The word rape hits me like a punch to the stomach every time. Every time I hear it, I am back there, in that room, pinned against that wall.
I am a victim, I guess, or a survivor. I avoid those words myself, because they don’t really speak to who I am, to who I need to be every day to get myself out of the house and into the world.
I can go for days, or weeks, at a time without thinking about the men who assaulted me. I can live my life and not think about the spectre at my shoulder, the one that asks “what if …” and “are you safe here” and “can you trust him” and “is this going to hurt?”
And then someone uses the word rape, and I remember that for years I refused to use that word, preferring to say “sexual assault,” because rape was something that happened to someone else. Someone stupider than me, who didn’t take the right precautions. Who couldn’t or didn’t or wouldn’t stand up for themselves, because who would let that happen?
No one. No one would let that happen, and that’s kind of the point. One day, I looked up what rape meant, to win an argument on the internet. And I realised I wasn’t a victim of sexual violence. I was a rape survivor.
The Prime Minister would have us believe that he wants to protect New Zealanders. Where was he when I was being assaulted? When his government was shutting down rape crisis centres, both here and the ones overseas that relied on New Zealand funding? Where was he for the victims of the Roastbusters? Where was he when the powerful men in Parliament grinned, as successive women tried to tell their story?
How powerful a moment that could have been. For those of us - one in three women, one in six men; however you define that statistic, too many people - to hear our stories in Parliament. To hear those brave, strong, women say “as the victim of sexual violence” and be allowed to finish that sentence.
As the victim of sexual violence, I am fucking appalled that the Prime Minister is using my safety as a political gambit. That he can throw around the words “rapists and murderers” so easily - because those words don’t hurt him. They don’t make him think about the worst moments of his life. They don’t make him feel the need to curl into a ball and wait until the world has gone away. And that even while he wasn’t forced to apologise, he didn’t stand up and say “you know what? I am sorry.”
Being assaulted has coloured every part of my life. It makes everything I do that much harder. It makes my job worse. It distances me from the people I love. It makes special moments less, and bad moments harder.
And yet the only thing I feel for the men who hurt me is pity. I don’t want to see them, or have to think about their existence, but I don’t wish them pain. And I don’t want them used as political tools either. As bogeymen for the government to hide its intolerance and impotence behind. If there are rapists on Christmas Island (and the news this morning would suggest there are not) I hope they've served their time and been allowed some rehabilitation.
I can't avoid the word rape, its dull thud. I can't avoid the smell of lavender, men of a certain physical bearing, the scar on my arm.
I want to believe in trigger warnings, because I want to believe there’s something people can do to make me feel safer in a world that has proven, twice, that I am not safe.
This week, the highest body in New Zealand has proven to me that that wish is pointless. That I can’t be safe. Because the people who are meant to protect me care more about scoring political points than they do about the people who need them.