Darwin woman Sandra* has joined the Let Her Speak campaign
Darwin woman Sandra* has joined the Let Her Speak campaign

Sandra was raped at work now she is gagged by the law

Sandra* wants to speak.

In 2017 she was raped by a stranger on an isolated rural property just outside of Darwin. She was at work at the time, performing as an adult entertainer at a buck's party held in a farm shed.

"There were 13 or 14 of them and I was the only woman," she says. "I always start by telling the men the rules. I told them no touching, no photography or filming. They all understood."

But as Sandra began her routine the atmosphere in the shed palpably changed. A large man, "over six foot tall with a beer belly" approached Sandra.

"He stood over me and held me down with one hand", Sandra tells the NT News.

"He then raped me with a beer bottle, as the other men all watched on.

"I just started bawling my eyes out. My dignity, my self-worth, my control, my power was gone. I didn't know what to do."

Sandra was on her knees, naked on the hard ground, crying and fishing through her bag trying to find her phone to call for help.

It was at this moment that Sandra realised she had also been robbed by one of the attendees.

"That was when I really knew how vulnerable of a situation I was in," she says. "It suddenly dawned on me, 'oh my god, I'm in the middle of nowhere. I have no phone. They could do anything to me'. I was surrounded.

"Then one of the men yelled out 'aren't you going to finish the f -king show?"

Were it not for Sandra's ride arriving at that moment, she does not know would have happened. The friend, who had previously agreed to pick her up at the scheduled time, ushered her off the property and insisted she call the police to report the attack.

"All I could hear was myself apologising on the phone [to the police saying] 'I'm sorry … I know you guys probably don't care because I'm a stripper' … I look back at it now and think 'oh my god I was making excuses for him even back then'. That's how much society drills it into your brain that you're the one who's dirty and did the wrong thing."

Darwin woman Sandra* has joined the Let Her Speak campaign
Darwin woman Sandra* has joined the Let Her Speak campaign

The police, however, took the report seriously.

"To their credit, within an hour they had the shed cordoned off with police tape and were fingerprinting bottles," she says.

Kevin Willcocks was later arrested and in March 2019 a jury found him guilty of rape. He was sentenced to three and a half years jail, suspended after nine months.

According to Leanne Melling, co-ordinator of the Sex Worker Outreach Program NT, the case set an important precedent for sex worker rights across Australia.

"We know that many instances of sexual assault are still not reported," Ms Melling says. "To reduce sexual assault we must ensure that people who commit these crimes are accountable for their actions."

Yet despite the guilty finding, the media reporting and public commentary around the case exposed just how far community attitudes still have to come.

The headlines called him a 'larrikin' and a 'family man'. Sandra was referred to as 'the beer bottle stripper'.

"It wasn't just him," Sandra says. "People said I deserved it, that it was my fault.".

Despite these slurs, Sandra, now 38 and a nursing student, wants to waive her right to anonymity and speak out publicly in the hopes of challenging victim blaming attitudes and sex work stigma.

She wants to do so via a feature length documentary with Jerboa Films which examines how sexual assault survivors experience the criminal justice system.

But in a devastating development, under the Northern Territory's archaic sexual assault victim gag laws, it is a crime for any individual to publish Sandra's name or face meaning the full film may never see the light of day.

Any journalist who does name Sandra could face up to six months jail or heavy fines.

Sandra herself could also face jail time were she to publish her own identity.

"I was raped and now I'm being gagged," she says.

Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia CEO Karen Willis says she stands by the brave women who are speaking out in the #LetHerSpeak campaign (AAP Image/CRAIG WILSON)
Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia CEO Karen Willis says she stands by the brave women who are speaking out in the #LetHerSpeak campaign (AAP Image/CRAIG WILSON)

"I absolutely think it's right for the court to protect me, and others like me, by not publishing my name without my consent, but I want to be able to speak about it on my own terms, and in my own words. To learn that I could face jail seems crazy.

"For a long time I dared not even say 'I was raped'. I felt so much shame. But I learnt that saying those words could actually help me move on, and feel stronger.

Karen Willis the Executive Officer of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia says: "I'd like to congratulate Sandra and the other brave women who are speaking out as part of the #LetHerSpeak campaign.

"These women are taking a great stand at incredible personal cost. Instead of ridiculing or questioning them we should be celebrating and cheering them on."

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the NT has the highest rate of sexual assaults in the nation.

In 2018, there were 145.6 reports of sexual assault to the NT Police per 100,000 people - higher than every other state and territory.

By comparison, Australia-wide, there were 105.3 reports of sexual assault to police per 100,000 people.

"I need women to know that no matter what you were doing, or the level of the sexual assault you need to have a voice," Sandra says. "Everybody deserves that."

 

Nina Funnell is the creator of the #LetHerSpeak campaign in partnership with End Rape On Campus Australia and Marque Lawyers. You can donate to the campaign via the #LetHerSpeak GoFundMe.

 

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call triple-0

 

*not her real name


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