“Moving on doesn’t mean you forget about things. It just means you accept what happened and continue living.” In theory this is fantastic advice…in the reality of sexual assault, it is so much harder to achieve.

An anonymous submission from the QYP family.

The 7th of April 2011 marked the end of my world as I knew it. I was sexually assaulted. Though many people will still argue this was not the case. I was not raped; I was not forced against my will to perform sexual acts, nor was I was indecently assaulted. None of these things happened to me. However what did transpire affected me in the same way any one of these things would affect a person.

On the 7th of April 2011, a guy I trusted decided he was going to film our intercourse and live-stream it to six of his friends in another room, without my knowledge. What ensued after that was a three year battle for justice, and a life-time battle for healing. In one night, I had my whole world shattered, my name tarnished, my normality destroyed and for three long years, my life defined by what had happened.

While I could type for hours about the suffering I faced in those years, that’s is not what this blog is about. However I will say this: after that night I could no longer function properly. I turned to alcohol for relief from the thoughts in my head. I cried uncontrollably. I struggled to sleep and when I did succeed, the nightmares began. On more than one occasion I woke up crying deep emotional sobs, other times I woke screaming.

I was even hospitalized once after sleep walking over the side of my first story balcony. Witnesses said I fell like a rag doll, and doctors said only severe psychological trauma could have caused such night terrors.

I lashed out at the few people who were trying to help me. The depression became so bad I struggled to get out of bed. I contemplated suicide on more than one occasion and I lost the ability to think straight, to plan, to remember, to eat.

In short, I had my normal existence stolen from me.

Three years after the incident, my case finally went to trial. I guess I should consider myself lucky for that fact alone. Why? Because in Australia, statistics show that only 5% of all reported cases of sexual assault end up at trial. In reality, that means that only 5 out of every 100 women who report their abuse ever get a chance at justice. Though I sometimes wonder if those 95 other woman are actually the lucky ones.

In Australia, a victim in a criminal trial is treated as nothing more than a witness. By law, witnesses are legally bound to testify in court if called upon – refusal will earn you a subpoena, and an arrest if you still don’t present. Moreover, for victims, if you don’t testify the case gets thrown out of court. Yet there is no legal requirement for the accused to speak during their trial, sparing them from cross examination.

My evidence took four days. Over those four days, I was cross-examined by the accused’s lawyer for three. Like many victims of sexual assault I was bullied, harassed and reduced to tears on a number of occasions, but all “within the limitation of the law.” I was questioned about the time I ran away from home at 15 and whether that was because I wanted attention. I was questioned about my prior sexual history and forced to describe in detail more than one sexual encounter. For three days I was re-victimized, and I felt as degraded and violated as I had on the day I found out what had happened to me. Yet it was all legal. Where is the protection for victims?

Alleged perpetrators are not required to give evidence because it is believed they should not be subjected to cross-examination if they do not believe it will benefit their case. How is this fair? Why shouldn’t accused criminals be made to answer for their crimes?

Eventually, after three long weeks, the trial came to an end. I will never forget sitting in this tiny room in the DPP’s building with my family, waiting to be told the jury had reached a verdict.  When he walked in to say the jury was ready to deliver, it was hard not to notice the terror in his eyes; he admitted later he honestly believed they would walk free.

I don’t remember any of the judge’s speech before the verdict, but I do remember my mother and I squeezing each other’s hands so hard I thought we would lose circulation. Then I can remember only three words: “GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY.” Guilty on all three counts. I walked out of the courtroom in a daze; for the first time in forever, I felt like I could finally see clearly. I broke down in tears and cried, but for the first time in three years, they were tears of joy.

However that joy was short lived: two weeks later we returned for sentencing. I chose to read my victim impact statement in open court because I wanted them to know exactly what they had done to me. In the judge’s sentencing, he proclaimed how unique of a case it was, and how he would be setting precedent for similar cases in the future. He went on and on and on, and then he made his verdict –  the punishment these boys received for making my life a living hell for three years…24 months good behaviour.

In that moment I felt like I had been stabbed. I had suffered for three years, their actions had nearly killed me, and their punishment was nothing more than a slap on the wrist and being told to be good boys for two years.

That day of the verdict was over 3 years ago now. Today their “punishment” is long over, and they are no longer bound by any restrictions. Unfortunately, my story is all too common; the average sentence for rape in Australia is 5 years however sentences as low as 3 months are regularly handed down. For sexual assault (excluding rape) the average sentence ranges from good behaviour to two years imprisonment. How can our legal system justify this? How can our society justify this? Victims of sexual assault receive a life sentence; they have to carry their experiences around with them for the rest of their life.

For me every day is different. I still suffer from PTSD directly related to my experiences, but every day I learn to cope a little better. Slowly but surely, with the love and support of my family and friends I am learning to finding peace with the world again, however I will never be able to forgive them for what they did to me. There has never been any recognition by them that what they did was wrong, and there has been no acknowledgement of the suffering they caused me.

Even today, nearly seven years on, I still often find myself thinking about those boys. Did they even end up in relationships? Do their girlfriends know the kind of monsters they are? Did they even end up feeling remorse for their actions? I wonder if they ever wake up wishing they could apologise. I highly doubt that it is the case but in some strange way it makes me feel better to believe they did finally feel remorse.

On the 7th of April 2011, my world was turned upside down, and three years later it was turned upside down again by the legal system. Seven years on I still carry the scars of those events with me. But I’ve realised there is something beautiful about scars, whatever their nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, and my scars remind me I was strong enough to survive.

I was strong enough to live, to grow, to prosper and succeed. I chose to no longer define my life by my past. If you have ever been a victim of sexual assault or can relate to anything I have spoken about in this article, I am truly sorry because that means you have suffered in ways no one should ever have to. Please know and believe you are not alone. There are people out there who will listen to you and support you. Don’t ever give up.

If you or anyone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.