The silence is deafening. Even now, though there is so much laughter, joy and chatter all around me, the silence can engulf me, consuming my every thought if there is something threatening to scratch through the surface.
A series of harsh realities juxtaposed against a backdrop of normalcy, my life has been anything but. And though this is not where I sit now, this is not who I am, it is the silence that keeps me there.
We are told to move on. We are told that we are strong. We will soldier on. We will not let it define us, nor will we allow ‘them’ to win. By walking away, living our lives, we defeat them. But though we are strong, we are often still silent. It is that silence, despite all of its good intentions, that is the very weakness allowing these stories to continue. Generation after generation, history is repeated.
A young girl or boy has just been violated in some way. Walk next to her, watch her. What does she do? How on earth does she summon the strength to speak up and face reality. To speak the words that she can barely process as thoughts. Action is the last thing she will want. She just wants it to go away. To stop. To not be real. To pretend.
And so the silence begins. The know it and they rely on it.
I have been sexually assaulted more times than I can count. I know more women and men that have been sexually assaulted than I can count. Many of us remain silent. We acknowledge and are barely shocked anymore by each other. It’s become a part of growing up. I’ve decided to go ahead with a glimpse into my past. I count myself as one of the lucky ones and even though I’ve decided not to tell ‘all’ as it serves no purpose, I believe I will still tell enough. But there are others who have suffered far worse than I. Far, far worse.
1 in 3 girls will be sexually abused and 1 in 6 boys according to Australian statistics – yet this is still only based on reported numbers. Look around your child’s class – how many of those faces will be violated in some way?
How are we as a society ok with this? How do we look ourselves in the mirror and carry on, denying our children a right to grow up free from abuse?
I encourage you to look at those faces and the reality in all its uncomfortable truth. Because while we promote or facilitate silence, through victim blaming or misguided bravery, we allow this to continue.
This is why I speak out and though not the only topic I am opening up about, it’s the most important one to me.
To the men who touch little girls and think it’s ok because they are not crossing a line. It’s not. To the boys who think it’s ok to band together and violate young girls. It’s not. To the older guys who think that a girl 1/3 of their age might be interested and ‘have a go’… she’s not. To those in power who abuse their authority because they think they’ll get away with it… you won’t.
…And the truth shall set you free…
Eyes closed, breath slowly. He’s here, don’t let him know you know. If you do… you’ll have to deal with it. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew before I saw him. A presence perhaps, or instinct.
I’d felt it for a while. Uncomfortable, being watched. Studied. But never thinking much of it. 12 years old and only just starting to blossom, I was becoming aware of men leering, starting to look at me in a whole new way. It felt powerful at first, yet still so naïve and innocent, I had no idea of the darkness that could lurk beneath such stares.
I’d been asleep. Innocent. Vulnerable. Exposed. Instinct woke me up yet I knew not to startle. I can get out of this, think Rebecca…. THINK! I know he’s not meant to be here. This is not a good thing, this is danger, this is fear.
Carefully, I peel every lash apart ever so slightly to confirm what I already know. As I do, I can feel the blanket lift, I sense a hand disappear underneath.
He’s trying to look at me, he’s going to touch me. NO! Breathe. Slow it down, relax. Remember you’re meant to be asleep!
He pauses, uncertain of his next move but I know mine. Eyes closed, I roll facing away from him. I curl myself up into a ball and bring the blanket trapped in all around me. I create a fortress and hope that it’s enough.
Footsteps start retreating, softly walking away. Good girl, you did it.
I return home. I want to say something. I want to cry but I don’t understand. This feels like it’s my fault. I sit on my bed for a long time just staring at the wall. Silent and alone.
It was as sudden as it was vicious. Tugging, pulling at me, they’re all around me and I’m pinned. I can’t get up.
“NO! DON’T!” – It almost comes out as a giggle because of how ridiculous this all seems. We’re friends, what are you doing? You’re joking aren’t you?
Pain screams through my chest. My young, newly formed buds being clawed at, pain threatening to overwhelm any ability to think. They’re laughing, why are they laughing? Does this mean it is a joke? They’re hurting me… And I’ve said to stop. Does this mean… no, no, NO!
Please… twisting my body every way I can to stop them from being able to access underneath my clothes. Looking from face to face, they all look familiar, yet I seem to know no-one around anymore.
One is holding me down, another has my arm. Another laughing hysterically and another pulling at my black pants, the waistband digging into my hips, tearing at the flesh and causing blood vessels to burst around my hips.
Scratching my waist, he bites me. Hard. More than once. I don’t give up. I twist, fight, keep trying to get up.
Praying inside, begging, knowing my only hope lies in a pair of cheap Supre pants, the zip, invisible on the side meaning that at least half of my dignity remains intact, I beg God to keep the stitching together. Don’t let it rip! God – please – don’t let it come down.
She walks back in. They all leap up, tension snapping in half, ending as quickly as it began. I quickly pull myself together and sit, unsure what to do, unsteady and not knowing what to think.
Waiting for my moment, I slip away, slowly making my way back home. Every footstep matching the heavy beating of my heart. My thoughts are silent as I walk lost in the night.
I run a bath and sink myself deeper into the water, hiding from it all – even from myself. The warmth feeling like an embrace, comforting and familiar. But no matter how much I try, I can’t get rid of the cold inside, I can’t wash myself clean.
I emerge and evaluate the marks, the bruises and the scratches on my 14 year old body.
I cover up quietly. I should feel angry, OUTRGAGED! But I just feel confused. I just feel silent.
Stupid girl – how could you let this happen. Didn’t you see it coming?
Celebrating a friend’s 16th birthday, I’d accepted an invitation to check out the neighbour’s band room. As a group we went over there but I missed their exit and within a split second I was trapped.
The light switched off and he stood between the door and I, which had somehow closed before I even knew what was going on.
Smelling of beer and cigarettes, he began made his way towards me. Unsure of my instincts, I awkwardly move out of the way and begin to uncomfortably protest. Perhaps it was just that the power had gone out.
Like a wave breaking through my body, the words he’d uttered only moments before rang in my ears ‘The good thing about it is that I’ve totally sound-proofed the room so you can bang away on the drums in here and no-one would ever know”.
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
So close now I can feel the stubble on his chin and his slobbering face near mine I feel a sudden rush of anger. “NO!”. I push him off me and run for the door, pulling it open I’m both shocked and relieved to find my way out so easily.
Barely stopping to catch my breath, I half run, half walk down the driveway and call my boyfriend to pick me up. Sitting there, waiting and my thoughts racing, I feel a deep sense of disgust rising in me. At only 15, he would be more than three times my age.
Did he really think….? My teenage anger kicks in spurring me into action.
I stride back towards the house and ask to speak privately to my friend’s Dad. I trust him. I know him. I need to say something.
Angrily I let the words rush out, describing what had just happened. I am a CHILD. He is a grown MAN. And I SAID NO!
Validated as I see my fury mirrored on his face, I know that I’ve said enough. A phone call later that night confirms that it was dealt with. He will not get away with it this time.
I still find it hard not to blame myself. Not to look at every piece of clothing, every look, every word and every action of mine to see where I kept going wrong.
But the older I’ve become and the more conversations I’ve had with others who experienced the same, I’ve realized – 33.3% of the population is not ‘asking for it’. Neither is the rest of the population that has – for whatever reason – not added their voice to the count.
This is not a ‘right of passage’ or just part of growing up. This is abuse.
And it needs to be stopped.