Warning: There are references to sexual assault in this piece.
1974: Back row of the classroom where the 13-year-old boys take you for a fingering session.
You are scared but too scared to say no. After they finish and the girl is sent back to her seat, one boy wiggles his fingers and says, ‘Smell this,’ to his mates.
A student struts around the classroom with a transistor radio stuck down front of his jeans. If you look closely you can see the pubic curls poking through at the top. The teacher asks him to remove it and he starts unzip his fly.
Photo by Adrian Geo– unsplash
Year 7 camp when there was a rumour that a girl was almost raped by a boy. What did “almost” mean? She was wrapped in a towel coming out of the shower. No idea of the details but Year 7. Let that sink in.
1975: Walking home from school and several older boys walk behind me and shout ‘Let’s grab her’. They don’t(all talk)but it’s frightening. As always, I passed it off as a joke with your friends.
1976: The teacher stroking my friend’s hair. ‘My goodness R…., what lovely long hairs you have,’ he says his hand caressing the top of her head. We all giggled and pulled faces behind his back
1977-79 The male teacher who was rumoured to be sleeping with senior students
1977: A dance at a local high school hall. Wearing a backless dress and been groped by a group of skinheads
1978: Dakking. Or de-dakking. Groups of boys roamed the back of the oval far away from the teachers. There’d be a melee, a scuffle and they’d all launch on a girl and pull her knickers down
The topless “day club” at a kid’s place at lunchtime. Both his parents worked and the house was empty during the day. These kids were in Year 9.
1979: Local swimming pool. Boys grab a girl in the pool, pull down her bikini bottom, and two more boys hold her while another one swims between her legs
Photo by Patrick Jansen – unsplash
1980: Reading Puberty Blues and realising it was the same in Sydney. I twas the same everywhere in Oz.. Thinking it was probably better overseas as everything would be more sophisticated.
1981: Out with a friend and her boyfriend and listening to hours of conversation about cars. Complaining and told not to complain as that’s the way it is.
Wanting a boyfriend despite all the above.
Feeling like a freak as I didn’t have a boyfriend.
1980s: On a tram with a friend. It’s a hot afternoon in January. The tram conductor comes up and starts to chat. He kisses me on the lips before we get off. I don’t do anything and neither does she
1981: Turning my attention to rock stars and road crew.
Photo Andre- Benz – unsplash
1981: Realising that the music scene can be as toxic as the school yard.
1983: Walking along a main road. A man pulled over, opened the car door and starts masturbating. It was mid-morning and I was walking to University.
1985: I’m in a southern Mediterranean country. Groups of men stand on street corners and hiss as I walk past. I’m told it’s a version of wolf whistling. Later, I’m in a phone booth and the American woman next to me weeps as she describes to someone how she was raped the night before. She shrieked and ripped the phone mouthpiece from the cord. She runs out into the street. I never saw her again and I’ve never forgotten her.
1987: Melbourne. Walking along the street to meet friends for dinner when a man looked at me and said “Hello, Plain Jane.” I had felt good up to that point. No menace, just malice in his tone. Still trying to puzzle that one out.
1987: Melbourne.A friend was gang raped after a party. She was 17 at the time. She tells me her story as we’re drinking whisky a three in the morning after a big night out
2000s: A friend who lives in London told me she has been mugged five times.After the third episode, she carried nothing in her bag except spare change and her tube pass.
And so, it went on. These are just some of the stories. I have more but they are not mine to tell.
I wasn’t the girl in the phone box in Athens, the girl in the pool or the girl at the party. I got off lightly. Not all of us have.
2021 In Australia, past collides with present with the scandal from the Canberra puddle, misogyny and sexism. Women still walk in fear, men still strut and it still feels that nothing has changed.
Except this, the unspoken is now spoken. In the past few weeks things that have laid below the surface are beginning to emerge. I applaud these women, they are brave, stalwart and they deserved so much better. They inspire all of us to speak up, step up and to remember that the way it was is not the way it has to be.