Shared Stories

The Monster In My Head – Amy’s Story

By Amy

He is a monster in my head. I have to actively shrink him in my mind each time his face, his hands, his smell invades my consciousness. My mind quickly flicks through little memories, small details that I interpret with hindsight but have no control over. No control. I can feel my mind swirling through it all, my third week of uni, away from home. My uni experience changed from one of fun and excitement to a numb routine to get me through the day.

The next months are filled with an emptiness, I drain away all emotion to avoid the white hot pain in my stomach. Going home after the first semester, my parents didn’t recognise me. I would cry for no reason, sob with my whole body. They could see me breaking apart in front of them. They supported me, fully backed me but I swear they’ve both aged decades before my eyes. It was my decision to see someone, my decision to go back to uni, my decision to report it to the police, my decision to keep my life going. My parents, my support network were my enablers and my friends. They have given me the things that were ripped away from me, control, respect, dignity, love.

I blame myself, I still feel shame, guilt, worthlessness. But I know in the back of my mind that this is a lie. I’m so thankful that I have people around me that demonstrate it’s a lie on a daily basis. I am NOT GUILTY.

Uncategorized

What I’ve Learnt About Consent

Anonymous

What do I want to say? The truth is, I’m not really sure. The #notguilty campaign made me realise that I don’t need to blame myself for things that have happened.

I really struggled with the idea of consent for a while. The idea that me saying ‘no’ really did mean no, that I didn’t have to please everyone and not ’cause a scene’. There was a time whilst at a bar on my university campus when a guy I knew decided it was his right to be able to touch me there and then ‘come on, I can touch you anytime I want’. Whilst I was talking to someone else, he came up to me and put his hands up my top and leant into me. I told him to stop, but I felt like I was that person who was ‘causing a scene’, that everyone thought I should take it more lightly. Maybe I was causing a fuss? Maybe I didn’t have a right to say no? Maybe it was all ‘banter’ and I should ‘lighten up’? This happened a few more times, each time I pulled away from him staying ‘stop it’ and trying really hard not to let it ruin my night. But it happened one too many times so I left and sat outside. People came up to me and asked what was wrong-I just said I wanted to go home. Everyone else left for drinks in someone’s flat and I walked home. The next morning, my friend, the only other girl there, told me the same guy had done the same thing her because I wasn’t there. Like I was his toy.

As a first year, naturally, I wanted to make as many friends of possible. The first night of Fresher’s week, a group of us from neighboring flats all went out together to the student nightclub. One guy obviously had a lot to drink and kept asking me to go ‘back to his place’. Trying not to cause a fuss the first time I had met these people, I laughed it off when he put his hand up my skirt. I held his hand when he repeatedly did it again, so I didn’t have to keep pushing it away. I ignored him when he told me there was ‘no way I could be a virgin’ that I was ‘obviously lying’ and that I ‘did want to [sleep with him]’. The following day, he apologised to me profusely. He’s not a bad guy, he’s actually one of the funniest people I met at uni with a lot to talk about, and now we’re flatmates.

The reason for the way he acted was due to modern culture. Society and social media has a lot to answer for when it comes to consent. Pages like LadBible on Facebook glorify sexism to impressionable young people and the concept of consent is rarely taught effectively in schools. For many people, Fresher’s Week is all about how many people you can pull and drinking to excess. Not only is this damaging to the men who feel like they have to sleep with as many women as possible to have value as a ‘lad’, but this also puts pressure on women not to be ‘frigid’.

The president of the society I was in also happened to be my ‘buddy’ and had a duty of care and guidance during my first year. I lost my virginity to him, when I was drunk. He had no idea. One time when I was in town and had lost all of my friends, he ordered a taxi for us. Although I said I wanted to go back to my flat, he told me I was too drunk and I should sober up at his place. After a glass of water, I wanted to leave. But it was the middle of winter, on one of the coldest days of the year, and he told me to wait until morning and go back then, using his position of power to manipulate me. Still wearing my clothes, I got into his bed and fell asleep despite his hints of wanting to have sex. I was naïve. I thought that because he was older than me he knew better than me, and that this must be the right thing to do. At 3AM in the morning, he woke me up by pulling down my tights. I told him I wanted to sleep, but he carried on. Before I knew it he was on top of me and I remember telling him I didn’t want to, but that didn’t seem to matter. He carried on despite the fact I was tearful. In the morning I had to face the humiliating walk back to campus in my clothes from the night before. He wouldn’t walk with me because, clearly, that would be far too embarrassing for him. He used his position of power to make me feel small, like I didn’t have a right to question him or even (God forbid) to have an opinion of my own. He picked me up and dropped me whenever he felt like it.

