Trigger warning for rape, victim-blaming, vivid descriptions of a sexual assault forensic exam, police violence and suicidal ideation.
Words by Holly Gleeson-Payne. Illustration by Div.
“You have to understand: if you don’t tell me the truth, and we arrest this man and send him to prison for rape, you will have to live with the fact that you ruined an innocent man’s life. So I’ll ask you again: do you think this man deserves to go to prison for twenty years?”
Let me set the scene: I hadn’t slept for over twenty-four hours or eaten for over twelve. I couldn’t count the number of times I’d vomited while I’d been at that police station. Two officers had put me in the back of a car and drove me across the city to a hotel they wanted me to identify, and I was so sick that I had made them stop the car three times on the way for me to throw up on the side of the road. A passing tourist who saw me sitting on the footpath next to a puddle of my own vomit, with two police officers beside me, gave me a bottle of water. I was too nauseous to drink it. By the end of the day, I had been sick so many times that I was dry heaving and my stomach cramped up.
I was then made to strip completely naked in front of a doctor and a nurse. Standing on a piece of paper in a freezing room, they inspected and swabbed my body. They interrogated me about every bruise, mark, and scar, even the discoloration from acne scarring on my chest and back. They had me lie on a bed with my legs up, and the doctor probed and prodded and scraped around inside me. The nurse told me she was going to take blood samples, and warned me in advance that the needle might sting a little. I told her that I’d been through worse. They took six vials of my blood, and by the time I walked out of the examination room, I was seeing stars.
Next I was taken into a room for questioning. It had been less than eight hours since I’d been raped. The officer in charge of my case sat in front of me, looked me in the eyes, and said, “you will have to live with the fact that you ruined an innocent man’s life”.
He told me that my behavior may have “implied consent”. He told me I must have been “at least a somewhat willing participant”. He asked me what I had been wearing, if I was single, if I was a virgin. He asked me if I knew how sex worked, and he asked me if I had been aroused. He asked me if I was attracted to the man who raped me.
There was no fight left in me. I wanted to go home, I wanted to sleep, I wanted to die. I didn’t care what happened to me as long as the agony would stop. I had no dignity left and could not even be angry or humiliated by these questions. I just answered them and stared blankly past the officer hour after hour. In all, I spent thirteen hours in that police station, and by the time I left I no longer believed my own story. I left wishing I had let the man who raped me get away with it.
I was given fourteen pills to treat me for sexually transmitted infections, and a contraceptive. I was to spend six weeks taking an antiretroviral treatment for HIV. In the coming months, I would have another two blood tests and be given another shot. When I tried to go to a doctor to get a prescription for the antiretroviral, I would be admitted to hospital for a day and made to recount the details of my rape again. Six months later, I would still be having blood tests done. I would still be in therapy working through post-traumatic stress disorder. Twelve months later, the police may deem it necessary to put me through a three-hour lie detection test.
“You ruined an innocent man’s life.”
Holly is a young Australian artist and photographer who has recently made the choice to be more involved in breaking down the stigma so often surrounding discussions of mental health. She hopes that by sharing excerpts from her journal that were written during her struggles with depression, as well as her thoughts on her recovery so far, she may be able to help empower other people who feel like it’s not worth it. Her Instagram accounts are instagram.com/artbyhollyz and instagram.com/photosbyhollyz.