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Mistaken Memories

I was listening to a song about runaway girls who find their way to Sydney’s Kings Cross in Australia and it brought back the memory of my time on the streets of Kings Cross when I ran away from home in 1972.

I was just 15 at the time and so naive.  The memory of staring at a crack in the ceiling of a dirty old strip club while being gang raped came back to me as the singer sang.  I went back in time, back to that room, back to trying to imagine I was inside that crack in the ceiling so I would not feel what was happening to my body.

One memory led to another as is the way with memories.

I remembered finding a room to rent and work as a waitress after I arrived in the Cross and it wasn’t long before I had a boyfriend too.  He worked at a nearby strip club and told me I could earn good money as a stripper if I wanted to.  I resisted his attempts to recruit me for a while but, when I got the sack from the restaurant for being underage, I gave in and agreed to audition for his boss.

He told me his boss just needed to see how my skin looked under the stage lights before he could give me a job.  The audition consisted of stripping off and standing on stage as they shone the different lights on me.

I thought I had always remembered all there was to remember of that night.  I thought I had given in and allowed myself to be gang raped just because the boss threatened to hit me if I fought them.

As the singer sang about the bright lights of the Cross forgotten details of that old memory were triggered.

They didn’t just threaten me.  They took my clothes and hid them then slapped me around and pulled my hair.  When I ran, naked, for the front door they bruised my arm dragging me back.

As I remembered who had blocked my escape the tears began flowing.  It was my boyfriend!  He jumped between me and the door and stopped me from getting out.  HE was the one who bruised my arm.  It was HIS fingerprints I carried for days afterwards but all these years I thought I had not actually been hurt that night!

Somehow I forgot the violence once I agreed not to keep fighting them and I forgot how hard my boyfriend fought to stop me from getting away.  All these years I just remembered being threatened and agreeing not to fight.

Tonight I remembered exactly what I was threatened with.  The strip club boss forced me to perform oral sex on him and, as I did it, he kept yanking on my hair and punching my head to make the experience even more unpleasant for me.  He told me it was my punishment for trying to get away.  He said if I put up any more resistance at all, or took too long to do this, all the other men who worked there would arrive for a meeting before I was gone and I would have to service them too.

They arrived before I was gone even though I had done as I was told.  The boss said I wasted too much time and now everyone was going to have sex with me whether I agreed to let them or not.  I was a little girl surrounded by grown men and I was afraid.

The boss pulled me aside and told me my options.  If I agreed not to fight any more he would let me do it one man at a time in a private room.  He said I would not have to perform oral sex on anyone else and they would not be allowed to touch me anally if I cooperated.  If I did as I was told I would also be able to leave as soon as it was over.

If I did not do as I was told, he said, I would be raped on the floor of the club in any way the men chose and as roughly as they liked.  He said some of the men liked blood with their sex and they would make sure I bled.  He said if I made him angry he would keep me locked up until he, his staff and his customers, got bored with me and he thought it would probably take a long time for them all to get bored.

All these years I have remembered that experience as a choice I made.  I agreed to be gang raped to avoid being hit.  I thought I was a coward and a stupid little fool.  Now I see I was neither a coward nor a fool.  I did what I had to do to survive.  I fought as hard as I could then submitted to prevent myself from being violently and savagely violated in more ways than the one I agreed to.

I have always believed my boyfriend set me up for that experience but I assumed it was just something I worked out for myself over the years.  We broke up but I could never recall how or why.  Now I remember.

As they escorted me to the private room the boss asked me if I wanted my boyfriend to go first or last.  I was surprised and protested that surely my boyfriend was not going to be a part of this.  My boyfriend looked dismayed and the boss jumped in and said my boyfriend had no choice.  He had to participate or he would get the sack.  When I nodded and said I would prefer my boyfriend to go last the boss laughed and assured me that was a good choice.  He then said I should be nice to all the men because none of them had a choice as he would sack anyone who refused to participate.

From that moment I believed the boss was the only one to blame for what happened.  After it was all over my boyfriend took me home and told me his boss had agreed to hire me.  I said I would never set foot in the club again.

I was true to my word and nothing my boyfriend said could persuade me to step foot inside the club or get within arms distance of the boss.  They tried all sorts of things to get me to forget about what happened but I had obviously forgotten enough.  I wouldn’t listen to a word they said and kept telling them they suckered me once and it would not happen again.

One night I was waiting outside the club for my boyfriend to finish work and the boss tried to grab me and drag me inside the club.  He said I was making a big deal out of nothing and I should stop being so silly.  I panicked and began screaming so he let me go.  I ran home crying with terror.  I have always remembered that scene and wondered why I felt such fear when he tried to grab me.  Now I know and now I remember what happened after I went home.

