Raped in Paradise: A Victim’s Account
I am crouching on my hands and knees on the bathroom floor. Bloodstained sheets lie crumpled and damp in the corner; my clothing is flung about the room. Mosquitoes are buzzing around my naked body, feasting on raw flesh. The word “rape” is stuck in the bile at the back of my throat and I can neither spit nor swallow. I throw up, again, and still the word remains.
We are told to be cautious and careful when we travel- particularly when venturing alone. We learn to navigate first impressions and stay on guard even in the safe haven of our hostel cubbyholes. We develop the confidence to blatantly reject uncomfortable advances and we believe that this is enough to keep us safe.
I have come to learn that you, beautiful young woman, have no say regardless of how cautious you are.
He was a backpacker I met almost a year ago to the day. Together with his brother, we hiked through the jungle and shared meals at sundown on the soft, white sand. One evening we went out for drinks. One of the brothers walked me back to my room as I was dizzy and disorientated – walking was arduous; the three beers seemed to affect my sobriety more than usual.
He unlocked my door and invited himself in.
By this stage I had lost my ability to speak, to think and to hold anything with power. I collapsed on my bed. I told him no, I told him no again and again – but words were seemingly worthless when I couldn’t infuse them with action. Silent tears trickled down my sunburnt cheeks in the darkness. Was I drugged? He turned on the lights “for a final peek” before he left. I passed out.
In 2015 I was a 21-year-old girl who was saving sex for marriage. I was a girl nursing a broken heart from a two-year relationship, working 40-hour weeks topped with 20 hours of commute. I had finished my degree and was doing my Masters by distance. I launched an online business. I made the final repayment on an exorbitant debt from seven months in Europe. I had just left for another five months overseas. I felt confident and empowered. I was strengthened by my pride of being able to execute everything well.
In the arrogance that a glamorised busy schedule brought, it was easy to feel immune to the possibility of trauma. Once the plane leaves the tarmac, everything is supposed to be okay – it’s what you’ve been looking forward to and it’s what you’ve worked your arse off for. You’ve overcome all the obstacles of home and now the world is open, nothing can possibly go wrong!
And then it does.
This awoke me from my slumber and reminded me that no matter what I do in this life, I am not exempt from the harsh reality of sin in this world. No matter my achievements, my strengths, my pride, there is no ‘Get Out of Jail Free card.
I flew home the day after I was raped, after 10 hours of dilapidating illness that left me four kilograms lighter. I boarded a rickety old ship to the airport with my hastily packed backpack. The monsoon season erupted, and soon the boat was pounded with weighty punches of water that made me dizzy and seasick. I walked through the airport in a sad, solitary silence. I arrived home after a lengthy and isolated layover and injured my knee stepping off a bus, which left me unable to walk for some time. I saw a psychologist. I distanced myself from friends at the same time I was internally crying out for them. I floated out at sea most afternoons and felt the burden of pain. I lost the self-confidence I had developed in my years of study and travel. I mourned the loss of the virginity I was hoping to lose with a man that I loved.
I had friends and their parents who met me with downcast faces and, “This is why you shouldn’t travel alone,” as if what happened overseas couldn’t have happened in my own neighbourhood, as if it was my fault that this suffering occurred. This is the worst thing you can say to a victim of overseas sexual assault. While their heart was in the right place, these statements left me dejected. Is the answer to stop travelling? I’ve been groped in my own neighbourhood, so I shouldn’t be on house arrest for being a victim, right?
Finally, someone told me to report it.
I walked into the police station alone after spending the day in Sydney eating Chinese food and sitting in the shade at a park reading and writing. The girl I spoke to first was “excited” because this was her first rape case. She asked to “lurk him on Facebook”. I was then shut in a white-walled room with two men with hard stares. They told me there was nothing they could do, that they would pass my statement onto the respective consulate of the perpetrator and likely never hear anything again. I was told to leave. This so-called “healing process” didn’t seem all that beneficial at all.
I called up my travel insurance and asked about compensation. They said I wasn’t in any kind of physical danger and therefore, I was not covered – as if post-traumatic stress and/or mental illness were not as paralysing as injury. In the same vain, the fact that I hadn’t obtained a police report from the respective country in which it happened meant that a claim was impossible. Where I was at the time of the incident, reporting would have cost me money. I’d have to pay to report rape. I couldn’t do it. And honestly, I didn’t think about it. I just wanted to go home.
A month after it happened, I realised the best thing I could do was clamber out of the wallowing pit of self-depreciation and reignite the spark of confidence and strength I had before. This time I would burn brighter. I would get back on that fucking horse and I wouldn’t let them win.
I booked a flight to the same continent to continue my journey, this time with friends. My pockets were emptier, my heart cold and stale and my confidence waning, but I was ready to embrace the challenge. I wasn’t going to allow this obstacle to deter me from experiencing the beauty of this diverse planet.
However, once my friends left me and I was overseas alone, I started to crumble. My morals slipped from my grasp and I indulged in acts that made me feel worthless and empty. In an attempt to regain the confidence that was robbed from me, I found superficial comfort in the beds of strangers. I tried to convince myself that I was okay, that all of this was a healing process.
On the outset, I seemed to be going strong, and because of it, nobody thought to ask how I was anymore. I suffered silently in the pages of my journal instead, as I’m sure many people who experience depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness can relate to.
This is a story I will only tell once. I want to utilise this platform to say that rape happens, and it can happen to anyone regardless of whether you’re travelling alone in a foreign country or walking through the streets of your hometown, regardless of your financial or emotional security, regardless of your sobriety, your popularity and your appearance.
If it happens to you, it is important to know what to do. It is important to report it to your consulate before you leave the country you were in. It is also important to recognise that there are considerable faults in the system, and to initiate dialogue with those responsible to make a change.
I hate to think that as I write this, there are women walking into police stations with all of the courage they can muster after months of psychologist sessions, weeks of reassuring dinners with close friends or years of silence, only to be faced with such a damaging reporting system.
I believe the more stories we share, the more we can transform rape culture and dismantle rapist ethic. Victims, we must be beacons of hope for other survivors of rape, we must empower one another to regain confidence from within and find the strength to publicly advocate for change.
And everyone else, know by staying silent you are confirming the acts of the perpetrators. Let’s keep this conversation happening, and let’s educate younger generations not of the risk first, but of the horror and harm of the act itself.
Cover by Jenny Gage + Tom Betterton