Words by Brianna, 22 VIC
This article contains themes about sexual assault, coercion and incremental consent which may be difficult to read or triggering to some readers. Readers in need can seek support from the following services or visit our Creating a Safe Space page to see a full list of support services.
The following piece is part of the Rarely Seen, Hardly Heard campaign.
Rarely Seen, Hardly Heard is about shining a light on the stories, thoughts and opinions of young people who have never been published on the WhyNot platform before, helping break down stereotypes and continuing to amplify diverse voices. All young people have a right to speak up and be heard.
We often identify rape and sexual assault scenarios as being violent – the scenario of walking alone in the dark before a random attacker. This invalidates the complexity and ambiguity of experiences like mine, where they often don’t reach the media, but happen quietly behind closed doors and away from the public eye.
These are the stories that sit outside the black and white scenarios, where young adults are left wondering what happened. It makes it hard for those to feel validated.
We need to change the way we think and talk about sexual assault. To help a survivor, we need to validate their experiences without measuring the harm and their pain against someone else’s. Every experience matters. It was bad enough.
Her memories of her sexual assault came to her in fragments.
The first time:
She had sex with her then-boyfriend, she didn’t really want sex in that moment – it just happened. But at the time, she wouldn’t call it rape.
Late afternoon sun, the air cold enough to stay inside, white stone and weatherboard homes line the street. The sheets are kicked towards the end of the bed – not needed when his naked skin was warm enough.
She remembered consenting to sex, despite not liking what was happening.
She pressed her hand against his stomach signalling to ease back. But her pressing hand did little for him to take the hint.
That was when the panic flared, and her safety diminished like a flame burning up the matchstick.
In that moment she couldn’t speak, yell or whimper.
I don’t want this, she thought. A feeling of wrongness settled in her stomach.
When it was over and she was embraced in his arms, her cervix throbbed like the dull beat of her heart – feeling nauseous, she told him, I was scared.
She dreaded his touch. She thought she wasn’t being serious enough when she expressed her distain towards some acts. But now she realised she did communicate enough.
She told him to stop and suggested what she preferred, but it was ignored.
She was at a loss for words, when he insisted that she liked it. Not only was he taking her body, he got to decide what she liked as well.
She stayed with him because she craved something.
He did bad things, but he said he deeply cared for her and because she thought all of this was normal, she tried to stop overthinking.
When there’s comments made about why do women let themselves be in this situation, and we just need to say no, it undermines the powerplay of the role’s in heterosexual relationships. In many ways we know society has taught women to prioritise men’s pleasures. Men aren’t pressuring us to give our bodies to them – we’re already doing it. They can sit back and say – it’s your body, your choice – implying there is no social pressure or conditioning.
Her mind told her something wrong had happened. When her friend questioned were you raped? She said no. She thought of the horrific stories in the media. She felt her experience didn’t measure up to the definition of sexual assault. She felt uncomfortable associating herself as a victim so she undermined her experience as not that bad, because there is always worse.
I have now changed this mindset, and I encourage many to do the same.
I never had the opportunity to have conversations about boundaries and consent. In all aspects of the relationship, not just intimacy. I never learnt that it is okay and necessary to talk about what I wanted before, during and after sex. I don’t blame myself anymore, and I don’t berate myself for thinking I should have known better.
I understand now, if the other partner does not show respect, it’s okay to leave the relationship. Sexual assault and rape should never be reduced to just a lack of communication and confusion.
Sometimes we may think we don’t need therapy, or to see a doctor because I wasn’t that traumatized. I don’t see myself as a victim and I can move through my daily life for the most part, unaffected. You may not need to label what happened. But speaking to someone- a friend or a community group chat, can really help to explore that if you had an experience that felt wrong, trust your intuition that it definitely was.
Why publish another sexual assault story? Haven’t we heard it all? Yes, we have.
These are the stories that women shrug off as not important enough because they are too subtle. But here, I will publish this story to add to the collection. I hope enough stories will be brought forward so it solidifies for others that they’re not overreacting.
This story holds my truth and my real experiences. You will have your own truth to protect, and with that, I hope you are empowered to realise what happened to you matters.
Resources that helped me: