The reason that the following is more confession than affirmation is, allegedly, common sense. Let me clarify: I was raped. I didn’t talk about it. I was drunk. I was wearing a short skirt. And I was horribly, horribly ashamed.

The last couple of weeks have seen a media (or at least social media) storm about comments regarding sexual assault. It seems to have originated from the publicity of the Maryville rape case. Mamamia founder Mia Freedman added her voice, saying she would chose to inform her teenage daughter ‘that there is a crystal clear connection between alcohol and sexual assault, both for the victim and the perpetrator’. The despicable Bob Jones, who writes, inexplicably, for the New Zealand Herald (a paper I now refuse to read because they publish his work), claims ‘rape is a risk for those who don’t act sensibly’.

These statements are not merely untrue: they are part of the problem. Women are most likely to be raped by someone they know (80–90 percent of rape is by someone trusted by the victim, such as a friend, family member or partner). It is by telling young woman that their ‘risky’ behaviour leads to rape that we create a culture in which rape is acceptable. It’s called victim blaming.

It’s not a new concept. Yet this week one of my Facebook ‘friends’ used his status to liken a father telling a woman to cover up at night to a father telling a son not to leave his keys unguarded in the ignition of his car. Three people ‘liked’ that.

When I was a teenager, I partied. I was young and prone to experimentation. I was having a rough time at home and wanted to escape. RTDs tasted really good. I was at a party one night where I had been taken by a boy I liked. I didn’t really know the people, and I quickly realised that a lot more than drinking was going on.

I was scared, but I believed I was rebellious. And I wanted to prove to this guy that I could run with his pack. So I drank. And I drank. To the point that I was dancing against a wall with some other guy pressed up against me. I didn’t care. I was having fun, harmless fun, and I felt beautiful because boys were looking at me.

When the police hammered on the door, someone turned the lights off. I still don’t really know why but I think it was to give people a chance to run away, to sweep their lines of coke from the coffee table. I remember laughing, and then everything going dark.

Someone grabbed my arm, and pulled. I stumbled with them. When they tried to push me into their car, I struggled and yelled, but everyone was scattering in different directions, trying to avoid the cops. No one heard me. Not even the police. Another man came and put a hand across my mouth and the two of them bundled me into the backseat of the car. They jumped in the front seat and drove away. I put my seatbelt on because they were driving dangerously.

After about half an hour we stopped in an empty car park. I still don’t know where it was. I have driven around looking for where it could have been, believing that going back to the place where it happened might be healing in some way.

They told me what they were going to do. They said I would love it. I screamed and screamed and begged them not to. They told me if I didn’t stop complaining, they would hurt me. I believed them. They put the child lock on the doors. The first climbed into the back seat and unzipped his jeans. He peeled my skirt away slowly and told me that he didn’t want to rip it, because my parents might ask questions. I remember being thankful. As they took it in turns to rape me, I closed my eyes and tried not to cry too hard. My crying seemed to spur them on.

I don’t remember their faces. They’re blurry in my memory and look a lot more like the roof of the car, the fabric of which was unstitched, shedding tiny pieces of foam some of which I found in my teeth the next morning. I remember that an Eminem song came on the radio, to which the driver rapped as he waited his turn.

I tried to focus on the small details I could find, anything but their eyes. It sounds clichéd when I write it down. The whole thing does ­– probably because I am in no way alone in this story. We’ve heard it all before because it happens again and again.

When they were done with me, they asked me where I lived. They wanted to drop me home. I was sober by then. I gave an address two streets from my house, which I knew had a long driveway where I could hide until they drove away. I needn’t have worried. They parked beside the curb, unlocked the doors and didn’t say a word as I climbed out onto the pavement. I remember almost thanking them for the lift.

They sped away quickly and I fell onto the grass verge and vomited until there was only bile left in my stomach. I went home, put on my pyjamas and got into bed. Thankfully I fell straight to sleep.