After a night out, I woke up with the worst hangover I have ever had. I couldn’t even recognise the room I was in. Eventually I worked out where I was and was shocked to see my ‘buddy’ lying next to me. I couldn’t remember anything after him buying me a drink early on in the night. I was even more shocked when he asked if I could remember having sex. I couldn’t. Not at all. He thought it was hilarious.

A few times I tried to tell him what he did, how he made me feel, but I didn’t want to be ‘that girl’.

On one occasion, when in bed with a guy, without asking he initiated anal sex with me. Without my permission. Not while we were having sex, I hadn’t even consented to sex, let alone anal. I was immediately in pain, and told him to leave without explaining why. For the next 6 months, I dealt with bleeding that I couldn’t tell anyone about for a while because I was mortified about something that I believed to be my fault.

I really struggled with the idea of consent because these boys weren’t the monsters I had always been told about, the evil men who attacked girls, they were just normal students who, for a moment, forgot I was allowed a say. However, this is never an excuse. Society, especially the education system, has a moral responsibility to make sure that young men know the boundaries between what they see online and the real world.

In my second year fresher’s week, the Student’s Union accused me of stealing drinks from the bar. They took me to a room away from my friends, and checked the CCTV footage, all of which took about 20 minutes. At this point in the night, I was admittedly very drunk. It was the first time I had seen many of my friends since the year before and I was determined to have a good time. But being taken away from my friends, I suddenly felt quite vulnerable and pissed off that I was on my own waiting for someone to realise I hadn’t done anything wrong. When the manager finally came out and said it wasn’t me, I was so frustrated that I just started crying. The manager took me out into the club saying ‘ahh don’t worry you’ll have a great night’ while pushing VKs into my hand. To take someone away from their friends, to accuse them of something they haven’t done, and then to think the solution is to leave them on their own in a drunk state and give them more drinks is ridiculous. But because I had had a few drinks, I didn’t feel like I could complain after. I wasn’t sure if it was my fault, and I should have expected it. The lack of care for someone who was vulnerable in a place where they should be protected is worrying. It could have been so easy for that night to end badly, for me to have drunk more and ended up passed out somewhere without my friends and with no idea what was happening. Luckily it didn’t, but this is an example of the way that modern society, in particular clubbing culture, perpetuates the conditions for sexual assault.

I’m so happy now, I’ve got the best boyfriend ever, amazing friends and I have completely cut ties with people I don’t need in my life. I think the point I want to make is that although all of these stories involve alcohol, the not guilty campaign has made me realise that alcohol is not an excuse, and that this story is not uncommon. We need to better educate people, to teach people consent, rather than teach girls that if they showed some flesh or had a few drinks then they were somehow partly to blame. I want to stop feeling like I’ve done something wrong, that I’m ‘dirty’, or that I ‘deserved this’ because I partied like every guy at uni does without any consequences.

Shared Stories

Lecherous Behaviour Ruins Evenings Out

Anonymous

I am an Australian mother in my mid 40s. I was out with friends at a bar in Melbourne which had security. I went to leave the bar to go to the bathroom, which was inside and in a well lit public place. I was following a friend to the bathroom. A man walking towards me grabbed my crotch and said “hey baby”, and kept walking looking like he owned the place.
I was in shock for a few minutes, I couldn’t believe this just happened! I didn’t want to tell my friends what happened, I didn’t want to ruin the night, we were having fun, but they knew something was wrong. So I told them, we then told the security guards who brushed it off. One friend then phoned security as she was disgusted with the lack of response and passed the phone on to me. I was a bit shocked at the questions, I was asked if I grabbed the man’s arm which I didn’t, so I told them that I shoved it away as I didn’t enjoy the experience. They then asked if he made contact ( which he did). I hope they threw him out, as they were watching me while talking to me on a phone through a security camera, they told me they were. I was asked to describe the creep that assaulted me, but as I was looking towards the bathroom when assaulted, I couldn’t recall much about him except he was shorter than me and wearing a white shirt and blue jeans. I began to question if my outfit was too revealing, which it wasn’t, it was a knee length strapless dress showing no cleavage whatsoever. But now I think back, who cares if it was, it doesn’t give anyone the right to grope me. I did not ask this creep to do this.

