Friday, October 10, 2014
Speaking Up Against Victim Blaming and Rape Culture
This is a post a long time coming. I've written many drafts of this post over the past few weeks. I don't really write truly personal posts anymore preferring to keep my blog a light and happy space of pink, sparkles and jelly shoes, but this most recent incident finally made me decide to hit publish on this honest post even though being this open scares me. I think it's finally time for me to speak out and say something. I have a relatively large audience and as such I feel a responsibility to write what I'm about to write because if I stay silent then I am complicit for it to keep happening. This sort of thing needs to be talked about because our silence just hides the problem and lets it continue.
I am talking about sexual assault.
The first time I was raped (yes, first time implies it has happened more than once, well it has!) I was only 13 years old. I was raped by my 16 year old boyfriend at the time, who upon reflection, was grooming me and attacked me in a premeditated way. I was 13, he was 16. I first met him at an inter-school sports day where I was playing table tennis on the team of my new school at my old high school that I had just left because of extreme bullying.
I don't really remember meeting him, he just was there staring at me throughout the day as I played table tennis with my team mates. He was a young smiley Asian boy in clothes that were obviously very old as they were slightly worn and torn in places. I do remember at lunch time he came up to me and introduced himself and that his name was really similar to my own, Hi-Lee. We played tag in the school yard with our friends, it was an innocent day as we were still in that youthful stage of life where games like that are fun. He didn't come from my high school or my previous high school but rather one of the others who were competing in the inter-school sports day with schools from around the inner North and inner West.
The next time I saw him was a few days, weeks or perhaps even months later I don't exactly remember the timeline but I do remember what happened. At the time I lived with my sister and mother in a rented townhouse in Coburg just opposite a park. The street was filled with friends - both children and adults - and we felt safe in this street knowing there was always someone watching. Our home life was less idyllic, but that's another story.
My 11 year old sister was playing alone in the park across the road from our house. The very park that, when we first moved in, we weren't allowed to play in alone, back when our mum was still our mum and our lives were more normal. Something had changed in those months, what I realise now was a mental breakdown, she had stopped caring or being present. So my sister was at the park and I was at home on the couch taking a nap after a long day at school. My sister came into the lounge room and woke me up saying she had someone who knew me with her and as I opened my eyes I saw that very same Asian boy from the inter-school sports day, although at first as I had just woken up I thought he was someone from my primary school days. So I guessed "Chen?" and my sister laughed and said no this boy came up to me and said he knew you, this is Hi-Lee. I was really confused at this stage as my sister had never met Hi-Lee but apparently he thought she was me at the park because back then we really did look like twins. So Hi-Lee was in my house. I have absolutely no idea what happened next other than suddenly Hi-Lee was my boyfriend and was coming around to my house every day after school. He had another friend in the street, a boy who was actually in my class at school but who hated me for some reason or another. So after spending time with me he would go over to his friends house.
Every visit got more and more intense, he only wanted to make out and touch me and always asked to see me naked. I was 13, a virgin and not at all ready for any of this but I wanted a boyfriend really badly so I went along with most of it. I was a bit of a hippy at the time and my bedroom was full of candles so he would light those to set the mood when he came over. I also wore weird tie died lingerie over my clothes as a fashion statement at the time (the 90's hey?) and he would ask me to only wear the lingerie nothing else. It was all moving too fast so I stopped answering my door to him and just hoped he would go away. But he kept coming back. So one day I decided I would go over to the park and tell him that it was over between us, that it was all going way too fast for me, that I didn't want to do any of the things he was making me do. He somehow convinced me to go into the public bathroom with him and that's where it happened. Suddenly he was up against me with his pants at his feet and I remember he already had a condom on but it had a big hole in it at the tip and I knew thanks to my mothers sex ed advice that that wasn't right and I tried to say so. He just forced me to turn around and stuck it in from behind. I was saying someone might come can we please stop and he wouldn't stop. It didn't last very long and when it was over I went home and cried myself to sleep.
He came back the next day and I made my sister tell him I never wanted to see him again while I hid under a blanket on the couch. He never returned to my street, not even to visit his friend. Although I did see him on the tram on my way home from school about a year later and he was with a few friends and he pointed and laughed at me.
I never told my mum about this and as such I never went to the police. My sister knew but we were only young and I was really scared about what would happen if anyone found out. I had a lot of shame from it and for the rest of that year I think I alienated myself from my friends as I would cry at the drop of a hat at any moment, even a fun birthday party. I always would say I was sad about my parents divorce years earlier which wasn't the truth at all.
