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.

Ione Wells

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.