Shared Stories

“Shouting alone can Stop an Attack”

Anonymous

Returning home from visiting the GP surgery one foggy November night when I was fifteen I heard muffled footsteps behind me. Having seen one too many Hammer Horror Films I had taken the dog lead with me in case of attack by (insert your own fear) but now felt foolish. The person behind me was almost certainly a commuter walking home from the nearby station. Nevertheless I slowed down in order that this person could overtake me, and therefore relieve my “paranoia”. He did not pass me. The last thing I consciously remember is his left forearm holding my throat from behind, his right fist punching me in the back, and an indescribably frightening voice growling in my right ear. My next conscious memory is of finding myself leaning backwards in a privet hedge and seeing a fist coming towards my face. My assailant punched my nose, then turned and ran off into the fog.
The details of how I got home and the reaction of my parents aren’t relevant but I should explain that in those days any kind of psychological “help” was feared as it would almost certainly be assumed that the recipient would inevitably be incarcerated in an asylum.
Likewise, unless there were broken bones to be set (noses don’t count) or wounds to be stitched visits to hospitals were considered unnecessary. I nursed my bruised and swollen face, my painful ribs, and my broken nose in the privacy of the family home.
The next evening a detective came to the house and took a statement from me, and that was the last time the incident was discussed.

Two days later I was cycling to school through the local allotments and a man came towards me on a bicycle. I felt the bile rise in my throat, expecting the worst, but he took something out of his inside jacket pocket and held it up for me to see as he approached. He was a plain-clothes police officer and he asked if I cycled to school on that route every day. When I said I did he advised me to stick to the highways since the previous day a girl had been accosted by a man on her way to school. Maybe this was true. Maybe the local constabulary were merely being hyper-vigilant after my attack (good for them if they were) but whichever is the case it would seem that they were alarmed enough to attempt to either pre-empt another incident or to catch the perpetrator.

Nobody in their right mind beats a stranger in the street senseless for no reason, or for the purpose of rape. Nobody in their right mind causes injury to anybody. But there are many people who are not in their right mind yet walk among us. Sadly the criminal justice system does not appear to acknowledge this and there seems no enthusiasm in any quarter to examine the motives of perpetrators more deeply in order to address the issue.

I could not possibly say that my life was ruined by this horrific attack. It was not. I have led a fulfilling “normal” life. What I can say, without hesitation, is that it made me very, very vigilant – to the point where today, more than fifty years later, seeing people engrossed in their small hand-held screens or depriving themselves of their aural awareness by hearing only what comes through ear-piece or headset makes me shudder. To me – overly-sensitive to the possibility of danger – those people are sitting targets for criminals. In my case it also alerted me to the sad fact that all the defence lessons in the world could not help me. Not for the first time when confronted with a frightening situation I had fainted (there may be a more concise medical term or description for not being aware of what was happening to me, but I don’t know it) so although I may assume that I struggled with my assailant, perhaps striking him with the dog chain, I have absolutely no idea if this was truly the case. I know only that I was not killed, but have often wondered if this man eventually did take a life. Without psychological intervention I cannot see any other conclusion to his behaviour.

I would urge awareness on everyone’s part. Almost everybody carries a mobile phone. Be prepared to use it immediately to telephone the police (NOT to film the event!!!) if you see someone being hurt. If you can do so without risking harm yourself, intervene. Sometimes shouting alone can interrupt or stop an attack. Support any plan to provide psychiatric services for those whose behaviour endangers others – and that means an enormous percentage of the people who come to police attention, whether they are subsequently arrested or not.

Meanwhile, we have to muddle through with the system we have, ever mindful of what we can do to protect ourselves and others.

Shared Stories

Double-Edged Perspective

Anonymous 

This perspective of a rapist is double-edged – the view of a victim unknown to the rapist, and the view of the wife of the rapist – also his victim.

Questions:

I could smell oil
Engine oil
What did he do for a living?
He ripped at my clothes
And I felt a ring
Was he married?
His breath stank
Cigarettes and beer
Had he come from a pub?
He was hurting me now
Why?
Had he been watching me?
Following me?
Why hadn’t I stayed home?
Safe
Did he have a home?
Someone waiting for him?
Someone who didn’t ask questions?

Questions too:

Here he is…
Slamming the door…
Smelling of oil…
Acting God’s gift…
Stench of cigarettes
And beer
They told me
I didn’t listen
That he was a wrong un
His dirty nails
Hands
Blood on his hands
Don’t look
Just do what he wants
Don’t ask questions

copyright Anita Pembleton 2014

Shared Stories

Sundered (for the moment)

This poem was submitted to the campaign by a victim of assault anonymously.

