By Ione Wells
Today was a great day.
Sunday morning, a day off. One of those gorgeous sunny but crisp mornings when spring is just teasing into summer. The park is heaving with Londoners, wearing shorts and flip-flops despite the fact it is still barely scraping thirteen degrees outside, and there is a jingle of an ice-cream truck in the distance. My body is seeping with endorphins (even if admittedly everything hurts) after completing the first session in one of those intense fitness bootcamp courses that I roped myself into as a 4-month-too-late-New-Year’s-resolution. Better late than never right? I make time to read the papers, and ignore my attention-sapping phone, over breakfast. I started the afternoon by accepting an exciting new work opportunity for the summer. I can’t stop grinning. My best mate is back in town and we make plans to go for a drink. I can’t work out how or why, given I’ve let work pile up for weeks, have bills to pay, and have many an undone to-do list floating around, but everything just seems to be going right today. Today, I can’t help but speak in clichés – I feel on top of the world.
Back home, I sit and fill out my student finance form (a menial task, but who cares, today is great!) I sign the form and date it. The date stares back at me, rather like when you’ve looked at a bright light for too long and can’t quite remove it from your field of vision.
Anniversaries are a weird thing. They are artificial, really. There isn’t really a point to them other than marking that something significant happened on this day once, at least a year ago. Yet we use them as an excuse to revisit all occasions both positive and negative: marriages, deaths, shops opening, wars ending. Reading the newspapers this morning, I came across a feature about Easter 1916 regarding its own anniversary. What struck me about the feature, though, was not so much its focus on the event itself, as we so often dwell upon with war memorials, but on the ripple of events that this one event triggered. The way it influenced how we have seen other conflicts since, the way it changed the shape of a nation, and the progress that has been made since that day, which we recognise all the more in remembering what happened in the past. Indeed, the only real purpose I can see for anniversaries is that they remind you to take stock of what exists today in light of, and sometimes in spite of, what has passed.
A year ago, today, this day ended and I was rock bottom. I spent the end of 10th April, or more like the early hours of 11th April, 2015 having the cuts and bruises on my naked body photographed in front of the police for forensic evidence, after being violently sexually assaulted on my own street on the way home from seeing friends. This day, a year ago, nothing could take off the bleak lenses that I was seeing the world through. It was, contrary to today, one of the worst days of my life.
Not every day is, or has been, a great day like today. There were the days of post-traumatic stress, the days of flashbacks and night terrors. There were the days of intrusion and invasiveness by a few notorious newspapers that, unlike the others, forgot that I was a human being and not just a news story. There were the days of court hearings, police visits, anxious waiting for phone calls, Twitter trolls, hate mail, rape threats – you name it. There were also just those ordinary crappy days that are a fact of life – the days of exams, of bad weather, of people being a bit shit, of getting the flu, of missing your bus even when you’ve just run a mile to catch it and everyone at the stop is staring at you like a fool. Not every day is a perfect day, for anyone. Of course it isn’t. It might look like it is for some rich kids on Instagram, but inevitably the days we project for others to see aren’t ever the whole story. We’re all human. (Back at it again with the clichés.) We can’t always pick which days we will feel on top of the world, and which days we will feel like the world is a dark place to be.
But when I take stock of this year, and the significance of this day, it is not those darker moments that stand out for me. This ‘anniversary’ does not make me want to think about this day last year, but about the year that fell between. I don’t want to define the year that fell between 10th April 2015 and 10th April 2016 by the incidents that tainted it, but by the incidents that transformed the energy of injustice, upset and anger from the negative incidents of this year into things to feel positive about: by the community on here; by the fantastic people I have had the chance to collaborate with through #NotGuilty to encourage social change: The Schools Consent Project, My Body Back, The Clear Lines Festival, Amongst Women Festival, Women of the World Festival, TED, Cambridge4Consent, The Survivors Collective, Goblin Baby Theatre…the list goes on; by the incredible, brave contributors we have had to this site – sharing their stories and, through every word, standing up for fellow survivors and themselves, stressing that no individual is alone or to blame for what they have gone through; by the inspiring survivors of assault that I have spoken to at our support groups and events, in the street, via email; by the people who have found solace and felt encouraged by #NotGuilty; by the days like today that remind me that I, and my life, are so much more than something that tried to define me and overcome me for a while, and that I can aim to have days like today every day if I want to; by the people in my life who I see every day, the people I share meals and stories with, the people who make me laugh.
#NotGuilty started as a tiny article in a student newspaper, not even half a page, towards the end of the paper, past even the blind dates and adverts. Little did we know it would ever catch public attention, let alone travel worldwide. Before we launched the campaign, I remember saying to my family that if we managed to reach out to just one person, to make even just one individual feel a little less alone and a little stronger, then I would feel that it had all been worth doing.
