Avalanche of Silence: Sexual assault, the telling and the aftermath

Kirsten Krauth
10 min readMar 14, 2021


Content warning: sexual assault

Photo by Luca Vercellio on Unsplash

A week before Brittany Higgins went public with her allegation of rape in a parliamentary office (in Australia), a musician friend sang a song during his weekly live stream performance. During COVID times, as we both lived in regional areas, I’d started writing lyrics for the first time, and he’d started putting my lyrics to music. One of the songs was called ‘Beautiful Avalanche’.

It was built around a memory of a sexual assault that happened 15 years ago, an experience that I’d never spoken about publicly or even privately, really, even to close friends and family. As my friend’s beautiful voice sang out my words, I felt suddenly, incredibly, exposed. This was my voice, but I wasn’t singing it. I wasn’t ready for its impact and I had no safety net. I also didn’t anticipate what was soon to happen in Canberra.

A few weeks later, overwhelmed, I’m watching Australia’s Attorney-General Christian Porter deny responsibility for an alleged rape on all the news channels, and I’m looking at a photo of the woman involved. She is a writer, my age. It breaks my heart to think of her fighting for 30 years for justice, contending with mental illness and the added stress of COVID and lockdown, before ending her own life.

I’m thinking too about Brittany’s story and what strikes me most is the immediate aftermath. The image that stays in my mind is the perpetrator walking out and leaving her naked, found later by security guards. I wonder about those guards. How did they react to this vulnerable woman? This vision lingers, and finally won’t leave me alone. I wonder too whether her story would have received any media attention at all if it hadn’t happened right in that parliamentary office.

It takes me back not once, but twice. It brings on my memories. Stories well buried.


I met S in a bar in Chippendale. He wasn’t my type at first, but I was drunk, we started to dance. He became more fun as the night went on. He was smart, entertaining. He moved beautifully. By the time we left and got in a taxi, I was into him. We kissed in the taxi. There was promise. He took me to his apartment.

But it wasn’t his apartment. The moment I walked in, I sensed I was in trouble. There was no one else there. He seemed to lose his humour. He stopped looking at me. When I asked him questions, just regular conversation, he didn’t answer. At all. As he manoeuvred me into bed and took off my clothes, I don’t remember making a decision other than ‘just get me out of here quick’.

He was large in physique, incredibly strong, and I can only describe my response as being like a cat’s when they go into freeze mode* — time went very slowly, my body and mind going in incremental degrees. Struggling was not an option. Things took forever. I went numb.

Suddenly it seemed I was in survival mode. The first opportunity I got, I pretended I needed to go to the toilet. I ran into the bathroom. I thought: if I can just get in there and lock the door, I can work on a strategy to get out. But as I closed the door, I realised there was no lock and so I sat on the toilet naked while he came straight in, and then he started talking. He said, ‘let’s have more crazy sex’. He was animated. He was in my face. He had withdrawn to some place completely unreachable. He couldn’t see me as a person. I said I wanted some privacy while I was in the bathroom. He stayed put.

I walked out into the bedroom and he followed me. I looked around for my clothes and they were gone. He’d hidden them somewhere. I stood next to the bed while he approached and when I look back, it is this moment that brings the most shame. I know it is not for me to feel shame, but that doesn’t stop it happening. Because it is at this moment that I realised I had a choice. I could try to escape the apartment, completely naked. Or I could stay and risk never getting out of that apartment.

I was fearful for my life and still I chose to stay. I’ve always been shy about my naked body. It takes me a long time to reveal it, even to a lover. I consider it a gift to do that. It’s not that I don’t love my body. But it’s mine. I couldn’t run out into the street naked. Nothing would push me to do that.

So in the silence in that room, I started to speak. I’m a quiet person but it felt like I was talking for my life. I tried to engage, to get through the barriers, to make him see that I was a person, not an animal or an inanimate object. Worthy of respect and care. I told him of my university studies. My family. I talked as if we were friends meeting for lunch. I didn’t stop talking. As he came closer, I talked to myself as if I really meant it. I said, ‘the sun’s coming up, I’d better get going’. I paced and talked and saw that he had kicked my clothes under the bed. I talked and grabbed what I could and ran out the door and past the lift and into the stairwell.

I ran down and pulled my clothes on as I waited for him to come out after me. As I panicked in the streets looking for a taxi, it never occurred to me to contact the police. I had no idea where I was. I couldn’t even remember S’s name. I got home and I got into the shower and I sat there for hours, scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing. Clean.


Last year, fifteen years later, I met a lover in a hotel room. From different States, I’d got to know L over the year, long distance during COVID times, online and in person. It was intense. We shared a rich fantasy life. It was fun and adventurous, and full of mutual desire. There was no hint of danger. I trusted him within that intimate space. He had no idea of what I was going through. And neither did I, at first.

But on the first two occasions we met, I didn’t really want to take my clothes off. The first time I stayed fully clothed, “slowed” him down. The second time, I left my dress on, unbuttoned. At no point did I link this with my earlier experience. The third time, after we made love, he became distant and started to withdraw emotionally. He stopped looking at me. I tried to hold his hand to make a connection. As I lay in bed, naked, I asked him to sit and stay and talk to me for a little. He buttoned up his jacket, restless, and refused. “It seems we’ve come to an impasse,” he said, joking. Feeling a slow panic rise, I tried to ask for help, so I could explain. But he was in a hurry, and said, “Final words?” “Take care,” I said, before he walked out. Distressed, I got into the shower. Scrubbing. But I didn’t feel clean this time.

