A report published in February in The Lancet says Australia and New Zealand have more than double the global average of sexual assaults on females aged 15 and over by someone other than their partner. It suggests that data from these two countries is good and that, maybe, the high rate is due to a higher rate of reporting violence to police in Australia and New Zealand, with under-reporting happening elsewhere. They may be right, I don’t know. However, reporting to police and having a police report that can be counted in violence statistics are two very different things.
I went to the police on the afternoon of my first rape. I was a schoolgirl and had been raped that afternoon on the floor of the living room of my family home by my math tutor. My sister had been reading upstairs and had heard my screams. My parents were away from home for the afternoon, leaving us safely in the hands of a trusted private tutor. Following the rape, I bundled my torn skirt and stained cottontail panties into a plastic bag and rode my bike to the police station.
I was not taken into a private area. I stood in the public reception area of the police station, recounting events and having to, publicly, answer questions. Yes, I had been a virgin, no, I didn’t encourage him. Yes, I said no.
The police officer didn’t take notes. He told me that rape cases like mine could never be proven so laying a charge was a waste of time. He said if I did insist on charges being laid that it would cause huge embarrassment for my family that would affect their public standing in the community. He said that girls my age were ready to experiment with sex and that sometimes things got out of hand, that this wasn’t the man’s fault because men couldn’t stop once a girl initiated sex play. He said that the tutor, a man twice my age, couldn’t be expected to know I was under-age because I looked mature. He said that a lot of women liked rough sex and that my torn clothing and undies didn’t indicate anything out of the ordinary.
Then he said I shouldn’t tell my parents because it would embarrass and upset them to know that their daughter had behaved like a little slut. He told me to go home. I did. There is no police record of this rape. Years later, I saw the perpetrator’s name in a newspaper. He was convicted of raping a young woman.
The police attended on the occasion of my second rape. I was beaten, brutalised, and raped in front of a stranger (to me) by my then-husband when I was six months along with our first child. The police took me to hospital instead of waiting for an ambulance and on my discharge, five days later, took me home-back to the man that had used steel-capped boots and his fists on me.
I was 23-years-old, in a country far away from family, emotionally and physically messed up from the loss of my pregnancy, and very, very vulnerable. I’ve never forgotten the first question the senior police officer asked me: “What did you do to provoke him?”
The police interviewed me at home yet, despite obvious visual clues to my beating, despite a hospital report detailing external and internal injuries, despite a witness, they decided there was not enough evidence with which to lay charges.
The officer recording my statement tore off the paper and threw it into the fireplace. He told me it was better for couples to sort their own issues out because “domestics” were a waste of police time. When quitting that marriage, my lawyer tried to locate records but there is no record of this attack. If the police held a record of their attendance they never disclosed it.
The third, and oh please! the last, also occurred in my own home. I was newly widowed and deep in grief with a steady stream of caring and concerned people calling around to offer condolences.
Some of these visits became threatening as various “friends” of my late husband, most of them married men, offered to “help” me through my loneliness. By the second month following the tragedy I had started hiding any time an unaccompanied man came to my door. I let down my guard with one old friend though. He had been solicitous and had offered nothing but sympathy and kindness so I felt safe letting him in one evening.
Over coffee, he asked how I was doing. The first inkling I had that something was wrong was when he repeated what so many other men had said over the weeks, “You must miss it. You must be hanging out for it by now”. I didn’t, I wasn’t, and wasn’t interested in anything to do with any man apart from the husband I had loved so much and lost. He grabbed me by the hair, threw me around, hit me and choked me until I passed out.
At the hospital later, following tests for STD’s and treatment for my injuries, I was-for the first time ever-offered support services. I couldn’t talk to them. I couldn’t talk to anyone. That’s the thing about strangulation that movies and TV don’t show. Both victim support and the police told me that when I was ready (and able) to talk I should contact them. I did neither.
With this last attack, I felt deeply ashamed. How could I have been so stupid as to let a man into my house? What had I done to make men think that I was desperate for sex and would welcome it no matter who and how it was offered? Did my appearance invite uncontrollable lust? Did I ask for it? The anger I had felt previously with police refusal to act had transformed into a fear of exposure to more blame and ridicule.
I stayed, locked away for weeks, in my house while the bruising and swelling went down. Neither the police nor victim support called to follow-up which, in my state of mind, confirmed that what had happened wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t matter. I never filed a complaint. My rapist got away with it.
I look at the furore occurring now in New Zealand over the allegations that a foreign diplomat sexually assaulted a NZ woman. I read online comments and a blog entry by a man having a whale of a time victim-blaming. What I see reassures me that letting a rapist escape charges was the best thing for me.
I was raped, repeatedly raped, by a partner, a “friend”, and a virtual stranger. The police couldn’t be bothered. Nobody helped me. Am I just one, or one of hundreds, thousands even? I don’t know. I know that the statistics, damning enough as they are, are bullshit. My rapes aren’t amongst them. I’m not counted as a victim.
But, at least, I wasn’t pilloried in the media and online. I wasn’t victimised again by public opinion. Women that do bring charges are incredibly brave and have quite possibly persisted through horrible questioning and despite belittling attitudes. They may well have had to fight just to get the police to make a record. They are the statistics. I’m the piece of paper the police couldn’t be bothered writing on.
Note: "Katrina" is a Public Address reader who has asked not to be named. I will leave comments open on this post until I have to go out about 12.30pm. Unless I can ensure Emma is available to moderate, I will temporarily close the discussion while I'm out -- Russell.