The world feels a lot closer with all of you who have read, contributed to, written about, engaged with, reached out to, and been part of the campaign this year. In the letter that kick-started the campaign, I told my attacker that he had not proved any weakness in me or my community, but had only demonstrated the solidarity of humanity, and confirmed my opinion that there are infinitely more good people in the world than bad. Infinitely more people than even I could have imagined, it seems. Without whom, I could never have anticipated such a transformation from negative to positive events ever being possible.
When I clocked the date today I wasn’t initially going to write about it, fearing that it could all too easily make ‘the year in between’ into an ‘anniversary’ of one especially bad day – that day changed my life, but it was people who transformed and shaped my experiences.
Once I started, though, the words simply poured out and I am glad they did. If only so I can say to all of you who made it possible: thank you.
Remember playing with your neighborhood friends when you were little? Riding bikes and flying down a hill without fear of falling or a car coming? And when you did fall no matter how bad it hurt you always got right back up and kept riding. Most of us today still bounce back from falls just like that. I did, until I was raped. I had and did a lot of things before I was raped. Like freely express my mind, sleep at night, not fear anyone, not fear myself and most importantly I had self worth. I swam, I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, I adored my family, I had healthy relationships. Life was simple, not easy, but simple. Before I was raped I had enough self worth to know that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I had enough self worth to make someone else laugh and smile. I had enough self worth to set goals and run after them while knocking everyone down in my way. A guy named Tom not only took my innocence. He took my voice, sanity, power, and focus. He took Stephanie away and turned her into a self destructing pity party. I am not proud or by any means want your pity. This is bigger than me. This is for the little girl riding her bike and having to go home to an abusive dad. This is for the little boy that is too scared to tell anyone he’s been assaulted. And this is for all the teenagers who lost their voice.
Approximately 4/5 sexual assaults are by someone the victim knows. In my case that was true. It is also true that only 68% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. All the other brave boys, girls, men and woman who do report their abuse only 98% of rapists EVER spend a day in jail. Rape is complex, its not about sex. Its about violence, control and power. It’s about intentionally hurting someone to belittle them into thinking they didn’t do anything wrong. Most of the time they win, ask anyone who has been sexually abused. They will tell you before they started the road to healing they thought it was their fault. And the ones who don’t heal will always think it was their fault. I was abused for 3 years. I was 16, 17, and 18. This is a crucial time in anyone’s life to figure out who they are. I lost the chance to do that and I’ve suffered from transitional issues because of it. I couldn’t go to college and sleep at night. I couldn’t be a good roommate, girlfriend or teammate. But I went anyway because I worked my whole life not only to swim in college but to go for free. I couldn’t let Tom take that away from me could I? Well, in the end he did for 3 years. I lasted one semester in college because I truly believed he was following me. I would see him walking to class. In my swim locker. In my bed. I pushed and fought and refused to get help because I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what he did to me. Today, I know I was suffering from PTSD and I have a piece of shit rapist to thank for that. It still doesn’t hurt any less today but when I see him places I can assure myself he’s rotting somewhere not in my presence. Not talking, not getting help and lashing out at anyone who truly loved me has made me bitter and shameful. Is this all he wanted? To continue to control my life even when he’s not physically hurting me? And I have people tell me today “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” “How could you let it go on for 3 years?” “Didn’t you know any better?” How about a big fuck YOU? THAT is what is wrong. Why am I being questioned? Why am I being blamed? Why is rape so much different than any other crime in America? Rape victims keep quiet out of fear. For one, it is invasive, traumatic and confusing. Gathering the courage to say something and to be questioned like I have is NOT encouraging. I hope this little piece that I have written can give someone the courage to know they can say something in confidence and have a system to back them up. The system let me down and many others, but I hope that doesn’t keep anyone from fighting because YOU matter. YOU are not guilty. YOU deserve to heal. And one day you will be walking down a path full of love and support. You don’t owe anything to anyone. Draw the line where you want to and never feel guilty for not reciprocating. If you’re uncomfortable, it’s not your job to make sure that they’re satisfied. When someone tells a rape joke and you feel like running away, stand up for yourself and everyone else fighting. Not being a fly on the wall is the best thing you can do for yourself. Guys you hook up with won’t understand how much power it took you to open yourself up to a man again, so they have no place to judge you if you draw the line at some point. The first time you start liking a new guy you may feel guilty, since a guy is what got you here in the first place. Some men you meet will think your rape is baggage and won’t know how to “handle” someone like you. Remember that trusting will always be hard but that you will one day find a partner who can support you emotionally, will read articles to better understand how to help you, will be there for a shoulder when it becomes too much, will be cautious during sex but not focus on it during sex, and will love you unconditionally because they couldn’t believe that someone would ever do that to you. These are things no one will tell you, but its how you break the chain with the one who assaulted you. You can be free. And you are SO loved.
