from the way the police treated me than I do from the actual event itself. From the minute I woke up on top of that guy all I wanted was a second to stop and process everything that had happened to me but for weeks it felt like the fight was never ending. The narrative this set up inside my mind was that it is me against all the evil in the world. I didn’t have a single person in my life at the time who could just hold me and tell me it would be okay. A lot of the people around me shut down, and for years I didn’t understand why until I read a quote by Pema Chödrön who said, “Compassion is knowing our darkness well enough that we can sit in the dark with others.” What I had gone through was simply too dark for people to look at and no one around me knew how to deal.
Eventually the police eventually left me alone. Everyone around me went back to their lives and I tried to do the same. The police offered me free therapy but I didn’t take it because I didn’t want anything to do with them. I also thought I was too ‘strong’ for therapy at the time, a thought I now regret because I know my healing process would have been so much easier if I had started therapy straight away. Instead I tried to bury what happened to me and the truth is I did a pretty good job at it. I went about my life. I got two degrees. I travelled, I loved, and in many ways I genuinely was happy. But the trauma was always there, bubbling just beneath the surface. There became a part of my mind that I wasn’t allowed to touch, else I would be sucked into this deep vortex of darkness that was very difficult to come back out of.
Six years later at the age of 28 I went through a pretty severe depression and it was then that I finally started talking to a psychologist about it. If I had to describe trauma in one word it would be ‘tense’. The energy around the memories of that night felt like a clenched fist. Having trauma is like having black clouds inside of you that block out the sun. Working through trauma in therapy is like getting that fist to unclench. It is like dissipating the clouds so that the sun can shine back in.
For you it was just one night, but for me it was an emotional bomb that went off in my life and eight years later I'm still picking up the pieces. “It’s just sex,” I tried to tell myself. “It doesn’t have to be a big deal.” But it was never just sex. It was the fact my choice had been taken away. As a woman it always comes back to my choice, my choice, my choice. It was the fact that someone had done this to me. It was the fact that this much evil existed in the world. If it was just sex then why was there layer upon layer upon layer of trauma that had to be peeled back in therapy? Why after two years of therapy did it still have the ability to knock me all the way back to rock bottom?
My psychologist told me there are two important stages when healing from sexual assault - understanding how it has affected your relationships with others and how it has affected your perception of yourself. It was comforting to know that almost all survivors of sexual assault experience an impact to their relationships. I found out that one of my best friends at the time was gossiping about it to other people, so I lost that friendship. Someone very close to me threw it in my face and told me that even if I was raped, that still made me a cheater. I think about how it will affect my future relationships - what seeds of doubt will it plant in the minds of future partners? How will it make me look? Used? Dark? Damaged?
As for how it changed my perception of myself, the thing I struggled with the most was questioning what the fuck I had done in my life to misrepresent myself to the point where people could possibly question if I was lying about such a thing. Over and over again I went through it in my mind, wondering what I had said or done to make the police treat me in such a way. It took me a long time to realise that the police probably did believe me, they were probably just protecting the man.
For a long time I took on the shame and guilt for the situation - something extremely common in sexual assault surivers. I beat myself up for ever being in that situation in the first place, despite doing nothing to encourage it. I felt like a fool for being so trustworthy. Over time my perception of myself changed however. I started to view myself as a person who was strong enough to go to therapy and face it. I will never forget what my psychologist said to me when I told her how I had ran from the house and into a cab. She told me it was very impressive that I was able to switch into survival mode and get myself out of that situation. I asked her what I was supposed to do, curl up into a ball and cry on the sidewalk? And she told me that’s what some people do. So now I perceive myself as a person who is able to enter survival mode and function under extremely stressful conditions. I’ll take that, for what it's worth.
Probably the hardest thing about that night was the not knowing. There was so much confusion and so many blank spaces in my memory that for years I was terrified to look inside in case I remembered something that put me at blame. I’ve done a lot of ‘exposure therapy’ with my psychologist which is when you go back and relive the memories so they have less impact on you over time. A lot of my memories started coming back to me and I started to make better sense of the scene. My psychologist was able to use her experience with similar cases to fill in the remaining blanks, and slowly but surely the truth started coming into focus. Finally I realised the full totality of the situation and the extent of what someone had consciously done to me.
I know this sounds naive, but it was very, very difficult for me to accept that someone had chosen to do this to me. Before it was easier to blame myself or pretend it had all just been one giant, unhappy accident. In order to accept that someone had done this to me meant having to completely reform my view of the world. It meant having to let go of a world where people are good and trustworthy. Once my perception of people and the world changed I went through a period of extreme rage that lasted a couple of months. My psychologist told me anger is the second stage of grief.