“What he did to you
Does not define you,”
People say. No, that’s true,
I have been undefined.

Clumsily hacking.
You cut along my dotted line,
Like I were a paper doll.
You tore me to pieces.

Paper thin, maybe,
But not delicate.

Rent apart, for now,
But not beyond repair.

I am re-assembling,
Re-defining, re-aligning.
Sticking the pieces,
Back together.

But some of the pieces,
Are stuck in the wrong places.
Other pieces are missing,
Gone forever.

Shared Stories

The Majority of Assaults are not by Strangers – A Survivor’s Story

By Megan Caitlin

When I was younger I lost my sister. I think that made me more mature for my age. See, I’m already blaming myself. But, I had a best friend, and we shared almost everything together. She was my ultimate best friend, the sort of girl and friend you rarely ever meet, she knows what you’re thinking before you think it. She knows whats wrong before you say it. You’re sense of humour aligns. I was always slightly worried about her. And I guess due to the passing of my sister, I wanted to protect her and always make sure she was okay.

Her father was very invasive. He was always there, in a creepy way. Most people commented on it. We got on. And my best friend and him got on. Although he told her about his numerous affairs, they got on. He bought us alcohol and cigarettes, and let us do what we wanted. We could watch anything we wanted, and not be told otherwise. He wasn’t much of a parent to be honest.

The first time it happened, my best friend and I were watching Pretty Woman together on the sofa. He came back, drunk, and got under the blanket. I felt horrendously nauseous, I don’t know why. Maybe it was a premonition. He wouldn’t move his hand away when I tried to make him. I kept pushing his hand away and he wouldn’t move it. The next few times I went round nothing of the sort happened again.
Then one day I was in the kitchen and he attacked me again, forcefully. I have flashbacks now and I can see it. This happened on and off for a period of six months. I used to try different approaches to stop him, but nothing seemed to work.

One of the most significant times was in the bathroom, because of the mirror, I could see what was happening to my body and I fought more than ever. I have issues now washing my face and doing my teeth but I’m okay now, more so than I used to be about it. I think it became a way of life really. I think I was so concerned that he was doing it to my best friend as well that I used to try and protect her all of the time. But it wasn’t possible. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t feel like my body or my mind belonged to me anymore. I just felt very sad very confused and very isolated. I felt trapped and I felt alone. It has still effected me now. I’m a bit funny with food. I get nightmares a lot and flashbacks and I am on the edge quite a lot. But after they went on holiday for a week and I realised my life didn’t have to be like that. I protected myself, and I moved away from her.

I told another friend about a year later, a few since then, and my mum when I was 19. It is the hardest thing I have ever been through or could imagine anyone to go through. It’s your whole normality and your entire body, what you live in, taken away from you. I don’t think many people truly realise the daily effects.
But, even though this is all very morbid and very sad, I have found that in this world there are absolutely amazing men and women that help you, inspire you, and don’t let you give up. Day in and day out. There are so many resources that are there for you. And life is so so precious and I am so so lucky in so many ways. I am so proud of my entire family and my entire existence. I have grown up and away from my trauma. It is in my fabric now, it is apart of my past, but it is not in my present. I am proud to be a woman, and I am proud to be a survivor of such an atrocity, so I can have more compassion and a greater insight into the mechanics of our existence as human beings.

We are all capable of being who we want to be and who we work at being.

Shared Stories

We Must Not Be Bystanders To Assault

Anonymous

I experienced a rather upsetting incident of sexual harassment last night and I have decided to voice my opinion on the matter because too many people remain silent about this sort of thing. Please, all my wonderful friends and family, take a second to read what I have written. I have not posted this for attention. I have posted this in the hope that it may help someone, who may find them selves in a much worse situation to seek help. Also to remind everyone to be careful and look after yourselves. I am so thankful that our situation didn’t escalate, it could have been much worse and I know there are people out there who have experienced much worse.

A horrible incident.

I came home this evening struggling to breath, in the middle of a panic attack and bawling my eyes out. I don’t cry, I don’t get unnerved and I certainly NEVER let my guard down!!

The tears tonight were caused by two people, who assumed superiority over two women alone at a bus stop in Camden in London, just trying to get home after a night out. The two humans in questions, who happen to male, felt it okay to approach my friend and I, and physically harass us. One of these men commented on my friends backside and proceeded to touch and caress her, totally uninvited, as she quite clearly tried to get away from him. The other man proceeded to interrogate me about my sexual preferences and ask was I jealous because my backside was not as desirable? Trying to keep calm and not escalate the situation we politely declined their advances as they were obviously very drunk, we tried to edge away. At no point did we invite them to converse any further with us, we definitely did not invite them to touch us in ANYWAY or invade our personal space.

