Three years of A.N.D: What we’ve achieved so far

By Jennifer Robinson

It has been just over three years since the launch of Attacked Not Defeated and our contributor and ally to the charity Jennifer Robinson reflects on the progress made so far and exciting things to come.


August 2012: “I’ve had this idea.” This was the very beginning, the first time Phoebe shared her idea to launch a charity to provide comprehensive care for rape survivors and to detach stigma from sexual assault. This was the beginning of a long and challenging journey and the realisation of the hard work that goes in to starting a charity from scratch. The actual process of making a difference can be really boring at times with lots of paperwork!

January 2013: AND was officially launched at the White Lion in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, with the launch event raising almost £5,000. This was the first time Phoebe spoke publicly about her personal experience and her desire to provide a voice for survivors of sexual violence in Kampala. The generosity of all who took part meant that Attacked Not Defeated’s work could really get started. Around this time we started thinking more about social media and how to communicate our message.

February 2013: AND staged a flash mob in a major shopping centre in Kampala, as part of the One Billion Rising global campaign to end violence against women.  Over 30 women from all over the world danced, choreographed brilliantly by Eddy Isingoma.

April 2013: In April 2013, Phoebe met the talented and passionate Ugandan lawyer Shafir Yiga, who subsequently became the charity’s advisor and advocate. He drafted AND’s official Constitution and has been assisting us ever since, using his experience and knowledge to support our development.

May 2013: AND’s official website was launched, providing an invaluable platform for us to share our progress and allow people to donate directly.

August 2013: A sponsored cycle ride from Aylesbury to Africa raised over £2,000 towards our cause.

Phoebe Tansley and friend Emily Fulda with local residents in Kampala, Uganda

Phoebe Tansley and Emily Fulda with Phoebe’s extended Ugandan family in Iganga, Uganda

December 2013: Work began on our documentary Shattered Glass – (see top of page) which involved speaking to survivors and high profile activists from Uganda and the wider world. An eye opening film highlighting key issues surrounding sexual and gender based violence in Uganda.

Another exciting December milestone was the beginning of our partnership with The Clare Foundation. The collaboration meant that we were able to begin operating, fundraising and really planning the future of the organisation.

“I founded the charity on pure unadulterated passion, and the first year was definitely a big learning curve for me. I had moments where I thought how am I going to do this? But I have never lost sight of what I want to do and my vision. I just always try to remember that change has to start with one person.” Phoebe Tansley

September 2014: Phoebe hosted a black-tie fundraising event called The Pearl Ball. This was to screen the newly finished Shattered Glass documentary and was accompanied by a three course African-fusion dinner and an auction. This wonderful event raised £8,319.52, which was enough to run the charity for a year.

The Pearl Ball fundraising event help fund the running of the AND charity for an entire year

The Pearl Ball fundraising event help fund the running of the AND charity for an entire year

January 2015: After a successful feature interview with news-site This One Time, Phoebe launched the AND blog to continue the charity’s contribution to the discussion of sexual violence and gender issues. With a committed and inspired pool of individual writers from across the globe, the blog covers topics from tampon tax to arranged marriage in the 21st century and aims to engage supporters on the issues that we are tackling.

February 2015: Our first paid employee – Vivian, started working as our Country Manager. She oversees the day-to-day running of the organisation and keeps all of us in line. It was very exciting for us to have someone who was actually paid to work for AND, to dedicate time to it and ensure that it grows.

April 2015: In one of our most exciting milestones, Phoebe was interviewed for the institution that is Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. When it aired, not only did her interview generate over £2,500 of private donations in just 48 hours, but she spoke beautifully, calmly and eloquently about her personal experiences and her efforts in supporting survivors of sexual violence in the UK and Uganda.  I count listening to her interview among one of my proudest moments in my three years with AND.

AND

Click on the image to listen to the interview on iPlayer (21 min 30 seconds in)

Vivian Kukunda - Country Manager for Attacked Not Defeated

Vivian Kukunda – Country Manager for Attacked Not Defeated

The Present: Country Manager Vivian Kukunda gives us some insight of day to day operations in Uganda.

