TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.
I’m walking up the sticky, black stairs of world-famous student bar Big Kumara. A feat in itself considering the heels I'm wearing. Some girlfriends and I are clubbing to celebrate my 18th birthday. We pre-loaded at home, drinking R2Ds and vodka mixers.
Everything is a little bit wibbly-wobbly, topsy-turvy. At the top of the “stairway to heaven” the bouncers await us at the top. We get our sparkling new 18+ cards ready to show to them, eager to be let into the 80s bar, where we can hear the old-school tunes pumping through the doors.
I always enjoyed the music and the dancing, as well as the ever-present ‘dream’ that I might find prince charming on a night out. Prince charming who would be enamoured with his drunk princess gyrating on the stripper pole on the stage. (Spoiler alert: meeting the man of my dreams/prince charming in a club never happened for me - though I did meet alcoholics.)
We are bubbling and fizzing. We gossip amongst each other as my friend's ID is checked by the bouncer on the left while another bouncer, a shorter, stockier man with tanned skin and dark brown hair stands to the right. I'm waiting, at the back of the line.
Suddenly, I feel a hand go up my dress and into my knickers. I am pretty-tipsy, so it takes a long-few-seconds for me to realise what is happening – that a hand is fucking touching me down there. I quickly push it away and move to the other side of the stairs to protect myself.
I don’t remember whether I looked at the bouncer to the right directly – but I still remember his face vividly. My heart pounds in my chest. What just happened to me? Did the bouncer just put his hand up my skirt?
The simple answer is yes. I feel gross, disgusted and violated.
So here’s what I did next. I did nothing.
Yes, I did absolutely NOTHING.
I didn’t tell my friends, I didn’t talk to club management, and sickeningly, I actually did my best to have a fun night while avoiding the offending bouncer at all costs - although - I had just been sexually assaulted.
Here’s what was running through my head:
I’m drunk. The management of the club won’t believe me over the bouncer.
My friends and I will be kicked out of the club, and I will ruin their night.
If I tell the police, it will be my drunk word over his sober word (we all know how that goes).
The bouncer won’t ever let me into Big Kumara again.
It was my fault. I probably shouldn’t have worn that dress. And those heels.
I’m disgusting and gross for putting myself in a position where that could happen to me.
Obviously huge flaws in thinking. But I was 18 and only knew as much as I knew at that time. So why am I sharing this now? Mostly because I’m confused. I’m confused as to why the 18-year-old me thought that way. Why did calling the bouncer out for what he did not even cross my mind?
Why was I so scared about talking to the male management of the club and the (likely) male policemen about the sexual assault that took place when I was drunk, and he was sober? Was it the position of power that the bouncer (who ironically is supposed to protect club-goers) held? Was it the overwhelming male-ness I would have had to deal with?
Today I ask myself, why did I not feel safe to be able to disclose the sexual assault at the time? Why was I not taught strategies to deal with the disclosing of sexual assault at school? Why did I feel that instead of rallying behind me – the victim – that the establishment would crush me in favour of the male bouncer?
In the end, I have to conclude that 18-year-old me felt powerless. Powerlessness breeds apathy. Apathy ensued. I did nothing.
Weeks later, I saw him at North City Mall in P-Town with his partner and their baby. Bile rose up into my throat. Accosting and embarrassing him publicly did cross my mind, but then I thought of his partner and the baby, and I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. I just ignored his ugly presence.
I don’t know why as an 18-year-old girl, I had been groomed to allow sexual assault on my body.
It could have been the media, the magazines, the books (Twilight Series anyone) the music videos. I mean, the most prominent song at that time was Snoop Dogg “Drop it like it’s hot”.
It could have been the power imbalance. Or a serious cluster-fuck of all the above.
It’s all tied in with why the Hollywood Superstars involved in the #MeToo movement felt powerless to do anything about the abuse they had experienced. The violence itself, when it comes down to it - it’s ego. The abuse of power.
Sure, I didn’t do anything about it at the time. I’m not ashamed about that. I’m not embarrassed about what I didn’t know back then. This guy isn’t going to get in trouble because of these words on the web page. But at least now I can say I did something. I stood up and spoke my truth.
Awa Wahine, Editor Ataria Sharman is an avid reader and writer. Her manuscript for young adults fiction novel was selected to take part in Te Papa Tupu 2018 - a programme for selected Maori writers facilitated by Huia Publishers and the Maori Literature Trust.