It never even crossed my mind to tell someone. I believed wholeheartedly that it was my fault, that I was asking for it. I got drunk. I danced provocatively. I would have let him kiss me, if he had tried. I had allowed myself to get into a dangerous situation, so it was my fault, right?

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. I know that now. The only people to blame were the two men who used me like a blow up-doll. I did not give my consent. Not once.

I still blamed myself.

Since understanding what happened to me, I have always said that the damaging attitudes that lead to victim-blaming have a large role to play in the huge number of unreported cases of sexual assault. But it is so much more than that. We live in a culture that believes that women are guilty if they are assaulted. If we say that a woman could do something differently, and thus avoid assault, then we are saying that she bears responsibility. This leads to women who drink or wear minimal clothing or express their sexuality as being seen as ‘asking for it.’

I am in no way the first to say this. The message is ringing out, loud and clear. I just don’t understand why no one is listening.

The second time I was sexually assaulted was minor but still horrible. A taxi driver stuck his hand between my legs while assisting me in buckling a strap on the wheelchair of my client, with whom I was travelling. She has a disability, and was unaware of what was happening and so unable to testify. I thought it was an accident. When we arrived at our destination, he got into the back of the maxi cab, locked the doors (in a manner eerily similar to my first assault) and grabbed my bottom. I knew, then, that he knew what he was doing.

I raced inside with my client to where my colleagues were waiting to start a group physio session, and collapsed into tears. I told them what had happened. The police became involved but, although he was arrested and lost his job, no charges were laid due to lack of evidence. The driver claimed what happened was an accident.

I remember waiting for someone from work to come and take over my shift. I was shivering and pulled continuously at the neckline of my dress, wondering if it was too low, and if people would tell me it was my fault for dressing nicely for work that day. I would have agreed with them.

While travelling in India, I was pinched, grabbed and touched often. In the middle of the Goa post office, a man walked up behind me, pushed his arms under mine, and grabbed my breasts with both his hands. The surrounding men laughed.

When I returned to New Zealand from my India travels, I was walking down Karangahape Road in central Auckland with my brother and his girlfriend, at around four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. We stopped to help some tourists with directions, and I felt a hand slide down my backside and pinch me on the bottom. I still feel sick when I remember that slithering touch.

I yelled ‘Hey!’ and turned to my brother and said, ‘that guy just grabbed me.’ My face went bright red and, when he pulled out his phone to call the police, I dissolved into tears. I was ashamed.

Educated as I am about these issues, I still wonder, in my bad moments, what it is that I’m doing wrong. For a while, I harboured a theory that I was the ‘attainable’ version of pretty: sufficiently good-looking to be wanted in a small way but not beautiful enough to be intimidating or to be worth the hard work of getting to know before assaulting. I hate that I thought this about myself. I hate that there are some sexual acts I still cannot face, even with a trusted partner, because they reminds me of that first, horrific time. I hate that I have become afraid of ever losing control. I hate the guilt I feel for dressing nicely and getting male attention. I never allow myself to feel flattered because some small part of me still says that’s asking for it.

It is no wonder. The media is brimming with people holding up their hands and claiming to be blameless, simply speaking as they see it. In the midst of the backlash against her alcohol comments Freedman of Mamamia tweeted that the people responding most vehemently were those in their mid-twenties who wanted to deny the fact that binge-drinking leads to rape.

Rapists lead to rape. By saying anything different we only affirm that it is okay to rape a woman if she isn’t doing as she is told.

The truth is, I would prefer not to talk about the assault. I have left it behind and I am okay now. My brutal honesty about the way I view myself does not mean that the feeling is constant or that I suffer in some way. But I can no longer read these articles without responding. My anger is with a society that encourages rape culture through controversial media, uneducated statements, and legislative and legal structures that continue to let women down.

And, if speaking up gives others the strength to write to the people making these ignorant statements, then we can continue the fight. It’s important. It’s not something that happens everywhere else. It happens to us. It happened to me. The one thing I know is that it wasn’t my fault.