Watch the panel entitled ‘How Can Sexual Assault Affect Your Sex Life and What Can You Do About It? by Ione Wells, Pavan Amara and Dr. Nina Burrowes at The Clear Lines festival. There are 3 video clips in this YouTube playlist from the panel discussion.
By an Anonymous Contributor
You were my friend. I trusted you. I thought it was safer to stay at your flat, than to get the bus home on my own. I went to sleep feeling safe. I woke up with you touching me. I asked you to stop. You told me to relax and let it happen. You forced yourself on me, with your knees pinning me down by my shoulders. The more I pushed you off the more aggressive you became. You took advantage of the trust I had in you not to hurt me. For many months I felt ashamed that I had not screamed and left. I did not have the reaction I thought I would have had. Why didn’t I scream? I beat myself up about this – felt guilty. After months of counselling I understand that this is a very common reaction. I felt under attack and my body just froze. I protected you. My friend of 12 years. I didn’t go to the police because I felt sorry for you. Why? You didn’t protect me. You abused my trust. But you will not destroy my trust in others.
By an Anonymous Contributor
I don’t think you know how much you have upset me with your silence. I never would have thought you could be so uncaring, that I meant so little to you. I wonder if you were silent because you feared the consequences of what you did to me or because you genuinely don’t care about me.
I can’t believe that even when I was suicidal you didn’t even ask if I was okay.
Things have been really difficult for me since the six month anniversary as I keep crying about you. Why did you have to violate even my heart? It feels so twisted that I am trying to get over my rapist whilst I deal with my feelings of anger at the fact that you someone who I trusted, let in and cared for betrayed me.
I feel betrayed, I feel stuck in the past, I feel alone in my pain. It’s not fair that you hurt me in the worst way possible and now forever have power over me whilst I deal with my feelings for you and my hurt caused by what you did to me.
I am fed up with pretending to be strong and to be okay. I am not okay; I am hurting and it is hard even though it happened almost 8 months ago. I wish I could just forget it and that the memory were erased from my mind because even though things are easier thanks to the EMDR I still get triggered most of the time when I am in sexual situations and the EMDR didn’t get rid of the pain and the occasional nightmares.
I have started psychotherapy now as I think I need to address the feelings I have for you and the feelings I have about my rape. Thank you so much for putting me through all of this pain and heartache. I hope you feel absolutely wonderful about what you have done.
I am done being kind to you in spite of everything. It is time to unleash my anger. You are a terrible, horrible, evil, malicious, malevolent man. People often say that rape ruins lives and sometimes I feel like it has ruined my life. I have stayed very strong and stopped myself from taking my life but it’s really hard sometimes to live with the reality of what you did to me when I also have severe mood swings as well. I do not know what possessed you someone who also has mental health problems to mess up a vulnerable young woman with a chronic mental illness. You told me that you would never have sex with me when I was high, as in manic, and yet you raped me whilst I was in a manic episode.
I sincerely hope that when I confronted you about what happened you learnt your lesson and that you will never do the same to someone else.
By an Anonymous Contributor to #NotGuilty
|The fear was the worst thing for me, I didn’t understand why I would be allowed to live, and possibly tell someone what had happened. Or else, I thought I would be killed by accident, squashed, because I couldn’t breath in that position. I really thought, this is it, I will die now. I will be one of “those women” that is raped and murdered. For sure the violation is sickening, but once I knew I would live the high lasted a few hours – I even said, “do anything to me, just please let me live.” Piecing my life back together was difficult, and sometimes the cracks appear again, I have to try very hard to keep within the normal limits. But one evil individual won’t ruin my life. I never felt fear like that, but I will still take calculated risks, and I will fight for other people who go through horrific treatment at the hands of so-called “people’. I call them animals, these people that do things so harmful to others.|
I didn’t think I would ever be writing these words. But I wanted to say thank you. No, not for that night. Not for what you did to me, how you treated and abused me. But thank you for making me realise who I can be. I have shown myself how strong and resilient I am, how I can tackle anything and defeat it. And not just defeat it, but defeat it with a sense of understanding, defiance and a deeper sense of the world than I’ve ever felt before. I know what is right and what is wrong. I can stand up for myself and for others without a ounce of doubt or shame, I can focus on what matters and what truly counts, and I can be happier because of that. Instead of wasting my time with the trivial and the pointless, I know what matters – and importantly, who. And whilst you took that away from me, now I’m beginning to feel that I’m back, with an even stronger sense of who I am. So fuck you. You who took my voice away and stood over me whilst I died inside. Your voice is the one that doesn’t count now. If you listened to what my friend said, if you heard and understood the meaning of that word ‘unconsensual’, I hope that it planted itself inside of you, that it grows with every decision that you make, and every relationship that you have until you can’t deny it anymore. I hope they realise what you did, the women you are with. I hope that you can’t hold it in any more and you tell them. And then it will be my word over yours.
