Why I posed naked for a book about sexual assault (and why it’s not contradictory)


When I did this it didn’t even occur to me that people might take issue with it. You can barely see a thing in the photos. They’re beautifully shot. They were for an incredible cause (the Us Project – check it out.) They’re not sexual, though they are sensual. They’re so perfectly me.

I don’t think I need to justify my choices, but I do want to help others understand.

Before I explain, let’s start with the formalities.

My name is Nicole.

I was raped when I was 16.

I was drunk.

I was wearing a t shirt and shorts.

I took a drink from a random guy I’d been chatting to for about half an hour.

I was drugged.

I woke up covered in blood. My white shorts were almost entirely red.

I don’t know his name.

It was the first time I’d ever had ‘sex.’

I wasn’t asking for it.

I bled for days.

I scrubbed my body so hard my skin bled too.

I hurt for years.

I refuse to be ashamed any more.

The story of my rape, and introduction to the world of sex, in 100 words or less.

But the point here is not what happened to me, it’s how I healed. Or how I’m healing – it’s still an ongoing process more than 10 years later.

What I’ve come to understand in the years since then is that there’s an expected code of conduct for ‘rape victims.’

  1. You must be quiet. We feel terrible for you, but we don’t really want to hear about it. It makes us uncomfortable and forces us to confronts ideas that we prefer not to think about.

  2. You must be modest. You’ve been raped before, you’ve learned your lesson, you must cover yourself up. We’ve seen the rape victims on tv – they cover themselves in oversized sweatshirts and layers of protection. That is appropriate. Do that.

  3. You must not like sex, and you certainly mustn’t admit it out loud. How could you possibly? Rape victims are traumatised and damaged and it’s just plain incomprehensible how you could want to have sex again after that experience.

Well Fuck That.

We’ve been captive too long, raising up the people with the power of song, souls sing

No more holding on, we’re gonna be who we be gonna soldier on cause we’re free

We are free 


Please, do not get me wrong. These are all completely valid feelings and behaviours for anyone who has experienced sexual violence. This may be how you behave, how you heal, how you feel, and you certainly don’t need anyone’s approval to do so. It is how I felt at different points in my life. I’m not here to judge or undermine that. I’m simply telling the wider world that this is not the only way to heal, this is not the right way for everyone, and this is no longer my way. And that is completely okay.

To quote my favourite tv character:

I’m all whole and healed now. I make NO apologies for how I chose to heal what you broke.

I don’t direct that “you” at the man who raped me. As I see it he was the product of a society that churns out men who believe they have a right to a woman’s body, whether or not she’s able to consent. A society that immediately questions how much a victim had had to drink, what she was wearing, what she was doing in that place at all? That is too ashamed to look me in the eye and say “what happened to you was horrible. Are you okay?” A society that left me on the ground covered in blood and runs away.

Because we don’t know how to deal with rape. Which makes sense, because it’s sad, and scary, painful and confronting and most of all it’s not a one size fits all situation. It’s also not good enough.

Here’s the deep structural flaw in the victim code of conduct. I do not consider myself a victim. I’m also not really a survivor. I don’t want a title, because that one night is not a defining characteristic anymore. I am many things, and a person who was raped is only one of them.

This is what I’m trying to show you in these photos. I am so much more. I couldn’t bear to hold on to the pain and anger any longer. I had to release it to start to become the person I have always truly been. Here you can see me freely being me.

My truth is that I am a person who is deeply flawed. I have struggles with depression, chronic illness and pain, fertility and mental illness, but I love the life I live. I am pure love and joy and I am just trying to embrace that.

I am a person who loves my body. My body has been worn and torn and carried my soul for 27 years. It has lost beloved life, it is covered in scars, tattoos, marks from the sun that has blessed my skin. It bends, but never breaks. It is beautiful. I want to share it.

I am a person who loves sex. I have struggled and fought for this. I have spent years learning to trust people enough to allow them into not only my physical space, but my emotional and mental space. A person who is still working at this. But someone who loves the feel of my partner’s skin, the smell of their hair, and the peace I can find sleeping next to them. Who will spend 48 hours in bed with a person I care about without once feeling physically vulnerable. Who believes in the earth shattering soul healing power of orgasms (stifle those gasps, it’s just a word.) Who relishes in my sensuality as I roll around in the water naked.

That is my biggest accomplishment. That I am proud of. I am comfortable in my body, my experiences, my voice and most importantly my sexuality.

It’s my life and I’ll swim naked if I want to. I find peace and freedom from all that binds me when I’m in the water and there is nothing between me and the ocean. That is when I feel truly me. And damn right I’ll celebrate that.

If you have had your autonomy over your body taken away you have every right to take it back in any way that feels right to you.

Just don’t judge me for how I chose to take back what is mine.

I choose to be love, and to share that love and light with the world. As far as I can find any kind of meaning to this world and the experiences we live, it is that. To bring love and light to the lives of those around us. To try and make things just a little bit better than they were before they came.

Because here’s the truth of it – what empowers me may not empower you, and vice versa. The important thing is that we all have the freedom to make our own choices without being judged. We’ve suffered enough, don’t you think?

My love, we are destined to teach these ones to be brave

And never run away

Courage is birthed from the womb on the first light of day

Yeah, the day you were born, you came out perfect

Never meant to be torn

In silence, never been so loud in the violence

Never been so proud of a people

When we’re fighting for a change

Not afraid to lose it all despite all the rage

– Nahko & Medicine for the People

Over the last year Megan Bowers-Vette has travelled New Zealand and Australia interviewing and photographing survivors of sexual assault, to discuss the issues around living with these experiences. Check out and support the incredible work here: Us Project or on Instagram here.


Read Nicole's Blog: Nicole Therese Lives