Personal Safety Initiatives: We are working to empower women to protect themselves through the use of the personal alarms, self defence classes, and self awareness workshops. We do not believe that the onus should be on the woman to physically overcome an attacker, but we feel strongly that assertiveness and a strong sense of self are the best protective factors a person can be equipped with. In the future we hope to also look into safe, subsidised transport.  In March 2015 we carried out a focus group to pinpoint the safety concerns of women in Kampala. We have also worked with FitClique Africa -the first exclusively women’s gym in Uganda- and ACODEV to conduct a workshop on increasing the safety of sex workers who live and work in Uganda’s border town of Kasese in Mpondwe-Lubhiriha.

Young Men’s Workshops:  Under the YMW program, we are developing

Image courtesy of preventaction.org

Image courtesy of preventaction.org

workshops that will contain various discussions and activities around the topic of gender based violence, equality, rights, responsibilities, conflict resolution and respect. We strongly believe that in order to create positive change on SGBV matters, it is essential to involve men to inspire change. Before this is done, AND is conducting a baseline study in form of focus groups, to gage attitudes of boys in Kampala aged 15-18. So far we have carried out focus groups in partnership with Action for Fundamental Change and Development and Old Kampala Secondary School. The information we are gathering from these focus groups is going to shape the curriculum for the workshops we are starting at the end of the year.

The Future

When terrible things happen, the concept of moving on tends to revolve around ‘getting back to normal’. Going back is never an option but you can choose how to move forwards. Anger is a deeply unhelpful emotion, but a powerful motivator. I was and am still angry about what happened to my friend, but I am proud of the grace and strength she has demonstrated in the time since.

So now we have reached the third birthday of Attacked Not Defeated; her vision to change so much for so many. As Phoebe herself noted in her February post on our blog, while it may not be apparent to others, she had many luxuries at her disposal in the aftermath. What if you have to go back to work? What if you don’t have insurance to cover your medical costs? What if you have never been told that you have a fundamental right as a human being to not be raped?

Many, many women and young girls in Uganda are raped every day. Almost 60% of women here will experience sexual or domestic violence between the ages of 15 and 49 [p.242 Uganda Demographics and Health Survey, 2011]. This is a very widespread problem and we are by no means the only people tackling it; we understand that we cannot stop rape from happening.

What we CAN do is tackle the attitude which leads to sexual and gender based violence in the first place. We can provide a service which will not blame anyone for what has happened to them. We can provide a secure refuge, an understanding and sensitive approach to clinical care, and ongoing advice and support.

Sometimes all it takes is a reassuring hand on the shoulder, to let someone know they are not alone.

If you’d like to help us to be there for women in need of support or help us fight the root causes of sexual violence in Uganda – please donate via our website and spread the word on social media.

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The Istanbul Convention: #ICchange

By Soffi James

Image source: www.coe.int

Image source: http://www.coe.int


The Istanbul Convention could bring about a drastically positive change in the way that gender based violence cases are handled in our society, yet it has until now lacked the exposure it deserves and even failed to make it into any of the manifestos of the major political parties. Our blogger Soffi tells us more about this important legislation and the group who are campaigning to see it be adopted here in the UK.


The winds of change are blowing as the new UK government settles itself into in the Houses of Parliament. Much disappointment and unrest has seized the country in the weeks after the election, particularly with reference to the reformation of the Human Rights Act. The recent pledge by Justice Secretary Michael Gove that, if the reforms are rejected by Strasbourg, the UK will pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights, is an untimely regression for women’s rights. But, in this period of revision and transformation, these winds can be harnessed in the direction of positive change for women. A convention – the first of its kind – was made open for signatures on May 11th 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey. Its aim: solely to tackle sexual and gender based violence. Its name: The Istanbul Convention.

It is the first legally binding instrument in the world that creates a comprehensive legal framework to protect women against gender-based violence. If ratified by any government, the convention will prevent, protect and prosecute in the name of victims of attack. The Istanbul Convention goes into fine and necessary detail, categorizing the types of violence women can be victim to, the different preventative solutions and the numerous actions that can be taken after the fact.

Ground-breaking work could be done under this convention. It will prevent further cuts to domestic violence refugees that happened as a result of austerity measures by the previous UK government. It makes it a matter of law that the country must provide sufficient sexual violence shelters and centres for its citizens, alongside psychological and medical support, and legal aid. It outlines preventative measures, such as providing education in schools on domestic violence, healthy relationships and self respect for girls and boys. Issues such as Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriages will be criminalized. All this, in an entirely open and inclusive umbrella – this support will be available to women regardless of race, creed or colour, or any other self-identification category for that matter.