The next sexual assault happened at a fabric shop on Sydney Road. But in between this incident and the next one there were a few minor incidents that have also stayed with me. One was when I was 15 and on my way to my first day of year 9 work experience. I was on the tram reading a magazine and the guy opposite me was touching rubbing my leg with his leg in a way that initially I thought was just an accident. But as it kept continuing I decided to move away. Then he followed me and sat opposite me again and rubbed my leg even harder. I tried to just ignore what was happening by really focussing on the magazine I was reading because I was afraid of what might happen if I called him out on it and the embarrassment that would follow. It was finally my stop so I stood up and he asked me if he could come with me! I was 15! He was at least in his 30's. I said 'No, sorry (why did I apologise to this creep?) I'm on my way to work experience' He said 'that's okay it won't take long'. I yelled 'No you can not come with me!!!' and quickly jumped off the tram hoping he didn't follow me which luckily he didn't. This was around 8:30 in the morning on a crowded tram. I didn't know at the time that this was something you could report to the police. Oh and then the boss at where I did my work experience would always try to hug me and somehow his hand always ended up on my breast. Jesus just remembering this now.
Another incident happened when I was 16 and I had just got a falafel for dinner and was waiting for the tram home eating it at the tram stop. A male in his early 20s came up to me and sat next to me at the tram stop. This was a busy intersection on Sydney Road but there were no other people around and it was about 7pm at night. Anyway he was watching me intensely as I ate the falafel. Eventually he said he loved watching me eat that, it was turning him on and could I please kiss him. Luckily at that exact moment my tram came and I was able to jump on and get away.
A more serious thing then happened about 6 months into my relationship with Henry when I was 16. FYI not by Henry. Anyway I had a school assignment for my VCE Studio Fashion class and I was shopping for fabric along Sydney Road. I headed into a fabric shop (which no longer exists) and whilst browsing the fabric on display I don't notice that the owner of the shop locked the door behind me. I chose my fabric and go up to the owner at the counter for him to cut it, he says he has something to show my out the back room. Thinking it was a better version of the fabric I chose I follow him in. Instead of showing me fabric he opens a drawer and pulls out a porn magazine (this is the time before the internet on phones/everywhere). I get frightened at this point and go to walk to the door but he says it's locked and that he knows sluts like me from Princes Hill (the high school I attended) like to suck cock and that he would pay me $50 to suck his dick. I am scared and say that I'm not like that, I have a boyfriend. He says it doesn't matter. So then I say my mum is outside waiting for me in the car and she will get worried and come in if I don't leave soon. I back out of the back room and there are two old ladies knocking on the door of the shop as it's only 4pm and it's meant to still be open. Because they have seen me and he believes my mum is out the front he lets me go but only if I promise to return the next day. I leave without my fabric and get home where I immediatly phone Henry and tell him what happened. My mum gets home and I tell her and then we call the police. A female detective is sent over and we go through my version of events. As I didn't remember the address we had to jump in her unmarked police car and drive past the shop so I could point it out. She refers me to CASA for counseling and then a few weeks later I am invited down to the Sydney Road police station to do a photo line up. It had been some time since the incident but I pick out the guy who jumped out as me as being the one. The next thing I was told a few weeks or months later was that there wasn't enough evidence against the guy (I believe part of that was because I chose the wrong guy in the photo line up) and the police officer I spoke to advised me to not go within 100 metres of the shop which I never followed because Spotlight was opposite and I was a really into fashion and sewing and craft you guys! I did avoid his side of the street though. Still do to this day really.
The next incident happened when I was 20 and living above a restaurant in Fitzroy on Brunswick Street. It was the first house that Henry and I lived together in and we shared with my sister, the same arrangement that we have now, Anyway my sister and her friend and I decided to go out on Smith Street to one of our usual band nights at a venue that has long since changed hands. We dressed up and headed out. I think I may have been fighting with Henry at the time because he didn't come out with us. I got pretty drunk and remember maybe trying to chat up some guys in a band (I was 20 afterall!) Anyway at some point it was decided that Henry would come and meet us. I went outside to the street to try and find him (he may not have had a mobile phone yet at this stage, I can't remember but do know he was late to getting one) and I drunkenly asked a guy standing out front of Copacabana if he had seen my boyfriend. He said he had and to follow him and in my drunken stupor I believed him. He led me across the street with his friend in tow to the public toilet block (it is still there although it is modern electric one now, back then it was brown brick I believe) and his friend stood watch at the doorway as he raped me while I cried out no, no no and Henry's name over and over. I think they must have got scared because it didn't last very long. When it was over I left the toilet block in tears and suddenly saw Henry who had been madly looking for me up and down the street as I had been some time. I told him what happened and his reaction was one of anger - at me for getting so drunk and putting myself in that situation. He pushed me into a taxi and took me home. The taxi driver asked me why I was crying so much so I told him I had been raped and he just had this shocked look on his face. Henry and I never really talked about the incident again for a few years and I never went to the police because after my last experience with them I didn't trust that anything would happen so I prefered to ignore it and it would all go away. Henry and I know now that we both handled the situation badly, and he and I are a lot more informed on consent, rape culture and the blame and shame game that goes on. So he has apologised over and over for how he reacted. He did comfort me at the time too, but his anger is what I remember most. And who could blame him when the culture around rape is full of victim blaming. Just look at this recent report where 1 in 5 Australian's believe drunk women are to partially to blame for their rape.
