Sue Bradford gives the appearance of being one of life's toughest customers, hardened by many an encounter with a police baton on countless protest lines before she became a Green MP in 1999.

Yet it has taken her 35 years to talk publicly for the first time about being raped as a young woman.

By her mid-20s it had happened three times, the first when she was 16. She was locked in a room by a man and made to perform oral sex on him.

It was clear as Sue Bradford spoke about the abuse to Linda Clark on National Radio's Nine to Noon yesterday that she still found it a struggle to discuss.

"I certainly did not have the courage to talk about it then. I was so devastated and ashamed and frightened and unable to deal with it.

"It has taken this long for me to be able to talk about it. I think that shows the impact that it has on the internal psychology."

The reason Sue Bradford had cause to revisit her memories was legislation that passed through Parliament last week, updating rape laws.

Without revealing her secret at the time, she tried, unsuccessfully, to change the definition of rape to include the use of objects and anal and oral rape, as well as rapes by men on men, women on women, and women on men.

Legally what happened to her in the locked room was not rape, it's called unlawful sexual connection; to her mind, there is no doubt it was rape of an innocent young woman.

"This was by force, by a man in a locked room where he locked the door and I couldn't get away. There was no question about any consent issues being involved here.

"I was totally sexually inexperienced at the time. I was really innocent.

"When you are young and innocent and something like that happens to you, that was just as devastating as the other kind of rape.

"These are experiences I know will affect me till the day I die but it seems as though I have only reached the point in my life when I can talk about it in a political way.

"Rape is rape and you shouldn't be euphemistic about it any more. It is not just an abstract crime," she told the Herald later.

She praised the courage of transsexual Labour MP Georgina Beyer who, during the prostitution law reform debates in 2003, spoke in Parliament about being raped when she was once a prostitute.

Sue Bradford said: "There has to come a time when we have Members of Parliament who actually can talk about these experiences and speak for all the other people we know who have had these kind of experiences, male or female, gay or straight, that have been through these things and actually turn our laws into something that reflects the reality of life for all people in this country."

Speaking out was a way of "taking vengeance" on the people who raped her.

Sue Bradford said she had been subjected to a lot of violence from police over the years, but it was quite different to the violence of rape, which was "so personal".

"Our sex lives, our sexual identities and our sexual beings are so personal. And when it happens to you when you are young for the first time, for the rest of your life your sexual being and identity is affected by it.

"Even now, I still feel like I am in recovery. I don't think I will ever not be in recovery. It has been a long journey of recovery from that and other things."

She said she did not report any of the rapes to police.

"In those times, like 1970 and '71, for a young woman or 'girl', as they called us then, the sense was that it was all our fault."

She said she confided in a group of women at one early women's liberation meeting, but the reception she received ensured she never confided in others about the two other rapes over the following nine years.

"The first time I opened up to other women I was condemned ... just wrecked by it, and when it happened again, I knew not to talk about it."

She hoped any young woman today would report a rape.

She told the Herald that she had no idea whether the perpetrators were alive or dead.

She had not given any consideration to laying a complaint about the historic charges.

"I just can't imagine doing that."