#MeToo

Artwork: Januz Miralles at Berlin Artparasites

Artwork: Januz Miralles at Berlin Artparasites

Me too.

In a week, those two little words have gained immense meaning. Since The New York Times reported the serial sexual abuse perpetrated by film mogul Harvey Weinstein, women all over the world have taken to social media using the hashtag #MeToo to share their own stories of sexual assault, abuse or harassment.

It has been heartbreaking to read harrowing encounters that women from all walks of life have experienced, and I for one have been inspired by their courage.

I’m a passionate advocate for women’s rights, and for years I’ve fought against gender inequality. I’ve long discussed issues of harassment and assault in depth, and yet I always relied on statistics and other women’s stories to back up my arguments. I’ve never shared my own stories because I have been ashamed and afraid of what people would think.

And yet I do have a story – most women do, as we’ve found this week.

“I’ve never shared my own stories because I have been ashamed and afraid of what people would think. And yet I do have a story – most women do, as we’ve found this week”

Artwork: Patryk Mogilnicki at Berlin Artparasites

I can’t bring myself to share #MeToo on social media as I’m scared of what will happen. So for now, I let the braver women of this world share their stories openly. And I make my stand, by writing mine anonymously, here.

When I was 12, I was on the London Underground and a man exposed himself to me, stood in a corner and masturbated staring straight at me. It was a quiet train and no one else noticed as I was the only one looking towards him. I got off at the next stop. I stayed silent and ashamed.

When I was 16, a boy who I had never met, told his school that I had performed oral sex on him. Everyone heard about it and people called me a slut. I had never even met him, but I felt that it was my fault. I stayed silent and ashamed.

When I was 18, a boyfriend – who I thought I loved – forced himself on me during an argument while I begged him to stop. I didn’t understand that it was rape because it wasn’t a stranger outside of my comfort zone. It was in my house. The next day he apologised and I quietly broke up with him, never admitting why to my friends. I stayed silent and ashamed.

When I was 20, I got locked out of my house for a night and stayed over at a colleague’s. I woke up halfway through the night with him touching me. I screamed and pushed him off but he yelled back, saying I had been begging for it. I worked with him for another three months and never told anyone. I stayed silent and ashamed.

When I was 25, I was out walking late one night and three drunk men grabbed me. They pulled my skirt and touched my breasts. Luckily, their drink slowed them down and before they were able to hold me down I ran away.  It was dark. I shouldn’t have been walking that way. I stayed silent and ashamed.

Last night, on a main street, a man walked up to me and said “Hey baby.” It was dark and I silently sped up, keeping my head down. “Fucking bitch!”, he yelled as I ran away. I stayed silent, scared that he would do something worse.

Artwork: Loui Jover at Berlin Artparasites

These are a few snapshots of times in my life when I have felt ashamed to be a woman. For years I’ve been angry at myself for bringing these incidents on. So many incidents happening to one person, it must be something I’ve done.

This week has been triggering for me – it’s brought back memories that I have spent years trying to forget. But it’s also been liberating and hopeful. It has made me realise that the force of this movement around those two little words shows the sheer scale of the issue.

Now, more than ever, we need to bring a stop to it. To make it very clear that this is not acceptable. That as a woman you are not asking for anything, and deserve respect for being a human being.

I have to keep coming back to this when these memories swarm back to me. It is not my fault. I will not stay silent. I will not be ashamed.

I have been attacked but I will never be defeated.

Advertisements

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.

16298695_575633395979470_3817207482471222057_n

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

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.

Everyday consentism

'Clothes are not my consent' placard

Image source: The New Statesman

Despite what recent news headlines might lead you to believe, the issue of sexual consent and what constitutes it; is an issue that extends far beyond the murky and privileged waters of professional football. There are many lessons to be learned from the infamous Ched Evans case but you can read a previous post on the AND site for a more in-depth analysis of this.

Instead I’d like to highlight that undermining the concept of consent is a problem that faces all of us, regardless of background, profession or upbringing.

by Jamie-Lee Cole

It is remarkable that a grey area still exists and ‘no meaning no’ is not always enough. From the small screen, a recent episode of BBC’s Poldark saw the protagonist, and supposed hero, sexually overpower his love interest in a heat of passion after discovering she had committed to marrying someone else, until she stopped resisting.

A woman of 18th century England would have been expected to keep quiet about such a grotesque offence with her own reputation being brought into question if her peers were to find out.

Unfortunately, it is not just cases like Ched Evans’ that offer us a painful reminder that little has changed since then.

In the courtrooms, some judges have chosen to publicly humiliate rape victims – in one recent instance, a judge went as far as to ask the victim why she hadn’t just ‘kept her knees together’ and whether she was attracted to the alleged perpetrator. The victim was then subjected to questioning about her alleged attacker’s penis size.

And in politics, a similarly dismal example is set by certain elected leaders; who will ever be able to forget the US President-elect Donald Trump’s infamous p***y gate?

'Yes means yes and no means no' placard at a women's right's rally

Image source: olisa.tv

In some media outlets, a critical rhetoric towards victims who come forward, many years after being assaulted, or once someone else has made a similar accusation, unsubtly shines through.

