An Ode to the Trigger Warning

 


Founder of Attacked Not Defeated, Phoebe Tansley, is a sexual health practitioner, gender-based violence prevention advocate and survivor. Here she revisits a previous blog and reflects on her experiences over the last five years.


 

By Phoebe Tansley

Unbelievably, it’s been over two years since I last wrote about my personal experience of surviving rape. I suppose as time goes by and workload mounts, self-reflection gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list too often.

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I decided to write this as I recently reached the five year milestone since I was attacked; and in particular wanted to focus on something which has cropped up for me recently; triggers.

In the five years I have been doing this, many survivors have approached me and asked me for advice on how to cope; some reassurance that it gets easier. I know that when survivors who are further along in their journeys than me describe where they are at with it, it has at times comforted me.

In particular I remember reading an account written by a woman who – like me – was strangled, but around 20 years ago. She talked about how she couldn’t wear anything too restrictive around her neck for years because it reminded her of the attack, but that over time she started to wear scarves again and now she can do so without even thinking about it.

To me, in the early days of recovery, that was probably the most comforting thing I read. So next time you see me rocking a turtleneck and looking pretty smug about it, you’ll know why.

turtleneck

source: rifemagazine.co.uk

 

***

The word ‘trigger’ suddenly becomes really present in your life after you’ve experienced sexual violence.

I remember in the immediate aftermath, various professionals kept asking me what ‘triggers’ me or if I had been ‘triggered’, and not really knowing what they meant.

As I wrote in a previous blog, my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arrived with delayed onset so for about six months after I was raped I felt relatively ‘okay’. It was my first trigger which actually then led to the first signs of PTSD; and that trigger was a pretty catastrophic one as it involved me being mugged by two men carrying machetes.

The sight of two violent men, the feeling of vulnerability, and the very real threat to my life took me right back to the night of the rape, and culminated in a total shut down of logic; I remember a feeling of overwhelming fear, and of utter devastation. It was from that moment on that my hyper-arousal kicked in.

There are plenty of definitions of hyper-arousal online; all I can really say with any authority is my own experience of it, which was a feeling of being constantly under threat.

Every situation was a risk, every day was a mission to avoid being raped or attacked. Every unknown person, and some known people, felt threatening. I had adrenaline constantly pumping through my body which translated into night-terrors as I slept; and so it was rare to have a restful and uninterrupted night’s sleep – even with the addition of a hammer that I kept by my bed.

I remained in this exhausting state of existence for around 18 months; but now, I am pleased to report, it has eased off substantially.

These days I walk home from the tube at night with the regular amount of anxiety that any woman experiences (that in itself is still frustrating but I’ll take putting keys between my fingers over screaming ‘HEELLPPPPP’ and running in the opposite direction when a man smiles at me on the street – this actually happened).

I am also, I think, a better friend and family member than I was back then. I’d put this mostly down to the fact that I don’t conduct an impossible-to-pass risk assessment of every social engagement before I attend in the same way I used to; I’m generally more trusting and can devote more brain space to enjoying people’s company now that it’s not being taken up by holding my bladder for hours on end because I’m convinced an attacker is waiting for me in the toilet.

All joking aside – hyper-arousal is totally debilitating and so if you are currently experiencing it, be gentle with yourself. You’re allowed to drop the ball a bit in other areas of your life while you navigate this horrible, relentless sense of impending doom. If a loved one is experiencing this, let them off the hook if they flake on a few meetups or don’t reply to your messages. They will come back to you and they will be so thankful that you continued to love them and gave them time to find their footing again.

So, remember a few paragraphs ago when I said everything was much better? It is – however, as with most difficult things in life, recovering from trauma is not a smooth ride. Rewind to four months ago, there I was living my life, feeling good about not having to barricade myself into rooms anymore, when the mother of all triggers decided to descend.

It had been so long that I had forgotten how it felt. And yet; the length of time I had felt better for, and the confidence I had developed, somehow made it worse: I wasn’t protected by shock like I was back then; the memories were flooding in with ease and clarity, and I was no longer dissociating with the event like I used to.

This wasn’t a scary movie anymore, it was me. It happened to me. It really happened.

I was watching the TV programme Broadchurch, which came with very clear and robust trigger warnings. Confession: I basically ignore trigger warnings. This is because between working in sexual health, studying sexual violence advocacy, and running AND, I have developed the ability to almost completely separate my personal experience and my professional experience. This ability is what has enabled me to do the job I love for the last five years.

I watch documentaries, films and TV programmes as well as read academic texts, personal accounts and fictional descriptions involving sexual violence all the time. Of course – I am human – it still affects me, but what I rarely do is relate it to my own experience.

