I was wearing red lipstick. In the heat and stifling humidity, it was one of the few forms of makeup which didn’t melt off. And I thought he was safe.
He told me how proud he was of his wife. She had been a stay at home Mum for 4 years, and had recently returned to her earlier occupation as a DJ. He glowed as he said how wonderful she was, how gorgeous, how smart, how he appreciated her raising their two daughters and how he supported her return to work. He told me of his two beautiful girls who just made his life complete. He showed me his family pictures, gorgeous, happy and laughing girls who looked up at me, looked into the camera with such love at their Daddy and husband.
He was a supportive husband, a great Dad. So I actually thought he was safe. I thought I was safe with him.
I was in a small country town in the Northern Territory, where men outnumbered women approximately 30 to one. But it felt like more like 50 to one. The women, few of us that there were, stayed close when we were together. When the nights got longer, hotter and the beer flowed freely, there was safety in numbers. Going to the toilet, to our car, we would escort each other and with a trusted male friend. Always.
But I was only a few feet from the pub where we had all been drinking after work. I told the girls to continue on, we’d had an enjoyable evening with a lot of decent ‘family men’, so surely I’d be safe walking those few metres. My bike was tethered to a sign post, and I was unlocking it when he grabbed me from behind in the darkness. When I was spun around and saw it was the ‘family man’ I relaxed momentarily, until I saw the darkness in his eyes.
Everyone has an opinion, what you would say or do when you are being sexually assaulted. I always thought I’d be able to pull some surprise move to fight them off, a strategic strike that would do enough damage to teach them a lesson, and give me enough time to run away. Or that I’d be able to deliver a scathing one-liner to humiliate my attacker into compliance.
But when the shock of assault happens, accompanied by the icy fear that runs through your veins, you freeze. Because this can’t be happening. Not now. And not to you.
He grabbed my hands and forced them above my head, crushing my wrists and my body with the weight of his against the pole. I felt shock and fear. There was no arousal. This was about power-his and objectification-mine. I could feel my wrists bruise from the force of his grip. He loosened one of his hands and for the first time during my frozen fear I thawed slightly, I had an opportunity. I struggled, and tried to knee him in the groin. But he was too close and I couldn’t lift my knee high enough to make the blow. I missed. But the girl never misses in the movie. How did I miss?
What I did accomplish was make him very, very angry.
His free hand reached under my white v-neck t shirt and crushed my breast. Hard. I bit my lip, I had a feeling a cry of pain would just excite him so I tried to remain silent. He leant over and hissed in my ear. He told me his wife was a stupid bitch, she didn’t know her place, why should she have a career when his had stagnated, all women were c*#%s who needed to be kept in line. And I was asking for it, with my clothes (jeans and t-shirt), makeup (red lipstick) and heels. And that misognism thawed my frozen fear.
As his hand went down the front of my jeans, I remembered something, I needed him to humanise me. I said, clearly: ‘What would your wife say if she saw you doing this?’
It was a mistake. He stiffened, and I remembered too late the hateful diatribe he had spewed forth in my ear about his wife. So I tried the other woman in his life. The woman who GAVE him life.
‘What would your Mother say?’ I took a further gamble.
‘What if this was happening to one of your daughters?’
He recoiled, dropped his grip, and I dragged my heel down hard onto his calf. He howled and I saw his face and I thought, ‘He’s going to hit me. I know how strong he is and I can’t fight. I won’t be able to ride my bike away in time. They will find my body in the desert.’ And then one of his mates came out from the pub, took in the entire scene and yelled at me ‘Go. JUST GO.’ So shakily, I got on my bike and frantically rode home, hearing his ghost behind me.
When I got home, I broke down sobbing at my front door. I wanted a hot shower. I wanted to scream. I wanted to be held, but I also wanted to be left alone. My then-boyfriend found me huddled in a foetal position, hysterical and asked what happened. I told him.
‘What did you say? Did you do anything he could have taken the wrong way? Did you fight back? Did you say No?’ My fault. Instantly, my fault. So I told no one else.
It was the first of three sexual assaults I received while I lived there. The second was when a chef tried to kiss me, I said No and that I wasn’t interested. He then threw me against a wall, lifted my work shirt, grabbed my breasts and then shoved me into my work’s freezer and locked it until I had ‘learnt my lesson’ and ‘said sorry’. (I didn’t). When I complained to management, I was told it was easier to find waitresses than chefs.
The third time was when I changed jobs to be a receptionist. I wondered why the motel couldn’t keep any female staff for longer than three months. When I felt a hand slide up my inner thigh during a ‘feedback’ session with my male Manager, I soon learnt why. He told his wife I’d made a move on him and I was out of a job.
In the town, two of my friends were later raped, one was followed back to her home and another had her assaulters make her beaten and bloodied boyfriend watch. She fought back, until they threatened to kill him unless she complied. So she did, but she also took note of who they were and had the incredible courage to report him. And everyone thought she was doing ok, until the weight kept dropping off her and she was 15kgs lighter and the sparkle in her eyes was replaced by a vacuum.
I never told those girls what had happened to me. I had been assaulted, but I hadn’t been raped, so I felt that my experience was no where near as horrifying as theirs, despite the fact I was still having nightmares and was terrified I’d see my attacker(s) around town. The girls only started to talk about it if the vodka was flowing freely. But I know we all felt such guilt and shame. And we didn’t know who to talk to. But I wish I could go back to those girls and say:
1. It is not your fault
2. There is nothing you could have done
3. You are not alone
4. You will be believed
5. There is help available.
That night-when it was just me and ‘the family man’- I was wearing red lipstick.
And it would be years until I could wear it again.
Red My Lips is an international nonprofit organization that uses red lipstick as a weapon and a tool to raise awareness about sexual violence, combat rape myths and victim-blaming, and demonstrate solidarity and support for ALL survivors. Consider wearing red lipstick all throughout April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month) to raise awareness and funds. This is not about VANITY. It’s about VISIBILITY.
Please read our ‘Stuff we love‘ page to find organisations who support victims of sexual assault and violence.