Peeling prawns

by Melanie

Whenever I think about sexual assault I think about my mother and aunties, their hands in shreds as they peeled prawns while the men sat around drinking beer. My cousin’s husband sexually abused me since the age of 11. That taught me it was a man’s world and men were allowed to do whatever they wanted to. There was no way that I was going to turn around to my mum and the women she was shelling prawns with to tell them what was happening to me and what I needed.

I love dancing and music and being out in the world. I love my dog. I have decided that my dog is less controlling than the rest of the world.

I was born in the 1950s in a large country town. No one spoke about sexual rights. The expectation was that you were men’s property and then you got married. I couldn’t see how there was anything in it for me.

Marriage was all there was, in most people’s minds and I thought I’m not going to do that. I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but I knew I was not doing that.

I remember early on thinking men had all the power. I remember when my uncle and aunty and cousins came we would go prawning. When we can home the women would sit around preparing the food, and the men would sit around drinking beer. I remember mother’s hands were in shreds from the peeling of prawns. The women weren’t doing this for themselves; it wasn’t about the woman’s pleasure. It was all about what the men wanted.

The women reminded me of servants. They were eating and doing everything around what The Men wanted. They called them The Men. Give The Men this or that. My parents had a good relationship and were together until my father died. But mum looked after him, it was about what he needed

When I was growing up there was absolutely nothing about sexual consent. Whenever I think about sexual assault I think about my mother and aunties peeling prawns. My cousin’s husband was 15 years older than me and sexually abused me since the age of 11.

That taught me that it was a man’s world and men were allowed to do whatever they wanted to. There was no way that I was going to turn around to my mum and the women she was shelling prawns and tell them what was happening and what I needed.

I often wonder did my mother and aunties know and not say anything. But no one said anything so I asked myself is this what I am supposed to be doing? Were they complicit?

For a number of years, I had a cathartic moment when I was meditating. I started crying. Then I remembered the sexual abuse. I said nothing to my cousin and her husband because they were real bullies.

Years later I went to the police and they were really, really good. They planned for me to be wired up and speak to my cousin about the sexual abuse. The police then transcribed it all and then went to visit my cousin, and he said to them: I’ve been waiting for you guys to turn up. He went to jail.

I don’t want to be consumed by hatred or grief. You still have to see the good things. There were good things about him, even though he thought he could do anything he liked with young women.

I knew another young girl who he probably sexually assaulted as well. The police encouraged me to reach out to her when the case went to court. So I rang her dad to tell him and ask for her contact details, but he wouldn’t let me talk to her. That’s another way of silencing. I’m glad I reported him to the police. We have to give stronger messages to people who abuse children.

Older women are completely invisible. I remember when it first started happening to me. I thought, this is weird. Older women had told me it would come. That’s why it’s fantastic going to events for older women – we are very visible to each other, no one looks through us.

I am in a band with young and old and we are absolutely visible to each other. I love that about music. They don’t give a shit how old you are. You are an important member. You can’t be invisible, it’s a band, and we all contribute.

Invisibly contributes to lower self-esteem. I go to a community gym that has two locations. One is trendy and full of buffed young people. The other is for older people where they have strength for life classes and everyone makes eye contact. And there is real camaraderie. I feel like I have come home. It’s phenomenal. It’s phenomenally good. I want to hang around with people who are active and I want to be seen.

I don’t know how older women cope when they are in a relationship where there is sexual assault. There is no escape. There is no strength. It saps their strength. What would they draw on? A lot of the older women I dance with have a really positive experience outside the home, and that helps to give them strength. I can’t imagine any of them putting up with sexual assault. They have links. They are seen. They are valued in a group outside of the home.

As I have gotten older, a lot of women that I mix with that are older than me have spent their life not talking about the abuse or mistreatment they have experienced. More of them are coming out now and talking about that part that has been suppressed.

People who were abused as children are much more vulnerable if they haven’t gone through redress. They haven’t really learned to say ‘no’ in a positive way.

One of my dad’s best friends, I used to call him uncle, one day we were driving and he grabbed my hand and put it on his dick while we were in the car with my dad and two of his friends. It was unbelievable. My guidance officer at high school sexually assaulted me as well.

There is nothing unusual about me. There are so many women, so many who have had these experiences and they are not prepared. There is a power imbalance

Older women are very, very vulnerable. None will ever sexually abuse my daughter because she knows she has rights. Marital rape immunity laws were ridiculous. They changed the law but that doesn’t change people’s minds. I still see the ownership of women by men.

In residential aged care, we need to rethink the way staff are recruited, trained and paid. We need to pay them properly. Staff have to be valued and trained properly. You can’t just shove people together and expect them to do slave labour and expect them to behave. I am hopeful the current government will take steps to make a change.

To help prevent sexual assault of older women in their own homes I think we need to look at mental health. We can’t divorce sexual assault from the self-esteem of victims.

We have to have public campaigns to raise awareness that sexual assault on older women is not okay. Like the campaigns to stop people smoking or to make them wear seat belts in cars.

I still know older women who are not connected with their community. They don’t go out and they don’t do anything. I can see how it happens. It’s a downward spiral. When you didn’t feel confident or valued and someone is telling you that you are shit your confidence drops. My self-esteem was so low. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t know how to connect

If you are in an abusive situation it’s very different to get out and connect. I don’t know how you make that first step. Maybe we need to let older women and their allies know that being connected matters. We need to understand how we get people who are isolated and in family violence linked up to something that gives them a lifeline. If you have a link that’s the start to supporting them.

We need to shift community attitudes. There have been a lot of community awareness campaigns about family violence, but not about what older women experience. Some older women are in relationships with men who exercise so much control that it has diminished their life in a way that they are hardly living. This has repercussions for their children and their children. I go back to the older women peeling the prawns.

You might also be interested in:

Are you #ReadyToListen?

The #ReadyToListen project has developed a suite of resources for aged care providers as well as aged care workers.


Our fortnightly newsletter dOWNtime will keep you informed of the issues and events concerning older women.
Join the OWN community!

Thank you! You have successfully subscribed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This