Image source: icchange.co.uk

Image source: icchange.co.uk

Victims will be safer under the protection of this convention. Cases like, Laura’s, whose name has been changed for anonymity purposes, would hopefully no longer be in our headlines. Laura was raped, and went to the police. She was then mistrusted and misrepresented by those who should have been the arms of protection, not prosecution. They failed to properly collect evidence from her T-Shirt, despite her assurance that a DNA test would incriminate her rapist. Article 50 of the Convention may have prevented Laura’s two subsequent suicide attempts:

“Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the responsible law enforcement agencies engage promptly and appropriately in the prevention and protection against all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention, including the employment of preventive operational measures and the collection of evidence.”

The UN has called the Istanbul Convention the “gold standard” for reducing sexual violence cases. It all sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. The winds are changing and European countries are taking the helm. At least, some of them are. To date, 18 countries have ratified the Istanbul Convention, including Finland, Monaco, France, Denmark, Spain and most recently, Poland. Most of the nations in the Council of Europe have signed the Convention, but still refuse to embrace its laws into their own legal system.

Sadly, in the UK’s recent election, none of the parties mentioned the Istanbul Convention in their manifestos. The safety of women against sexual violence was apparently not at the top, or even on the agenda. For such an important movement to go unnoticed is worrying, but a group of campaigners have been working to change this, with the hashtag #ICchange.

This campaign urges the UK government to act on the promise it made by signing the treaty on June 8th 2012. Their reasoning is clear and concise, and the statistics shocking. They report that every week an average of 2 women are killed by a partner or ex-partner, and 233 women are raped daily. 112 refugee women and 84 children were turned away on one day this year. Support services are underfunded and overwhelmed, and #ICchange are trying to get countries to invest more resources and effort into reducing these numbers.

This international convention should be included in UK national laws, and the laws of other countries. Those countries that have signed the convention, like the UK, have only provided a handwritten agreement with its premise, not an agreement to do what it says. We need more than promises, we need commitment. Legal commitment. That would mean that each woman would not only be relying on her own government; she could call on higher international powers to ensure her own safety and the safety of other women across the world.


For further information on Istanbul Convention, click here [http://www.stopvaw.org/council_of_europe_-_istanbul_convention}

If you agree with the #ICChange movement, you can sign the petition to ratify this Convention in the UK government here.

[https://www.change.org/p/uk-government-get-serious-about-ending-violence-against-women]


Street Harassment in Uganda: Maybe this is why it is so under-reported?

Credit: Jennifer Robinson

Kampala/Jinja Road. Credit: Jennifer Robinson


Our blogger this week, Lindsey, recalls her frustrating and fruitless attempt to report the type of street harassment that is experienced on a daily basis by women in Kampala.

By Lindsey Kukunda


Ugandan Journalist Patience Akumu once wrote about her experience being sexually harassed in Kampala’s Owino market. When she poured a bucket of water over her attacker, she was surrounded by furious witnesses, accusing her of over-reacting.

My visit to the police post in the taxi park to report sexual harassment recently left me being interrogated for ‘misbehavior’ regarding my response to my attackers. It also left me wishing I could do what Patience had done. Taken justice into my own hands.

I was about to cross the road, passing by the boda boda* and bicycle stage and from experience could tell that one of them was about to try something with me. Sure enough, I was about a half meter away from him when he stretched his arm out, hand extended in a grabbing gesture toward my arm.

Jangu baby (Come here, baby)”, he said loudly, demandingly, his fingers just about to brush my upper arm.

“F*ck you”, I snapped as I jumped away from him. (A warning, reader: I swear like a sailor and it comes as naturally to me as breathing. But see how my free use of language was to soon deem me a ‘criminal’ inside a police post).

In a trice, he and two of his colleagues proceeded to shout at me. As usual. It was cool for them to touch me and grope me and pull at me but hot damn if I insult their feelings in any way. I don’t speak Luganda** but I could tell they were not saying nice things. I stood there, silent, as they shouted and shouted. And suddenly I was just tired of my society.

Tired of everyone walking by, acting like I had asked for this by reacting. Tired of nobody caring. Tired of the men knowing they can get away with touching and abusing young women to the end of their days. I decided that enough was enough. I turned around, their insults still pounding my ears, and walked to the police post a few meters away. There were three policemen seated inside, lounging on the benches.