A bus then arrived, the number N28, and although this was not the bus we were waiting on, it was going in the direction we needed, and since we felt unsafe with these men hanging around, we proceeded to make for the bus together. These men then started screaming abuse at us. Calling us sluts and whores and yelling how dare we cock tease them. I have never experienced such revolting language in all my life. The aggression and animalistic behaviour that was being hurled at us was terrifying. It all came on in a split second. We obviously realised very quickly that the situation became hostile and got on the bus as fast as we could. I asked the bus driver, in a voice of pure fear and desperation, could he please close the doors. He would not however close the door until our oyster cards had been swiped. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that bus drivers in London, (especially coming through Camden) must have to put up with a lot of hassle, fights and brawls, general drunken behaviour etc, but when two women get on a bus clearly in distress, with two guys hurling abuse at them, surely the safe thing to do would have been to close the damn door?! The delay in the driver closing the door meant that one of the men threw an entire can of beer at me. It hit me square in the back and exploded beer all over my jacket and jeans. This is physical assault! Mild yes, but assault none the less. There was a bus full of people and crowds of people on the street and they did nothing! Not one person lifted their head in protest to what was happening. Now, I understand, given the fact that it was the early hours of the morning; people don’t want to get involved with drunken disputes for fear of their own safety. I totally get that. However, there were people in our vicinity who witnessed the very beginning of the situation and could quite clearly see we were trying to get away from these men.

I am utterly disgusted in two main factors from this experience. Firstly, the bystanders. Next time you witness something like this, please think how you would feel if this was your sister, wife or mother in this situation. I know the world is a big scary place and everyone is out for themselves, but I really had hoped that safety in numbers counted for something. I was obviously very sorely mistaken. And to the bus driver that sat by and allowed the situation to escalate further when he could have shut the doors and helped us all feel a little bit safer from the men outside – I have even less faith in humanity than ever before.

The second and main grievance I have is the everyday sexism that is so rife within our generation. It’s always small things, like the odd comment or unfair judgement that you read about, but until something like this happens to you, I can assure you, you will never truly relate. The fact that these men thought it acceptable to approach us, totally uninvited already shows the lack of mutual respect for one another. I am sickened by the further insistence of their clearly unwanted advances and the fact that they would not take no for an answer. I don’t have to give a reason. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I don’t trust you or feel comfortable with you being that close to me. Who the hell do you think you are? What gives you the right to claim superiority over another person? Why do you think it is ok to treat women (in this case specifically) like this? ENOUGH! This generation’s gender inequality is destroying the very social fabric that human nature is built on. We simply cannot trust each other when sex or gender claims a sense of entitlement over the other. Where the hell has this come from?

I have never felt uncertain of myself and this experience. Although mild in comparison to some of the horrendous attacks you hear about in the news, it is still an eye opener. Insignificant it may seem to some of you, but unless EVERY situation of daily inequality across both genders is addressed, then attitudes are never going to change. I will not be alone at night again without this horrible niggling fear hanging over me, and I am so angry that these fellow human beings have made me feel like this. I am an incredibly strong person and they broke through that today, and I will never forgive them for it. I am also now left with the horrible sense of guilt as I wonder where the men went after this incident. Have they harmed someone else who was perhaps more vulnerable?

Regardless of any bracket you fit yourself into in life, please respect your fellow human and do not allow people to feel the anger/shame/fear that I have just had to endure, whether you are directly involved or not.

Absolutely no one should have to endure abuse, harassment or sexual prejudice from ANY other person. Do not stand for it! I urge each and every person who has experienced this sort of problem to come forward. Do not stand for it! These predators should not be allowed the upper hand and that is only going to happen if we can change attitudes.

Shared Stories

Dee’s Story on how Reporting Assault is Crucial for Recovery

By Dee

TW: Rape

When I was placed in the care system aged fourteen years old, due to my single mum being in hospital, I should have been safe. It was short lived. A much older resident targeted me and he attacked me twice in two weeks. He raped me, he threatened me, and he intimidated me daily.

During the second attack he kicked down a bathroom door and dragged me, screaming, thumping my knuckles as I clung onto the door frame. I knew what was coming. He was facilitated in carrying out these attacks by the lack of staff supervision and complicity.

