For the first time in my lifetime I feel this growing solidarity of women who are tired of keeping secrets. They are tired of hiding their stories so as not to cause discomfort. They are tired of seeing their own experiences lived out over and over. I see women stand up and tell the story of what has happened to them. I hear them. The noise is deafening. And the story is only going to get louder.
On Monday we marched around this country to say ENOUGH. We called for an end to sexual abuse and violence against women. We called for an end to the privilege of a patriarchy that has seen our integrity questioned, and not our perpetrators. We will not let this conversation waver. We are driving them out. Every man in this country who has a history of sexually abusing a woman should be shaking in his shoes. We are coming for you. We will report you. We will action our rights.
The other night at a gig a woman came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for bringing up violence against women tonight. My sister and I lost our mother to domestic violence.’ There were tears in her eyes; I touched her hand. A stranger whom I met for two minutes, whose mother was murdered.
I grew up in domestic violence. I was a child who was locked in a room to keep her safe. Who saw the four legs of a chair come through the door. Who saw her mother humiliated and shoved. Her precious things smashed. Her shoulder broken. I was lucky – he died, not us.
I have never thought of myself as a victim.
We often think sexual abuse happens to other people. But I am starting to think it happens to all of us. I doubt there isn’t a woman on this planet who hasn’t experienced some sort of abusive behaviour. Abuse and violence towards women isn’t just a stranger abducting us from a street. It happens with boyfriends, uncles, fathers, grandfathers. Teachers, church ministers, our bosses and colleagues. It happens at the hands of people we trust, and very often the shame is so great, or the sense that our rights don’t outweigh their entitlement, we don’t acknowledge what has happened to us.
I would have said that apart from my first six years with a physically violent dad, I have lived a life fairly free of abuse and violence. But that’s not true. This is what has happened to me. Mine is a very ordinary story.
At 14 when I was catching a bus home from Brisbane, a boy stuck his hands down my pants and masturbated on me. I was so scared I just let it happen. It was dark, and none of the adults seemed to notice. Another time at about age 15 I was walking to a bus stop; some boys in a car stopped to give me a lift. The boy I knew jumped out and I was in the back of a 2-door car with two boys I didn’t know. The boy in the back tried to get me to perform fellatio. I started crying. I actually don’t remember what happened next – I have a blank.
At 16 my schoolteacher told me he loved me. He didn’t touch me or ask me to do anything sexual; instead he spent the next six months of my final year at school sulking in class, not speaking to me, turning up at my activities and watching me, and then telling my friends I was treating him badly. I told my school principal and they shrugged it off. Nothing happened. It was the same year an older boy took me out for dinner, and then on the way home drove me to a remote country road and forced me to have sex with him on the back of his car. I said No. But he was 22. It was dark. It was a country road and there was nowhere to go. So I just put up with it hoping it would be over so he could drop me home.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties I realised that was rape. When I was just 16 I was groomed by a Catholic priest who, when I was 17, got me drunk and used me as a sexual liaison with another man. The priest continued to take me away on weekends for his sexual gratification for six months. I told no-one at the time what was happening.
When I was 18 I was in a relationship with a man who punched me in the mouth and split my lip. We broke up. Just two years later my next boyfriend punched me in the face and gave me a black eye. All this before the age of 20.
This is just a little of what happened to me. In some of the cases I don’t know who the perpetrators were, some names I can’t remember. In others, like the schoolteacher and the priest, there’s possibly no law that recognises what they did as illegal, but it’s clearly wrong.
Like many women, I have got up, brushed it off and got on with life. But somewhere deep inside is a girl who was hurt. That girl is everywhere right now. That quiet, I’ll do anything to be liked, I don’t want to cause trouble girl is screaming the place down.
Patriarchy is broken. We will never be safe in a system that operates to protect perpetrators and blame us for our abuse and pain. A system that blames us for our own deaths.
So now we say no. Now we speak up. Now we report.
We are coming for you.