Then a few years passed and nothing really happened. That was until 29th September 2012. I remember the date because that is also the date that the news of Jill Meagher's body being found the night before broke. The story was headline news since the disappearance of Jill a week earlier where I grew up in Brunswick, Melbourne. I was living in Sydney with Henry at the time and the story really hit close to home because of all the things that had happened to me in that very area. Anyway on the morning of the 29th I was on the train to Kings Cross on my way to an ASOS event during morning peak hour. It's actually funny how I ended up on the train as I had asked the ASOS PR if there was any way to get a car service to the really out of the way venue (a totally normal request in Sydney which has pretty terrible public transport) but the best they could do was have me meet the guests flown in from Melbourne at their Kings Cross hotel and get into the car service they were getting. I in no way blame the PR for what happened to me, it's just an unusual situation that led to me being on that train. Anyway I got on the train at my local station, Redfern. I had timed the train perfectly to arrive in time for the car service. I was standing in the middle of the carriage nearest to the main middle pole when suddenly I felt a hand rubbing against my pubic area. I thought to myself, well this is a crowded train surely this is just an accident so I moved away as much as the crowd allowed. But the hand followed and got a bit more purposeful in it's groping. So I moved again this time really moving my body away so that there was no way the hand could reasonably follow unless it was doing so with intent. Well of course the hand followed so I knocked the hand away and pushed the chest of the guy who was doing the rubbing and said "Hey stop touching my vagina" and he took of his sunglasses (he was wearing sunglasses in the dark subway) and placed them on his head whilst angrily denying he had been touching me. I said whilst looking around to everyone for some support or help "No, you were touching my vagina like this" and I made a hand gesture of what he was doing. Everyone stared at me like I was insane and the train came to a stop and he hurriedly got off at Central Station along with just about everyone in the carriage. I immediately sat down to calm myself down and typed out a text message to Henry who told me to report it to the police. When I got off at Kings Cross station there were two police officers standing beside the ticket turnstiles. I went up to them and told them what happened and asked them what I should do. They said it was a sexual assault and I needed to go to the police station right away to make a report. I said I had this really important work meeting I had to go to so I didn't have time right away to go. They urged me to skip it and go but I was determined to go to this bloody ASOS event - I was wearing a free dress from the brand and was looking forward to seeing all my blogger friends. So they told me to write down my version of events straight away so that I don't forget any details and then go to a police station as soon as I could. As soon as I got to the hotel I asked the staff for some paper and a pen and set to writing out what had just happened including details on what the guy was wearing and the time of the train I was on. I went to the event which was actually personally I think the best decision I made as it was really fun and I would've really regretted not going later on, letting him win in a way. As soon as the event was over I headed to Kings Cross police station where I made my official statement with a female detective. As the incident happened outside of their jurisdiction the matter was handled by the Sydney CBD police station from then on with a really lovely female detective. I had to go down and do another photo line up but this time because of my last experience with it I was too scared to pick the wrong person so I picked out no one and ended up crying. It also had been a few months after it had happened so I couldn't be sure of his face anymore. I was told that the same guy was being investigated for a similar incident with another young woman and he had admitted that is was him on the CCTV at the station but denied both allegations, which again made me cry, having it happen to someone else. Unfortunately there was no CCTV on both the trains me and this other girl were on. For the past two years I've been updated every few months or so about the legal process and investigation, and I had agreed to fly back to Sydney after I moved down to Melbourne if there ever was a trial.
In the end though, about three weeks ago, the prosecutor decided there wasn't enough evidence to charge the guy. Even though there were two separate incidents and victims reporting him, he admitted he was at the scene and cctv places him there. He denied the allegations you see so it becomes he says she says. Oh and the train I was on had no cctv inside the train so there was no footage of the incident. But my detective said the fact that he seemingly hasn't done it again as no one else has reported him means reporting him was important as it may have stopped further attacks which made me feel better. The police questioning him was enough for him to get scared. Also if he does do it again there is all the evidence from my report and the other victims so they can build a better case against him next time, but hopefully there won't be a next time. So at least it stays on his record. The system is fucked but reporting is important!
