Trigger warning: graphic depictions of sexual assault
“Welcome to Melbourne, where the local time is 11:40pm. Please remain in your seat with your seatbelt fastened until we have come to a complete stop. We hope that you have an enjoyable trip here in Melbourne and if you’re fortunate enough to live in this beautiful city, may we be the first to welcome you home.” As the cabin lights were illuminated, I sat slumped in my seat as tears rolled down my cheeks. I finally felt safe, although I realised then that this was not the end.
My intentions were the same as those of any exchange student in Melbourne, with hopes of travelling the east coast. I booked a spontaneous trip one week before my departure date. I decided to travel alone, in order to challenge myself. The extent of my worries was whether or not I’d be confident enough to make friends, and although activities such as skydiving were on the agenda, I didn’t fear for my safety.
“I’m most excited about the island tour,” I remember telling the travel agent as I handed him my credit card. This had been on my bucket list for a long time.
Exactly a week later I was there. After watching a compulsory DVD demonstrating the possible dangers we could encounter on the island, we were split into the groups we would spend the next three days with.
“Are you all ready to die?” our group leader joked. We laughed as we got into our Land Cruiser and set off towards the island in convoy. After we had cooked dinner on the final evening, the camp was determined to party harder than we had the night before. In true Australian backpacker style, the goon was flowing in abundance. I must have drunk more than I realised as I remember dancing on the table with the whole group followed by being violently sick in the bathroom.
Due to the alcohol, my memories from the night are not consolidated, but I then remember being on the beach with about thirty other people including a few members of my group. It was pitch black and difficult to distinguish people’s faces, but I remember that our group leader was also on the beach drinking with us. At this moment I must have realised that I had lost my shoes, and my group leader offered to help me find them. I don’t remember what preceded this, but as we walked back up the beach together we stopped and kissed. A few minutes later he told me that he was married and had four children. I was disgusted that he hadn’t mentioned this until after he had kissed me, which triggered him to become verbally aggressive.
I remember getting into his bed and going to sleep shortly after. I have no explanation as to why I chose to stay. We hadn’t had any physical contact since we kissed on the beach and I was so intoxicated by this point and had vomited so many times I could barely stay awake. Unsure of how much time had passed, something jerked me awake. All I could see was blackness; I was lying on my stomach with my face to the pillow. I could feel movement at the back of my thighs, but, still sedated by sleep and alcohol, I didn’t register what it might have been. As I began to regain consciousness, the movement became more intense and I developed an awareness of what was happening.
I couldn’t move. I’m unsure of whether I was frightened or if I was in shock, but I didn’t do anything. I must have given some indication that I was awake, as shortly after I realised what was happening, he stopped and lay back down beside me. I rolled over onto my side; the light coming through the thin, makeshift curtain illuminated his face. His eyes were closed.
“Are you awake or asleep?” I asked him, although I already knew the answer.
“Shhh, I drank too much last night”, he whispered as he rolled away from me, his face was engulfed by the blackness and we didn’t speak again. Still trying to process what had just happened, I moved my hand down. My bikini bottoms had been removed whilst I was still asleep. Exhausted, I placed my head back on the pillow and went to sleep. The next morning when I woke up, hungover and shook up, he was gone. I found my way back to the campsite to tell my group what had happened. At first a few of them laughed as they misunderstood the lack of consent that could be given in that moment. They thought I wanted to sleep with him. It was then that I realised if I spoke out, I wasn’t always going to be believed.
The trip ended that day, but the memory of what happened didn’t stay on the island. It was all I could think about. I didn’t want to use the ‘R’ word to describe what had happened to me: I thought that rape was always violent. I tried to justify his actions in my head as I had consensually kissed him on the beach and he said he was drunk. In retrospect I realise how ignorant I was about the definition of rape. I was also completely uneducated about what to do after becoming a victim of rape. I didn’t feel safe going to the police in Rainbow Beach in case I were to see him again, so I waited eagerly at the bus station for a ride to safety. I felt as if I were the one on the run even though a crime had been committed against me.
On returning to Melbourne, I confided in a close friend who took me to the police station around a week later. It was too late to do forensic tests on myself and my clothing. I was told that if I were to pursue the case through the courts it’d be unlikely that there would be a conviction; on that advice I decided not to take further legal action. I was angry. My life had been changed forever against my will and he was going to get away with it, potentially going on to do it again. This man had committed a crime, yet he was unlikely to be convicted. It didn’t seem fair; I wanted to do everything within my power to gain some kind of justice.
I sought legal advice from the complimentary UMSU Legal Service (based in Union House). They agreed with the police in regards to conviction, but urged me to go to my group leader’s company. When I opened up to the manager of the company, his response was merely to say, “I hope that whoever is the victim in this situation is seen as the victim, and whoever is the criminal is seen as such.” I wasn’t being believed. I couldn’t understand how he could think I was lying. I didn’t know the man personally and I wasn’t asking for money – all I was asking for was to be believed. After five weeks of very little progress, I agreed to write a statement for the company. My attacker was finally let go from his job. This gave me a sense of peace: I knew that I had prevented the same thing happening to someone else.
I started to feel extremely low in the weeks that followed the incident. I had tried to be as proactive as I could be about bringing the situation to light, so I thought my recovery would follow, but unfortunately it wasn’t that simple.
The decision for me to waive my anonymity was difficult, but I want to put a name to a statistic. I was a backpacker, enjoying a drink as backpackers typically do and this happened to me. Around 80% of rapes go unreported and there’s little education about the support that is available to victims. If you or someone you know becomes a victim of rape, tell someone, preferably the police. Although a conviction may not be made on your evidence alone, if a similar event is reported later on you may be asked to give evidence in court. I found the legal advisory service in Union House to be so helpful to me during this time, but the most supportive service I was recommended was the Centre Against Sexual Assault at the Victoria Women’s Centre, which is a free counselling service offered to all victims of sexual assault and rape. I was sceptical about seeking help from a counselling service, but I genuinely believe I wouldn’t have been able to begin to get through this without it. Recovery is a long road, but if this has happened to you, it’s paramount to remember that it wasn’t your fault.
Since the incident I have been on a solo travelling trip to New Zealand for ten days and I had the time of my life. I hope that my experience can show people that it is possible to recover and to continue pursuing what you love. Stay safe and don’t let the bastards grind you down.
To contact any CASA (Centre Against Sexual Assault) in Victoria and the after hours Sexual Assault Crisis Line (SACL) simply call 1800 806 292 or email SACL at firstname.lastname@example.org UMSU Legal Service: Level Three Union House, (03) 8344 6546