I think one of the main reasons I have been able to do this is because what happened to me is a less common form of sexual violence – stranger rape. So, when I tuned into Broadchurch, the only thing going through my mind was that it would be interesting to see sexual violence support services depicted in a drama starring Olivia Coleman and David Tennant. It didn’t even occur to me that it might impact me personally.

And then suddenly, a frightened, injured woman was being taken into a clinical room for examinations – and it was me.

She had bruising on her arms and neck and cuts on her legs – just like me. She even had a cut on the back of her head where it hit the ground when she lost consciousness – just like me. And as the timid remains of her voice attempted to answer the policewoman’s questions while tears involuntarily fell out of her eyes, I remembered: that’s me.

This totally blindsided me and it took some time to feel like myself again. My nearest and dearest will tell you I am pretty in touch with my emotions – I regularly cry watching DIY SOS – but before experiencing this trigger, I can count on one hand the number of times that I remember crying about what happened to me. But this trigger acted like a faucet, and the tears were unyielding for a good five days.

***

I am very lucky in that I am currently being supported by a therapist, so I was able to take this into the therapy room within a week of it happening and do some very intense, challenging, but ultimately hugely restorative work around it. My therapist also gave me a talking to around my wilful ignorance of trigger warnings, and encouraged me to take a bit of a time out from anything which could be upsetting to watch.

But the most profound realisation to come out of this trigger has been this: maybe I don’t have to carry around my experience like a heavy burden whilst simultaneously trying to conceal it. Maybe I don’t need to be so anxious that others might view it as an impediment to my work and other areas of my life.

After watching Broadchurch I got into such a state that I felt an overwhelming urge to run away, because I genuinely didn’t know how I would ever be able to act normal and carry on with the life I had created for myself.

Partially due to aforementioned hyper-arousal, and partially due to my tireless indulgence in self-serve guilt, I decided not to do a runner and instead to bite the bullet and talk to a couple of people in my life about what I was going through.

The response I got wasn’t the one I was expecting. The people I chose to share with were my brother (for the comforting honesty that a sibling will reliably deliver) and two co-workers (because I was demonstrably not coping at work).

Both of these conversations resulted in these people fundamentally (and much more sensitively than this) asking me what on earth would possess me to stifle my human feelings and reactions to something which was not my fault in the first place, when those very feelings and reactions grant me an empathic knowledge which could actually be invaluable to my work?

Oops.

I had been so utterly convinced that my experience of sexual violence and the impact it had on my mental health would be at odds with my professional practice that I had neglected it and starved it of oxygen until it eventually clambered up into my consciousness, gasping for air and begging me to accept it as a part of me.

I am coming to realise that the most important thing I can do to aid my work is to take care of myself – and that means all of myself, not just the parts that are convenient.

Sometimes, admitting that something is hard and asking for help is the hardest part.

These blogs are not easy to write; and they’re even harder to share. But I do so in the hope that – just as that article comforted me five years ago – someone might read it and feel a little bit less alone. So to anybody who can relate to some of the things I have described in this blog, consider that sometimes it takes another person to point out the truth that has been glaringly obvious to everyone else the whole time; that the darkest part of yourself that you have demonised and shamed for so long could actually be cultivated into something wonderful, if you’d only shed a little bit of light onto it.

afterlife

“Afterlife” by Chana Bloch

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In an Alley, At Night-time

by Robert Lutz

A woman alobne

Illustration for the poem “In an Alley, At Night-time” by Robert Lutz

Imagine
At
Night-time
you are walking through an empty
Alley
when all of a sudden you hear someone
Cough
and you shudder for just a single
Second
And then you abandon the scary
Thought
that something might happen to
You
Tonight
Here

Imagine
At
Night-time
you all of a sudden hear another
Cough
and stop and turn around and see
Someone
walking through the alley behind
You
and the person coughs and coughs
Ceaselessly
and the cough reverberates through
You
Tonight
Here

Imagine
At
Night-time
the coughing stops and you breathe
Quickly
and your body becomes tense with
Fear
and you move no more because you
Cry
and your tears fall freely because you
Thought
that this could never ever happen to
You
Tonight
Here

The world needs our stories, not our statistics

by Lindsey Kukunda

Image source: Gabriel Isak at berlinartparasites

Image source: Gabriel Isak at berlinartparasites

I met a young Kenyan lady who told me that at 15, her parents sold her body to a man who was to pay the school fees they couldn’t afford anymore. She did not know this. To her, he was a benevolent uncle.

Until one day, he got permission from her school during a visit, took her somewhere and raped her. After the third time, she took herself out of school, told her parents to keep the money and the man to take his penis elsewhere.

