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When sexual assault leads to loss of oneself – disenfranchised grief

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Home Forums Loss of a loved one When sexual assault leads to loss of oneself – disenfranchised grief

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  • #14505

    Recent events in Australia’s political sphere have led to an explosion of sorrow, fear and fury from sexual assault survivors who have been triggered to re-live their own distressing experiences.

    And while most in our community understand grief as a normal human response to the death of someone important in a person’s life, many are not aware that it is also a common response to the loss of a valued aspect of life. For sexual assault survivors, these losses can be multiplied and include things that are integral to wellbeing such as;

    • loss of life as it existed before
    • loss of a positive view of the world
    • loss of faith in other people and authorities
    • loss of positive self-concept
    • loss of belief in the virtue of others
    • loss of a general feeling of safety
    • sex-related losses.

    And because many sexual assault survivors do not report or speak of their experience due to fear of retribution, recrimination or not being believed, their grief often goes unacknowledged, leading to disenfranchised grief.

    To make matters worse, sexual assault survivors are often forced to process their grief without social support and validation which are important protective factors in the grief process.

    That is why we have started this thread on the forums. We invite anyone who feels they have lost the person they once were to tell your story here. This is a place to receive much-needed social support and validation to help you work through your grief process.

    All Community Members are respectfully asked to avoid triggering others by refraining from detailing any specific assault events.  Please also refrain from including identifying names of people or places. Instead, we welcome you to tell your story in terms of the emotional and mental impacts as they relate to your grief and loss.   Feel free to reach out to the Online Community Coordinator for more information and ensure you have read the Community Rules and Privacy Policy before proceeding. 🌸

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  • Author
  • #14601

    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.

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