By Angelica Tziotis, UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador
Photograph was a creative commons from Deviantart
Everyone has the right to a childhood, the right to grow up and experience the wonders of the world at their own pace. But these rights are not always granted, and many find themselves stripped of such privileges. Most of the time we assume that in countries such as Australia this seldom applies, as our children are given the rights to education, to suitable care, and to a proper childhood.
But there are a group of us, that despite our fortunate upbringing, were still left with deep-rooted memories, that blemished, spoilt, and stripped away the rights that we deserved. I say us, because I belong to this group.
Who I am referring to here, are the selection of young individuals who have been exposed to the injustices of sexual assault. Out of those of you who are female and reading this (that’s not to say females are the only victims of such assault, but do make up 98% of the cohort):
- At least one in four of you will have experienced, or will experience, some form of sexual assault in your life.
- Out of that one in four, less than 20% of you will, or have, reported the assault.
The rest of us will just store the memory away in a dark, closed off part of our minds. But why?
The real point that I am getting at here is that our society places a stigma on the victims of such assaults. Too many times I’ve sat in the back corner, to overhear the words “she asked for it”, or “have you seen the way she dresses, no wonder…”
I was fourteen when I was assaulted. The man was old enough to be my father. I knew him for many years, but I did nothing. I feared the label that would be placed on me if I spoke up. I feared the relationships that would be broken, and torn if I were to report. So instead, I took the coward’s way out, I closed my mouth, and I suppressed it all. I was wrong in doing this.
Luckily for me I held well, overcame it, and it no longer impacts my life. But that is not the case for many assault victims, who continue to suffer the repercussions of a psychological trauma, leaving scars long after any physical assault has occurred.
We all have skeletons tucked away in tight closets; the sorts of memories from our past, which we prefer to leave buried deep and unstirred. But what is the reason for hiding away? Is it the shame or judgement we fear? For many, that seems enough of a justified reason, considering most of the time we are subjected to the scrutinies of those around us. Or is it that we eventually get to the point where we find no one to blame but ourselves, leaving ourselves to bear the burden as a consequence (when deep down we know we shouldn’t).
This is my report. It may not be filed away in a police station, but it is enough for me to know that I had the courage to say I am not ashamed of who I am, and do not blame myself for my past.
Around the world UNICEF estimates 120 million girls and 73 million boys are victims of sexual assault.
UNICEF works to prevent and respond to sexual violence by engaging different government sectors - justice, social welfare, education and health. UNICEF supports governments in strengthening child protection systems at national and local levels s well as working with communities and the general public to raise awareness about the problem and address attitudes, norms and practices that are harmful to children
I hope that in reading this, it gives someone out there second thoughts on inaction against assault. I can only hope that more victims realise they have nothing to be ashamed of, and that there is nothing they could have done so wrong as to deserve such a punishment.
More importantly, I hope that anyone out there, who accuses a sexually assaulted victim for bringing it upon themselves, has enough dignity within them to think again.
For more information on where to get help visit:
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 (free call from landline) / http://www.kidshelp.com.au/
Lifeline: Phone: 13 11 14 (cost of local call from landline)/ http://www.lifeline.org.au/
Read more about UNICEf’s work to protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse.
About the author
Angelica is a UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Media (Communications and Journalism) at UNSW, has experience in organising fundraisers such as 40hr Famine, and Red Cross Blood Drive, and is hoping to combine her passion for writing, with her passion for both child rights, and gender equality.
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