As I told my story, their expression turned from concern to amusement and outright sneering. They were smiling.

“But now you”, the first policeman said. “Who do you think started this fight?”

I started to shake inside as I realised the police men were about to turn this around on me.

“I think he started it when he tried to grab me”, I responded, trying to keep a calm tone.

“But did you have to escalate the situation?” one of them asked. “You should have just kept quiet and come and reported the men. Now it’s like there’s no case”.

“You’re telling me I’m obligated to react passively to assault before I can expect justice from the law?” I asked incredulously. “I get abused in one way or the other every day in this taxi park but I have to watch my language?”

“I’m saying that you should not have abused the man. That is how things got out of hand”. Their faces and voices were starting to blur into one – they were not interested in my reporting a sexual harassment case a stone’s throw away from their office. I became desperate. I offered myself up as a guilty party, anything to see them do something.

“Okay, let’s do this”, I said. “How about you come with me, arrest the men and then you can also deal with me for abusing the one who tried to grab me?”

They did not budge.

“We want you to understand that what you did was wrong”, they continued, laughing now. “You tried to take the law into your own hands”.

I couldn’t believe it. I was standing in a police station, reporting a case as per proper procedure, and they were accusing me of taking the law into my own hands! They were too busy defending my attackers to arrest them. I could feel tears of rage and disappointment welling up in my eyes.

“Thank you for your time”, I whispered to them. They nodded benevolently as I turned and walked away. Back past the bicycle men who laughed at me when I passed them. Because they know that society will never hold them accountable for assaulting the decency of a woman.

So have you heard, ladies? When you are assaulted, you are to do everything possible to not annoy your attacker. You must respect their feelings. If you don’t ‘escalate’ the situation by responding ‘negatively’, only then can you go to a police post.

That we still have society telling women how they ought to behave themselves as victims, is a tragedy of massive proportions.

If a man were physically assaulted, I’m 100% sure those police men would not have blamed him if he’d reacted physically, attacking in self-defence. But when you’re a woman, you have to evaluate how you were dressed, what language you used, and who knows what else the Uganda police has in its ‘Victim Causation’ files. You’ve got to be a ‘good woman victim’ to deserve their concern.

Women’s empowerment in 2015. What a sham.


*Motorcycle taxi

**Native language of the Buganda kingdom in central Uganda

Gendered parenting: Preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission

By Laura Mundy

Photo credit: UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran: https://www.flickr.com/photos/un_photo/5263999430/


In this short fictional piece, our contributing writer Laura Mundy tells a story which is so often left untold. She considers how PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission) places full responsibility on a woman to protect her child from HIV; and in turn alienates or excludes the father’s role in this effort.


[Nigeria]

She is the topic of conversation among family, friends and neighbours. She can’t walk down her road without hearing people’s comments. Shunned and stigmatised, she’s fully aware that everyone has assumed why she’s not breastfeeding her baby. Sadly, their assumption is right; she has HIV.  

***

She’s all alone when she finds out she is HIV-positive. She gets her results after being tested at her first antenatal appointment. She has no-one to cry, scream and shout with, no-one to hold her hand. 

At the clinic, she’s asked if she always has access to clean, boiled water and money to buy formula feed. She responds, ‘yes’. From there, she is advised to completely avoid breastfeeding after she gives birth. Instead, she must formula feed her baby so she doesn’t give HIV to her new-born child.  

Now at her second antenatal appointment, she’s had to go to a different location, to a PMTCT clinic. It specialises in the ‘prevention of mother-to-child transmission’ of HIV. She’s nervous because she’s still not used to seeing doctors. She waits patiently for her turn. Beside her, other pregnant women are jumping the queue.

                     ‘Bring your partner along and you’ll be seen first’ – the sign reads.  

Her husband, the father of her unborn child, knows that men are encouraged to come along and test for HIV at the PMTCT clinics in Nigeria. But he’s scared. He also thinks that babies are a woman’s responsibility and refuses to join her.  

He won’t get tested so he doesn’t know his HIV status. She doesn’t know for certain how she became HIV-positive, but knows about HIV transmission from school so knows it could only have been from him. She has only had one sexual partner ever.  