By Jessica H
It has been a long time since I have been able to have a full nights rest. I almost forgot what it feels like anymore. The hatred I have for you is so built up and every little thing sets me off. It has been about 12 years since you stole my childhood away from me like the mean monster you are. I can’t stomach to think what you probably have done to other young girls since you got away Scott free and get to live a happy life. According to the police it is “OKAY” for a minor to rape a minor. Maybe they would have done something if it would have happened now that I am eighteen and you are in your twenties. I however, I still live in fear that someday, some nasty dirty person like you will harm me again. Thanks to you, I am afraid to have a boyfriend and I fear for my future husband.
I’ll never forget that green army tent in the middle of fall. Or the knife that you held to my throat and told me that if I said anything to anyone, my sister was getting it next. I still live in fear that if I see you in town or happen to bump into you anywhere, I am going to lose it. Because while you walk around hehe haha happy go lucky; I sit in the shadows of depression, fear, and anger that you are going to violently attack me again. I’ll never forget the evil devilish look in your eye when you told me that you would never hurt me because after all you are family. After many many many years, months, and minutes sitting in an office with random strangers telling that everything would be okay, I finally realized that everything is not okay.
They say time heals wounds; well I call bluff because those wounds that you left me with will never go away. After years of blaming myself, I just came to realize that I can’t change what happened that night. I can’t change that fact that you are blood related to me. I can’t even change the fact that you get to roam the streets every night like nothing ever happened. What I can change, is the fact that you can’t hurt me anymore because I am stronger than you, I am braver than you, and I am smarter than you will ever be. I covered my scars with imaginary Band-Aids for many years. I finally am able to rip those Band-Aids off and no longer allow you to control me. You no longer have the power to hurt me anymore.
What hurts the most isn’t the fact that you raped me. But the fact that you humiliated me and punished me for things that you did to me. The fact that I can’t sleep at night because I have nightmares of you raping me over and over again. I toss and turn every night, but as soon as I close my eyes I see your face and that green army tent with the silver rods. I see you force yourself on top of me and tell me to shut up as tears raced down my cheeks as you assaulted me. As the green sleeping bag you once had was covered in blood, my blood, is now burnt into ashes. It is weird how as time passes by I can remember more and more details of that tormenting night.
I wish I could feel what it would be like to have a normal life sometimes. Thanks to you, I’ll never know what that will feel like. Thanks to you, I question my faith in God. My family wonders why I won’t go to church and you are the one to blame for that. What you did to me made me believe that if there was a God, he wouldn’t let bad people like you rob someone’s self being from them. You may have taken everything away from me and more but I am strong and I will continue to fight your evil power and make sure you never hurt another person again. What I do know is that no matter what, what you did to me will not define who I am. I am not a victim, I am a survivor. I am neither broken nor beaten. I am battered and happy to be alive after attempting suicide twice to try to erase you from my memory.
Someone you can no longer hurt nor control
By an Anonymous Contributor to the campaign
After over a year I decided to go back to my university on a visit for a few days. Last time I was there before the university sent me home I hadn’t had the EMDR therapy that got me over my serious sexual assaults and attempted rapes.
I was worried about my trip back. Would I fall to pieces if I saw one of my attackers? Would I not be able to bear being there because of the associations of the place?
The trip was a success. I loved being back in a place I called home for a year. I saw two of my attackers but I was completely fine and didn’t get very anxious or emotional as others expected.
This made me think that I have moved on from those traumas and can go back to the university I love next year. It would have frustrated me if the place had still had the sinister air and if I had got very anxious when I saw these students as it would have made me feel like they have won.
It’s been the most difficult year of my life and just as I had finished work on traumas at university I was raped by someone. Things are getting better though and my bipolar disorder is finally stabilising and I have moved on from the rape 6 months on. I have hope that things are definitely getting better and I think my psychiatrist will declare me fit to study in June if this continues. At the moment I am enjoying my newfound stability and doing everything I can to stay mentally well. I look forward to going into my second year of university next year. Yes, I have been sexually assaulted and raped and it did seriously affect my life and halt my studies for a bit as well as my bipolar disorder but I am not letting what happened to me ruin my life. I am going to go back and get my degree and move forward with my life.