Hers was a long journey but she was able to take herself back to school and successfully paid her fees herself. She told me something that I will never forget:

“Lindsey. I’m tired of hearing us being talked about as statistics,”

“Oh, such number of girls get raped’; ‘these girls get sold into early marriage’; ‘these girls undergo Female Genital Mutilation.’ Those girls are US. People see us every day and talk about ‘those girls’ and we’re right in front of them. We are those girls. And we have to be seen and our stories have to be told.”

Because her story opened my eyes to a wrong I used to read about and absorb passively, I want to share three of my own stories with you. You will not fail to take something away from it.

I WAS THE DRUNK GIRL WHO ASKED FOR IT

I was at a university party. I was not a heavy drinker in those days, but since I was surrounded by classmates in a friend’s hostel, I was feeling safe. Having become too intoxicated to move to the next stage of the party, my friend Bob (not real name) told our classmate Peter (not real name) to take me to his (Bob’s) room.

Peter deposited me onto Bob’s bed and locked the room. My jeans and knickers were removed while I put up a very drunk feeble fight. Soul destroying things happened to me in that bed but events did not transpire to their full conclusion. Bob started banging on the door loudly for Peter to open up. I covered myself up in a blanket so Bob could not see my new state of undress.

I did not report Peter because I feared it was my fault for being drunk.

Image source: Moonassi at berlinartparasites

Image source: Moonassi at berlinartparasites

I WAS THE GIRL WHO WAS SIMPLY UNLUCKY

I was in a discotheque, smoking a cigarette, when a waitress warned me it was not allowed. I put it out. Five minutes later, a bouncer came and threatened to beat me up for smoking. When I looked for a manager to report him, the other male bouncers reported me to him. These male bouncers stood by while he hurled me against the wall, flung me down the stairs out of the club and ordered me to ‘come back bitch!’

I did not report the bouncer because I feared the police would judge me for smoking and drinking.

I THINK I WAS THE GIRL WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE

I was on my way home. It was 10.00 pm. Two men stopped me and grabbed each of my arms. I begged them to let me go, and they leered at me, the lust in their eyes telling their plans for me. I yelled at a teenager passing by and asked him to help me. The men told him to ‘mind his own business or face fire’. The teenager ran away.

The men begun tugging me in a direction I was unaware of as I struggled to free myself. A boda boda man passing by stopped and rode in our direction. They let me go and I run.

There are no words to describe the emotions of running away from predator, knowing you are the prey and cannot afford to get caught. One of the men chased after me. I turned around and saw him raising his foot. I ran faster but succumbed to the heavy kick he delivered to the small of my back. I flew like a bird, hitting the ground and cutting myself on stone.

I thought I’d brought this on myself because it was late and I was out alone.

Ched Evans retrial: A failure for the victim and all rape victims

I have felt anger many times in my life but this weekend as I read the headline that Ched Evans had been cleared of rape, I felt an overwhelming sense of rage. The kind of rage that makes you want to walk into the middle of the road, stop the traffic, lie down on the ground and scream.

Ched Evans and girlfriend at court

Image source: The Daily Mail

And keep screaming until the whole world is listening to you. Rage dances through my veins, pulsating and getting stronger as more news comes in throughout the week. The rage I feel curses throughout my body.  I can’t stop questioning how and why this is happening. Nothing makes sense and it all feels so unfair.

Ched Evans is a Welsh footballer who was 22 when he was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman who was too intoxicated to consent to having sex. Evans was later found guilty of the crime in 2012 and sentenced to five years in prison. He served two years of his sentence before being released, vowing that he was going to clear his name after maintaining his innocence and that is exactly what he has just done. After winning the right to a retrial, on Friday, Ched Evans was found not guilty of rape.

Looking at images from the CCTV footage released after the original trial, of a girl who was so drunk she could barely stand, being lured away into a car by a predatory man – footballer and friend to Evans, Clayton McDonald – there was no doubt that this girl could not have consented to sex just moments later. You can read more about the case and come to your own conclusions but really, our beliefs about Ched Evans’s guilt is of no real importance because the jury has decided that he is not.

I am angry that someone who I believed committed rape has been let off and I feel sickened every time I hear Evans speak about wanting to ‘educate’ other young players so they don’t end up in his unfortunate position. There’s something similar about his actions to the post-trial events of the Brock Turner case. Turner sexually assaulted a girl on a university campus earlier this year. Somehow, these athletes who have committed some of the most abhorrent crimes aim to repent by saving other poor boys from meeting a similar fate, citing the perils of alcohol consumption.

I am not sure most young men need advice from convicted, or controversially cleared rapists, to know that if a girl is unconscious, it is probably best not to have sex with her.

Most young men would not be interested in having sex with a lifeless body, I am not sure that is the kind of passion they are looking for.

