The stereotype of a rapist as a stranger who prays on random victims in public places is at odds with the data we have about offenders.
In 71% of sexual assaults against a woman, the offender was known to the victim and 80.9% of cases where the victim was a male, the latest figures across five states and territories from the Australian Bureau of Statistics found.
The proportion of female sexual assault victims who were sexually assaulted by their partners ranged from 6% in the Northern Territory to 11% in South Australia in 2015.
These are the stories of five Australians who have experienced sexual violence at the hands of their partners.
Estelle had come to accept that unwanted touching was a “natural part” of a relationship with a man.
“My breasts and arse were not my own,” Estelle told BuzzFeed News. Estelle’s name, and all others in this story, have been changed to protect their identities.
In her three-year relationship with ex-boyfriend Adam she said “real consent” was “almost wholly absent”.
“I was taught to be fearful that if I didn’t satisfy every single one of my partner’s sexual needs, then I would lose him to someone who would.”
“There were so many times when I would find myself very reticently acquiescing to him, because I was afraid that going two, three nights in a row without satisfying him would be the motivation he needed to leave.”
When she was cooking, studying or washing the dishes Adam would often come up behind her and “thrust violently” into her.
“It made me feel so powerless and reminded me of his strength.”
She agreed to participate in sexual acts that made her “so deeply uncomfortable” because she was afraid of saying “no”.
“I would often awake in the middle of the night – usually on nights where I had refused him sexually – to find him on top of me, probing me with his fingers, sometimes forcing himself inside me.
“There was no consent… sometimes he would stop, sometimes he wouldn’t.”
The first time Estelle woke to find Adam on top of her she put up a fight. She repeatedly said “No”, told him to stop, and pushed him off her. When she resisted, she was told she was “frigid”, which negatively impacted the relationship, “causing problems”.
Once when she said no to sex, Adam hit her.
“I surrendered my body to my partner, and if I did dare to assert my autonomy, I would be hurt, I would be assaulted, I would be raped, and I would be blamed for damaging our relationship because, after all, ‘a man has needs’.”
“When women commit to a relationship, more often than not they’re expected to forfeit their consent. This terrifies me.”
Carmen fell for her co-worker Mitchell, who was “funny, friendly and quick with a smile”.
They were together for a year during which she said: “I was terrified of the person who was meant to be my greatest protector.”
Mitchell attacked her verbally, physically and sexually, but carried an arsenal of excuses to justify the assaults.
“He’d cry that he felt unloved, that we weren’t having sex as often as he felt we should. Sometimes it was because he’d seen another man look me up and down, and that I needed to be reminded that I was his. A few times I’d spent too long talking to a male friend.”
His sadness could quickly morph into aggression.
“It would progress within minutes from tears to him straddling me, hands around my throat and him pushing himself inside me,” Carmen said.
She convinced herself that she had let him down, that she deserved it and “needed to recognise his needs more”.
“Right after he would always be apologetic about the marks he’d leave.”
Mitchell told Carmen she should be flattered that he couldn’t resist her and that he “couldn’t not fuck” her.
He tried to rewrite these violent incidents as “rough sex”.
Carmen carried the weight of the abuse alone because she is athletic and didn’t think anyone would believe that she hadn’t fought back, or had failed to get the police involved.
“If anything was ever said about the marks on my arms or around my neck and face I’d shrug and say I didn’t know, I was clumsy, and was simultaneously disappointed and relieved at how easily people were satisfied with such a pitiful answer,” she said.
Every time she tried to leave him she felt his threats of suicide moved closer to an “impending reality”.
“It got to the point where I truly believed that the relationship couldn’t end with both of us alive, that the only difference would be the timing of when I would end it. And wasn’t that awful, to think that I deserved life over him?”
The guilt stayed long after she had left him.
“It took a long time for me to understand that I did the right thing for me, and that I wasn’t there to fix his life.”
She feels hopeful about being able to recognise abusive and controlling behaviours earlier on in a relationship, but still suffers “enormous mood changes.”
Sometimes I’ll rage inside myself, angry at him, at myself, at my lost identity and the year of my life I spent being frightened. Sometimes I’ll be flat and have no energy for anything, what’s the point, people are always going to be cruel. Sometimes I’ll just cry.”
Carmen still has to see Mitchell at work but it is getting easier.
“I’m still fighting, and I am not broken.”