My psychologist once asked me how this has affected me long term. For example, do I hate men now? And the answer is no. I think because I grew up with such a good dad this has shaped my view of men. I don’t even hate the police. I have a lot of friends who are ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) but one of my good friends from highschool is a cop now, so how can I hate cops without hating him? I understand that hating solves nothing but continues to recycle the problem. There is a quote by Martin Luther King Jr who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The way this has affected me long term is that everywhere I look I see how rape is not only accepted in our culture but encouraged. It is all I can see. For the first time I understood the full extent of gender inequality and how I am oppressed. I see it in our medical system where research into female health issues such as endometriosis are severely under researched. I see it in the 40 hour work week that doesn’t consider a woman’s menstrual cycle. I see it in statistics of domestic violence where one man murders a woman in Australia every week. I was once working on my inner critic with my psychologist and she told me that a lot of the things I beat myself up for being (such as loud, confident, opinionated and smart) are qualities that men hate in women. I have learnt to censor myself so that men don’t hate me. This is called ‘internalised misogyny’ and this is how I live with female oppression every single day.
I see young boys, children, learning how to treat women through porn, which is their primary source of sex education. Boys start watching porn at the average age of 11. A child will use an AK47 if one is put in their arms early enough. How are boys currently being programmed to treat women? Porn sites have videos with girls who are made to look 12. Fantasies with step daughters and step sisters. Most acts of child sexual assault are initiated by a step parent. How many young girls right now are unsafe within their very own homes? Now look - I’m no Helen Lovejoy. I don’t particularly believe in sexual repression and I don’t exactly know what the solution is. But when pedophilia is being encourage online, won’t somebody please think of the children?
Women don’t report rape because to do so is an uphill battle. In 2020 in the ATC only 16% of sexual offences reported to the police ended in a charge, and only half of those ended in a conviction. Brittany Higgins, the woman who was raped in Australia’s Parliment house, highlights the unjust in the system. “I was required to tell the truth under oath over a week on the witness stand and was cross examined at length. He was afforded the choice of staying silent in court… My life was publicly scrutinised, open for the world to see. His was not… I was required to surrender my telephones, my passwords, messages, photos and my data. He was not”. She surrendered her phone to the police to aid in their investigation, and her personal photos ended up published in the Australian press. Eventually the case had to stop because the impact on her mental health was deemed too great. This is why women don’t report rape.
I feel like I’m tip-toeing around the heart of the issue now and so I’m going to say the thing I’m not supposed to say - but this is a men's problem. This is not a problem that women can solve, and any woman who tries is labelled as an ‘angry feminist’, as if the anger is unwarranted and as if fighting for your equal rights is a bad thing. Whenever this topic is discussed we focus on the woman. She shouldn't have been there, she shouldn't have been drinking, she shouldn’t have been wearing that. We take all the responsibility away from the man. It is the Higgins case, not the Lehrmann case. If a woman doesn’t report her rape it is her fault if he rapes again. The statistic is “one woman is murdered every week in Australia” not “one man murders”. If a woman has daddy issues that's embarrassing for her, not her absent father.
Dr. Jackson Katz has a TED talk called ‘Violence against women - it’s a men’s issue’ where he talks about how the whole cognitive structure unconsciously blames victims in order to take away responsibility from men. I think the reason why victims most commonly take the blame for rape is because it is easier to believe that she is lying than it is to acknowledge that we have a problem, because to do so means having to actually look at it and initiate change. And it's a big fucking problem, one that is a lot more common than we like to pretend. Of the very few people who knew what happened to me, roughly half of them knew someone in their innermost circle who had experienced the same thing. It is as if there is a secret society of women in the under fabric of our society who have all experienced what I have - all of them just outside of arm's reach from each other, all of them feeling extremely alone.
It is not just women who suffer at the hands of this violence - young boys and other men also experience abuse from men too. In his speech Katz says, “What is going on with men? Why do so many men sexually abuse little girls and boys? Why is that a common problem in our society and all over the world today?... What is the role of various institutions in our society that are helping to produce these men… the religious culture, the sports culture, the pornography culture?” He says this is a men’s problem that men need to look at and solve. This post isn’t anti-men - I wouldn’t be here trying to work things out if I didn’t believe most men were good, and this includes the white, straight men. I know men suffer from inequality as well, and I’m not here to argue that, although I would argue that a lot of the inequality men experience results from men oppressing other men rather than women oppressing men. I would also argue that the severity of the way women do mistreat men is not to the same proportion - that men are not being raped and murdered in the numbers that we are by them.