Back in 2012, media narrative painted the claimant as a pathological liar, trying to thwart the promising career of an idolised footballer. People who hadn’t really looked into the case or listened to the details didn’t understand what the fuss was about – the girl was just drunk wasn’t she? It wasn’t really rape though, was it? Back in 2011 when the offence was committed, the law was very clear and it remains so today. If a person is too intoxicated to consent, by having sex with them, you are committing rape.

Every part of the Ched Evans case made me angry, but this anger had a short reprieve when a jury found him guilty. I thought some kind of justice had been served. And when he was released from prison, there was quiet satisfaction in seeing his football career suffer, after Sheffield United fans called for his contract not to be renewed and an 170,000-signature strong petition was published supporting this notion.

Pressure was mounted on the club by high profile individuals such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, who asked for her name to be removed from a stand at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium if Evans was given a new contract.

But perhaps public opinion had changed since then.

There are two injustices surrounding the clearance of Evans at his retrial. One: Ched Evans has gotten away with a crime a jury found him guilty of five years ago. Two: our justice system has failed the victim of a hideous crime by allowing Ched Evans’s defence team to put forward evidence which was based on the victim’s sexual behaviour – something which legislation imposed severe restrictions on in 1999, due to the ridiculous assumption that if a woman has previously had sex with numerous partners, a jury would find her less credible as a rape victim.

For seventeen years this legislation has been in place and throughout this time we have been encouraged relentlessly by police campaigns to report rape. Even though rape convictions remain horribly low, we live in the hope that legal proceedings have evolved beyond courtroom batterings from defence solicitors, accusing claimants of having too many sexual partners, too many sexual encounters and no self respect in a bid to undermine their story. We have been led to believe that this simply does not happen anymore – it cannot happen anymore because of this legislation.

The retrial of Ched Evans shows that this legislation isn’t as far reaching as we would like to believe and that in fact, the smearing, undemocratic courtroom tactics are a lot closer to home than that of developing countries where women are robbed of human rights and opressed as second class citizens. In fact, many applications made by the defence in rape cases to use previous sexual history as evidence, are successful. There are exemptions to the use of this evidence but according to the Judge hearing the retrial of Evans, this case did in fact warrant the exposure of this private information to the jury.

Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act states that ‘If the issue is one of consent, the behaviour to which they relate is either alleged to have taken place at or about the same time as the alleged offence or is so similar to the complainant’s behaviour at that time that it cannot reasonably be explained as coincidence,’… then it would be acceptable to use the claimant’s sexual behaviour as evidence in a trial.

Ched Evans mugshot

Image source: The Mirror

The new witnesses, who were key to proving the innocence of Evans, were used by the defence to show that the victim’s behaviour was inconsistent with her accusation towards Evans. One of the witnesses stated that she’d had sex with him a fortnight after the night she had reported Evans to the police, and the other said she had used language during sex with him which was very similar to the language she used when having sex with Evans, according to Ched himself. These key witnesses’ two testimonials are the reason Ched Evans was found not guilty.

I am struggling to understand why this case was any different to any other rape trial. Why was this evidence so compelling? Two witnesses came forward after being offered a £50,000 reward by a hefty, powerful defence legal team and told some stories about the behaviour of the victim. Because she had sex two weeks after being raped, does this suggest she wasn’t raped? I don’t think so. It is impossible to homogenise the experience of all rape victims and expect them to display the same behaviour as each other, weeks after an assault.

Many victims are in denial for weeks, months, or years after their attack. Everyday life continues, and not everyone breaks down and cannot function.

I was raped on a Saturday night at a friend’s house, and got picked up by my Dad on the following Sunday morning and talked to him about what a great night I’d had. I then went for Sunday lunch with my Grandma and chatted freely about school and my friends. I went to bed on Sunday questioning what had really happened on Saturday and struggled to sleep, but on Monday I went to school. I can assure you that I was raped. My ‘behaviour’ doesn’t take away the truth of what happened on that night.

When something awful happens that is too traumatic for you to understand, sometimes it is easier to carry on as normal. Sometimes, it is not even a conscious decision.

As for questioning the victim for hours about her sexual preferences, how many partners she’d had, what sexual positions she favoured, and how she liked to have sex, I’m at a loss on how to even rationalise the Judge’s decision to allow this line of questioning to continue. Because it is completely irrelevant. In any rape case it is irrelevant.

Every case of sexual assault is different. Rape can happen between a husband and a wife; it can happen between two strangers, or friends; it can happen between a parent and a child. Every outcome and consequence of rape is different, but what remains the same is the pain that every victim feels. Whether you were conscious or unconscious when you were being raped, the feeling of gut-wrenching sadness and desperation will still live deep in your soul.

