According to the United Nations, Australia has one of the highest rates of reported sexual assault in the world, with figures revealing almost 92 people per 100,000 to be victims at some stage of their lives.
One of these people is Nikki Simos. At the age of 17, she was sexually assaulted on two separate occasions, by two different men, one of which resulted in pregnancy.
Faced with the troubling prospect of becoming a mother under the worst of circumstances, including suicidal thoughts, now 28 years on the 45-year-old is ready to tell her story in a bid to help others experiencing trauma.
Launched this week, Letting Go, Moving On is Nikki’s courageous reveal, in which she retells the intimate details of her past; details that she had hidden from her family until now.
“For many, many years I didn’t actually understand that I still had that hurt, pain, guilt, remorse, embarrassment and sadness within me,” which, she says, made it impossible to heal.
But Nikki didn’t realise the full extent of the effect it was having on her life until two years ago, when she experienced what she describes as an “epiphany”, after establishing her life-coaching business Mind Ahead and pursuing studies in neurolinguistic programming.
“It wasn’t until studying language and timeline therapy, where it’s like you’re in a trance and previous memory is triggered, that I had the opportunity to go into it on a conscious but unconscious level. It was at that point that I realised I haven’t actually let go of a lot of the baggage I thought I had,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
But the unfortunate reality is that Nikki’s story is not uncommon. On both occasions of rape, the perpetrators were not strangers, but people she had built a rapport with and therefore trusted.
In her book, she goes into great detail about the moment she realised she was in danger, before being manhandled in the bedroom of a young boy with whom she had become good friends at the local swimming pool. She explores her inner thought process in detail, and tackles the guilt she felt for allowing herself to be in a compromised position − something she now realises is never the victim’s fault.
At the time, Nikki was in a discreet relationship with a man 25 years her senior. Unsure of what to do, and with his support alone, when she discovered she was pregnant an abortion seemed to be the only option. While she recognises that she was only a child herself at the time, her decision is something she has struggled with to this day.
But aside from her young age, the life coach admits she struggled even more so as a result of the added pressure from her parents, and the expectation to be a good Greek girl.
“You had certain standards and expectations your parents had of you,” she says, and while she recalls her parents being quite loving, they were also firm with their approach. Home was where she felt safe and cared for, but where feelings and the words ‘I love you’ were rarely, if ever, expressed. Though she says this was common among migrant families, whose sole focus was to work hard and provide for their families, it ultimately stopped her from coming forward with the truth about her experiences as a victim of sexual abuse.
“Culturally it was tough; you just didn’t say anything, you just didn’t. It was one of those things, you thought ‘okay, if this comes out, not only am I going to embarrass my family, but at that age you’re thinking you’re going to be thrown out on the streets, called a slut and that you’re going to be disowned,” she says.
“Being so young, not really understanding and being really naive, I just thought ‘I can’t tell my sisters, I can’t tell my family, I can’t tell my doctor’. I didn’t get any support, I didn’t get any counselling.”
While her husband has been informed of her past, the negative experiences continued to haunt her throughout the years, affecting her intimate life.
“When you hide your secret away so nobody else knows … the wound festers and grows, making it difficult to live a normal life. One small thing can trigger a reaction, a memory, when you least expect it, and that’s impossible to hide,” she says.
“Often perhaps on an intimacy level things would be done and I didn’t feel comfortable and I would try and understand, ‘but why not, I love my soul mate; why can’t I do this?’ All of those issues then came to the surface, and to further discover that ‘okay I’m still letting go. I still haven’t let go’.”
It was with this realisation that Nikki was able to start the healing process. Aside from devoting herself to her faith, she also took the time out for self care and to take part in rituals close to her heart.
“Part of the healing with reference to my abortion on the current status of moving forward is that I purchased a plant. I planted it in my backyard as the signification of a seed that would have grown but now I can nurture it and water it the way I needed to. So the metaphor of having something that can grow as a fruit, but the loss that I had, had been dealt with. So that was my outcome for dealing with that,” she reveals.
While the writer says she is pleased to see that acceptance and openness have grown over the years when it comes to victims voicing their stories and gaining support, she still thinks there’s a way to go. She believes there is still stigma, especially when it comes to CALD communities, and that the adequate funding is lacking.
“When you’re in a dire straits situation and you need to act on it quickly, where our system fails us now is that funding is either not available or, in the classic example of mental health, the turnaround time for assistance on that is still where it would have been years back,” she says.
It is the thought of other women finding themselves in her position, without the right information and support, that saw Nikki passionately pursue her writing in the hope that through her story they too would find the courage needed to speak out.
“Writing the book itself is to actually support and help people of today based on my experiences.
“I also hope that socially people are able to tell their stories so that they can have a greater awareness of what needs to be dealt with. These things happen, so the awareness has to happen,” Nikki urges.
“I’m not seeking sympathy, I’m not seeking revenge; for me, on top of all the moral aspects, it’s truly about finding the freedom within your soul, to be able to live your life and be the best version of yourself that you possibly can be.”
To show her commitment to the cause, Nikki will also be donating a percentage of the profits from her book sales to missionaries that are giving back to the community and those in need.
Letting Go, Moving On will also be launched at The Presentation of Our Lord Church Hall in Coburg on Thursday 17 November at 7.00 pm, and at Wallan Multipurpose Centre in Wallan on Friday 25 November at 7.00 pm. To purchase the book, visit www.mindahead.com.au