My boyfriend came after me and told me off for making a scene.  He said if I kept behaving that way his boss would sack him.  I told him he should get a boss who doesn’t rape girls and he looked shocked.  He said his boss had not raped me.  He said I had consented.  I said, “I said no but he wouldn’t take no for an answer”.  I had been forced to say yes therefore it was rape.

It took some doing but my boyfriend eventually convinced me to start meeting him outside the club after he finished work again and there was never any sign of the boss so I relaxed my guard.  Sometimes I even sat on the doorman’s chair near the door to wait.  One night they put the chair closer to the door than usual so that, when the boss reached out from inside the club and pulled me off the chair, I was caught unprepared.  The doorman was right near me and he helped the boss to get me through the door.

I went ballistic with terror.  I screamed and fought and clawed and grabbed at decorations and door frames as they tried to drag me into the club.  I dropped to the floor and curled up in a ball sobbing and screaming and my boyfriend finally told everyone to let me go and step away from me so they did.  As soon as I felt there were no hands on me I began to calm a little and the boss stepped in to help me up off the floor.  The instant I saw his hand reaching for me I began screaming again and trying to head-butt my way through the nearest wall to get away from him.  He stepped back and everyone began trying to convince me there was nothing to be afraid of.

All I had ever remembered of this scene before now was being in the club hallway while my boyfriend told me to take notice of the fact that nobody was touching me and I was free to go if I wanted to.

Now I remember the aftermath.  I ran, panic stricken, from the club but my boyfriend told me to wait while he went for his things.  The boss tried to talk to me but I just kept backing away from him.  He finally stopped trying to get close enough to talk privately and said my boyfriend told him I was accusing him of raping me.  I said you did.  He denied it but I was firm and reminded him of the threats he had made.  Then he wanted to know why I was holding it against him and not any of the others.  I reminded him of what he had told me – that he would have sacked them if they didn’t participate.  I said you forced them too.

He told me I was stupid if I believed that.  He said he had not forced any of the men.  He said they all did it because they wanted to including my boyfriend and he said my boyfriend had known all along what was going to happen.  I got angry with him and called him a liar but the doorman, one of the men who had lined up that night, said it was all true.

When my boyfriend came out they forced him to admit he had known what was going to happen to me when he brought me there that night.  I still thought the boss might have been lying so I let my boyfriend walk me home.

Once we were away from the others I asked him if it was true and he said yes.  He said it was a ritual, a test, all the girls who worked there had to let everyone have sex with them before they would be hired.  He said I had passed the test and could start work any time I was ready to be sensible.

I told him I didn’t LET any of those men have sex with me – I had been FORCED.  I said I did not want to work with rapists.  I told him I hated all of them and would never speak to any of them again, including him, and that was how we broke up.

As the singer sang and the memories came back I cried for the little girl I used to be.  All these years I thought I was a gutless coward for caving in to threats and a stupid moron for believing everything I was told.  For 35 years I believed I was suckered and, if I was that cowardly and stupid, it was my own fault.  Tonight I saw I was not stupid or gutless.  I put up a brave fight and I believed the lies because either they were believable, anal rape for one, or the truth was too awful to bear.  Why would my boyfriend want to see me gang raped?

Once the memory gates opened I was flooded with details I have never remembered before.

The way they groomed me, all of them, from day one when I went to check out my first strip show.  They took one look at me and gave me VIP status!  Free entry, free drinks, non-stop attention, introductions to the strippers – my every wish was their command!  Having such a pretty girl there attracted customers they told me.  They said I was good for business.

My friend Ross and his warnings.  “Girls get drugged and raped at those places all the time” he cautioned me when I told him I was going to check out a strip show.  He gave me strict instructions and wouldn’t let me pass until I promised to obey them.  Do not let them give me alcohol – it will disguise the taste of any drugs slipped into it.  Do not drink a drink I have allowed out of my sight in case someone has slipped a drug into it while I was not looking.  Come straight home after the show or be embarrassed when he came looking for me.

I became a regular at the strip club because I enjoyed being treated like a VIP but I obeyed all of Ross’s orders and, when questioned, I said I was keeping a promise to a friend.

One night they invited me to stay behind after the club closed for a private show and I was flattered to be invited so I accepted.  Half an hour later there was a racket at the door and it was Ross.  He refused to leave until they let him in to speak to me and get it from my own mouth that I was OK.  He demanded to know what time the show would end and said he would be back looking for me if I was not home then.

Ross did not back off until after the boss introduced me to my boyfriend and we got together but even then he kept tabs on me.  They tried to come between us but Ross would not let them so we stayed friends and he continued to make my boyfriend aware that he was watching me.

After I broke up with my boyfriend Ross saw to it that he was not able to get near me again so they began communicating with me through Ross.

