One of the reasons its taken me so long to confront what happened to me is because I was very busy telling myself that it wasn’t so bad… compared to what others have gone through.
There’s a part of me that still feels this is quite a rational point of view. After all, its backed up by some well publicised facts about violence against women.
- 363 000 women (4.7 per cent of all women) experienced physical violence
- 2.56 million (33 per cent of all women) have experienced physical violence since the age of 15
- 1.47 million (19 per cent) have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15
- 78 per cent of female victims of sexual assault knew the offender
These stats tell us that violence is prevalent in Australia. But they don’t paint a picture of the demographics, of the lives of the women who’ve been affected. They don’t tell the stories of what happened, to whom and why – which must be as unique as the individuals in question.
Before I was assaulted, its fair to say I thought I would never be ‘one of those women’. If pressed for more details, I’d probably say that ‘those women’ were most likely lower income people, weak and dependent people. I had some idea in my head that most women who experienced assault were in violent relationships. That they were most likely putting up with it, staying on with their guy for some misguided reason. I felt great sympathy for them, and I could see they were emotionally reliant on the men that hurt them – that was my very limited view.
When I was 20, and just before I left for Sydney, my flatmate Colleen, had a violent boyfriend. He was younger than her, possibly a little crazy and he would hit her. They were on/off and Colleen’s friends were doing their best to help her see the light and dump him. But I’ll never forget my surprise and horror when she came home late one night and told me they were getting married. The first thing out of my mouth was not ‘congratulations’. Instead, I asked her about the violence… and she spouted words that could’ve been lifted directly from some cop drama. “He told me he loves me. He said it will be different this time and that he won’t hit me any more”. Riiight.
Luckily the relationship self-destructed before they even got close to getting a marriage licence! But most unfairly, my opinion of Colleen changed from that time on. I began to think of her as a little pathetic. I lost respect for my friend – just a smidgen.
And I truly never imagined that it would happen to me. I never saw it coming, never expected it, not even in the seconds before his fist first connected with my face.
Of course, I wasn’t in a relationship with this man – let’s call him Andre – he was someone that I had been seeing for a few months but I’d called it off. I’d already realised it wasn’t what I wanted, but I was still happy to be friends. Before that one twisted night, there wasn’t the slightest hint of the crazed, angry, aggressive and frightening person he revealed himself to be. Before he actually hit me, when he was just yelling and being abusive, even then I wouldn’t have picked what was to come.
And then it happened. Since that time, I’ve been in denial about joining the ranks of women who have had violence done unto them. Here are some of the little stories (and the sub-text) I’ve been telling myself and my friends:
“It was just one night, after all” – (of course! No big deal really)
“There’s no chance in hell I’d be one of those women who’d stay in a violent relationship” – (so that makes me different, a bit better, not as pathetic, right?)
“Some women are injured very badly, and ongoing – but I was lucky” – (yeah I just got away with a black eye, a possibly fractured cheek bone and some broken glass)
“I don’t have that much to complain about really” – (of course not, post traumatic stress is a breeze!)
“I feel a bit embarrassed talking to a counsellor, because what I went through was pretty mild” – (Surely I’ll be okay in a few months)
Nice stories huh? They are all great strategies for compartmentalising the raging grief and pain I was going through. Mostly because they are partially true and logical, and it was easy to get agreement from other people when I said these things. Even if they didn’t pick up on my sub-text, in my mind they’d agreed to that as well.
Clearly, I’d already drawn a line in the sand between me and the ‘other women’ who go through assault. I was still trying desperately not to see myself as one of them, those people I thought of as weak. Obviously all those years ago, I bought into the stereotypes and because I’d always seen myself as strong and independant, I couldn’t let myself identify with my fellow “assaultees”.
Like my other little strategies, it’s true, there is always someone with a worse story – but that can’t detract or minimise your own experience. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t change or fix anything.
Thinking about my old flatmate from all of those years back, I can say this much – assault as viewed from the outside tells you nothing. Ofcourse, you might be upset for a friend who’s gone through this kind of experience. You might even think the way I did, and see your friend as weak. Please try not to though!
Here’s what you need to know: This sort of violence is penetrative. It is soul rape. It has the potential to rearrange your inner world, to tear it apart, turn it upside down. I say ‘potential’, because not everyone reacts to assault in the same way, ofcourse. But its a very strong person indeed, who walks away from being assaulted with few ill effects.
At present, I’m in a really vulnerable state, because I’m in the process of deconstructing these strategies, clearing away the lines in the sand and acknowledging to myself for the first time how very damaged I am as a result of being assaulted, even if it was only just one night. Even if other people have had much worse experiences.
This is a good thing. It doesn’t make me weak. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, to face the devestation is incredibly difficult. And actually, its this act of taking care of myself that makes me strong.
I’m throwing away the props and distractions.
I’m blowing down the house of cards I’ve been sheltering in.