A week ago I attended the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) for my final hearing. I addressed the court about the impacts of sexual assault on my life, about what it is like to be made a victim of rape and about how they might assist my recovery. This is what I said:
On the ***, I woke up an ordinary 26 year old Aussie girl. I had breakfast with my Mum. She cooked me French toast. Later in the day, I had dinner and then drinks with some friends. If asked to describe myself, I would’ve said I was confident, determined, cheerful and optimistic. My life was pretty good. I had a challenging and rewarding job as the Membership Manager at the Australian Film Institute, working in an industry I was passionate about. I had a lovely home with 2 friends in a great part of Melbourne. I had recently submitted an application for a teaching position in France. It was to be the fulfillment of a long-held ambition to live and work in a country that I loved. My life wasn’t perfect. The break-up of a long-term relationship had left me unsettled and lonely but I was thrilled to be beginning a new year and moving forward with my life on my terms. I was excited about what was to come.
But that night, rather than catching the tram home, I caught a taxi. It seemed like the safer option. It didn’t turn out that way. What was done to me that night, the choices that taxi driver made, the violence he enacted against me, have had devastating effects upon me. Those effects extend not only to every part of my life, but right to the heart of my sense of self.
That young woman described above – she is gone. The decisions — – made that night destroyed her.
After the assault, I couldn’t bear to look in the mirror. If I did accidentally catch sight of myself, all I saw was the woman who’d been raped. Not long after, I cut off all my hair just so I wouldn’t have to look in the mirror and see what he saw, see his victim.
After the assault, I could no longer return to the house in — . All it was to me now was the scene of the crime. In fact, the whole inner north became unbearable to me. Even approaching the end of the Eastern Freeway, a road I have to travel often, could set my heart racing and set off intrusive and destructive flashbacks.
After the assault, I left my job at the Australian Film Institute. I tried to return but there was no way I could carry out my job like I had before. As a manager my job entailed responsibility and high-level decision making. It was a stressful and demanding position, full of challenges. I had thrived on those challenges. But now, trauma prevented me from accomplishing even the most basic tasks. I would jump if the phone rang or someone knocked on my door. I would try to work but replays of the rape prevented me from concentrating. I simply couldn’t do my job anymore.
I was offered the scholarship to work in France. A post just outside Paris. A dream come true. Only I had to turn it down. All because I no longer believed I could be safe. All because, with the traumatised condition I was in, I knew I couldn’t survive without the constant loving support of my family. I needed the familiarity of my childhood home, the security of my family’s unwavering assistance, the relative safety of a country in which my extensive support networks could be constantly about me. I needed all this just to get through the passage of time. Between the nightmares and the flashbacks, I had no rest, no break from trauma.
It seemed to me nothing was left of all that I had held dear before. My home, my career, my future – they are just the tip of the iceberg. What I have really lost is my sense of self, my bodily integrity and my autonomy, my confidence, and my faith in the world.
Every single day I face the consequences of sexual assault. I have no other choice. To this day, my hand shakes and my nerves flare whenever I have to sign my own name. Just knowing that he took that, too – that he forged my signature, means that even that is no longer the assurance of my identity that it is supposed to be.
It would be only too easy to be overwhelmed, crushed, by the constant flood of consequences and impacts of sexual assault. And certainly, the impacts have often threatened to crush me, to overcome me. My physical health, my mental health, my professional life, my social life, my relationships, my self-esteem – all have been devastated by the impacts of sexual assault. To survive sexual assault seems unbearable. To live on after terror, to confront daily the horrific memories, to try and reconstruct a life in the shadow of trauma – these are terrible tasks.
What is really terrible, however, is that while I struggle with these tasks, I must also confront the further injustice of the perpetrator fleeing the country, despite having gone through the harrowing process of reporting the crime to the police. While I am forced repeatedly to confront the consequences of his actions, he has escaped any consequences.
That is why the opportunity to stand here today, before a court, and speak of the crime that was committed against me is so important. To address the justice system as a victim and to receive some official recognition of the suffering and devastation that crime has wrought upon me is momentous.
After all that I have been through – the initial trauma of the sexual assault, and then the prolonged trauma of dealing with the ramifications of the crime, along with the repeated retraumatisation that comes from reporting to police and participating in the legal process – it is so important to me that the events of that night are recognised for the crime that they are. That it is unequivocally and officially acknowledged that sexual assault is an abuse of my human rights and that such behaviour will not be tolerated in our community.
This recognition, holding the perpetrator responsible for his actions, is not only of benefit and value to me, but for all of us. By advocating for my human rights here today, my right to security of person, to live free from fear, to bodily autonomy – by protesting the abuse of my rights that occurred that night – we take action to create a just and safe society for all.
I will never get back that young woman that I was. Life will never be what it could have been. Many of my losses as a result of sexual assault can never be compensated, let alone restored. However, acknowledging the very real impacts of sexual assault, listening to the victims and survivors of sexual assault and holding the perpetrators of sexual assault accountable for their actions, are very real, very significant actions that we can take – that the justice and law enforcement systems can take, that the wider community can take – to redress the injustice, to aid me, and all victims, to move on and to prevent this crime from happening to anyone else. Thank you for the opportunity to do just that.
I share this in the hope that others who may be preparing victim impact statements or testimony for court may find some value in reading this.
*** Some details have been removed from this testimony for privacy reasons.