It took me 35 years to report it, even to admit and talk about the assaults. The police questioned the rapist and due to the lack of evidence it didn’t get to court.

He is a known criminal to them.

Please find the courage to report an assault as soon as you can. It is not easy but it is necessary if the attacker is to be held responsible. That choice, however hard, will help you to cope and become stronger, and it is essential for your healing and recovery.

Shared Stories

The NHS Poster that incited Victim-Blaming

Don’t blame the victim

Rebecca Dyer

It’s a common enough story. Girl leaves work party, blind drunk, and attempts to find her way back home. Girl starts talking to some tourists at a bus stop; well, they seem pleasant enough and it helps to pass the time, doesn’t it? Girl is sexually assaulted.

Hopefully, the above scenario is familiar only as an oft-heard story and not through personal experience. I wish I could say the same, but I also know that my story could be a hell of a lot worse. In many ways, I was lucky. I was in a well-lit area, I was able to fight the guy off, despite being outnumbered three to one, and I didn’t suffer any physical violence. But how horrible to view such an event in those terms: to actually see it as good fortune to have not been more seriously assaulted – or even raped.

That happened to me a couple of years ago and I’m over it now. Like I said, it could have been a lot worse. I got myself checked out at a clinic, just in case, and I reported it dutifully to the police. This last task was particularly hard to do, such was my own burdening sense of guilt about what had happened. But I vividly remember waking up two days later and feeling an overwhelming responsibility to do it. After all, how do you stop such men from going out and taking what they want by force if no one ever holds them accountable? I owed it to myself and to every other woman out there, both those who have been – or will be – attacked and those who are “lucky” enough to escape it. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this, I thought.

 So I did what I believed was right. The officers who came to my house were pleasant enough. They asked a lot of questions and I answered as honestly as I could, given that my memory was pretty patchy. It wasn’t until the following week, when an aggressive and accusatory detective called me at work, that my resolve weakened. He refused to call me back later, even at my clearly distressed insistence that I was at work and couldn’t talk right then (despite it being after a work party, I told none of my colleagues and turned up the next day as if nothing had happened). He asked me leading questions, finding it strange that I couldn’t really remember it very well and wondering why I had even interacted with these men – almost as if I was lying or trying to cover something up. He refused to believe me when I said walking back to the area would not help jog my memory, something I knew to be the case having walked that very way to work every morning since. So, in the end, I withdrew my complaint. I feel bad about it, but I was feeling pretty bad all over at the time. It was just one more thing that I couldn’t quite handle.

It was the guilt, of course. Yes, I’d been scared and yes, I’d felt stupid and yes, I was angry. But, more than anything, I felt guilt. Horrible, sickening, self-loathing guilt. I felt like I’d cheated on my then boyfriend and that I’d brought it upon myself. The people at the clinic had said quite the opposite and all my friends had been supportive. But the detective had effectively underlined the word ‘guilt’ in my psyche with a big red marker pen. So I gave up, I gave in and got on with my life.

Then I saw this poster – an NHS poster no less, under old Jeremy Hunt. “One in three reported rapes happens… when the victim has been drinking. Alcohol: know your limits.” Accompanied by a photograph of a clearly distressed young woman. I felt sick. I felt angry. But, more than anything else, there it was again: that all-consuming sense of guilt.

It is, as the campaign against this poster states, in complete opposition to advice given elsewhere on the NHS about sexual assault, which states: “If you have been sexually assaulted, remember that it wasn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, where you were or whether you had been drinking. A sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator.” This is what I had been led to believe was the official line, but now here was the NHS indulging in a good old-fashioned spate of victim-blaming. It was all the more shocking to me in light of the amazing sexual health workers I had spoken to following my assault, the lovely woman who had listened with wide eyes and said exactly the right things and the lovely man who had sat patiently with me while I cried my eyes out and told me not to blame myself. They didn’t turn around and say, “Well, you shouldn’t have drunk so much, you stupid slut.” But here was a government-endorsed poster saying pretty much that.

I know intellectually, deep down, that it wasn’t my fault. But I know it in that back-of-the-mind kind of way I know a lot of things that seem to run counter to the way I feel or, more accurately, the way this culture sometimes makes me feel. I know it just as I know that I shouldn’t swallow those images of perfect airbrushed women portrayed to me as “the female norm”. I know it just as I know I shouldn’t hate my skin/my body hair/my body/my face. I know, deep down, that these negative feelings are just the result of pressures on women to look, act and be a certain way. And the guilt thing is similar: I know, deep down, that it’s just something else that has been imposed upon me. But just as I still look in the mirror and hate what I see, I still too look back at that December night in London with a deep feeling of personal responsibility, shame and – you guessed it – guilt.