Her husband is the only one who knows she’s got HIV. The night she told him was the night the abuse started. New house ‘rules’. Forbidden to leave unless it’s to go to the clinic or to get food. Isolated. Alone. He doesn’t want anyone to know that she is living with So no-one will find out she has HIV. Or rather, he doesn’t want anyone to think he has it too.  

When the baby is born, he pushes her to breastfeed so that the neighbours don’t start asking questions. Today it’s just verbal, but last week he pushed her so hard she hit her head. But she won’t give in… she won’t breastfeed. 

Alone, she travels to get more antiretroviral drugs for herself from the clinic, buy formula feed, and take her baby to get tested at 2 months old. Alone, she returns to find out the results of her baby’s HIV test… alone she rejoices as it comes back negative.

Through all this she feels very lucky. Lucky that she’s had the choice of being able to formula feed. Lucky that she’s not one of those mothers with HIV who have to breastfeed, to avoid mixing formula feed with dirty water that could make their baby seriously ill. 

And yet, she can’t help but feel angry and hurt at her husband. Alone, she had to work to ensure that their baby is HIV free. Now, she has to manage living with HIV, and take treatment for the rest of her life. It’s time he tested for HIV too.

This story is a fictional adaptation of a scenario that is all too familiar to many women around the world. It is based on accounts that I have read as part of my work as Senior Editor for an international HIV and AIDS charity.

 Around the world, PMTCT is a well-utilised and highly effective HIV prevention programme. World Health Organisation guidelines state that if a mother who is living with HIV takes antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) throughout pregnancy and formula feeds her baby, the child is unlikely to get HIV. If formula feed is not an option, she can exclusively breastfeed whilst adhering to ARVs, which will reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission from breast milk. 

But it’s the name of the programme I take issue with. The ‘prevention of mother-to-child transmission’ suggests that the burden lies solely upon the mother, with no responsibility on the father. Men need to become more involved in the PMTCT process. They need to test for HIV and they need to support their partner in decisions around the future health of their child. 

I do not claim to understand the realities of what it is like for this particular woman living in Nigeria. Her story is used to highlight the frequent gender divide in the responsibility of preventing a child being born with HIV. Programmes should be developed that balance this disparity, recognise when a woman may be at risk of gender-based violence and encourage men to know their HIV status sooner.

Acid Attack: A story of survival against all odds

By Flora Aduk


Flora Aduk recalls her meeting with acid attack survivor Juliet Bukirwa; a remarkable woman who refused to be silenced by those who expected her to tolerate mistreatment and abuse simply because of her gender. 8 years later, Juliet is living life on her terms and displaying incredible resilience in her recovery and despite the obstacles she has faced as a result of her attack.


She hesitates when I ask if we can meet at Garden City in Kampala over the phone.

 “I don’t think I know the place, but I’ll find it, just direct me”.

When I spend time with Juliet Bukirwa, I realise that even from that brief conversation, her resilient nature shone through. At just 25 years old, Bukirwa has been to hell and back but you could never tell from her cheeky laugh or animated conversation. Even her hairstyle covers the effect of an unthinkable trauma.

 Juliet_2[1]

Bukirwa survived an acid attack, aged just 17.

“People always stare at the scars as if waiting for an explanation. It used to bother me, but not anymore. Even my children used to fear me but now they are used to my appearance”. The memory of that night is painful, but because of her resilience, her story has become one of hope. “I could have died, but I didn’t, it is all in God’s hands. I simply accept myself as I am,” she says.

Her infectious hope engulfs me as I listen. “It happened in 2007. My ex-boyfriend, father of my eldest daughter, poured acid on me one night after failing to enter my house and force himself on me,” Bukirwa narrates. The couple had met when she was just 14, within two years Bukirwa was pregnant, had dropped out of school and moved into his parents’ home in Nateete, a Kampala suburb. Shortly after she gave birth, the relationship turned violent as he sought every opportunity to beat her, especially when she refused sex. “He started cheating and when I complained he would beat me. His mother told me to do what I had come to do as a wife”.

Bukirwa refused to accept a lifetime of misery, she left to seek refuge at an aunt’s place in the same suburb, then rented a room close by and even enrolled into school. Life was hard but she survived, many times doing odd jobs and even singing to make money. She chuckles as she mentions that she was once a backup singer to Ugandan star Eddy Kenzo.

