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"People think I should have seen my rape coming."

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, please seek help with a qualified counsellor or by calling 1800 RESPECT.

On the night of my 21st birthday, I was drugged, raped, scrubbed clean, and dumped on the streets of New Orleans. All because I let a boy in a bar buy me a drink.

While this in itself has left me with a whole host of issues to overcome, it was not the actual event that caused me to reflect the most. Rather, it has been the reaction of those around me to it – in particular, the response of the men in my life.

In every instance the news has been met with a pervading sense of guilt that in some way my attack was preventable, that in some way they could have stopped it.

If only I hadn’t left you alone at the bar. If only I hadn’t let you take that drink. If only I had been there to protect you.

It’s a seemingly innocuous mentality that masquerades as a desire to shelter the ones you love from harm. Certainly, I don’t mean to say that those close to me were wrong in their emotions or that it was in any way disingenuous. But when you really start to break down what it means and why that’s the response a sexual assault receives, that’s when it starts to get troubling.

"On the night of my 21st birthday, I was drugged, raped, scrubbed clean, and dumped on the streets of New Orleans."

It all comes down to that drink and what people think it signifies. At the time, I didn't feel as though my interaction with this over-confident frat brother held me to anything greater than the rum and coke it was. I was grateful for the birthday drink and as I sat and chatted, slowly fading into unconsciousness, I remember thinking what a nice gesture it had been.

Exposed under my hospital gown as I awaited examination the next day, my seeming naivety started to become clear. The nurses, while kind and well-meaning, still asked with a grimace ‘Well, did you accept a drink from a stranger?”

It was something I hadn’t given a passing thought at the time but now seemed to beg the question: by committing a monetary value to our interaction, do I owe a man my time and eventually, my sexual congress?

Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Jessie Stephens discuss the practice of 'casual sexual assault' on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.

Logic would dictate no but the reality in Australian culture is far murkier. There still remains an ardent belief that someone buying you a drink is after something more, and that by accepting it you are agreeing to the terms.

The exact nature of these terms is variable but the subtext remains the same - your time has been purchased and now you must follow through. A failure to do so is a social faux-pas punished with the brand of ‘tease’ or something far worse. It is, in its most basic sense, an extension of prostitution that has become rooted in our collective psyche and one of the many faces of rape culture.

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What is alarming is how few people seem to identify it as such. We classify it away under ‘club etiquette’ or ‘good manners’ in the belief that what is happening is intrinsically a part of human behaviour.

"It all comes down to that drink and what people think it signifies." (Image: iStock)

We demonise those who refuse to participate in the ritual as prudes, and those who take part too willingly as whores - and the women who fall somewhere in that awful between? Well they should have known better.

I am not suggesting that every person who sends a drink your way will go to the same lengths as my attacker to achieve their goal, but it is a powerful mentality that must be addressed and changed in our public discussion of assault and safety. If a boy in a bar buys me a drink, I owe him gratitude and nothing more.

Mamamia’s Survivors of Sexual Assault Week is about providing support for the one in five women Australian women who will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. To read more from Survivors of Sexual Assault Week, click here. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, don't suffer in silence, contact 1800 RESPECT or visit www.1800respect.org.au

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