The other day I was standing in my kitchen making dinner. It was a couple of months after Brittany Higgins publicly alleged she had been raped inside Parliament and in the aftermath the news that blared from the TV behind me repeated one statistic – one in five women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime.
Although I had heard the number before, I really thought about it this time. My initial reaction was that it seemed low. As I thought about the women I know who have been assaulted, the aggressive colleagues at work functions, the dates gone wrong, I was suddenly hit by a realisation that I was one of those women. I had been sexually assaulted.
I have spent years doing all the cliched things. I told myself I was blowing it out of proportion. I made excuses for the high school friend who would wait until he thought I was asleep to touch me. Long after I had moved away and ended most of my friendships I was still mad at myself for allowing it to happen. If it was such a bad situation why hadn’t I stood up for myself?
Standing in my kitchen that night I was suddenly confronted by the fact that I had worked so hard to forget what happened to me that I had actually managed to do it. Somewhere in the last ten years, I pushed that experience down deep enough that it stopped being real. But the events of the last couple of weeks had knocked the memories loose and there was no locking them back up.
As women, we’re never far away from events like this. I can remember in December 2017 when the viral short story Cat Person was published in The New Yorker and all the conversations I had with female friends and co-workers about consent. Almost every single one of them had a similar story to author Kristen Roupenian’s and all of them were cataloguing their lives. Did I have a bad date, or was I sexually assaulted? Was I drunk, or was I too drunk?
These discussions, of the grey area of consent, make certain types of people very nervous. The same types of people who think complicated consent discussions give women a green light to make false rape allegations. But they can also work the other way and give women like me an easy out when we want to excuse behaviour. I wasn’t assaulted – he thought I was into it. I wasn’t assaulted – he knew I liked him. I didn’t consent, but I didn’t object.
The long-buried memories in my head, jogged by the news cycle, sit in a new light in my adult brain. I can clearly see now that consent was not provided, it was not hinted at, and to really boil it down, someone who waits till you’re asleep to touch you isn’t interested in consent at all.
And now I’m angry. I’m angry at how disappointing the response from our Prime Minister was in regards to the fire that has been revealed in his own house. I’m angry at how MPs handled the allegations against some of their own. I’m angry that I had to face my own demons and now I have to work through them while my attacker is allowed to live his life without any ramifications.
Women are angry. Women are disappointed. Around the country, women are going through the same process I went through and we need to be prepared to have these hard conversations.
It’s already been hard. I’ve sat with female friends at Friday drinks and stared into my beer as we all try to comprehend the sheer weight of these recent events and what they mean for us as women. It’s hard to hear allegations against people we are meant to trust and respect. And it’s hard to know that the end isn’t in sight – if we’re all honest with ourselves we know there will be more to come. We know that because we’ve lived these events already and we know how this story goes.
It’s important we dig up all the skeletons because it’s the only way to force change and as part of that we need to make safe spaces for all the women who are currently examining the bad dates, the encounters at a party, the gross work events, and any other incident that was previously put in the ‘uncomfortable’ basket when it belongs somewhere else. The women who are seeing abuse allegation after abuse allegation brought to light and realising they’re on the wrong side of the one in five statistic are going to need our support and we need to be there to give it to them.
Hannah Blackiston is a journalist and media advisor who loves writing about finance and pop culture in equal measures. You can follow her on Instagram where she almost exclusively posts Stories, or Twitter.
If you have experienced sexual assault, help is available. Call 1800 RESPECT to talk to trained counsellors on 1800 737 732, or if you are in distress, speak to Lifeline on 13 11 14.