I actually wrote that last paragraph on my facebook wall at the time of learning that the case wasn't going ahead. I decided I had been silent for too long and that people needed to know what had happened to me and that what I did in reporting wasn't a waste of time. I got a lot of messages of support which were fantastic but one message really stood out from the others. It was from an old high school friend who I haven't seen or spoken to in years. She wrote to me to tell me that my status update had given her the courage to report what had happened to her. That's when I knew I had to share my story on my blog and really get the message out there. As with what we learnt from the Jill Meagher incident, the people who do these crimes are usually serial attackers and all reports can help lead to a conviction if the police do their job right, no matter how minor the incident may be.
So that is where I am at now. With yet another incident to report to the police only this time it has happened to my sister. Just this Monday past my sister was riding her bicycle home from seeing a movie with me and Henry in the city. The movie finished around 11:50pm and after dissecting the film, which was great by the way (Gone Girl, you have to see it! We had actually all read the book over the 2012 Christmas break as a sort of family book club so seeing the film together was important) Henry and I headed to the number 11 tram whilst my sister got on her bike to head home. We could see her from the tram most of the way, waving every time we spotted each other. She rode home via Gertrude Street whilst our tram went down Brunswick Street. On Gertrude Street, just before the Napier Street intersection a man was crouching down between two parked cars. As my sister rode by him he jumped out and swung a helmet at her head trying to knock her off her bike whilst yelling something about 'fucking' her. She managed to duck and swerve narrowly missing the helmet coming at her and quickly rode all the way home without stopping. Once inside she tried calling me to warn me not to walk home that way but my phone was still on silent from the movie. She then remembered we were on the 11 tram and not the 86 so we should be fine so she went to the bathroom to try and calm herself down. Not more than 2 minutes later we walked in to find her visibly shaken and she quickly told us what happened. At this point we thought the best thing to do would be to head over to the local Fitzroy police station which is not more than two blocks away. Rather than call 000 as we weren't sure of how much of an emergency it was and we knew that we wanted to make a statement. When we got to the police station it was staffed by a very young policeman who told us he was only on his second ever night shift. He seemed to write down the incorrect information in his notebook - he wrote down a neon workmans jacket when my sister had explained a blue workmans jacket with a neon reflective strip. He also added a 0 to our home address. He did tell us that they had just had a 000 zero call from the same location and that there were police heading that way now to investigate. We were told it wasn't necessary to make an official statement and were told to just call back the next day to follow it up and see what happened as he said they would check CCTV the next day. We left not feeling exactly confident about what had happened but felt reassured by a friend who we had seen the movie with and who was on the 86 tram around that time as her tram was delayed by a police car blocking the tram tracks in that exact same spot.
However since then every time my sister has called back the police station they don't know anything about the incident. There isn't an official report as yet and it's been nearly four days. They kept saying someone would call her back and they never did. They said call back at particular times and we did and the same thing is repeated to us - they don't know anything about it. And to make matters worse my sister was advised by a female police officer to not go out at night and if she must to stick to main roads - which is what she was doing anyway. To hear a female police officer victim blaming my sister was the last straw. We were trying to do the right thing, report an incident and yet it was not taken seriously by the police and the onus was put back onto us to not get ourselves in dangerous situations. It seems that noting has changed since my last dealings with Victoria Police nearly 15 years ago as a 16 year old when I was told to not go near the fabric shop where the attempted rape happened.
Frustrated by this lack of response I took to twitter yesterday to try and get someone at Victoria Police to take this matter seriously. After a few retweets and a channel 9 news journalist getting involved the police finally took action. My sister was contacted directly by Fitzroy station and they made a time for her to make an official statement last night so that they could search for her attacker. What happened to her is an assault, it is serious. If we had called 000 they would have had to follow up the call and the records would all have been kept properly so my advice is to call 000 if something like this were to happen to you. It saddens me that it took me taking it to twitter for the matter to be followed up correctly especially in light of what I thought the police had learnt from the Jill Meagher incident. Her attacker was a serial rapist out on parole. Seemingly minor assaults weren't followed up and he was allowed to remain out in society.
My sister was not at fault for riding her bike home at midnight on a Monday night. I was not at fault for being drunk like any other young person out that night back when I was 20. The victim blaming doesn't help end rape or sexual assaults it simply allows it to continue. Only the rapist or attacker is at fault! My experiences show that it doesn't matter if it's 8:30in the morning or midnight there is no 'safe' time or place. Something needs to change within our culture where the onus is put back onto the rapist to NOT RAPE.
The only way to make this happen I believe is to report every incident and follow it up with the police and make sure they're doing their job no matter how minor it may be. Don't allow them or anyone to victim blame you and ignore what has happened. It could save lives and it is important.