When I was 15, I sat lakeside with a man while my friend and one of his hooked up with somewhere in the dark, in ‘privacy’ away from the exposing streetlamps. He was in his twenties and many years older than me. He had Dad-breath and a daggy pierced ear. He asked me if I wanted to “make-out", and when I told him that I had a boyfriend, he responded by saying, “what would you do if I just raped you?”
I uneasily laughed off his question, punctured his ego and wriggled my wrists free from the grip of his hands and fortunately, of the situation itself. But this would be the first time, with more to follow at age 16, 18 and 19 that I would find myself in the unwelcome grasp of a seemingly trustworthy acquaintance.
During my youth, I had my cheeks and chin scratched from stubble as I dodged the lips of a man I was supposedly ‘leading on all night’. My chest was grabbed and groped without my consent, as though my breast was a coloured circle on a Twister board for players to put their right-hand on. I hurt my jaw, clenching my teeth while I pretended to be asleep, waiting for creeping hands to lurk back out from my sleeping bag at parties. But like many women in similar situations, I interpreted these highly uncomfortable experiences as fair play; drunken behaviour that got unruly; lousy sexual encounters or validation that men found me attractive. Living in a society that glorifies pick-up artistry and normalises cat-calling, I am increasingly uncomfortable referring to myself as a victim.
"...the limited dialogue of ‘who are receivers of abuse’ makes me grapple with the ambiguity of sexual assault and float within the purgatory of victimhood."
To me, being a victim implies that you’re a survivor and consequently, I find it difficult to honour a term which would make me akin to those who have experienced serious cases of violence. Although I'm not comfortable in that image, I still admire people who have been in similar situations to my own and have persevered hardship from the everyday sexism that perpetuates rape culture. My maturity may have given me the means and knowledge to criticise those who bullied me into sexual circumstances, but the limited dialogue around ‘what defines sexual abuse' makes me grapple with the ambiguity of sexual assault.
If I haven’t experienced crisis, does that mean my experiences of power-abuse are redundant?
Although I don’t identify as a victim - as I feel that it trivialises more serious cases - I have still been subject to acts of sexist objectification. I know first-hand how you can lose control in sexual situations, how it feels to have your body exploited and the feeling of being weak. However I, and others subject to this behaviour, cannot express these bad memories and lessons learned with a cultural dialogue that makes sexual misconduct all or nothing, leaving us quiet in conversations about abuse, feeling embarrassed to contribute or believing that it’s not our place to share stories from a struggler’s perspective.
Earlier that night in 2003, I enjoyed his company. His car was fast. Every brandish and dangerous sharp turn he made satisfied my adolescent desire to lose myself in irresponsibility. I’d had a summer of mini-skirts, family holidays, skipping dinner and bushfires, and the thrill of riding in cars with boys was another gratifying middle-finger to parental supervision and my innocence. But the teenage dream soon ended and he let me down. He scared me and although his actions didn’t scar me for life, it left me numbly in limbo, confused by how much I should care about myself.
Writer and actor, Nakkaih Lui discusses consent and reveals "I don't know if I was raped. It was never really a question. Even After. Only now" in Episode 1, Season 2 True Stories | SBS Podcast