Editor’s Note: This week, Craccum is publishing a piece that’s a bit different from our usual content. When Sara emailed us this essay, we knew we had to find a way to tell her story. Survivors are often silenced by a culture that shames victims and protects abusers, most recently in the halls at this very University. Approximately 1 in 5 women experience serious sexual assault in their lifetime in New Zealand. Additionally, young people in the 16-24 age group are four times as likely to be assaulted as any other age group. These stories are hard to read, and even harder to tell. Sara’s bravery in writing and publishing this piece is in the hope that others will feel less alone, and to demonstrate the ongoing problems with sexual violence at this University, in New Zealand, and the wider world. Craccum stands in solidarity with survivors. We share Sara’s hope that this story can generate conversations and perpetuate change. With that in mind, please take care when reading. This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault and a traumatising criminal justice process.
On the 3rd of April at 3:30 a.m., I was raped by a man in his car outside a club. I was drunk, I got in the back seat. I kissed him twice. Tried to leave but couldn’t. Endured the rest through various levels of consciousness. I have told this story too many times to let it slip into faded memory. It might be one of the worst parts.
No, for me the worst part is that it might be all for nothing. On the 9th of May at 9:22 a.m. I walked into Auckland Central Police Station not 100% sure if I was ready to tell my story in the gruesome detail they had warned me would be asked for. The questions from the nurse at the hospital, the forensic nurse at the clinic, the trauma counsellor, the police officer, were all brief. This interview was about unfolding the memory, laying it out on the table and slicing through it meticulously in a bored blue room at the back of the station. There was a camera, an amiable female interviewer, and two women listening through the wall. And so I told them all my story.
I didn’t know that man… so I had no name to give to the police—just a vague description and the colour of the car. None of the details I recalled about his appearance had my confidence. When the woman asked me what I saw, heard, felt, smelled, tasted, I thought I could give her something. Yes, I saw everything but no, I can’t give you details. I have the image of a man burned into my brain but I couldn’t describe him to you more than I could describe a ghost; something that haunts me. And I couldn’t hear anything, I think. It was all silent. No, it was really loud. He said something—what did he say? I can’t remember what his voice sounded like. Can I normally recall the voices in my memories?
Unless the CCTV footage caught a licence plate or a face, this four hour regurgitation means nothing. I told this to the lady in softer words before the recording began and she told me not to worry, she told me to tell my truth for my own sake. I tried not to recite my Google findings in the interview but I couldn’t help it. I told her that after it happened I was in shock, instead of saying that I thought I would die right there on the street and that I couldn’t breathe and that nothing would ever make me feel happy again. I understood that my symptoms were merely the aftermath of the trauma I went through, and so I bathed in them for a short while, then let them drain away.
For the next few weeks after it happened, I pretended not to notice the way I never felt more or less than totally neutral. My dad would ask and ask and ask, and my mum would worry and wonder and call me every other weekend when she remembered. They both anchored my pain onto their sleeves and wasted my hurt on themselves. My counsellor gave me a pamphlet listing all the ways the family tends to respond to such things. My brothers all ached for their turn to protect me with vindictive masculine bones. I love them and I hate the man who did this if not only for the fact that this rage has become the spike-toothed friction between my closest family bonds.
Yet life moves on. If not for me, then for everyone else. I am building bridges between myself and the person I was before this. I am trying to find myself in anything but this tragedy and I am trying to do it quickly. Too soon have my friendships melded into my sadness and become the parts of me I want to forget. I cannot revisit my past with too much eagerness but I lost the roadmap to my future long ago. So, I bury myself in the present, pressing my teeth into smoke and building new clouds.
I have developed a rigid taste for classical music and it is all I can listen to. I am waiting for another wave to hit me and the anticipation has me kicking at the sand in the shoreline. I met a boy I liked and I couldn’t decide if him fucking me would cause me to relapse. So, I slept him out of my bedroom and stayed slumped in my stupid broken desk chair until he was out of the city. Then I emptied the tequila bottle straight into my mouth and fell asleep kissing strangers. I have no time for regret but sometimes regret makes time for me. It trickles down my throat and erupts in my stomach. I have dabbled in shell-collecting but never found any of them beautiful. I think it’s nice when they look like the sunset but I am all too ready to throw them back into the ocean when they crack.
What I mean to say by all this, is that I am a person. I have become lost but I am not a lost cause. What happened to me wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault. I am swallowed by guilt when details of my story turn pointing fingers straight at me. But I am not guilty, it was not my fault. I know this with some confidence but I can’t help but feel insecure like us all and I can’t help but find parts of myself to blame. I hate to call myself a casualty, but what else am I? I am a survivor only if I can move on quick enough to not destroy the rest of my life. But it is too late; I have missed all of my deadlines and ghosted all of my friends and I hate waking up now and I can’t remember the last time I bought groceries. This eats away at me. I am either a skeletal survivor or a walking casualty. I prefer not to remind myself of the way I was doing so well before this, I instead turn to a community of silent women, sleeping in their own devastation believing they are the only one. Isolation is just another consequence of this. I wish my life wasn’t a grievous anthology but it is slowly becoming one. I don’t want this to be what I am remembered for. I think it might have to be, if I want to move on. I think I might have to inhabit this story for 18 more months—while the court gets involved—and then for the rest of my life afterwards. I am hopeful that one day I will exist as a woman who is more than just her story—and that is all I could ever wish for.