The other side of the story: Why victims choose not to report a sexual assault

Guest Post:

With all the publicity going around about sexual assault as a result of the Weinstein revelations I felt it would be helpful to tell some of my story to try and increase understanding and to address the comments that are being aimed at the victims who choose not to report sexual assaults.

At the age of seven, I was sexually assaulted by a male farmhand in my uncle’s milking shed.  This isn’t the forum to go into detail, suffice to say It was a one-off and it was not violent but was significantly more than a grope.  He told me afterwards that we both did this, that we will both be in big trouble if anyone found out and that you never tell on your mates.  The event itself was not particularly traumatic but the effect it had on me for the 42 years since has been huge.  I believed what he told me that we would be in big trouble so I never told a soul.  Shortly thereafter I started doing what I now know to be self-medicating with food.  I have been overweight to varying degrees ever since and 42 years later I continue to struggle with comfort eating.

Within a few months of the assault my family moved to a different town and I clearly recall during the long ride staring out the car window at the paddocks going past thinking about it.  I figured that since I had sexual connection with another male that this meant I was gay, after all, what better does a seven-year-old know.  This was in the mid 70’s and attitudes to homosexuality were very different back then, the comments made by my homophobic father had taught me that gay people were bad and to be despised, nobody liked them.  I resolved during that trip that I could never let anyone my big secret, that I was gay.  What I now know is that, at the age of seven, I was going into my first bout of major depression, I hid that one and continued to hid it for 42 years, even from myself.   I would have laughed at any suggestion that I had experienced depression but when I eventually received treatment it was obvious to me, even as I was telling my stories to my psychologist that that was exactly what had been happening to me

In the ensuing years I tucked the memory way back in the recesses of my mind and largely forgot about.  I got on with my life, albeit finding it very difficult to make friends and trust people without really understanding why and never revealing my secret.  While the memory was hidden my personality and behaviours were hugely shaped by my reactions and my coping mechanisms and are to this day.  During my teens I took to self-medicating with alcohol, which continued into my early forties, in my early 20’s there were a couple of years of very heavy use of marijuana.

I’m well above average intelligence and was an A student all through school.  In my first year at university, I went through another bout of depression and bombed out in my first year.  It wasn’t until my early twenties that a friend said to me, “there is something about you, were you ever interfered with as a kid”, I answered no but then a couple of minutes later I said, “Shit, yes I was”.  It wasn’t until this time that I realised I was a victim and not a co-conspirator but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I truly believed in my heart that I had done nothing wrong.  At this stage, I considered doing something about it but figured that I was OK, like most tough kiwi blokes and was concerned that my by then elderly Uncle and Aunt would be devastated to find out this had happened to me on their farm so I left it.

I was very bad at intimacy, I was always very guarded with my feelings and have never had a romantic relationship of more than a few months.  I had an extreme aversion to any uninvited touching.  For another 20 some years I had my secret and experienced several more bouts of depression.  I managed to stay employed the whole time but never achieved to the level that a person of my intelligence should have.

In 2016 I hit rock bottom, I was in a deep depression and for a number of reasons had become fixated on the assault.  I had seen a change in the behaviour of my young nephew that reminded me of myself and was worried he had been got it, I began to realise that my life was not all it could or should have been if not for the assault.  All of this finally led me in early 2017 to seek professional help.  It was as a result of this help that I finally truly felt I had nothing to be ashamed of.  I genuinely believed that I had done nothing wrong and finally felt able to tell my story.  Earlier this year I began talking about it, as a consequence, I found I was not the only member of my extended family that was a victim of this individual and I laid a complaint with the police and my relative joined me in that complaint.  The investigation is ongoing at this stage but as it is not of immediate urgency the police have warned me that it may be several months before he is interviewed and then IF they decide to prosecute it will probably be a couple of years before he sees the inside of a courtroom.   As I told my story I was so grateful for the huge support I was received but I was also staggered by the number of people who replied by telling me their story.

Reporting a sexual assault is a very hard thing to do, in order to do so one has to be ready to do it.  In the past society has whispered in hushed tones about it, the whole process of reporting a sexual assault has huge respect for the privacy of the victim which while it is a good thing further reinforces that being a victim is something to be ashamed of and hide.  The very nature of such an assault can shape the victim in such ways that they are not able to deal with reporting it, or convince themselves that it’s not important to report it.  We still have no pathways to make it easy for children to report a sexual assault.  Offenders still use the same tactics as were used on me to protect themselves and it still works.  Most people are unaware of how bad the statistics are if parents knew that about 1 in 5 children are sexually assaulted by the age of 16 I’m sure they would take this all a lot more seriously.  The only way I can see to stop is by making better pathways for these children to report such abuse and thereby remove the offenders from the streets.  This also means the children can get the treatment they need at the time rather than like myself struggling for half their lifetime.

Two things have moved me to write this story, firstly the Me Too campaign which has been directed specifically at woman along with the general anti-male rhetoric that has been coming forth on social media.  True on average females are more likely to be victims and males are more likely to be perpetrators but there are plenty of female offenders out there and there are a huge number of male victims, far more than you think.

Secondly, I have been disappointed to see the amount of commentary in the last few days that has pointed fingers to the other victims of Harvey Weinstein who are now coming forward.  Those victims have no doubt all fought their own battles in relation to whatever happened to them, or as has been noted in the Whaleoil survey, many victims fell the incident wasn’t serious enough to make a fuss over.  Believe me it weighs heavy on my mind how many people this guy has hurt over the years over the years that I may have prevented, could I have saved my family member from a similar experience if I had reported it way back then, but I am not the criminal here and I resent the comments that suggest I have also done something wrong, I spent 42 years of my life believing I did something, I don’t need further accusations.



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