Reporting to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women

On Thursday the Australian Human Rights Commission, AWAVA and VicHealth hosted a non-governmental round table on Violence Against Women as part of the UN Special Rapporteur, Dr Rashida Manjoo’s, study tour of Australia.

I was lucky enough to be invited to share my experience of sexual violence and of the support I had received in the aftermath with the Special Rapporteur and then to participate in the round table.

We had 3 minutes within which to answer the following question:

“If you had three minutes to tell the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women what made a difference to you related to your experience of violence or what would have made a difference for you, what would you say?”

This is how I answered it:

Rape is a shattering crime. The consequences, the trauma inflicted by rape, is invasive, destructive and long term. Rape has devastated and rewritten not only my life but my sense of self. The choices made by the man who raped me have devastated my physical health, my mental health, my professional life, my social life, my relationships, my self-esteem and my faith in the world.

There are times when to survive sexual assault seems unbearable. To live on, to be left with no choice but to confront daily, the terror, trauma and grief of life after rape seems too terrible a task.

But it does not have to be that way. The task of surviving sexual assault does not have to be borne by the survivor alone. It is when others come to your aid, support you to carry the burden of trauma and grief – that is when it seems possible to live on after rape.

Many people have supported me to reconstruct a life out of the devastated ruins left to me after rape. I could not have rebuilt my sense of self or my life without their help.

The first person I told was my doctor. She believed me. Immediately she connected me to a Centre Against Sexual Assault counselor. None of what came afterward could have happened without the support of CASA. Their belief in my rights and my inherent dignity, their advocacy and the information they supplied me with was the first step in returning me to a place of control.

I told my family what happened to me. They believed me. They continued to love me. They told me that what had happened was a crime. They encouraged me to go to the police.

I told the police what had happened to me. They believed me. They respected me. They told me that what had happened was a crime. They investigated the crime and pursued the criminal with determination, rigour and the utmost professionalism.

I told the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal what had happened to me. They believed me. They told me what had happened was a crime. They listened to me as I spoke of the devastation that had carried over to every part of my life. They seriously considered how they could help me to reconstruct a life I could call my own and generously provided me with financial assistance to build a life after rape.

Perhaps these things sound obvious and simple. For me they were anything but obvious or simple.

To try to find the words to speak of rape is not only incredibly difficult, it is very risky. To reject the rapist’s denial of your right to a voice, your right to be respected and to speak up anyway takes enormous courage. To speak up in spite of a culture that continues to blame women for their victimization, to refuse to be shamed and instead shame your attacker takes even more courage.

If you are then heard. If you are believed. If you are respected and supported. Such simple acts go a long way to undoing so much of the damage caused by the rapist.

Rape is a social crime. Rape is a fundamental violation of the social contract. Therefore rape must be countered by social support, social acknowledgment.

What helped me to survive rape, to rebuild and live on, was being heard and receiving the loving support of my family and the official recognition of CASA, the police and the courts.

If all victims and survivors of rape received the same loving support and the same official recognition we would not only be helping them to survive and rebuild, but more importantly we would be building a world where rape is a much more difficult crime to commit.

What would you say to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women if you had 3 minutes to address her? What made a difference to you? What would have made a difference to you?

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