We need to stop talking like it was.

Kirstin Whalen

Kirsti Whalen is a poet and writer from Melbourne, now based in Auckland, New Zealand. She studies Creative Writing at MIT and has a cat called Shakespeare.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Kirsti this is well written and something many of us have experienced though not necessarily in the way you have. I have been date-raped, maritally raped, and mentally raped by partners I have trusted. I blamed myself for not stopping it but in hindsight I couldn’t. I have trust issues now and I don’t believe they will go away.
    Keep speaking out – we keep taking responsibility from the people doing these things – whether it is rape, murder, firearms, drugs – the problem is the perpetrator not the victim.

  2. Kristi, your story is powerful and terrifying – thanks for sharing it. Mia Freedman should be absolutely ashamed of herself.

  3. I wish that it wasn’t necessary for women to share these experiences and, more importantly, I wish that these experiences didn’t exist for any of us. But they do, and only the plain truth of them will serve against dissembling, excuse-making and shoddy victim-blaming. Thank you Kirstin, your honesty is devastating.

  4. Thank you for writing this. I was assaulted when I was 15 by a guy who I thought was a friend. One minute we are chilling out at his watching a movie and then he just flips out and raped me. Anyone I told made it out to somehow be my fault and after a while I believed it was my fault. Everyone asked me what i did to set him off and i thought it was all my fault. What i didn’t realize was that he was bipolar and hadn’t been taking his medication for a while and he just flipped out. For so long i thought it was my fault. Finally someone has stepped out and said something about this topic, and I thank you for that.

  5. Thank you, Kirsti, for an eloquent piece that honestly verbalizes the current scenarios many girls and women are experiencing directly. Boys too. Women and children are vulnerable and deserving of security and dignity. It is very difficult for people to allow themselves to behave in particular ways when society won’t tolerate it. Sexual discrimination and violence is so rife that most people don’t recognise it even if they believe they reject it. Not in their language or in the everyday. So much practice of value judgement and so little responsibility and restraint of the Self.

  6. Thank you for writing this.
    I thought it was my fault because I was drunk and wearing a mini-dress. I still have weird control issues to this day – I thought that was just me.
    I don’t think I could find the words, but I am so glad you wrote this – at least we can fight rape-culture by speaking up like this. I think rape is a word that gets tossed around a lot, almost divorced from its actual meaning, when people use ‘raped’ as equal to achieving something. This is the actual meaning.

  7. Hi Kirstin,

    Your story is extremely powerful.

    I’m a writer/director of a documentary series about this very issue and would love to talk to you more in depth if you’re willing.

    The first film in the series is called 31 States which follows women who have conceived in rape and decided to have the children. However these women are gravely unprotected as the rapist can come back and re-traumatize them through the love of their child, get custody and even force them to pay him child support.
    The third film will look at rape culture world wide and how it does exist and how horrifying it is.

  8. Until we as a culture start to talk to the men and boys so that they fully understand consent, not a hard concept. And that no consent means that you are a thief and a violent thief at that, which is the original meaning of the word, we will have people still thinking that it alright to take without asking. We don’t blame the victim of a home invasion for having their house broken into and being assaulted. Well, my body is my home, I live in it! If I didn’t invite you in, you shouldn’t be there. I have the right to ask you to leave at any time, refusal to leave is trespass and you can be arrested. So long as womens bodies are seen as public property, people will still think they have the right to do what ever they like to them. My body is a private home, not a public toilet.

  9. I could say a lot about this post Kirstin. But as someone who runs an NGO that works with men who use violence and also works as a psychotherapist with women, men and children who have experienced violence I think I’ll just say that this is a really, really, really, really, really really, good post.

  10. I have put off reading this for 24 hours, because I knew I would find it brutal and upsetting after reading only the first 4 paragraphs.

    Thank you for writing this.