We don’t need to compare the atrocities of different rape cases to each other. Each case is awful in its own right.

In the same way, the criminal justice system should not be able to determine whether one case of rape should be treated differently to another when considering Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act.

There should be no circumstances when a woman’s previous sexual history should be used against her by the defence. If this is allowed to happen, the myth that some rapes are more serious than others, will continue. If Ched Evans wasn’t a famous footballer who had a girlfriend with a multi-millionaire father who funded a very expensive legal appeal to clear his name, he would still be guilty of rape.

Justice has not been served in this case and unfortunately will have a great impact on the likeliness of women reporting serious sexual assault committed against them. Rape is humiliating enough without having to endure someone questioning your sexual history in a courtroom full of people, doubting your integrity.

I have always believed that if I was raped now, I would most certainly report it to the police. What has just happened in our country within a supposedly first-class criminal justice system, has made me reexamine whether I really would. I have experienced the painful consequences of rape, I am not sure if I could withstand more trauma in a courtroom. This is not the way it should be in twenty first century Britain.

6 ways society fails men who survive rape

by Laura Mundy

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Recently, I worked for a short time at Mankind Counselling in Brighton & Hove, UK. They are a charity providing counselling for men who have experienced sexual violence, abuse and assault.

At Mankind, the average age of men coming forward to seek help is 43 years old, and yet the majority of these men suffered abuse during childhood. This means men live with the effects of abuse for decades before speaking out.

It’s estimated that 12% of rapes in the UK are against men. Yet many choose not to come forward, either to report the crime or seek the support they need. Furthermore, 94% of those who use rape crises centres are female, one of many indicators that male survivors are not getting the support they need.  Why is this happening?

1. Lack of awareness and understanding

When I started at Mankind Counselling, the statistics that I was exposed to in my induction days really shocked me. One in six men worldwide will experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. One in six. That accounts for 17,000 men and boys in my city of Brighton & Hove alone.

The stigma surrounding male sexual abuse both from a survivor’s point of view and that of society makes it very difficult to address.

Pandora’s Project, a survivors non-profit said:

“The preconceptions that prevail in society make it harder for males to be seen as the victims of sexual crime. Myths and incorrect assumptions propagated by both survivors and non-survivors lead to a veil of silence, driven ultimately by fear about how others will see you, as well as how you see yourself.”

The result is that there is alarmingly insufficient awareness about male survivors, and limited opportunities for men to speak out and seek help.

2. Survivor support materials aren’t specific to men

England and Wales police crime figures show there were 3,580 incidents of rape or sexual assault against men in 2014, but Survivors UK support service believe that only 2-3% of men report abuse. Those who come forward cite not knowing where to turn as a major reason for staying quiet.

19-year-old Dean who was raped by a fellow school pupil, told BBC Newsbeat that he thought he would “be seen as the criminal” if he turned to police:

“The lack of conversation about it, means people don’t know what to do.”

Dean stayed silent for four years before finding the courage to tell his family and friends about the attack and agreed there’s not enough support for female rape victims, but even less so for men.

“I know there would be so many people who would benefit from just knowing there was help and support out there.”

3. The unbelievable belief that men cannot be raped

Whilst following the support organisation Survivors UK on Facebook, I came across a provocative ad. The intended message was that those close to survivors, like family and friends, are indirectly affected when a man is raped too, and that the organisation can also offer them support as well.

New Picture

But sadly, the statement was misunderstood, with many commenting ‘when you say male rape, you mean people who have been raped by men, right?’ or ‘does male rape mean male attackers or victims?’

These comments, facetious or not, are a worrying indicator of wider attitudes and elude to victim shaming statements such as ‘How can a man be raped?’ ‘Surely he had the strength to fight them off?’ This victim shaming is divisive, dangerous and ultimately creates further stigma around male rape.

4. The taboo that a man’s masculinity is compromised if he is raped 

Survivors UK’s CEO Michael May recognises that reporting an experience to police is particularly hard for men. “Police are one of the major alpha male representations in our society, so we’re essentially asking someone who has been robbed of masculinity to go to the biggest man in the room to talk about it,” he says.

The 2015 report ‘Silent Suffering: Supporting The Male Survivors Of Sexual Assault‘ commissioned by the Greater London Authority also found that many men are concerned their sexuality will become the focus of the investigation when speaking up about their ordeal.

May told the Huffington Post:

“Society is generally afraid to see men as victims. From infancy males are told that they should strive to be resilient, self-sufficient, protectors, dominant in sexual interactions and able to defend themselves.”

He adds: “An experience of rape or sexual abuse contravenes all of these masculine expectations. It leaves the survivor feeling ‘less than a man’ and society feeling that without a firm, inviolate masculine ideal – so safety is fundamentally compromised.”

