Jenny Aitchison.
Jenny Aitchison.

The reality of rape: ‘It’s not about sexual attraction’

TWELVE years ago, NSW MP Jenny Aitchison was raped on a houseboat in Zambia, Africa.

At the time she was working as a tour guide operator, when a man snuck into her room late at night, as she lay sleeping. Jenny woke to find him sexually assaulting her, and like so many victims, she froze in shock and paralysis.

It wasn't until last year that Jenny finally felt able to speak out publicly about her rape. After becoming the state's Shadow Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Jenny decided it was time to break her silence.

"I had spoken to a number of survivors and the message I was trying to reinforce to them was that they shouldn't be ashamed because of the crimes that had been committed against them," she says.

"I felt uncomfortable that I was giving this advice and support to other survivors, but none of them knew what had happened to me and why I really understood what it felt like. I felt I had to do what I was telling others to do."

Jenny says the other turning point came when a young man insinuated that she couldn't really relate with survivors.

MP Jenny Aitchison, centre, is working to combat myths around sexual violence.
MP Jenny Aitchison, centre, is working to combat myths around sexual violence.

"(He) gave me the vibe that I couldn't really connect with sexual assault survivors because sexual assault doesn't happen to women like me - middle-aged, overweight, mother, business leader? - I'm not sure what box he was putting me in," Jenny says.

"There was also an article in the media at the time which talked about sexual assault happening to pretty young women.

"I started to think, there's a stereotype here that doesn't fit the reality. Rape is a crime of power, not misplaced sexual attraction."

Since then Jenny has worked to combat myths and misconceptions around sexual violence.

"There are so many stereotypes that are used ultimately to excuse sexual assault - that all victims are 'up for it'; that perpetrators can't control their feelings of sexual attraction; that all perpetrators are monsters; that only young, pretty or weak women are assaulted," she said.

"These myths about why sexual assault occurs are unhelpful. We need to hear stories of sexual assault that are real. These are the stories which will ultimately change law and policy and help to change the situation for survivors in the future."

Jenny says she is proud to stand with Jane Doe.

"Sexual assault takes away women's power and sense of safety. Much of that safety goes with the need to keep a terrible secret. Once you have told that story, released that secret, in my experience, you can release some of its power over you. We need to let women decide how and when their story is told, and whom they tell," she says.

"I would tell Jane Doe to keep going with her struggle. Survivors of sexual assault should not be gagged from disclosing their story. Thank you for being the brave one; to be the Jane Doe who will empower all the other Jane Does."

If you or someone you know is affected by sexual violence, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

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