Reclaiming the night: one woman’s story of survival
On Friday week, October 30, the annual Reclaim the Night marches will be held in cities and towns around Australia. Find more information here. The Punch received this contribution from a young woman who has asked us to publish it anonymously to chronicle her story of surviving sexual assault.
Today I did something I never thought I would do again – I pulled out a figure-hugging outfit from my closet and put it on. I even made it out the door and to work still wearing it.
This particular outfit was a favourite for some years, but ever since an article in a newspaper four years ago I have been unable to wear it without feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable.
You see, I am a rape survivor.
The article in question was a transcript from a court case that spent a lot of time analysing what the victim was wearing and whether the fact that she wore short skirts contributed to the attack. I have never been able to wear a short skirt since.
I used to be a confident and self-assured woman. I have a good figure and I liked to look attractive (never slutty, I would like to add). See, I can’t help myself. It’s constant justification.
I was raped because of how I looked. The man who stalked me, waited for me and then attacked me did so because I had blonde hair and a nice figure. Of course, I was not the only one. All the girls he attacked (at least 11 according to police), looked very similar to me (superficially, anyway). At his sentencing, the most difficult thing was not seeing him again, but seeing the other victims and realising this fact.
After the sentencing (he got 23 years), I honestly felt like going home, dyeing my hair and putting on 20 kilos before I left the house again. I didn’t because something deep inside of me wanted to hang on to what little humanity I had left. It took a long time to feel safe again. And I know I will never feel truly safe again.
It was a long road to recovery (the attack was 14 years ago now), but I made it through – except for my phobia about wearing figure-hugging dresses. I think it’s the attention they engender … every time I wear one I get so much attention from men in particular, I start to feel uncomfortable. One particular dress always seems to secure at least one improper suggestion. I honestly don’t think that I look trampy or cheap in the dress, and I try to think that this attention is flattering, but it’s too much in the end.
When I get home, the outfit goes back into the closet and I pull out a suit (for work) or pair of jeans (for home).
I don’t know why I have even bought these dresses (and there’s only really two), but it’s usually been some lovely shop assistant who has persuaded me – “It really suits you”; “I wish I had a figure like that” – and I have got swept away with the fun of seeing myself look nice and a little sexy.
Afterwards, I feel cheated and a little dirty.
And what’s changed recently? Well, it’s been a long time coming, but I have finally met someone; a man who makes me feel good about being attractive and someone who is not sleezy or scary, but just admiring and proud of me.
It’s the most remarkable feeling and I didn’t even know it was possible to feel this way. I can’t wait until he sees me in this outfit tonight.
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