This week is Rape Awareness Week. Between January 2016 and January 2017 5865 people were the victim of sexual violence or abuse in New Zealand. Most of the victims were women aged 15 to 19. Research shows that one in five Kiwi women will experience a sexual assault as an adult. The problem is serious, and shockingly, only about 10 per cent of incidents are ever reported. Today the Herald shines a light on the issue in a bid to educate - and reduce the stigma around rape and other sex crimes.

Two years ago Bex Sloan was preparing for court.

She was preparing to face the man who had subjected her to years of sexual assaults and abuse.

She was focused on her purpose - holding him to account and making sure he couldn't hurt another woman or girl.

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Now she is focused on helping other women do the same.

"You think you're not strong enough - but you are," she said.

"I found that it was scarier not saying anything and living in silence, that weight had just become so incredibly heavy.

"My abuser was in a position where he was able to continue to affect young people's lives so it wasn't a choice in the end, it was what I had to do."

In October 2015 Whanganui man Stayz Raukawa was sentenced to three years and six months in prison for four charges of unlawful sexual connection and eight counts of indecency with Sloan.

She was 15 at the time of the offending and Raukawa was her dance teacher.

Sloan kept the abuse secret for 10 years before she knew she couldn't hold it in any longer.

After Raukawa was sentenced Sloan made the courageous decision to waive her automatic name suppression, granted to all victims of sex offending.

She wanted to control her story and to have a voice.

"I didn't actually understand what had happened to me, it wasn't until I was older I was able to understand the full extent... it all became very clear," she told the Herald.

"I buried a lot of what happened to me, so for 10 years I didn't think about it, I didn't bring it up.

"It wasn't until I first disclosed to a friend, I was sharing memories of a 14-year-old through the mouth of a 25-year-old and it all became very apparent."

Bex Sloan was sexually abused by her dance coach - but sees a herself as a survivor, not a victim. New Zealand Herald Photograph by Dean Purcell
Bex Sloan was sexually abused by her dance coach - but sees a herself as a survivor, not a victim. New Zealand Herald Photograph by Dean Purcell

Sloan said nothing about the disclosure process was easy - telling police the intimate and traumatic details of each sexual offence, numerous court appearances, being questioned and challenged and forced to go back to the dark place in her past when the abuse was happening.

"It was absolutely terrifying but as soon as I spoke to a police officer it became very clear that a lot of abusers don't stop at one victim, and I couldn't live with the thought of him carrying on," she said.

"I had to put my big girl pants on and become brave, pretty quick."

Sloan had never been into a police station before she walked in to report her abuse.

She pictured the process as being "like something from television" - dramatic, scary and foreboding.

"It was a lot less intimidating than I had in my head," she said.

"The police officers that I dealt with were lovely, they were very supportive so even though it was scary it was a good environment and I felt like I could trust them."

She struggled with remembering the specifics of Raukawa's abuse and was pushed by police to go back into the moments and "dig deep" for the facts that they would use as evidence.

"It was really traumatic... but I felt like I was handing over a weight, giving it to someone who could actually make a difference with it and go on and try and fulfil what I had set out to do and that was to try and stop that person," Sloan said.

"Court was scary, it was quite intimidating at times... it was quite a shock to the system.

"I obviously knew going in that they were going to discuss the physical details of the abuse but to have all of my family in that room hearing it for the first time - that was traumatic.

"My whole summary of facts was read aloud for the whole court to hear, but looking back I wouldn't change a thing because it highlighted the extent of the abuse... and those details happened, so why shy away from them?"

Sloan believed many victims were put off coming forward because of the stigma around rape and sexual violence - usually seen as awkward, uncomfortable and unpleasant.

"I think the only way the stigma is going to lessen is by talking about it... when people don't talk about it it only highlights this notion that it is shameful and that it's taboo," Sloan said.

"By pushing it under the rug and sweeping it away, that only makes the issue worse and the stigma only grows."

Bex Sloan, survivor. New Zealand Herald Photograph by Dean Purcell
Bex Sloan, survivor. New Zealand Herald Photograph by Dean Purcell

Sloan struggled personally with that stigma and hates the thought of other women feeling how she did.

"For me there was a lot of self-blame, I didn't want to go through the legal process because I felt like part of it was my fault. I didn't say no, so therefore did I warrant what had happened to me? That was a fear," she revealed.

"But you learn with time that it's not your fault at all and it's not a shame that you should be carrying around at all.

"It's not something that you should feel ashamed for - it happened to you, you didn't do it."

Sloan is now living in Auckland and loving her life, free from Raukawa's offending and the burden of her secret.

"I heard the word survivor quite a few months into my process and I loved it," she said.

"Victim has such negative connotations around it and you absolutely did survive - I'm still here.

"There were times when I didn't want to be, but I am and I survived the legal process and I fulfilled my purpose which was to stop him.

"I wouldn't change it for the world. It's been the most crazy rollercoaster since it happened but the feeling that I feel now - I'm free now, I don't have this huge secret."

The victim is never to blame, and there is help out there

Sloan wanted other people affected by sexual violence or abuse to hear her story and know that there was hope and a positive future.

"My advice would be to find your purpose, find what motivates you and drives you to walk through those police station doors," she said.

"It is a crazy journey and you need to come back to that purpose when things get a bit wobbly and you feel like quitting - that purpose will be the biggest voice of encouragement throughout this process.

"If you're really strong and dedicated to your purpose - whether it's to stop the abuser doing it again, whether it's to gain some control back, to free yourself, to hold them accountable, whatever it might me - always come back to that and it will absolutely get you through.

"You're forever living in the past if you've got this huge thing holding you there."

If you're in danger NOW:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.

Where to go for help or more information:

NZ Police
The Harbour, for those affected by harmful sexual behaviour
Help Auckland 24/7 helpline 09 623 1700
Rape Prevention Education
Wellington Help 24/7 crisisline 04 801 6655, push 0
Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz