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My story of historical rape dates back to 1990 when I was nineteen years old, living on the Gold Coast and life was good. I felt loved, smart, sexy, valued, like a girl going somewhere. That was until the night when cruelty and betrayal collided, sending my life completely off course.
It was late on a balmy night in Surfers Paradise. My boyfriend and I had ventured to the beach for a breather after drinking with friends at a nearby bar. I thought it would be fun to dip our toes in the water. He wasn’t keen. So, I trotted down to the shoreline alone, dancing in the shallows before turning back to join him. As I walked closer my heart dropped – he was gone. Before I could call out to him, I was violently pushed to the ground from behind. My face rammed into the sand, gritty particles filling up my mouth and nostrils. My 160cm, 46kg body struggled underneath the weight of a man…my memories of the horrendous act that followed are sketchy. But at some point, I got a glimpse of the perpetrator. Dark hair. Medium height. And I distinctly remember him wearing a black t-shirt with ‘Noiseworks’ emblazoned across it in white lettering.
After he got off me, I sprinted to the road, not daring to look back. I managed to get to the nearest police station. What followed was hours of trauma almost equal to what I had just experienced. The police interrogated rather than interviewed me, then marched me back to the beach, forcing me to revisit the site where I had just been violated. Flanked by a number of male officers, I was made to comb the sand for discarded underwear. Thankfully, the items were recovered but to this day, I have no idea what they did with them.
The nightmare wasn’t over yet. I was put in the back of a police car for a long drive south. Scared and alone, I was unable to contact my parents. We arrived at a medical clinic where I was made to endure an invasive internal examination. I don’t remember a single one of those people looking me in the eye. I do remember feeling like a small, dirty annoyance.
Waking up the next day it felt like someone had dialled down the brightness. I wanted my life to look like it did yesterday — bright, sunny and full of promise. But how could things ever be the same after being subjected to varying degrees of mental, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a rapist …and the police. I decided I would not let them continue to hurt me and vowed to put it behind me and never tell anyone. My parents were happy to oblige.
I later found out that despite the evidence found on the beach, and the medic’s verbal confirmation of internal evidence, the police concluded that the assault had not occurred, or I had been complicit. It should be noted that the Gold Coast in the 90s was the epitome of a patriarchal, misogynistic society skewed towards the objectification of women and kept afloat by surf-loving tourists, so there was simply no appetite for sexual assaults on the beach. Those Gold Coast Cops bullied me and my family into waiving our rights to seek justice for the violent invasion of my body. They also let a rapist go free to attack again.
I went on to work in media. I worked and played feverishly. My behaviour was often at odds with my values. I self-medicated, tolerated rampant sexual harassment and submitted to unsavoury interludes with men I didn’t like. I lived a life of avoidance, running and hiding from what happened to me on the beach. Until one day, I looked around and realised I was lost. So very lost. Who am I? Where am I going? What do I believe? I had zero answers.
Since that time I have learnt that grief extends beyond bereavement, to the ‘loss of a valued aspect of life’. I realised I had ‘disenfranchised grief’, thanks to the lack of acknowledgement of the rape. My loss was multi-layered and ‘ambiguous’ in nature as is the case with most sexual assaults. Sure no one died, but Mr Rapist and the cops managed to take from me; a positive self-concept, a favourable view of people and the world, faith in my parents and authorities, a grip on healthy sexual experiences..and the list goes on.
I started grief work, working up the courage to finally share my story with my therapist. Afterwards, he responded with a sincere statement, “I’m sorry that happened to you”, so simple, yet so powerful. It was a huge breakthrough – finally, the acknowledgement and validation I’d needed for 30 years! I soon gained mastery over the painful material in my story, let go of avoidance and started ‘meaning-making’. Asking myself; Why did it happen to me? How can I grow from it? The answer was staring me in the face. The experience had given me a true understanding of grief, loss and trauma. Allowing me to better empathise, understand, and walk alongside other survivors.
Through grief recovery, I’ve been able to regain my sense of self-worth and value to society.
Victims of historical rape should be heard and validated. Be brave – express your grief and loss, honour it and process it, you too can be transformed into the amazing person you were always meant to be.