Strangers in Dark Spaces

Art Shala Arnott

Words Jaye Bowden

TRIGGER WARNING
(sexual assault discussed)

There is nothing more invasive than having a total stranger decide that they have every right to put their hands all over your body. To touch you and ignore your attempts to fight them off as you plead for them to stop. There is nothing scarier than feeling like you have no control over yourself, no way of removing the hot heavy hands pressed against your skin. You try to pull away, to claw away from the stranger gripping your waist and yet they only clutch you tighter. You panic, the lights and loud music swallow you up and the crowd presses in on you, suffocating you as you realise you can’t escape on your own. Your head is spinning and you’re too disorientated to work out where your friends are, where safety is and to know how to stop this stranger from touching you when you never said they could. They are bigger than you, stronger than you and they’ve hitched the skirt of your dress up above your waist, that beautiful purple fabric that made you feel like a summery fairy in earlier in the day. Earlier before the sun set. Before you lost yourself in the shadows of the crowd. Before this man was here behind you, tearing your underwear down, his fingers digging sharply into your waist. You stare up at the sky up at the stars and pretend you are far away, that you aren’t feeling what you are feeling, that you aren’t in this moment anymore; that somewhere you are safe. That nobody can harm you.

This is a reflection on a real experience that I endured one late night at a music festival.
I was drunk and very alone after becoming separated from friends in an overwhelmingly large crowd. It was only a few minutes but those few fleeting moments were long enough for me to be sexually assaulted and nearly raped by a man that I had never met before. If it wasn’t for some amazing strangers in front of me in the crowd noticing I was being attacked, stepping in and helping to pull me away from the offender, then I have no idea how far the situation would have escalated.

Regrettably that is not the first time I have been sexually assaulted.
I used to be scared of monsters under my bed when I was younger but recently I’ve grown to fear something much more real. There are real-life monsters everywhere, behind the easy smiles of attractive strangers in bars, standing in line at supermarkets, laughing at the table at friend’s dinner parties, sitting in the driver’s seat of the taxi you’re riding in.

I am very afraid of the world we live in and the attitude towards women, this suffocating
expectation that turns an adamant ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. That tells you to be quiet, to lay still
and submit to an action of lust, domination and violence. I’m frightened by the look that
men give me in the street that peels the clothes from my body, burning straight through
my skin and into my bones. To be seen is a very scary thing.

My purpose of this article, however, is to be heard. There needs to be an obvious line
drawn for boys and girls growing up, about consent, about why respect for each other’s
bodies is so important. That sex isn’t something you can have just because you want it.
That women’s bodies are not just for the taking; that we are not just walking prey. These
expectations should not be forced upon us. There are times when, if you can’t control
yourself you just need to just walk away.

There needs to be a movement, a change in respect, a change in the way that women are
viewed in this society, in the way that they are treated. A change in the stories that we are hearing. We must change because I fear for the world that my future children could be brought up in, where men become monsters and women become the hunted.

Please if you yourself have suffered an attack/assault or have been raped, seek help from
local services or family and friends. Speak to people, speak out. Find your own form of
healing from this trauma and I hope you too can maintain faith in the hope that one day
we will see a world where this kind of sexually dominating, violent behaviour is eradicated at a younger age before it grows into something far worse and uncontrollable.

Also I urge you all to please keep an eye on your friends and strangers too, who may be in strife. Look out for them at parties, out at bars, at festivals. Try and stay as safe as possible yourself because there are dangers hiding out there in the shadows. It is a scary reality that we can’t often see other’s intentions or know when danger is standing right beside us – but if we have our defenses up ready and take precautions we can potentially help others around us before it’s too late. I know how grateful I am that the group of strangers at the festival that night took the time to stand up for me and rescue me from my attacker. We have to stand together, all of us. Men and women. Respected, aligned. Love each other, protect each other and care for one another out there over party seasons.

If you or anyone you know might need support, please contact the local Sexual Assault Support Service in Hobart. Tasmanian residents feel free to contact at any time, day or night on their 24 hour Crisis Support Line: 1800 MYSUPPORT (1800 697 877)

SASS are open 9am – 5pm weekdays at 34 Patrick Street, Hobart, TAS 7000. Telephone: (03) 6231 1811 or (03) 6231 0044

For any further info, please visit their website at: http://www.sass.org.au

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