A mother’s instinct later caused her to contact her ex-partner. “I needed to see my child, I had left her at his parents’ house. I visited often though never found him at home. His friends and neighbours started telling him that I looked lovely, wondering how he could leave me,” she says.

He started pursuing her. Once, he forced his way into her house and tried to rape her but she escaped, he often threatened her and once used their daughter as leverage, hoping she would grant him audience. She still refused. He attacked her the next day.

Bukirwa didn’t have electricity in her one-roomed home in Nateete. She was making her way in darkness to the outdoor latrine when suddenly she felt a harsh sting on her face, neck and arms. “The pain is indescribable, probably a snake bite comes close,” she says. She screamed and ran, banging on her neighbours’ doors but no one came to her aid. That is all she recalls of that night. What is strong in her memory is waking up to the realisation that her left eye and ear had simply melted away, her face, neck and arms bearing huge scars. “Maybe one day I will have surgery that can remove these scars,” she says, as she shows me the effects of the acid burns. A side fringe covers what is left of her eye, behind the hair is just a pinkish hollow.

Without any further query from me, she adds “I think I can also get a new eye,” demonstrating how used she is to the natural train of thought of those receiving the explanation of her scars. “It really hurts when it’s cold and sleeping used to be a challenge since it can’t close,” she adds. I ask what became of her attacker. “I forgave him and left all to God,” she says. Her attempts to report his past violence came to nothing. The police asked her to pay $6 for a medical report, which she couldn’t afford.

Juliet lost an eye as a result of the severe acid burns

Juliet lost an eye as a result of the severe acid burns

After six months in hospital, Juliet lost hope of pursuing the case. However, at Uganda’s National Referral Hospital, Mulago, she met people from Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda, who helped her access treatment and counselling. She also developed skills in bead making. “Bukirwa’s zeal for life is what has kept her going. She is one of our positive cases,” says Hilda Birungi, Programme Manager.

“Life is hard for a survivor. Finding employment is hard. The attack removes your right to love and be loved unconditionally. People discriminate against you”. Her second attempt at love two years after her attack left her a single mother when her second daughter, now 5, was just an infant.

As a survivor she has a conviction to speak out, to be a counsellor and an advocate because she believes only a survivor can know the depth of the pain. “If only I could get an opportunity to be a representative” she says, with hope in her voice. She recently failed to get a visa to attend a conference for Acid Attack Survivors in the USA.

Her advice to survivors of violent crime is “don’t give up … you were able to break through. You may struggle but you can change your destiny.” If you are in a violent relationship, Bukirwa stresses “don’t sit back and ignore the violence, do something. When you separate, cut off all links for you never know their intentions.” 

I thanked her for her time and her honesty and left. On my way home, I reflected on what could drive someone to such an extreme expression of hatred, and how many people guilty of such crimes continue to walk amongst us because of a failure of the justice system.


If your life has been affected by acid violence, or you are concerned for your safety in this regard, please contact http://www.acidviolence.org for support and advice.

Rape and sexual violence: rejecting the culture of blame

by Chelsea Ellingsen

Blogger Two thirds nerd’s alteration of this NHS rape prevention poster went viral. Despite a 43 000 strong petition, the NHS refused to apologise for the victim blaming campaign poster.

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Chelsea Ellingsen discusses the victim blaming culture attached to rape and sexual assault victims

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The term victim blaming is widely defined as ‘… a devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an accident is held responsible — in whole or in part — for the crimes that have been committed against them.’

This unjust shift in blame is not only used by a rapist to justify their actions and minimise rape as an offence, but is also adopted by many victims, who will often blame themselves. In deep anguish following a sexual assault, a victim questions what they could have done differently. Was it my fault?

Victim blaming is an ever-present symptom of the sexual violence sickness and gradually manifests in the attitude that a victim can somehow be to blame for their own assault.  It is a mindset that I, as a young American woman, have been indoctrinated with from an early age.

I remember being at church camp when I was 12 years old. I had just come from the lake and was wearing a chaste one piece swimsuit. My towel had fallen from my shoulders when I ran into one of the male camp counsellors from my church. I was severely reprimanded by him and told that I needed to cover up. He then took the opportunity to remind us girls that it was our job ‘not to make men stumble.’ Already our prepubescent sexuality was deemed as problematic, something that was our responsibility to repress, to avoid being raped.