Real-Men-48-sheet-rev-5_2

5. The assumption that the perpetrator or the victim is male and gay

Michael May summarised the struggle male survivors face: “From infancy we’re told that your role is to penetrate, so if you’re raped and you’re penetrated, what does that make you: a woman? Gay?”

But this is far from a ‘gay issue’. The ‘Silent Suffering’ report states that 60% of victims of male rape or sexual assault are heterosexual and research suggests most men who rape men identify as heterosexual.

In the eyes of UK law, women are legally unable to rape as rape is defined as non-consensual intercourse by a man with a person i.e. penetration by a penis of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person. But any gender can be victims of sexual assault and any gender can be the perpetrator.

If a man ejaculates or gets an erection during the assault, he could be left questioning whether the crime was indeed a crime. But experts stress that any physical reaction on the part of the victim is, of course, purely physical and due to stimulation rather than enjoyment.

6. Lack of exposure of male survivor organisations

I had never heard of Mankind Counselling, despite it being in my city of Brighton & Hove for 16 years and being 10 minutes’ walk from my house. Mankind is one of only 20 organisations throughout the UK that are able to provide services for men who have suffered sexual violence.

However, of £1,292,666 of funding allocated by the Mayor of London in 2014 for specialist support services for victims of sexual assault, only 2.5% was allocated specifically to services for men and boys, and Survivors UK faced an 100% axe of government funding in April last year.

Without specialist support services, how can men recover?