Katz offers many solutions, and one is for men to start pulling each other up. He says if we create a peer culture where the abuse is seen as unacceptable, then men who are sexist will lose status. I’m always surprised how little men care about the topic when it is sure to affect their daughters, their sisters, their wives, their girlfriends and their mothers. One of the most famous quotes from WWII is by Edmund Burke who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Martin Luther King Jr said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Katz also says what is needed is more men in power and leadership positions to start prioritising these issues. “We need more men who have the courage and the strength to start standing up and saying some of this stuff.” Aubrey Marcus has a great podcast episode with Eric Godsey and Kyle Kingsbury where they discuss having to undo their own programming on how to view women. Stevo from Jackass once spoke of how he realised that he had more respect for animals than he did for women. Their vulnerability and transparency is what is needed for real change. Similarly, I think women need to be ready to forgive. Right now we have a lot of hate in the world, and we all have someone to point the finger at. We all have a story that makes us righteous. The gay woman hates the straight woman who hates the black man who hates the white man. I do not believe the problem with the straight, white man (like the one who did this to me) is that he is evil - I believe the problem is ignorance and insecurity. This is something that can be changed.
I think this is an issue that every one of us needs to look inside and evaluate. I believe our outer world is a reflection of our inner state. Currently femininity is so oppressed that men can’t stand that energy within themselves. It is not respected. I think we each carry feminine and masculine energies within us and I think this is something we need to put into balance internally. I think the root of the problem is we are a traumatised culture and we continue to pass that trauma on. It is time that we as a species all began the healing journey because I think a lot of the evil happening in our world today stems from insecurities. Only an insecure man needs to drug a woman to exert dominance over her. We are an insecure culture seeking dominance in any way we can find it, and naturally women fall to the bottom of the pack.
I once saw a quote that said, “WWIII is spiritual.” The enemy is not man. It is the darkness inside each and every one of us that we are all afraid to look at. It is the trauma and the fear that we need to look inside and heal. It is a war with consciousness. The truth is I don’t even focus on the individual who did this to me. To me he was the temporary face of this collective darkness that exists within our culture today. I have felt this darkness my entire life. It is in the shadow of every public toilet, down every alleyway and behind every tree when walking home. My whole life I have felt this darkness looming over my shoulder, and one day the shadow finally lept from the wall and snatched me into the night. Every woman knows this darkness. The danger runs through our veins. It is ancestral, innate. It is a problem that has gone on for far too long because no one has cared enough yet to change.
Everyone always talks about how lucky we are to live in Australia and trust me, I’ve lived in a third world country so I understand my privilege, but the truth is I don’t feel safe in Australia. I don’t feel safe being outside at night time so I’m basically on a curfew every night. I don’t feel safe when I go for a run and people yell shit out at me from cars or I get followed by creepy men, which happens. I don’t feel safe living on campus at university where I experienced the worst sexism of my life because all the boys thought it was going to be an American college movie. I don’t feel safe when strange men sit opposite me on the train and stare at me. I don’t feel safe at concerts where I have been ‘accidentally’ groped more times than I can count on my hands. I don’t feel safe dancing in front of people because the way I dance is sensual, and this is misinterpreted as sexual. I know there is a 100% chance that if I dance in public the way I dance when I am alone that I’ll get groped. I became a black belt in karate so that I could feel more secure in this world and the truth is I still don’t feel safe. How can I, when no matter how skilled I am it will always be me vs all the darkness in the world?
For a long time I didn’t want to talk publicly about this because I didn't want it to define me. I know now that it won’t, the same way it hasn’t defined Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga or Vylana Marcus. For a long time I was scared of opening myself up for the world to call me a liar, but I really don’t care about that anymore. The people who question me simply don’t know me, and I know women are more likely to believe me because they understand how real the risk is. I know there are some who will understand every single line that write, and it is for you whom I write this for today.
I know what it’s like to feel alone with what you are going through. I know what it’s like to be lost in the utter confusion of not knowing what happened. I know what it's like to never have answers and to never have justice. I know what it’s like to be scared of who knows and what they are saying. I know what it's like to be triggered by posts on social media. I know what it’s like to have a single thought or memory affect your whole mood and ruin your entire day. I know what it’s like on top of everything you’re going through to have to deal with people questioning your character. Most importantly, I believe you.
But I also know what it's like to make it out. I know what it’s like to heal. I know what it's like to go to therapy and feel lighter afterwards. I know what it's like for the memories that used to hit you like a blunt force begin to pass right through you. I know what it’s like to reach new levels of happiness you didn’t think were possible for yourself. I know what it's like to be free.