Another manifestation of the victim blaming culture is alcohol and the role it plays in rape and sexual violence offences. The onus is, more often than not, placed on the victim to ensure they watch the amount they drink in order to prevent being raped. (see NHS anti-drinking poster, featured in the 2005 to 2007 ‘Know Your Limits’ campaign) The underlying message is that we as young women ‘have been warned’ therefore if we chose to drink excessively, assault is “our fault.” The NHS chose to target the victim rather than addressing the perpetrators. There are no posters branded with ‘being drunk doesn’t equate to consent’ or ‘1 in 3 sexual assaults occur when the perpetrator was intoxicated.’

(michaelcourier.com photography)

(michaelcourier.com photography)

If we look at drink driving, we find a curious change of perception. If a pedestrian is mowed down by a drunk driver, the victim is never expected to justify why they were walking late at night or why they didn’t move out of the way of the oncoming vehicle. Instead the response is empathetic, compassionate. No right-minded defence solicitor would try to shift the blame onto the pedestrian in question, opting to minimise the actions of their client instead.  All judgement in this situation is rightly reserved for the driver, who actively made the decision to drive in an inebriated state and recklessly endanger everyone on the road.

A recent event that made me reflect on victim blaming in a wider context was the Charlie Hebdo shooting. From the satirical Ugandan newspaper The Kampala Sun to the New York Times to The Guardian–everywhere there was an appalled, shocked response. Voices were united in an outpouring of solidarity with the people of France and the sacredness of free speech. To suggest that the editors may have been ‘asking for it’ by publishing controversial cartoons is a ludicrous, even sacrilegious statement to make.

Yet rape prosecutions in America have been overturned in court due to what the survivor was wearing.

How does one begin to dismantle victim blaming? The realisation that no one has the right to your body, space, comfort zone without your enthusiastically given consent is a good place to start. Support artists; such as Ani Difranco, who uses the song Gratitude to bring awareness of these issues.

By acting as a support system to your community, local or online, we can encourage victims to speak out and stop rape from being one of the most under reported crimes in the world.

Telling a trusted friend is often the first step a survivor can take in recovery, so if a partner, sister, friend, colleague, acquaintance ever tells you about a time they were violated, believe them and support their bravery.

Your response can uplift and embolden them to realise they aren’t alone, or it can continue the cycle of shame and guilt and prevent them from getting the help they need.

Rape and PTSD: the long journey to recovery

PTSD

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Phoebe Tansley is a survivor, feminist, activist, and the founder of Attacked Not Defeated. In this blog she talks about her experience of living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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 Phoebe Tansley

It is predicted that one third of sexual assault survivors will develop post-traumatic stress disorder, usually referred to as PTSD. Like all mental illness, it is often not widely recognised as a medical condition and the effects of it are rarely discussed or understood thoroughly.

Below is an extract from the UK National Health Service website describing PTSD:

PTSD NHS definition

PTSD is one of the only mental illnesses which is not caused by a chemical imbalance, but by a physiological and psychological reaction to an actual event. This makes it difficult to treat and impossible to ‘cure’, until memory-erasing treatment is invented (hurry up scientists.)

That is where my academic knowledge on the subject ends, as I am not a psychiatrist and have never studied PTSD in any depth. I have, however, lived with PTSD for two years. As the founder of AND, I have made no secret of the fact that I am a survivor of rape.

I have always endeavoured to only speak about my personal experience of rape when it can aid another person’s recovery, add value or strength to any research or project, or empower other women.

I see my own experience and the experience of the women who AND is reaching out to as entirely separate.

The reason for that is that I have the privilege, being born in the United Kingdom, to have access to free health care from the NHS and professional support from one of the many rape crisis centres which exist in the UK.

I do know the feeling of helplessness, violation and profound fear. But I do not know what it is like to have to get up the next day and take your wounded body, your shattered spirit back to work and pretend everything is fine. I do not know how it feels to have to hide the ordeal from your family or friends out of fear of not being believed or of being ostracised by the community as a whole.

 To understand PTSD is to understand the experience of the survivor. So this is one of the rare occasions where I shall open up about my own experience, in a bid to illuminate the journey of recovery on a day-to-day basis.

Let’s start with a few simple facts about me which are true of the last two years.