You could argue, of course, that the poster is ‘well-meaning’. It’s only trying to protect people; it’s trying to warn them. Fair point – to an extent. But only to an extent. After all, when was the last time you read a poster that said “Don’t get drunk or you’ll get robbed” or “Don’t get drunk or you’ll get run over”? You haven’t, have you? Because accidents happen and bad people exist and we all know, as rational adults, that the more sober and aware we are the more able we are to look out for such hazards. This poster is not a general safety message directed at the populace about drinking. It’s an entirely gendered and very specific message aimed solely at half of the population, forcing them to take at least partial blame for the actions of a twisted minority.

No one gets assaulted without there being people who are ready to assault. Assault is the fault of the perpetrator and a perpetrator will find a victim if he – and it is usually a “he” – wants to. All the incidentals – how much she’s drunk, whether she knows him, whether they’ve slept together before, whether she’s wearing a so-called “provocative” outfit – are just that: incidentals.

What’s more – and importantly – posters such as this stop people from coming forward. If I’d seen a poster like that on the day I decided to report it, I think it would have made me think twice, just as the detective at the end of the phone made me wish I had. This poster makes a woman say, “Well, I was pretty drunk, I suppose… I guess I’ll leave it. I don’t want to tell them I’d had x, y and z to drink that evening; it will only weaken my story and make me less believable. Put it down to bad judgement.” The crime goes unreported, the perpetrator may well strike again. And, as previously stated, my experience was fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. I can only imagine that the effect of such a message is much worse for a more serious crime.

An NHS spokesperson apparently replied to the campaign against this poster with the comment that the NHS “doesn’t see what the problem is”. And, yeah, I suppose many people would fail to see the problem. My parents, for example, would likely see nothing wrong with it, I’m sure. I never told them I was assaulted. I did, however, tell them when I was mugged because, somehow, that incident seemed like far less my fault. Even though I was just as drunk on that occasion and in a much less safe place, taking a stupid shortcut through a council estate rather than in well-lit central London. But a mugging is just a mugging, right? They happen to men as well as women so, funnily enough, the blame game doesn’t translate quite that far.

Of course, you should protect yourself and try to be sensible. I’m not saying anything different, but I believe that’s just common sense. I fully accept that I have put myself at risk on occasion. But a message such as this one basically suggests that it’s the woman’s responsibility to avoid rape rather than the man’s responsibility not to fucking do it. It suggests that men can’t fucking control themselves, so women had better not make it easy for them. And, to me, that message is just as offensive to men as it is to women. It is, thankfully, only a minority of males who behave in this way and it is those individuals that should be told how not to behave – not women who, last time I checked, were free to drink what they want, wear what they like and walk wherever they need to in order to get themselves home.

I also question the statistic. Most rapes are by people the victim knows, so what is the relevance of alcohol in that scenario? Most of them happen at night too, I would assume, so it’s hardly surprising that the woman has “been drinking” in a society where most people consume alcohol on a near-daily basis, is it? What does “been drinking” even mean anyway? A couple of pints? A glass of wine? An all-night binge? Make a poster that says “90% of all rapes happen when the victim is female” and you’ll be reporting something with almost as much significance. People drink. That’s a separate issue. Rape and sexual assault happens. That’s another issue. Conflating the two helps no one – except perhaps a perpetrator.

Seeing that poster dredged up the guilt, but it also dredged up a lot of feminist ire that I hadn’t accessed since my teenage riot girl days. And it made me remember that it’s right to be angry. It’s right to be angry about rape culture, about instances of being felt up at gigs or on the tube, about the guy across the street who makes me feel increasingly uncomfortable, about being followed home, about all the horrible little experiences that all the women I know and love have had to endure. And it’s right to be angry about what happened to me. It made me feel wretched – and no one has the right to make you feel wretched, no matter how much you’ve had to drink. The last thing any woman needs is for the NHS to do just that.

To see the poster and sign the petition, visit https://www.change.org/petitions/jeremy-hunt-nhs-home-office-remove-all-copies-of-this-poster-and-stop-victim-blaming.

 

Shared Stories

Nikki’s Story: How a Downward Spiral of Pain turned into Hope & Strength

By Nikki

TW: Rape, Drugs, Violence

I grew up being molested by my drug addicted father. At age 16 I lost my virginity through rape. I was attacked by 3 strange men when I was swimming at the community pool. I did press charges although it never made it to an actual trial. It rocked my world and shattered my trust.