He came to me and said they had offered me a job.  I told him to tell them no.  He came and said they wanted to know why.  I told him to tell them I hated them and did not trust them and they would never get a chance to rape me again.  He came to me and said they would pay me $500 dollars a week so I could hire a bodyguard if I did not feel I could trust them.  He said he would be my body guard for free if I wanted to take the job.

I had been earning just $25 dollars a week as a waitress but I was not tempted.  I told Ross to tell them I did not want anything to do with them because they were all rapists.

Then my money ran out.  By this time Ross was my new boyfriend and he invited me to move in with him.  I accepted and he must have told the club staff because he came back to me with five hundred dollars in cash and said they had ordered him to give it to me so I would not have to move in with him.  I asked him if he wanted me to take it.  He said he did not want me to move in with him just because I could not afford my own place.  He said he wanted me to do what I wanted to do.  He said they had told him to make sure I knew the money was free and there were no strings attached.

I told him I did not believe that and I did not want their money, I wanted to move in with him, if he did not want me then I would hit the road and go back to hitch-hiking.  He said that was good enough for him and he did want me.  He ran off to give them back their cash.

They left us alone after that.  They only approached me one more time to ask me if Ross had told me about the job and offered me the $500 dollars.  I told them the offers had been made and refused and I would hate them all until the day I died.

After the flood of memories subsided I cried.  I cried for all the years I blamed myself for what they did to me when it was never my fault after all.  I cried for the brave little girl who tried to fight off those grown men and failed.  I cried for the smart little girl who chose the lesser of two evils to protect herself.

I cried for a world so ugly it contains men who think it is alright to terrorize and lie to a child to get sex then don’t believe they are actually rapists afterwards.

Most of all I cried for the fact that I never had a childhood.  From the moment I was born I was prey and there was nobody there to stand between me and the predators.  I did my best but I was outsmarted, outfoxed, outmanoeuvred, suckered, lied to, and shot down time and time again.  It’s easy to do that to children.  Their only protection is their parents and the law.  The law knows it’s just too easy to sucker youngsters and that is why there is an age of consent.  As far as I am concerned it is too low even at 16 and should be at least 18.

Then it dawned on me.  If those animals offered me so much to try and get me back into their clutches what did they offer Ross to betray me and help them get me back?

How much money could they have made from private strip shows involving an underage girl and what made the boss think up the threat to keep me a prisoner for sexual purposes?

What would have happened to me if Ross had not been there?

Another forgotten memory surfaced.  Ross told me over and over that he loved me but I never believed him.  I always thought he was just saying it because it was the thing to say.  Now I see he might have been telling the truth!

What would have happened to me if Ross had not loved me?

It wasn’t pleasant remembering all that stuff but it was worth it.  My respect for who I was has been restored and I no longer blame myself, in any way, for what they did.

My life contains a long list of villains but now there is one more hero to add to the short, but notable, list of good men I have met.

Last but not least I have been reminded that I am not alone.  I have never been alone.  God has been watching over me all along.  Even when the bad things happened God was there making sure I survived with as little damage as was possible given the circumstances.

It was my choice to run away from home and put myself in a situation where predators could target me.  It was God who made sure I met Ross BEFORE I met my “boyfriend”!

The mind is a powerful thing.  It can repress memories or alter them completely.  I carried the marks of my boyfriends five fingers on my upper arm after that night but I was certain I had not been subjected to any violence.  Up until now I just thought I bruise easily despite all the evidence since then that I do NOT bruise easily!

Every one of those men altered their memories to forget the force that was used to obtain my consent.  All but one of them ignored the fact that I would not look at him or speak to him or respond to him in any way.  Even when one slapped me to make me open my eyes and another accused me of being a lousy screw I did not respond.  I kept my eyes open to avoid another slap but I focused on a crack in the ceiling just near where their faces were. I left my body with them and sent the rest of me above it into the ceiling.  I stayed in that crack in the ceiling until everyone was done with my body yet all but one of those men believed I was a willing sex partner.

My dreams since those memories returned have been filled with blood but none of it has been mine.  I saw my therapist today and she said the EMDR may have been the cause of this shift in me.  All I know is my memories are being reprocessed and I am happy about the things I am discovering about my past and my role in it.

Maybe, now I have remembered all of it, I will be able to put the experience away and forget how it felt to try and squeeze myself into a crack in a dirty ceiling.

Maybe now I will be able to accept a mans offer of a helping hand to get up when I fall over instead of feeling an urge to crawl away because I am suddenly afraid of him.

I think I will.  I have healed many of the psychic wounds inflicted on me but how can anyone heal wounds they do not know they have?  I already feel stronger and more intact than I did before.  It wasn’t pleasant discovering those wounds or recalling how I got them but it is nice to know I was a brave and clever 15 year old not the cowardly, stupid, airhead I always believed I was!

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