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What happened to me doesn’t have to define who I am

There are so many times I imagine writing #MeToo on my social media, but I can’t. If my secret came out, it would destroy my family.

My Mum would be devastated, and I know she’d blame herself for not noticing. She would feel that she’d failed as a mother, because I didn’t trust her enough to speak out.

My Dad wouldn’t understand. He wouldn’t believe me, or worse, he’d just tell me to get over it, because it’s not that bad.

My brother? He already knows, because he did it.

I haven’t told my younger sibling, because I’m trying to protect him.

In my family, no one taught me about sexual abuse, what it is and what you do if it happens. (My brother basically taught me about sex) I thought that sexual abuse was just rape. And rape was something that happened if you walked home alone in the dark. So long as you don’t wear mini skirts, or go on a date with someone you met online, you’re safe.

Like most children, I was taught not to trust strangers. Everyone knows the rules – you don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know, and you don’t take food from them.

I was taught to trust my family because they are the people who will always love me. My home is the place where I’m safe from the darkness in this world. Somewhere free from abuse. Your family are there to protect you. Surely they’d never hurt you like THAT… or would they?

My brother is only a year older than me. I think I was about 12 when the abuse first happened. To be honest, my memory is very patchy. I don’t know exactly how old I was or how long it continued for. All I know is that he broke an innocent girl’s heart, and made her grow up too soon. It does bother me that I don’t have clear recollections the time when I was being abused. Sometimes I wonder if other, worse things happened to me. I wonder how many days, weeks, months, years passed by before it was over. My questions are still unanswered.

The only thing that I know with unwavering certainty is that he abused me. My brother. I know it could have significantly worse. I could have been raped. But I loved him so much, still love him, despite what he’s done. I don’t understand how the people you are closest to are the ones hurt you the most. I guess family is a bond that’s too strong to be easily broken. I feel like I don’t have a choice. They can use me, abuse me, and I’ll keep coming back. Every. Single. Time.

I didn’t have any friends when I was growing up. I didn’t feel like I fit in with any of the other kids that I knew. I’m naturally a very social person, but it’s taken me a while to find people that I can connect with. I always just used to tag along with the other kids, who mostly ignored or excluded me. I never really fit in, but I followed them any way.

By the time I was 10, my brother was finding this increasingly annoying. Both he
and his friends would bully me. They’d wrestle me, ignore me, exclude me from playing games with them. They tried everything to get rid of me.Despite all this, I persisted. Maybe it was partly because I was trying to protect my younger sibling from being bullied too. And I guess I didn’t know where I belonged. I looked up to my older brother and wanted to believe that that he was the perfect brother, that he cared about me and loved me. It was a fantasy.

I didn’t know what to do when my brother started touching me. I feel violated. It was so disgusting… I can still feel his hands on my body, feel him roughly grabbing my breasts, feel fingers groping places I didn’t want them to go. There’s no way to describe how that feels. It’s torture. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.

To make it worse, I was betrayed, over and over by myself and by my supposedly loving and protective brother. I let him do this to me, in some ways I almost encouraged it. He would bribe me with something that I wanted, Xbox games next time we were at his friend’s house…. or a secret. At first, I would resist, but he was persistent. Eventually, he would get what he wanted.

He’d promise to be quick, “only 10 seconds”, and I’d tell myself not to flinch. All I had to do was wait until it was over, but I couldn’t do it. I’d push his hands away, desperately, but he’d still do it anyway.

I remember him masturbating in front of me once, although I didn’t really watch. I was kind of fascinated, but repulsed at the same time. He even tried to teach me how to do it to myself.

There were so many times that we were nearly caught. The minute that Mum left the room, he would make the most of this opportunity. I still can’t believe that she never found out….

The guilt and shame stopped me from speaking out. That, and my fear of getting in trouble if I told my parents. So the rest of my family was oblivious to what was really happening. They knew he was a bully, but never took it seriously because I was very sensitive. And to be honest, you can’t blame them. Who would suspect that my own brother was abusing me?

Eventually, I decided that it had to stop. I told him no. He persisted for a while, but in the end he gave up trying. I gradually isolated myself from my brother, his friends, and even my family. Everyone saw me as shy, serious and withdrawn. I basically followed Mum around for the next few years of my life. If I went to a party, I’d be right next to her the whole time. If she went shopping or visited a friend, I would come. On more than one occasion, I refused to stay home alone with my brother, because he would look at porn and secretly download music. I distanced myself from him and everyone I cared about in an effort to protect myself from being hurt or rejected again.

So no one saw the girl who woke up in bed, crying from nightmares. They didn’t seem to see the shadows in my eyes. I hid behind a facade of “I’m ok”, but really I was lost. I didn’t know who I was or where I belonged in the world. I just didn’t care anymore and I started to lose interest in my life. I let myself go. At one point Mum was even worried that I had an eating disorder.

Every time I thought about the abuse, it hurt too much. It was easier to just push it out of my mind. In the end, I forgot about it. But even as time passed, the scars didn’t fade. Why did I hate being touched? Why I was I so angry when people said my brother was a nice guy?

I worked on my self confidence. The sad shy girl transformed into a happier and outgoing teenager. But my past was still lurking under the surface, just waiting for the right time to come out. And one day it did.

I finished school, started studying and got my first job. At first, the world outside my quiet life seemed new and exciting, but things changed. The stress of full time study combined with harassment at work overwhelmed me. I felt trapped and alone. I didn’t know what to do until one of my classmates noticed and suggested that I see the uni counsellor. That day changed my life.

When I walked through the door of her office I had no idea what to expect. My stomach was churning and my head racing. What if she said I was wasting time? How am I going to tell her?

To my relief, she was very gentle and understanding. Somehow the conversation turned from the creeps at work to a crush I had as a 13 yr old. Memories from my childhood came flooding back, things I hadn’t thought about for so long. It hit me like a solid wall of water. I fought to hold back the tears and hide my pain and horror.

It struck me that the problem wasn’t that the boy I had a crush on rejected me. He wasn’t the one who really hurt me. It was my brother.

I never told the counsellor this. I tried not to think about it, hoping that once again I would forget. But I couldn’t. I wished that I could rewind time and change my life, but I can’t. I know that this has shaped my life. That’s inescapable. But it doesn’t have to define me. It may have left scars, but they show that you are strong. You survived to fight another day.

So here I am, 10 months after that day, and putting the pieces of my life back together. I’m seeing a sexual assault counsellor. I’m actually talking about what happened to me. I’m thankful every day for the support of a few amazing friends. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

There are still days when I curl up on the floor and wish I was dead. Days when it takes all my strength to go to work and keep smiling, but somehow I keep fighting. I hang on to that thread of hope, because I know that one day the clouds will pass, and the storm will fade to just another distant memory.

One day, I will be able hold my head high and say, “What happened to me doesn’t define who I am.”

And mean it with every part of my soul.

— Survivor, age 18

4 comments

  • Jennifer
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