These reasons show how poor societal attitudes and a severe lack of resources perpetuate the fear among men of disclosing and seeking support for sexual abuse. I hope that this also highlights how society can learn to create a more supportive and understanding environment for men, why should anyone suffer silently?

~~~~~~

Survivors UK talk to thousands of people in London every year, if you want to talk more about male rape visit www.survivorsuk.org for support, or for Brighton, visit Mankind’s website http://www.mankindcounselling.org.uk for more information. 

Brock Turner: How social media remedied court failures

by Soffi James

Brock Turner

Brock Turner. The name now synonymous with sexual aggression, white privilege and denying culpability. The name that the world has come together to condemn.

Brock Turner’s case sparked outrage after receiving a pitiful six month sentence for the brutal rape of a young woman on the Stanford University campus.

Six months in jail is facile. But it’s also more jail time than most rapists will ever receive. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that 97 out of 100 rapists will not even see the inside of a cell for their crimes. It’s abysmal to think in comparison to this, Brock’s sentence seems like a small triumph.

Infogrpahic: Out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free

Image source: rainn.org

We’ve heard the excuses: ‘it was a misunderstanding’, ‘it was a bit of fun’, or a consensual “twenty minutes of action,” as put by Turner’s father. In this context, it’s unsurprising that victims often don’t find justice. All signs point back to a culture that continues to downplay and in turn perpetuate sexual assault.

Outside the constraints of the court room, rapist Brock has simultaneously been subject to trial by social media where furious narratives have played out online.

The 23-year-old victim, referred to in this case as “Emily Doe”, released a statement detailing her harrowing attack, giving her side of the story from the moment she woke up, to the news of Brock’s paltry conviction. Her account is striking, brave and powerful and the outpouring of compassion on her behalf and fury at the system has rippled throughout the world.

Perhaps this is what struck a chord with the public, passively absorbing details of the case through the screens of devices. The victim, who by default is protected by lifetime anonymity, chose to speak out – her voice singing free. Survivor and activist Winnie M Li explains it this way:

“Like the recent Stanford victim, I found myself Googling news stories on my assault, and felt the surreal displacement of reading what complete strangers were saying publicly about something very personal which had happened to me. And yet, nowhere in any of that coverage was there a place for myself, the victim, to speak.”

The 7244-word statement has been read by thousands – bypassing expensive column inches in print and the soundbite reportage of 24/7 broadcast – published in full online. The statement deserves to be read in it’s full unabridged entirety, to allow the victim to take her space in the ether among those discussing her personal suffering.

The 7244-word victim statement has been read and shared by thousands and because of this, Brock Turner’s case has become one of the most talked about rape cases in history.

petition to recall the judge who issued the sentence has gathered more than 1 million signatures, and three top political consultants have now joined the effort. Stanford graduates also protested at the university’s graduation ceremony on Sunday.

Student protesting against campus rape at her graduation, Stanford University

Students have used their graduations to protest the apparent leniancy of Stanford university against rapist pupils. Image source: Sky news

Even US Vice President Joe Biden has written an open letter to the anonymous victim expressing his empathy: “I am filled with furious anger – both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth.

“It must have been wrenching – to relive what he did to you all over again. But you did it anyway, in the hope that your strength might prevent this crime from happening to someone else. Your bravery is breathtaking.”

Twitter user Jez Kemp repurposed the sickening letter written by Brock Turner’s father, shifting the focus from the impact the rape has had on Brock, back the victim he attacked:

Image source: Twitter

Image source: Twitter

For all the good it’s done, social platforms are by nature accessible to all and many have exercised this right to undermine and diminish Emily Doe’s voice in the debate of this case. ‘Meninists’ and rape apologists have taken to their keyboards to wield their unwavering hubris. 

Just take the Brock Turner For 2016 Olympics page, full of rape enablers sharing juvenile sexist jokes, sickening memes and misogynous hatred. The page is littered with offensive and controversial hashtags such as #STANDWITHBROCK and #RIO2016. 

And a post seemingly written from Brock himself, expressed an insidious message inciting victim blaming: “The outpouring of love and supportive emails I continue to receive is amazing and reaffirms my faith in the good people of this country. We MUST continue to teach our girls about the dangers of binge drinking and promiscuity. Keep control of yourselves and don’t dress like sluts and everything will be fine.”

Since viewing these posts, the Facebook page has been shut down. In reality, policing these people won’t stop rape from happening, education will. Free speech is a right we must fight for, even if it does give airtime to individuals who use it to spread hatred and fear. As JK Rowling expressed in a recent speech about Donald Trump:

“He has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine.”

In the Brock Turner case the internet has acted as an aide, helping to shape and inform the public where the proceedings failed. A justice was borne out of the failings of our own legal systems.

I’m moved deeply by the global chorus of voices speaking out for this anonymous woman, showing not only a compelling sense of empathy but also a deep understanding of consent and its violation.

This vile, viral story will inevitably fade into darkness, overtaken by new stories and events grappling for our attention.

And in that darkness, Brock may think about this “Emily Doe’s” generous advice to rewrite his story. “The world is huge, it is so much bigger than Palo Alto and Stanford,” she writes, “and you will make a space for yourself in it where you can be useful and happy.” In the absence of tweets, petitions and blog posts, like mine, maybe Brock can take some time to reflect.

Maybe he will realise why the voice of his victim has carried so strongly – because she’s not speaking for herself. She’s speaking for the 656/1000 girls who couldn’t report the crime. She’s using her suffering to shine as a brilliant beacon for them. Perhaps her letter will move him to admit, apologise and take action to reform himself into a role model for young men, to think twice about how “20 minutes of action” could affect someone else’s life, not theirs.

Notes from a survivor

Image source: @thejohnnysmith at Berlin ArtParasites

Image source: @thejohnnysmith at Berlin ArtParasites

 

Image source: Berlin ArtParasites

Image source: Berlin ArtParasites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five years ago I was riding my bike 45 miles to the bus station to visit my friend In New York. It was late; but I didn’t have a car, rural America is lacking in robust public transport systems, and it was peak tomato season so I could hardly ask for a day off. A few minutes after 11pm, 43 miles into my journey I was pulled off my bike by a heavy-set man. When I screamed in fear, he strangled me into silence. He ripped off my clothes. After threatening me with a knife, he raped me on the side of the high way wearing a zombie mask.