The way I coped was different than some assume I should have behaved. I had this ‘I don’t care about anything’ mentality. I drank, did drugs, and became promiscuous. It was easier to let it happen then say no and be raped anyway.

I coped as best as I could. Things were starting to get better. I fell head over heels in love with a Marine. I thought he was the one. But as time went on things changed. He would check up on me at work. Assaulted a male coworker I was talking to out of jealousy. He would hit me, slap, punch, choke, throw me around, and destroy my spirit. He threw me into a hot shower for wearing too much makeup. Sexually when I would say no he would say “that word doesn’t exist for you, you’re mine and I’ll do what I want with you”. He would rape me, let his friends rape me, and constantly tell me I was lucky to have him because no one wants a raped slut. I believed him, and I stayed. One night things got particularly bad. I left and never returned. I went into hiding, and had counselling which truly saved my life.

Rape led me to this downward spiral of pain. But I refuse to let that define me. I am a strong woman. I am a beautiful soul, a loving girlfriend, a loyal daughter, a fun sister. I am an animal lover, painter, poet, student, and advocate. I am more than a rape statistic. I am a survivor.

Shared Stories

Not guilty: A letter to my assaulter

Ione Wells

TW: Sexual Assault

I cannot address this letter to you, because I do not know your name. I only know that you have just been charged with serious sexual assault and prolonged attack of a violent nature. And I have one question.

When you were caught on CCTV following me through my own neighbourhood from the Tube, when you waited until I was on my own street to approach me, when you clapped your hand around my face until I could not breathe, when you pushed me to my knees until my face bled, when I wrestled with your hand just enough so that I could scream. When you dragged me by my hair, and when you smashed my head against the pavement and told me to stop screaming for help, when my neighbour saw you from her window and shouted at you and you looked her in the eye and carried on kicking me in the back and neck. When you tore my bra in half from the sheer force you grabbed my breast, when you didn’t reach once for my belongings because you wanted my body, when you failed to have my body because all my neighbours and family came out, and you saw them face-to-face. When CCTV caught you running from your attempted assault on me… and then following another woman twenty minutes later from the same tube station before you were arrested on suspicion. When I was in the police station until 5am while you were four floors below me in custody, when I had to hand over my clothes and photographs of the marks and cuts on my naked body to forensic teams – did you ever think of the people in your life?

I don’t know who the people in your life are. I don’t know anything about you. But I do know this: you did not just attack me that night. I am a daughter, I am a friend, I am a girlfriend, I am a pupil, I am a cousin, I am a niece, I am a neighbour, I am the employee who served everyone down the road coffee in the café under the railway. All the people who form those relations to me make up my community, and you assaulted every single one of them. You violated the truth that I will never cease to fight for, and which all of those people represent – that there are infinitely more good people in the world than bad.

This letter is not really for you at all, but for all the victims of attempted or perpetrated serious sexual assault and every member of their communities. I’m sure you remember the 7/7 bombings. I’m also sure you’ll remember how the terrorists did not win, because the whole community of London got back on the Tube the next day. You’ve carried out your attack, but now I’m getting back on my tube.

My community will not feel we are unsafe walking back home after dark. We will get on the last tube home, and we will walk up our streets alone, because we will not ingrain or submit to the idea that we are putting ourselves in danger in doing so. We will continue to come together, like an army, when any member of our community is threatened, and this is a fight you will not win.

Community is a force we all underestimate. We get our papers every day from the same newsagents, we wave to the same woman walking her dog in the park, we sit next to the same commuters each day on the tube. Each individual we know and care about may take up no more than a few seconds of each day, but they make up a huge proportion of our lives. Somebody even once told me that, however unfamiliar they appear, the faces of our dreams are always faces we have seen before. Our community is embedded in our psyche. You, my attacker, have not proved any weakness in me, or my actions, but only demonstrated the solidarity of humanity.

Tomorrow, you find out whether you’re to be held in prison until your trial, because you pleaded ‘not guilty’ and pose a threat to the community. Tomorrow, I have my life back. As you sit awaiting trial, I hope that you do not just think about what you have done. I hope you think about community. Your community – even if you can’t see it around you every day. It is there. It is everywhere. You underestimated mine. Or should I say ours? I could say something along the lines of, ‘Imagine if it had been a member of your community,’ but instead let me say this. There are no boundaries to community; there are only exceptions, and you are one of them.