  1. I see almost every person as a potential threat.
  2. I can’t turn my light off and close my eyes at night until I am so tired I am barely conscious, because lying in the dark induces flashbacks.
  3. My highest daily priority is to not be raped again.
  4. When I am walking alone I raise my shoulders and lower my head. When I feel threatened my hands automatically shield my throat to protect myself from being strangled.
  5. Sometimes I physically can’t leave the house.
  6. When I am alone on the street and someone appears behind me or takes me by surprise, my whole body paralyses and an explosion of utter dread and terror overcomes me, often wiping me out for the rest of the day.
  7. I used to want to travel the world on my own. Now all I want is to feel safe. That’s it.

This might come as a surprise to those of you who have only witnessed me as the founder of AND, and not on a personal level. That’s because I have managed to compartmentalise my own recovery. I see it as self-preservation; the only way that I can actually do my job effectively. I have been splitting myself in two for two years.

But when I close my computer down and become Phoebe the survivor, my life is still very much plagued by this rotten condition. One of the toughest things about PTSD is the lack of a time limit on it. I was raped two and a half years ago, but for the first six months following my attack, my mind did not process it.

I would roll off the story of what happened to me like I was reading out the synopsis of a scary movie. My brain was essentially protecting itself and the rest of me from the horror of what I had just been through.

I have huge respect for the brain’s capacity to know what to do when the conscious self cannot. Equally huge respect for the body’s ability to survive and keep itself alive and to alleviate pain when the conscious self cannot. I would not be alive, let alone sane today, were it not for my body and brain taking the reins and looking after me.

A few months after my attack I returned to Uganda and my brain started spilling out small details to my conscious self. I started to register images, sounds, smells and muscle memory. My brain seeped the information out drop by drop, so that it didn’t overwhelm me.

What it did do, though, was eventually make me lock myself in a room for 90% of the time for about eight months. I did go out, when I had to, after securing pre-arranged transport and an itinerary that I was comfortable with. But I lost my social life completely, stopped speaking to my family, and had approximately three people who I trusted enough to be alone with (Eddy, Shay, Sabia – thank you). It was a very, very horrible and hard time.

After about six months of this I went back to the UK to see the doctor because I was so miserable. They sent me for an urgent psychiatric assessment and the diagnosis came back as post-traumatic stress disorder with delayed onset. I was put on a hideously high dosage of Prozac which made my entire body vibrate and my vision impaired, and swiftly decided that meds were not for me. Instead I use a beta blocker called propranolol for when I can feel a panic attack coming along.

Over the next year, I returned to Uganda several times. Each time I tried to live my life as a fully functioning member of society in the country where my job, my home and my partner all were. But I realised that to stay there would be to ruin my personal view of the country that I had once loved so deeply and would have a negative effect on the work I was trying to do with AND.

So I moved back to the UK, left my entire life behind me and tried to figure out a way of starting again. I now travel to Uganda twice a year or so to work on AND matters, and I use these trips as opportunities to try and rekindle that love and rediscover the delights and beauty of Uganda. It’s a process, and I will get there.

I went through 16 weeks of rape crisis counselling in 2014. At the end of my stint, the counsellor noted how much I had improved. They congratulated me for having the confidence to walk to the bus stop at the end of my road as late as 9 o’clock at night. I felt absolutely ridiculous. But that is the reality.

I left counselling feeling positive, knowing that I had overcome a set of important hurdles and feeling that my PSTD symptoms had slightly alleviated. A week later, I found myself sprawled across the floor of the landing in my childhood home; full face of makeup, top half of me dressed and the bottom half wearing only knickers, hyperventilating and wailing with fear at the prospect of going to meet a few people at the local pub. I mean, it’s hard to not view that as a step in the wrong direction. I guess with all the trust I place in my own brain and body, it does occasionally malfunction.

And so that brings me to the present day in January 2015, and I am starting again. I haven’t found my happy place yet so I am jacking it all in and starting again -again.

With PTSD, you are trying to find a constant level of contentment and stability in a world which spins at 1675 km/h, and in a life where circumstances are completely unpredictable. I know I am in this for the long haul, because I will never forget what happened that night.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that there is no quick fix or easy route to recovering from rape. There are millions of people who are living with this, walking with this, breathing with this, sleeping with this, surviving with this. We cannot go back to how it used to be and so we must search until we find a way to co-exist with our darkest memories.

As Mark Twain once wrote: ‘Courage is the mastery of fear’.