A Valium and Vodka Cocktail
He moves me across to the middle of the bed from above with his strong hand between my shoulder blades. My arms flop over my chest and back down onto the mattress. I am aware of everything that is happening, but I can’t tell if it’s okay and I don’t know if this is what I want. Either way, I can’t make it stop.
After a long, seedy bus ride from Phnom Penh, we arrived in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City. We were always seedy. We’d been out every night of the trip, and that evening was no exception – especially considering it was the last day of our two-week small-group tour through Cambodia.
Towards the end of the trip, the seven of us had grown together as a group and become a small family, instilling so much trust and care in one another. We came from all walks of life, from chemists to travelling bums. I had been innocently flirting with a labourer since day one; he was an older guy who seemed to have his head screwed on. I figured it was never going to go any further than some tongue-in-cheek comments to one another.
Prior to leaving the hotel room, I was feeling edgy and anxious, as normal. With my clammy hands and rushing thoughts, I turned to my usual trick so that I could still go and have a great night with the group – Valium. Valium will take the edge off, I reasoned.
Combining Valium and alcohol is never a good idea, yet for me, it was as common as brushing my teeth in the morning. Valium is a tranquiliser that causes everything to slow down. It reduces spasms and any physical reactions the mind causes, such as the simple knee-jerk reaction your body has to take a breath.
I hopped in the cab squished between the labourer and my best mate from home. Both boys had broad strong shoulders that took up most of the backseat. A short ride later, we landed in the thick of Beer Street.
One drink down. We all began to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Two drinks down. I still felt anxious. We headed to a more pumping bar where shisha filled the room with strawberry and tobacco smoke. I popped another Valium. Three drinks down. Hours passed and my blurred vision worsened.
As we were all staying at the same hotel, we decided to head back with some banh mi and fried rice to watch a dubbed cartoon movie before we all fell asleep. Everyone slowly disappeared to bed as the film went on. The credits rolled, and I found myself alone in my hotel room with my best mate, who was passed out in the corner after too many beers. The labourer I’d been harmlessly flirting with earlier in the trip was also there. The dark concoction of Valium and cheap vodka had left me barely conscious, with no control over my body.
“I can’t leave you like this!” he said with what I thought was sincerity in his voice. “You can barely move, and your mate wouldn’t be able to help you out if shit hits the fan. Come stay with me.”
He picked me up and carried me on his side as if I could have put my feet down and walked, but all I could feel was the tops of my toes dragging against the damp, mouldy carpet. He opened the door and placed me on the bed ever so delicately. I drifted in and out of consciousness.
In Australia, less than 15 per cent of sexual assaults are reported. Of that figure, only 3 per cent go to trial, and after that, only half actually get prosecuted. The extended trauma and time it takes to go through the system and report an assault is why so many cases are often left in the bed, the club or the side of the road where the assault took place.
Imagine trying to report an assault from abroad.
Once you have been sexually assaulted, the best possible procedure to follow is to head to the police station and the hospital to get checked out so you can get incident on file. Whilst you are overseas, there are often the same resources available; however, the outcome can be quite the opposite of what you would be expecting. In some countries, it is illegal to have sex before marriage, whether that be via rape or consensual intercourse, and you can be prosecuted for this. You can also be prosecuted if you have been drugged by an illegal substance in a foreign country and it is shown in the results of your tests.
After that night, it took me a long while to realise that what had happened was not okay. I never reported it. I never told anyone. I shrugged it off as a gross hook up after too many drinks. I became part of the 85 per cent of Australians who never do anything about sexual assault. I just dismissed it, defriended the guy on Facebook, and left the memory in Vietnam.
This act was a betrayal of trust between two “friends”, and a sickening awakening as to what is out there and how easily sexual assault can happen. Maybe I shouldn’t have mixed Valium and vodka, or maybe I shouldn’t have been so trusting to the person I had spent every day with for the past two weeks. But I don’t blame myself – it was him who made the mistake.
Cover by David Cohen