  11. Thank you for posting this. It’s so important that people start hearing this. I was repeatedly assaulted in my early teens by my then best friends older bother, over a multi year period, most every time I visited (it was easier to avoid him during the day), absolutely time I stayed the night. He first convinced me that this was how relationships worked, secret relationships of course, then that I was asking for it for sleeping over and wearing pjs, then that if I stopped and/or told anyone he would physically harm himself…he even went so far as to cut himself in front of me when I said no after he made that threat. After that I didn’t say no anymore. And I never told anyone. I am sometimes still ashamed about it, and all the what ifs, even though I have known that it wasn’t my fault for a long time. So, thank you for your story and your words…they are important.

  12. Thank you for sharing that Kirsti. No man should feel he has the right to touch any woman just because of the way she dresses, and the fact that she is drunk is even more reason to take her home unmolested.

  13. I have to say that I’m aghast at this and the many other stories of sexual violence, harassment, objectification that women have to put up with in this society. As a bloke I simply cannot understand or relate to the mindset of men who can rape, harass, objectify and belittle women. When I read articles like this, or the one Clem Ford wrote in The Age today about organised rape rings, I feel depressed and wonder when the age of male enlightenment is going to arrive. Feminism has made great strides in the past 5-6 decades (that is, second wave), but there is something missing at a cultural level where objectification of women is so rampant, that we are yet to arrive at the time where respect for a woman and her mental and physical person as an individual, as a whole person is considered commonplace. Misogyny is plainly far more widespread than I naively thought, just like racism. I just hope that I’m not in a minority who think like this. Clearly we have to continue to create messages, shame perpetrators, educate boys and men into respecting women and stop accepting piss-weak excuses like ‘they’re just boys’ or, ‘they were sort of lead on’. I could go on. My next 2 graphic novels will deal with a lot of this. I’m angry enough about it!

  14. Thanks Kirsti.
    The culture around victim blaming – despite being involved in women’s rights campaigns for years – still continually shocks me.
    I am reminded of this clip, in which feminist and rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell does battle against right-wing TV host Sean Hannity, who tries to use victim blaming to support gun ownership. I mean, this is opportunism on a whole new level:

  15. Dear Kirsti,
    Your story gave me goosebumps and made me feel sick with empathy. I am so sorry this happened to you.

    I work at Melbourne University, and we are trying to create better coverage of violence against women by bypassing gendered newsrooms and going direct to social media so women can tell their own stories.

    Our website “Violence and women: telling it like it is” is here

    May we repost your story please?
    I think it would help other women tremendously.
    Thank you if so


  16. Kristin,
    Thank you you giving voice to such a critically-important subject, & doing so in such a clear, accessible way. If you visit our site, you’ll learn about our project Becoming Human: Words and images helping to transform rape culture. We also have a FB page:
    Might you consider submitting the piece for performance? It would make a powerful monologue. Our focus is on prevention through education & our main target audience is male. We are cultivating compassion, respect & responsibility. All submissions will be represented in an April 4 First Friday opening, & selected pieces will be performed Saturday evening April 5, & Sunday afternoon, April 6, in Lancaster. PA. Please let me know if you are willing let us consider your piece for performance. Thanks so much.

  17. I was raped by a friend. I am 54, was wearing very modest clothes, and neither of us had been drinking. Previously I had laughed off his sexual advances as he is married but not to me. Your comment, “Rapists lead to rape. By saying anything different we only affirm that it is okay to rape a woman if she isn’t doing as she is told” hit a chord. He wasn’t getting what he wanted and thought it was his right to take it anyway. He claims he didn’t hear me repeatedly saying “No!” or realize that my grabbing his wrists meant I was resisting. Apart from that I fell into the most common rape reaction- I froze. I watched, horrified, with wide eyes as he dropped his jeans, thinking “This cannot be happening!”, but did not fight or flee. The freeze response is documented to be a woman’s most common response to rape but doesn’t mean we are to blame. It is a physiologically programmed response and does not imply consent.

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