Triggered by Australia’s PM: My #MeToo Moment
Content warning: this essay talks about sexual assault. Mine. If you are triggered or need help, please contact a Sexual Assault Service.
But now, at this time in Australia, where women are railing against the government in angry protests about sexual assaults in Parliament House and wider society, where our Prime Minister says women should be grateful they aren’t shot for protesting, I’ve been triggered. The memory is haunting me. It scars my days. Permeates my nights. A naked man, penis erect, hand raised, ready to strike. A scared whimper. Compliance, acquiescence, self-preservation because what else could I do?
The details are squidgy now, like watercolour paints bleeding into each other as they are daubed onto paper. I had finished my high school exams. I had arranged to meet my friends at a festival. I had borrowed my mother’s Valiant to get there. I had a few beers. The evening was warm. The air smelled of grilled meat, fairy floss and lemon eucalypts. Striped tents housed food stalls. My friends and I high-fived each other. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me was blasting from the sound system. I bumped into my auntie’s very cool neighbour. He flirted with me. I was flattered. I flirted back. I agreed to go with him, back to his house.
His name was Greg, and he was older than me by about four years, so that would have made him 21 or 22. He was a bad boy: long black hair, ear ring in his left ear. Eyes yellowish like a hyena’s. Tattoos. He had always been pleasant to me so I trusted him. I had no benchmark for these kinds of things. He gave me more beer at his house, and as the evening cooled, he turned on the gas heater. He kissed me, mouth insistent and started removing my clothes.
I struggled, because I knew what was coming next.
He raised his hand to hit me, because he knew I was unwilling. I cried, because I knew my first time wasn’t supposed to be like this. He had sex with me anyway, because he knew he could. He had the power. He knew I had none. He knew there would be no consequences for him.
I don’t remember leaving, or getting home. I don’t remember the next few days or weeks. I panicked that I was pregnant, and then what would I do? AIDS wasn’t a thing then, but unwed mothers were social pariahs. I didn’t know how to go about getting a termination, if it came to that, although I’d heard rumours. Both were options steeped in shame, but pregnancy was considered worse. Stark evidence of a moral transgression by the woman. I was lucky. No pregnancy.
But I wasn’t lucky. Not really.
I’m 57 years old, and I’ve only had three relationships in my life. A brief engagement in my early twenties that I ended after threats of physical violence, a six month relationship in my 20s that resulted in my daughter, and a five year on-off relationship in my 30s that devastated me when I ended it. I’ve had no life partner, no husband, no enduring witness to my life. I’ve not built a life with a special someone and all that that entails. I have slept with many men, and if I analyse it, I’m convinced it was to rewrite that first time, to cancel it out. Some men were gentle and kind. Some were not. None were looking for a long term relationship with the needy, damaged girl or the demanding, difficult woman who had just bedded them. Who could blame them?
I never told anyone about what happened to me, let alone considered reporting it to the police. What would I say? A family friend threatened me with physical violence unless I had sex with him? Yes, I’d had a few beers. Yes, I went with him willingly. What proof did I have that he forced me to comply? Who would believe me? In Australia, in 2021, convictions for sexual assault are rare. In 1977, a conviction would have been impossible. So I buried it, but now my ugly, shameful secret is begging to be aired and honoured.
I’m an old lady now, and I weep for the naïve girl who went so willingly with her auntie’s neighbour. And I’m haunted by the question: would my life have been any different if I hadn’t gone with Greg that summer night in 1977? If I had stayed with my friends? Or just went home? Or didn’t even go out?
I’ll never know the answer, because what could have been was stolen by that one violent, selfish, awful act.
And I’ve been triggered, by the Prime Minister of my country. I expected better from him. We all did. He has treated our collective, personal pain as a political issue to be mopped up and swept under a rather large carpet, rather than a human problem to be responded to with sensitivity, compassion and integrity.
I can’t help but wonder that if the Prime Minister had been been sexually assaulted by a boy named Greg when he was 17, then his response would have been different. I would like to hope so, although empathy, that most precious of human qualities, doesn’t require lived experience to be in attendance.
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