Minimising risk key to protection for would-be sex assault victims

OPINION

By AKIRA KATO

A sadistic rapist appeared in the Brisbane District Court last month.

Nicholas John Crilley, 34, put his 21-year-old girlfriend through hell at his townhouse in Bulimba in June 2017. The victim suffered multiple broken bones and burns to 46 per cent of her body. Crilley pleaded guilty to 54 offences, including rape, grievous bodily harm, deprivation of liberty and torture, following the horrific 23-day attack.

In Queensland, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports 75 per cent of rape and related offence in women were committed by a person in some form of relationship with the survivor, including their family, colleagues or romantic networks – the Crilley case is no exception. Nationally, the ABS shows one in five women have experienced sexual violence or been threatened with it since the age of 15. This proportion might be higher after considering the amount of crime that is undetected, not reported or not recorded.

Most of us are aware of sexual assault as a common criminal activity, though few are likely to be aware that the incidents are as prevalent as the ABS and other statistics indicate.

And while no one is suggesting the victims are responsible, experts say there are some steps women can take to minimise the risk of being victimised by unwanted sexual behaviours.

As the high percentage of potential perpetrators are someone familiar, women are encouraged to set healthy boundaries in relationships, as well as being alert to when someone invades personal space. Importantly, women must trust their gut feelings, moving away as soon as you feel unsafe.

Psychologically, the socially learnt coping mechanism of saying “no” is one of the defensive strategies that women have a hard time executing when dealing with unwanted behaviours. Women are often expected to behave in a non-confrontational manner in society from a young age and that’s why it can be hard for them to push an offender away. But they should remember they have the right to leave the situation anytime they feel uncomfortable.

Last but not least, stay in control of drinking. Alcohol consumption is associated with loss of inhibition and plays a major contributing role in sexual assault. The Australian Institute of Criminology reports almost half of survivors indicate that either the woman or the perpetrator had been drinking at the time of the incident. Knowing the limits helps to avoid becoming an intoxicated victim.

Rape is never the victim’s fault. Tell someone you can trust if you feel at risk or have experienced this act of violence. Sharing your story may help you feel comfortable, as well as having someone react in a supportive way is an important step toward healing.

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