CW: Lots of talk about rape and sexual assault. Also, experiencing these things doesn’t make me an expert. Please read widely about this shit, it’s important.
Occasionally, on weeks such as this, I feel a moral imperative to remind people that I’ve been raped. It’s not a conversation I want to have, or a time of my life I want to dwell on, but I’m prompted by those who approach the subject as a hypothetical, a mythology, or a metaphor, to shoot their opinions from the sky like I’m on a hot take hunt.
So, I’ve been raped. Yes, it’s a real thing that happens to people who aren’t in the news cycle, or the subject of a salacious true crime podcast, or a dead body on Law & Order SVU. Here, I’ll turn to the camera and break the fourth wall as if this is a Saturday arvo PSA — I’ve been raped, and like Nicholas Cage and Bridget Fonda winning a really fucked up lottery, it could happen to you.
It doesn’t define who I am, but it’s a part of my experience. I wrote about it a lot, back when I couldn’t afford therapy. In fact, I once tried to write a comedy show called ‘Rape Joke’, and another comedian spread that I was only doing it for shock value. I was, in actuality, still in shock, and trying to process my sexual assault through the medium of stand-up comedy, which is, in hindsight, deeply ironic. I cancelled the show in anticipation that my rape retold wouldn’t be very funny to other people, even if it was deeply absurd to me.
How did I end up, for example, in a situation where a guy who was pinning me down to penetrate me without my consent had to take a little break because he couldn’t open a condom wrapper? Wow, I thought, those safe sex seminars at school really worked.
Before then I would imagine rape scenarios in my head where I’d scream and scratch and bite my way out of it, or somehow have learned jiu-jitsu through osmosis and kill the perpetrator with ease by tapping him gently on his temple. But in real life, the perpetrator was a guy I had a crush on, and I wasn’t really emotionally prepared to bite his dick off or kill him with a single touch. Hours earlier we were sharing beers and I was rehearsing in my head how I would tell him, and imagining how he would reject me. He would indeed, the next day, reject me. “Last night was fun, but I don’t want anything serious,” he told me, like I was a side character in an ensemble rom-com, sitting at a bar, asking Justin Long if the way this guy pressed down on my throat with his forearm could mean something more.
I don’t ever think about what could’ve been going through his head. It was either not enough, or far too much - both of these prospects are frightening, and best left to the professionals. I do sometimes think about his friend who was sleeping in the bunk below us as it was happening. I wonder if he heard my protests, and if he knows his friend is a rapist, or if maybe he already knew. In the early morning hours, as I was packing my suitcase, I failed to bring it up. Instead, I went to a church made out of human remains with some new friends from Mexico, and then hopped on the overnight train from Prague to Berlin.
Not to brag, but yes, this did happen in Europe.
One of the more irritating things about this rape was the UTI he gave me. You should always pee after you’ve been raped, but I was terrified to move from my hostel bunk bed that sat adjacent to his, so I just laid there with a full bladder, staring at the door until the sun came up. It’s funny how, even as an adult, I feel like the sun will protect me.
Two days later, in a musty hostel in Prenzlauer Berg that was named after Australia’s huskiest marsupial, the Wombat, I once again couldn’t move from my bunk, this time because of the excruciating pain in my lower abdomen. Wombats Hostel had a rule stating we weren’t allowed to hide under our sheets and cry between 11am and 5pm, so I was roused from my sick-bed by an angry German woman threatening me with a spray bottle filled with un-identified blue liquid. I rolled myself down to reception for directions, and hobbled another hour to the nearest English speaking doctor who gave me the strongest pain killers I’ve ever taken in my life. With nowhere else to go, I downed the pills and sat in a cinema at the Sony Centre, watching The Dark Knight Rises three times in a row. It felt nice. It felt safe. I was unbelievably stoned. To this day I have recurring dreams about Bane where he’s my dad and we’re being attacked by a swarm of bats.
Although the painkillers were strong, and my determination to put this fucked up experience behind me was stronger, the stabbing pains from my UTI followed me to Paris, and the entire ordeal sat next to me on the plane ride home.
Through the years, friends have asked me why I never reported the rape, and I couldn’t really give them an answer. But I am going to try to summon one now. I think there were two main reasons. The first was that I was in Prague. I was travelling alone, I’d only known the people in my hostel for a handful of days, and everyone else I knew was in another hemisphere. I didn’t understand the language or the laws. I didn’t even know where the closest cop shop was, or how to look that up.
The second reason is harder for me admit, because even with years of therapy behind me, it still sometimes makes me feel like I did something selfish and wrong. I wanted to protect myself. I wanted to be safe. I saw two options ahead of me. I could put myself at risk by calling out this near stranger on his crime. He knew my name. He knew where I was going. He knew I was alone. I thought; What if they don’t believe me? What if he isn’t charged? What if he follows me? What if he gets angry? What if the next time he presses down on my throat to silence the word ‘no’, he doesn’t let go?
My other option was to run, so I ran. Or hobbled, I suppose.
This week I’ve encountered a troubling number of people who continue to ask why women choose not to report their rape, or sexual assault.
And others who rebuff this question by saying they’re asking the wrong one. They argue that we should be asking, ‘why do men rape?’
I think these are both important questions, but those who ask why women choose not to report their rape often do so in bad faith, putting the onus of the rapist’s future actions on the shoulders of the victims, usually having little to no conception of what such a choice entails. This might be giving them too much credit, but I think some of these people simply live in an imagined reality where if one asks for protection, they’ll be granted it. Where morality is policed only by the best of us. Where our institutions are built to support victims, not perpetrators. Where it’s easy to identify who is on our side. Where it feels safe to come forward.
So, here I am, once again, telling you that I’ve been raped. And, unlike Brittany Higgins, who made the impossible choice — not once, but twice — to report her assault, I didn’t, largely because I felt like I couldn’t both come forward and survive.
I can’t recall a time I felt more vulnerable to harm than in the aftermath of my assault. I would encourage any person who has experienced this unfathomable cunt of a situation to seek help and support, but I would never expect someone to do it. As a victim, I was functioning through fear and trauma. If I’m honest, I’m impressed I was even able to read a German map, although when I first arrived at my destination I did walk in the wrong direction for two hours before realising Wombats was right next to the station where I’d first hopped off my train, and was marked very clearly on my tourist map with a tiny cartoon wombat.
My trauma was so visceral, it gave me memory loss. Among other things, I can’t remember the name of the man who assaulted me (although I do remember his friend’s name very well). The perpetrator’s name is like an item on a grocery list I’ve misplaced. I remember the shape of it, and the feeling of knowing it. I’m certain, too, that I only remember the assault so vividly because it gave me a UTI, and left me with bruises I had to cover up by wearing a scarf in the crushing August heat, condemning me to explain it away as a very stupid fashion statement.
I’m no expert, but I do believe that rape prevention is as much about what we do to reshape our culture and education around sexual assault, as it is about how we care for the victims of it. And part of that care is ensuring that the process of reporting these assaults is accessible, safe, and prompts an immediate, and serious response.
The reality is that these rapists are dangerous and violent, and any person or institution who doesn’t take sexual assault allegations seriously becomes a real threat to our well-being, and our lives.
I know this first hand, but honestly, it shouldn’t take going through such an experience for any grown adult to understand that a violent person, a violent system, and a violent culture, present a significant risk to those who challenge them.
And it shouldn’t take myself, or anyone else, telling you our stories for you to understand this either.
Wow, so powerful. Big, big thanks Kara Schlegl.
I’m sorry this happened to you, I hope by sharing your story it makes it easier for you.