It was the perfect Australia Day.
My then partner and I had taken our little girl to our mates’ Kristy and Emanuel’s home for a barbecue.
Snags sizzling, us grown ups sipped ice-cold beers, while the little ones played.
When we ran out of drinks, I decided to head to the pub for some more.
Emanuel came with me and we ordered a bottle to takeaway.
‘Quick game of pool?’ I suggested.
‘Do you guys want to play doubles?’ I asked the couple who’d just finished.
‘Yeah,’ the woman replied.
‘Are you chatting up my missus?’ the bloke barked.
I’m too old for pub fights, I thought, ignoring him.
Once we’d finished the game, I collected my bottle from the bar.
‘You better get out front – someone’s having words with your mate,’ the barman said.
Racing outside, I saw three men had circled Emanuel, including the bloke we’d just been playing pool against.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked, as he shoved me hard in the chest.
‘I don’t want to fight,’ I said, walking away with Emanuel.
We’d nearly made it back to his place when a man jogged towards us.
‘I heard you’ve been chatting up my girlfriend,’ he yelled.
‘I don’t know what you’re on about,’ I protested.
What was going on? This was a different guy altogether.
All I want is to get back to my family, I thought.
‘Yeah, I got him,’ the man panted down the phone.
Suddenly, he pushed Emanuel out of the way.
Stars exploded as he headbutted, then punched me in the face. Dazed, I fell back into the gutter.
Then out of nowhere, the road began to fill up with people, three of them women.
I only hoped Emanuel had got away and was calling for help...
I was kicked mercilessly, then yanked up by my collar. Held in place, the punches and kicks rained down on me.
Will this ever end? I fretted, unable to move.
Just then, someone threw me back onto the bitumen.
This is it, I thought, as a shoe smashed into my head.
Dragged along by my feet, my pants were pulled down and I felt a hand grope inside my boxers.
The flurry of punches continued, while somebody rammed their fingers repeatedly in my backside.
Agony ripped through me. And shame.
I had to get away.
Managing to free myself, I sprinted off and knocked on someone’s door, but no-one answered.
Petrified, I hid under a chair on the porch as two of my attackers strode down the street, searching for me.
I didn’t have my mobile, or I would’ve called for help.
‘We haven’t got him yet,’ one grunted down the phone, as a car tailed behind.
Once it disappeared, I headed towards Kristy and Emanuel’s until voices forced me under a veranda. Playing cat and mouse, I bolted through a series of backyards.
Reaching a street, I saw a ute crawling along with a blinding spotlight meant for hunting kangaroos and pigs.
Heart hammering, I jumped into a stormwater drain, praying I’d remain unseen.
What will they do to me if they find me? I panicked.
I couldn’t understand how I’d wound up being hunted like an animal.
As the spotlight became a pinprick in the distance, I made a run for it. Finally, a kind passer-by stopped and drove me to hospital.
I had tissue damage all over my body and two loose front teeth had to be removed, but the emotional scars ran deepest.
Humiliated, I considered keeping the sexual assault a secret. But the next day, I reported it to the police.
I couldn’t let them get away with it.
Thankfully, officers soon charged four people, including the ringleader, Rebecca Mannion, then 36.
Two years later, in December 2015, Mannion appeared at Armidale District Court and was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault in company inflicting actual bodily harm and later jailed for six-and-a-half years.
Her three accomplices, a male, now aged 43, and two females, 31 and 42, were all convicted of affray.
The man was sentenced to 14 months behind bars. The 31-year-old women was sentenced to 11 months behind bars while the 42-year-old was given a suspended 12-month sentence.
I didn’t know any of them from a bar of soap.
Why me? I wondered.
Afterwards, my relationship broke down and I struggled to come to terms with what had happened.
I still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, but an amazing woman, Rachel, has saved me.
Three years on from the attack, we’re really happy.
‘If it wasn’t for you, I don’t think I’d be here,’ I tell her.
I’ve made it my mission to end the stigma surrounding male sexual abuse.
If you’re a survivor, please don’t be afraid to seek justice. It’s not your shame, it’s theirs.
Together we need to make our voices heard.
* Daniel has waived his right to anonymity.
If this story raises issues for you, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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