The irony is that by talking about it today I feel like I am leaving it behind me. It is as if this huge secret between me and the rest of the world has finally come down. I feel like the only good that could possibly come from what happened to me has been accomplished - the possibility that I may help other people and even bring about change. In saying that I don’t think every survivor needs to go through this phase. It is not your job to speak publicly about what happened to you. It's not your job to take him to court or go to the police. It’s not your job to convince people. It’s not your job to fight the system and change the world. But it is your job to heal. It is your job to look inside and do as much work as you possibly can for no one but yourself, because you deserve to be happy.
I don’t want to sugar coat it - healing from trauma is hard. There were times where I seriously wondered if I had done the right thing by bringing it all back up to the surface. There were times where I seriously contemplated whether or not I wanted to continue living. I will never forget the day I finally had this conversation with myself once and for all. I was at the stage of depression where I literally could not get up off the floor. For hours I laid on my side in the living room staring at the wall, going through it in my mind. Finally I decided that I wanted to stay because I knew how beautiful life could be and I believed that I could get back there. I think some people never make this decision once and for all and so they get stuck at rock bottom. The road out of depression feels like a long and hopeless one, not helped by the fact this world offers little guidance. I know sometimes it feels like you’re making no progress, but I promise you, you are.
I think the best gift my parents ever gave me was my mindset. They taught me I can do anything I put my mind to if I work hard enough and believe in myself, and I honestly don’t know if I would still be here without that. The truth is you have to fight your way out of depression and somewhere along the line you have to believe you are worth fighting for. Every time I showed up to therapy, everytime I sat down to meditate, every time I did an ice bath - that was me fighting for my life. That was me proving to myself that I am stronger than my mind, stronger than my fears. The best advice my psychologist ever gave me was not to focus on the bad thoughts in my mind but to focus on the me that was separate from them, and eventually the light began to outweigh the darkness.
I am not the darkness. I am the one who holds the darkness. There is a light in me that can never be extinguished and the darkness will never win in me. Even if it is me vs all the darkness in the world, I will die trying to light up the whole world if I have to. I will never lose faith. My superpower is my ability to still believe in the good in the world. The good in myself, the good in others, the good in something greater. I think you have to believe in good in order to fight your way out of depression, or else what are you fighting for? Now that I have walked through the dark night of the soul I can look this darkness straight in the eye whenever I see it in others. I can sit in the dark with them.
I will always be a little bit changed by what happened to me. Whenever I get a call from a private number my heart freezes for a second as I think it is the police again. I still have bad dreams where I am being chased either by the police or a crowd of people who have mistaken me for a bad person. I don’t drink at all anymore, and I’m actually glad about that because I see so many life-ruining events happen around me involving alcohol. And I can never forget the way those three cars left me on the side of the road that night. But the truth is I’m happy. I have done so much work that being me is a light place to be. There is no part of my mind that I cannot touch anymore and I am content within myself. I value meditation because it is a time I can return to the home I have built within myself. In fact it is when I am away from this home, pulled by the distractions of life, that I am suffering.
I’m not grateful for what happened to me but I am grateful for what I turned it into. But that was a choice. Pain can either take us either deeper into the darkness or deeper into the light - the choice is yours. Viktor Frankl, survivor of the WWII concentration camps and author of Man's Search for Meaning, once said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Even though healing from trauma is hard, I think it's harder not to. Whilst running away may feel like it is working, the truth is it still unconsciously directs your life. At least once you begin walking there is a feeling of progress. Your perception of yourself changes from victim to someone who is strong enough to face the dark, and consequently the perception of your own darkness changes from something overwhelming to something small enough to face.
In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr, I dream of a world where what happened to me and happens to children is considered a national priority. I dream of a world where victims are believed and perpetrators are punished. I dream of a world where paedophiles don’t walk free from prison after just five months. I dream of a world where seeing a cop car on the road makes me feel safe instead of scared. I dream of a world where I can visit any country safely. I dream of a world where I am free to walk down the street at any time of day. I dream of a world where men are sorry, and women forgive.
I dream of a world where I feel safe enough to dance.
I never asked for this trauma, it was given to me,
Darkness breeds more darkness until none of us can see,
But I got tired of carrying black, so I turned it into green,
I guess I’m a lightworker, I guess that is alchemy.
No one else could save me, only I can heal me,
No one else could do the work and walk my journey.
I know a piece of you will always be apart of me,
And so I look it in the eyes, and to you I will sing -
“You will never stop me on the way to the throne.
You will never stop me on the way to the throne.
You will never stop me shining, so let it be known -
You will never stop me on the way to the throne.”
The world would be a better place if every man listened to this podcast and/or read this book:
TED Talk | Jackson Katz | Violence against women - it’s a men’s issue