I was gang-raped at 18, and it’s time to tell my story

By Clara How and Julie, Feb 27, 2020

When Julie (not her real name) reached out to us, we were stunned. We were amazed at her strength in coming forward to share her story, at her willingness to be so transparent, and her support for this platform. Above all, we were (and are) amazed at her refusal to let what has happened define her. 

Julie is a survivor of sexual assault, but above all, she is a 28-year-old with a steady job, in a long-term relationship, and in her own words, believes she is no different from other woman her age. This is the first time she is coming forward to share what happened to her a decade ago, what it was like to put the pieces back together, and recognise that there is strength in vulnerability. 

Julie has been a long-standing member of the Dayre community, but has chosen to remain anonymous. This story is written in her own words, and has been minimally edited. 

Warning: this story contains graphic mentions of rape, sexual violence, and depression.

* * * *

They say as time passes, your memories will fade.

They say as time passes, your wounds will heal.  

They have no idea.

It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning 10 years ago. It was my second year as a university student in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and I was geared up to attend a day of classes at the university. It seemed like just another ordinary day.

Little did I know, that day would change my life forever.

I parked my car at a parking lot outside the university. Since it was early on a Saturday morning, the road was nearly empty. It was serene, peaceful, and it felt safe. I stepped out, getting ready to lock my car. My bag was heavy with the weight of textbooks against my shoulders. A man, seemingly lost, came to inquire about a place he couldn't find. He showed me something on a piece of paper. 

Everything happened so fast. 

The next thing I know, his hand was over my mouth and I was aggressively shoved into the passenger seat of my car. He gestured at his accomplices sitting in a car near mine. I heard them shouting at one another on what to do next. I wanted to scream but his hand was still over my mouth. They finally sorted things out and had one other accomplice come into the car with me. This guy held a gun and pointed it towards me, saying if I so much as made a sound, he would fire the gun. 

I was then taken more than 20 kilometres away, in my own car, with the main perpetrator driving and with his accomplice in the backseat shoving the gun into my side.

They say when traumatic things happen to you, your body reacts in one of a few ways. Mine went immediately to being on "high alert", where I kept watch for anything that might happen, and looked for every opportunity to escape.

I was hyper aware of everything around me, especially the gun poking into my side. There were moments when the car had to be stopped because of traffic, and I could see the rest of the world going about their day. I tried to make eye contact with drivers, but from their perspective I was probably just going about my Saturday with two other friends. I didn't succeed. 

Throughout the whole journey the perpetrator was following his accomplice's car in front. It was a red Kancil and I remember the number plate of the car till this very day. There were three of them in total. Two were in my car, and one was in the car in front.

They brought me further and further away from my university. I did not speak, although they tried to make me. I tried to remember every bit of the journey, destination and pieces of conversation that took place. It was only my second year living in the city and I did not have much knowledge of its localities. So I tried to memorise the route, all the roads they took, and the names of each street we passed by. 

Soon we arrived at what looked like an abandoned house in an otherwise fine-looking residential area. It seemed to be a place the perpetrators frequented. Two of them got down from the cars and made their way upstairs to get the place "ready". I was left in the car with the main perpetrator. 

I've read enough of the news, watched enough crime videos and television to know that it can only lead to a few things: rape, murder, kidnapping for ransom.

I was alone with him. "Should I make a break for it?" I thought. I chose not to, as he was aggressive and much bigger than me in size. I had a plan, and my plan was to comply with whatever they wanted from me, and make as little fuss as I could so as to not trigger violence.

He decided he couldn't wait, and this was when the first act took place. He reclined the driver's seat and instructed me to go down on him while waiting for his friends. 

I held my breath and my tears and did it. 

His friends came down in the middle of the act, informing him that the place was ready and secure. 

I was brought upstairs in the abandoned house, right into what looked like a drug den. The place was a mess. There was rubbish everywhere, syringes lay strewn on the floor, and it smelled horrible. I was then led to an old, lumpy, dirty mattress on the floor. 

They took turns with me. Sometimes gently, sometimes violently.

I did not scream. I complied. My mind was blank. Every part of me was frozen. I remember feeling as if I floated out of my own body, watching myself being abused from afar. I was mentally prepared leading up to the act, but when it was being done, it was as if my mind refused to accept that it was really happening. At one point I could feel hot blood flowing out of some parts of my body where I was abused. I just closed my eyes and let them have their way with me. 

I remember laying there and just thinking "This is it. This is the end."

When they were finally done with me, they shoved me back into the car, seemingly intending to send me back to where they picked me up. They pocketed my phone, cash, and some other valuables, and forced me to give them the PIN number of my bank card that they found in my purse. I did. I watched as one of them went into the bank and withdrew everything from my bank account. 

The perpetrator warned me repeatedly that if I were to go to the police, he would find me and kill me. 

"Do you want to die?" he asked.

"No," I answered. 

"Good. Then don't you dare go to the police." 

I was left somewhere near where I was picked up. He stopped my car, threw my bag at me, went back into his friend's car and they drove off. 

I had no cash, no phone. I drove to where my boyfriend was working and told him everything. I broke down and everything after was a blur. The next thing I know, I was already in a hospital bed.

I remember waking up in the hospital the morning after, with my mum asleep in the chair next to my bed. It was so cold, and my mum must have been there the whole night in that uncomfortable chair. 

Realising that I had woken up, my mum immediately came to my bedside, hugged me and cried. "I will be okay, mum," I told her. 

I felt a rush of relief to have my parents with me. After receiving the news, my parents immediately packed and drove more than 200 miles from my hometown. According to my mum, my dad was speeding like he never had before. 