When I got back home, my body wouldn’t stop shaking. As lockdown began again in regional Victoria, I attempted to talk about my experience for the first time. But I couldn’t find the courage to do it. Instead, I recorded myself delivering a monologue. It felt liberating. No one to butt in. I sent it to L. I felt the strong need to get across that it was his silence that had been triggering. I’d felt afraid. It wasn’t about the sex at all. I heard back immediately. He thanked me for sharing such a terrible experience. He totally understood. He texted, “Throw it to the wind, forever.” I replied, “Exactly.” But then I thought: how the hell can you ever do that?

L had his own traumatic experiences that he shared with me. It was harrowing and I felt deeply concerned. I felt safe to do the same as an exchange. On the phone a few weeks later, I tried to explain what it was like to finally deal with these memories on my own in lockdown, away from my family and friends. I felt like my seams were coming apart. Amid a number of beautiful musicians taking their own lives, I watched a live streamed concert and the singer said, “If you ever need to call someone in the night, don’t hesitate.” I called.

In the first conversation with L where I found the courage to say the words, I suggested that S may have been a returned soldier, that he had that look about him, the way he shut down. L immediately shifted the conversation to the legacy of war and PTSD on his own family. He seemed to relate to S’s experience. Sitting in my front garden, on the phone, the conversation turned quickly away. I was unable to speak. He was trying to find common ground, but not with me. I was in shock. At no point was there any sign of empathy for my experience or desire to help.

After this conversation, L didn’t want to talk any more on the phone. This was not the lover he’d envisaged, not the narrative of leaving a girl naked in a hotel room that played to the fantasy. Too nuanced, complicated. We continued to text every day but I felt myself going under in lockdown. I berated myself for choosing the wrong person to tell. Snow-blind. I struggled to find a way out of that relationship. But when Scott Morrison said he had to talk to his wife to understand the feelings of Brittany, it took me back to L’s non-response. Why was it so hard to just sit and listen? To try to understand my fear?


Words have power. A writer and editor by trade, it’s my job to create and organise them to have the most impact, emotionally. But my experience, and the events of the past couple of weeks, has made me realise that silence has a terrible power too. The conscious or unconscious absence of words, the withdrawal from intimacy, can be frightening, soul-destroying, triggering, and even violent in its negation. S didn’t speak and L used his withholding and empty words to weaponise and point the pain in other directions.

I’m watching Grace Tame’s address to the press club and it’s galvanising. I see the tears on the faces of many of the journalists listening and wonder how different things would be if every time we shared one of these stories, we were heard and, most importantly, believed. I have a career where people read my words. I am both terrified and grateful that I can share my story here, dig myself out of the avalanche of silence. But the woman who accused Porter is no longer with us. She was not heard when she needed to be.

I feel times are shifting, in particular around the narratives women create about themselves. The old scaffolding is crashing down. S and L both depended on me shying away and maintaining the silence. But I’ve come through stronger because I’ve reached out to other women. The politicians are still trying to get away with these narrative manipulations.

I am heading into the Women’s March for Justice in Melbourne today, a march at midday that’s taking place around Australia. I feel what may be useful is an emphasis on the aftermath this time. The telling. What happened when you told? Were you listened to, supported, ignored, challenged, buried in silence? Were you called a “lying cow”? Whether it happened thirty years ago or in 2020, power is in the re-telling.

If you can find the courage and support, there are a lot of people willing to listen, especially me.


You stand waiting around the corner
Let’s play kiss chasey, say farewell
You carry me, swinging high heels
Leather boots left in the stairwell

Your head is shaved, a soldier
Eyes like the predatory bird
You turn away when I turn to you
When I talk, you don’t say a word

You rip off my skin, strip by strip
You pull me down on all fours
This bed, this pillow, this lamp-light
I can see now that none of it’s yours

But you still own the night
You still own it


I needed the girl in the moon
Her shadow of a smile cast down
The curve of her face a reflection of mine
As I ran without shoes through the town

My avalanche of falling words
Pattern the ground where I walk
Stops quicksand from sucking me under
I watch her crawl away as you stalk

You start off the size of a man
You roll, pin, speed up, as you go
You build, you widen, you go locomotive
Until you’re all I can see through the snow

What lasts is not the rough touch
The sharp torn fingernail that pries
What lasts is the avalanche of silence
Raining down on the bridge of sighs

But you don’t own the night
You don’t own it

I needed the girl in the moon
Her shadow of a smile cast down
The curve of her face a reflection of mine
As I ran without shoes through the town

Kirsten Krauth is an author, editor and arts journalist. Her second novel, Almost a Mirror, was published by Transit Lounge in 2020 and shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize.

* As an alternative to ‘fight’ and ‘flight’, your cat may freeze when they are either startled by something, or when they do not have the option to retreat to safety. Your cat may also use this strategy to ‘buy time’ whilst your cat decides what the best course of action to take next is (for example should they attempt to escape or ‘attack’?) — https://www.battersea.org.uk/pet-advice/cat-advice/cat-anxiety



Kirsten Krauth

Author. Arts journalist. Latest novel ALMOST A MIRROR shortlisted Penguin Literary Prize, out April. Recent profiles Ben Folds, Sian Clifford. kirstenkrauth.com