Since the attack I’ve unwittingly found myself in a number of coercive, “rapey” situations. Being confronted with a man’s unwanted sexual attention triggers the PTSD I have; despite a year of intensive Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. The idea of consent is fuzzy to me. I’ve almost never experienced consent in practice. What I have instead experienced, is the constant silencing of my voice; denying my right of agency, minimizing my ‘no’s, the prioritising of others’ pleasure before my own.

I’ve been stumbling in and out of various abusive entanglements with men for years. The only criteria that mattered: he wasn’t forcing himself on me. What I failed to see was that not being a rapist doesn’t qualify someone as a good person. I didn’t have any warning systems for pathological liars, abusive, controlling partners. I gave people the benefit of the doubt.

I didn’t understand that when someone starts exhibiting jealousy, or subtly insulting you, that kind of behavior isn’t a one-off. It won’t stop. Or even stay the same. It will only get worse and worse. I’ve made all types of excuses for why I’ve dated shitty men. Last year when I was seeing someone with no long term potential, my friends asked me why I was with him.

I said he wasn’t a psychopath.  He didn’t constantly accuse me of cheating. He didn’t question me about my whereabouts. He didn’t fill me with fear or anxiety. But in the end he didn’t provide an iota of emotional support when I needed it. And that’s when the wispy strands connecting us withered away.

Alone, I was face to face with how flawed my philosophy had been. All along I had been defining him by what he wasn’t. My sole priority had been avoiding an intensely triggering situation.

What I’ve realized is that not being a rapist isn’t enough.

Not calling me a whore isn’t enough.

Not lying constantly isn’t enough.

My standards have been completely warped. I need to learn to be more wary; to recognise the different strands of manipulation that can be used, until I can differentiate between false charm and true kindness. Until I can establish emotional, physical and spiritual safety I need to embrace being by myself and ultimately redefine what I am looking for. I need to have the self-love to stop celebrating mediocrity, and know that just me, for now, is enough.

Open letter to Roosh V, ‘pick-up artist’ campaigning for the legalisation of rape

By Phoebe Tansley

roosh v

Roosh V states in order to stop rape, we must legalise it. Read his deluded proposal here


Attacked Not Defeated CEO, Phoebe Tansley writes on open letter to Daryush Valizadeh also known as Roosh V, an American anti-feminist writer and self-titled ‘pick-up artist’ authoring books on how to get women into bed. Recently a campaign was launched to remove his publications from Amazon, on the basis that he not only teaches readers ‘how to rape’ and advocates for the legalisation of rape, but also admits to having committed sexual assault himself.


To Daryush,

Let me introduce myself; I’m Phoebe. I’m an advocate for the prevention of sexual violence, a feminist and a survivor of rape. So according to your beliefs, I am living in denial, I’m a pain in the arse and I’m a liar. Hi!

I founded an organisation in Uganda three years ago to support women who have been sexually assaulted. I believe in education and empowerment and open discussions about gender based violence and how it can be stopped. Therefore I read your proposal to legalise all rape occurring within a private setting, with an open mind.

My reaction is a combination of repulsed incomprehension, exasperation and fascination.

Although you openly admit to having raped various women in your series of ‘Bang’ books, you don’t seem to appreciate the reality of what you have done. It seems to me that you view rape as a label more than an act. It’s ruining your fun. According to you, if women would just accept that they are going to have sex if they enter onto private premises with a man, then rape would seldom happen. Am I right or am I right guys?! *Raises hand for a high-five* *Left hanging, awkward silence, proceeds to smooth hair over*. Carrying on…

I have encountered the objectification of women in many instances, but your own twisted take on it is stunning – profound even. Not only do you fail to acknowledge that we as human beings have the cognitive ability (and human right – those pesky things) to make choices about our bodies and the verbal capacity to express those choices, you also disregard the fact we are one of the only mammals on earth who have sex for pleasure.

Roosh V believes that if a women is intoxicated, she is unverbally agreeing to have sex. Image source: SAVE Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton Campaign

You make a flippant comparison between a woman choosing to visit a man’s apartment to somebody walking through a shady neighbourhood. You say that a person walking alone at night is asking to be mugged by choosing that particular route and therefore equally a woman who chooses to enter a private premises is surely consenting to sex. You go on to state that society doesn’t ‘teach ghetto kids not to steal’ so why is society trying to encourage you not to rape?

I’m afraid it just doesn’t hold up.

Your rationale is obsolete because BREAKING NEWS; we generally do as a society uphold a strong belief that stealing is wrong – maybe you missed the memo. The point you are making is actually the complete opposite of what anti-violence campaigners like me use as a basis to change attitudes. Let me break it down for you:

If you were mugged on the street, or had your home broken into while you were sleeping, we would not blame you. We would not say you ‘asked for it’ by walking down the street or by forgetting to close your kitchen window. We would direct blame fully onto the perpetrator because they committed a crime. In these cases, accountability is mostly very clear cut. The change in narrative that occurs when the crime is of a sexual nature (and I use that term in a technical sense rather than a descriptive one), is illogical, conducive to victim-blaming and massively damaging.

change.org has gathered almost 200,000 signatures petitioning Amazon to stop selling Roosh V's books advocating rape

change.org has gathered almost 200,000 signatures petitioning Amazon to stop selling Roosh V’s books, advocating rape

I want you to take responsibility for yourself and for your role as somebody whose written and verbal expressions are accessible to the masses, but I know that’s an ambitious aim. You claim that the sexual and gender based violence experienced by one in three women in their lifetime is ‘preventable’, if only women would stop putting themselves in situations where they could be assaulted. Are you then saying that men are not capable of controlling themselves? Don’t you think that is insulting to the very men you are trying to influence?

Take time to reflect on the concept of consent and that when it is not enthusiastically given, or CANNOT be given, lives can be shattered as a result.

Even if you feel no empathy for the women you are sexually violating, ultimately your behaviour is going to get you nowhere apart from on the sex offenders list. And if, as you say, sex is just ‘what you do’ then why not have a go at exercising respect – for yourself as well as your sexual partners.

To sign the petition to stop Amazon selling Roosh V’s ‘Bang’ books, click here.