What followed was a flurry of hospital stays, mandatory counselling sessions, picking out the criminals from a lineup in the police station, visits from the police in different departments, court testimonies that dragged on for months. I recounted my story as best I could during each session. I brought the police to where everything took place. I told them everything I remembered. It was exhausting having to repeat myself multiple times — I almost wished I could have recorded my entire statement so I could press play each time I was asked. 

In the aftermath, it was my parents and boyfriend who supported me. Even though my parents were based in a hometown three hours’ drive from KL and were still working full-time, they would make the trips to accompany my boyfriend and I to hospital and to court. They sold the car I was using and bought me a new one, because they didn’t want me to use the car that had brought so much pain.

My boyfriend didn’t treat me differently or like I was fragile, but as a normal person going about my day-to-day life. This was a major contributing factor to being able to get back on track with my life.

It took a year for me to be comfortable with being physically intimate with a partner, but he was extremely understanding. I actually burst into tears several times when I was trying to be intimate, but it didn’t scare him off. He never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to do.

After two years the case was finally closed. Because the court cases were so far apart and the public prosecutor kept updating me about the investigation, I couldn’t put it behind me. I believe that it helped that I had very clear details in my testimony: I told the police the names I heard them calling each other, how they looked like, and the name of the shop lot that I was brought to. Apparently, they had been on the wanted list for other crimes like drug possession and robbery. 

The perpetrators were arrested and sentenced to jail for the crimes of kidnapping, assault, and rape. They received 10 to 15 year jail sentences including five to 15 strokes of the cane. Frankly, I don’t believe that they should even be released. I believe that prosecution for rape should warrant a life sentence in prison. 

Because it has been 10 years, I do feel a bit of anxiety as I know their sentences will be coming to an end soon. All I can do is to shake off these feelings, and hope that they will not be motivated by revenge.

They say as time passes, bad memories go away.

Not this. It never leaves you.  

I have battled with depression and am on long-term medication, and I can honestly say that without professional help and a good support system, I would not still be here today. I discovered that there are friends that wouldn't look at you differently after you have told your story. There are friends that take time out of their lives to check on you, or to accompany you to the therapist when things get especially bad and you don't feel like dealing with life alone.

There will be days where I think I have finally put it all behind. But no; it will rear its ugly head once more.

I would catch a glimpse of a lookalike car, and it would send me into a state of panic.

When I hear the name of the place it happened, I find myself unable to breathe. Till this day I avoid that area like the plague, although it is a well-known residential area today. I do not ever utter its name. 

There are triggers every so often, and it feels like my lungs are closing in with every breath. And it takes so much to take deep breaths, close my eyes, and flush out the memory. I watch Netflix, open Instagram to look at puppies and talk to close friends to calm down.  

There are nights where I am jolted awake from nightmares, overwhelmed by feelings of being violated, of doubting my self-worth, that "nobody will understand", "maybe I'm worthless after all", "maybe I deserved it". 

I tell myself that all you can do is to trudge on, hold your head up high and remind yourself that you are worth it. On some days, you can allow yourself to be weak. It's okay to not be okay, but always, always pick yourself up after. 

 

Remember that you are amazing, you are a survivor, you are extraordinary. You lived through horrors no human should have to endure. And you will live to fight another day.

Today, I am a 28-year-old Assistant Manager in a multinational IT company and still living in KL. I’m at the point in my life where I’m juggling between my career, taking care of my parents, maintaining a social life and working on self-care — I am no different from most of us at my age. I am no longer with the same boyfriend I was with 10 years ago, for reasons outside of the incident — we just had different goals in life and decided to part amicably. I am now in a six-year-long relationship with someone who loves me for who I am, and I never have to apologise for being myself. 

What I strive for is to have a job that fulfils me, to be kind to everyone, and to be happy — much like everyone else. Except that because of what I had to go through, it took a longer time to come to the clarity that I have today, thanks to a combination of self-help books, articles and poetry. I read a lot, so I take in most of my knowledge from reading. It wasn’t just because of talking to loved ones, or going to therapy. I relied a lot on my own growth and healed myself through self-reflection. I love to run, and I take long commutes to and from work, which give me time to be on my own and reflect. 

I do speak to friends when I need someone to talk to, but I still try to keep most of it to myself. I still have the fear of sounding like a broken record, that they may alienate me for being seen as “emo”. It’s a lot of negativity for anyone to deal with and I understand that. 

If you know someone who has been sexually assaulted, don’t feel like you need to tread on broken glass around them. What they need most is to be treated like a normal person in order to recover and move on. With that said, it would be advisable to check in with them once in awhile to see how they are doing. Victims tend to keep their trauma and feelings to themselves and are afraid of being a hindrance to those among them, so let them see that they can open up to you if they need someone. 

It was my mum who told me that if I could find the strength within me, I could empower other women with my story. She has always been active in communities in my hometown that support female health and empowerment. 

Until Dayre, I never felt like I had a safe enough platform to share. 

This is the first time that I am speaking out. I never felt safe being vulnerable, because I was fearful that the stigma would affect me personally and professionally.

In the depths of my depression I was unhappy for so long that the pursuit of happiness felt almost impossible and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes I do go back to that state. But what I strive for is to always have contentment and gratitude in what I have and the things that I do. I want to be able to give back and make a positive difference in the world, no matter how small. 

Written by Julie, additional reporting by Clara How. 

If you or your loved one is in need of support or a listening ear, contact Samaritans of Singapore (www.sos.org.sg) or Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (www.befrienders.org.my/).

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