Michelle Bridges’ mantra in life is that each person is the master of their own destiny. That whatever life has thrown at them, ultimately it's up to each individual to write the narrative of their life. And it's a lesson she's learned through hard experience.
At the age of 18, fresh out of school and newly arrived in the NSW town of Taree, Michelle was sexually assaulted.
It's an episode she has relegated to her distant past and one she insists she has never dwelled on. Yet the fact she endured it, survived it and ultimately prevailed is, she says, reason enough to talk about it now.
The attack took place in daylight, in a nightclub she had visited to enquire about part-time work. In the otherwise empty club, a man claiming to be the manager took down her details.
"The phone rang in one of the offices downstairs and he went to answer it," Michelle tells The Weekly. "He came back and said he wanted to show me the nightclub and walked me across the hallway into a dimly-lit room. I instantly got a bad vibe — I knew immediately that something wasn't right.
"I started saying maybe it wasn't the right job for me after all and turned to leave. That's when he grabbed me and pushed me up against the bar.
"I was in this dark room with this man on top of me. There was a lot of pushing and shoving — it was awful, just awful. And I just remember thinking: 'This is not going to happen to me. This is not going to be my story.'
“I went to scream, but nothing came out. He just kept grabbing at me and tearing at my clothes. He was determined to have his way with me, but I just kept fighting. I fought my way out of the room and ran downstairs to discover he had locked the front door. He must have done it when he went down to take the phone call.
“He started coming down the stairs after me and I was fumbling with the lock. He grabbed hold of me again at the door and we fought again, until I somehow managed to undo the lock and fall out onto the street.
“I just ran up the street as fast as I could. I was a mess. I was an absolute mess. My shirt was torn, I had cuts and bruises and I was shaken, so shaken. I ran all the way to the police station and inside, I just collapsed in tears.”
Michelle reported the assault to police and indicated she most definitely wanted to press charges. Months later, she found herself in the local court room facing down her attacker and enduring a fierce cross-examination from his lawyer, who quizzed her on what sort of clothes she had been wearing and how short her skirt had been. The man who assaulted her was sentence to a year in prison. Michelle had not yet turned 19.
“It was harrowing,” she recalls. “But I knew what had happened was wrong. If I hadn’t fought back, he probably would have raped me. And there was no way I wasn’t going to make a noise about it..
“Half my friends don’t know, not because I’ve tried to keep it a secret but because it’s a part of my distant past. I just don’t’ dwell on it. I would just never want one incident to have so much control over me that it ruined my life.”
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