This has been prevalent in cases of condemned celebrities and serial offenders such as Bill Cosby and Jimmy Savile. The victims, at best, have been branded as ‘convenient’ or ‘money-grabbing’. It’s little wonder that victims often don’t come forward and that sexual assault statistics are unreliable and unreflective of the true epidemic.

Physically coerced or emotionally manipulated, regardless of how you paint it, these acts are violations of a person’s mind, body and soul. Unwelcome. And non-consensual.

It is concerning and to be frank nonsensical that anyone could believe that a man or woman would make up a case of rape or assault for personal gain. Where there are a tiny minority of instances where this is the case, the plight those who have the strength to come forward face in the media circus, their communities and even the courtroom is nothing if not a deterrent to speak out for other victims.

In risk of repeating myself, the claimant in the Ched Evans case reportedly had to change her identity and move home five times to escape persecution from the footballer’s supporters.

One of my most hated phrases is ‘you have to earn respect’. My particular gripe is it’s often used in conjunction with the generic classification of women – insulting in itself – that a woman needs to act and dress modestly in order to be taken seriously and treated with dignity. The phrase is so passive-aggressive that it’s almost exclusively used when someone is trying to teach a hard lesson. It’s also a phrase that is used to victim blame and discredit those who come forward.

I recently saw a Facebook post that used this language:

Dear ladies,

There is one thing I want you to understand about us MEN.

When you post half-naked pictures of yourself on Facebook, doing a sexy pose, or showing us your boobs or lying seductively on your bed… The only thing you are doing is making us feel lust about you.

I know you will feel excited about the 500 likes, 120 sweet comments and countless inbox messages you will receive and you will feel so high more so to be on top of the world.

BUT ONE IMPORTANT THING YOU SHOULD KNOW in reality, none of those guys who will like and comment on your photo or send you messages in your inbox loves you.

They are just lust about using and dumping you. In fact they hate you because none of them would take you to his home to be his wife. Trust me they take you as a whore looking for cheap popularity on Facebook.

Continue reading

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.

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.

‘This is not what a rapist looks like.’ How a reaction to consent classes shows how necessary they are

By Joshua Piercey

George Lawson insinuates that a rapist can be defined by how they look. Image source: The Tab Warwick

George Lawson insinuates that a rapist can be defined by how they look. Image source: The Tab Warwick

A student at Warwick University found himself embroiled in a very public twitter-storm after he rejected an invite to a university workshop discussing the importance of consent.

George Lawson, 19, wrote an article – which appeared in the online student newspaper The Tab – titled ‘Why I don’t need consent lessons’ along with a photograph of him holding a sign stating, ‘This is not what a rapist looks like’.

George Lawson is a bit of a twit, and will probably think a little harder before hurling himself into a public forum, but his case is interesting and revealing.

His article comes across as hugely defensive – surprising, when attendance at the sessions aren’t mandatory, he could have simply ignored the invitation. But he apparently speaks from a position of genuine hurt. He feels unfairly targeted. He resents the implication of the invite.

His resentment is misplaced, but his reaction – and the reaction of those in the comment section of the Daily Mail  (pro-tip: don’t read those) – indicates a dichotomy encapsulating why rape culture exists and why consent classes should exist.

Simply put, no one knows what a rapist looks like and to imply that a rapist can be determined by their physical appearance, background or education is misguided and dangerous.

NO STRANGERS IN THE BUSHES

The evidence is conclusive – the vast majority of rape (perpetrated by men or women, on men or women) is committed by someone the victim knows. The people who commit sexual assault do not, presumably, consider themselves evil people.  Josie Throup a volunteer at Warwick’s consent workshops and fellow student wrote a response piece to George’s misconception. ‘I wanted to run workshops which debunk the common myth..that ‘rape only occurs between strangers in dark alleys.”

A secondary point, and one that’s problematic in the extreme, is that consent is a grey area, if only from a statistical standing. It’s a simple concept, but the numbers indicate that people have a tougher time getting their head around it than one might expect. “No means no” is all well and good, but when rapists apparently don’t know the meaning of either of those “no’s”, it would suggest that consent classes (or something like them) really are necessary.

Fellow Warwick student and consent class volunteer Josie Throup took to the The Tab to address some of the flaws in George's argument. Image source: The Tab Warwick

Fellow Warwick student and consent class volunteer Josie Throup took to the The Tab to address some of the flaws in George’s argument. Image source: The Tab Warwick

The alternative is deeply frightening. The alternative is that everyone who commits sexual assault is fully aware of their actions, knows they are a rapist… and does it anyway.

The idea of an unrepentant, fully aware sexual predator – someone who repeatedly targets and rapes women or men in complete knowledge of their culpability and crimes – is so far from the statistical mark. While they do exist, do we genuinely believe that Warwick University’s consent classes are aimed at these people? That they might read the invitation cackling inwardly, because they know exactly what consent is but just don’t care? George Lawson labelled the consent classes as ‘wasted effort’ because ‘if you’re going to commit rape, you’re not going to go to one of the lectures,’ reasoning so asinine as to be infantile.

People who are ‘planning’ to commit rape are not the target audience. The target audience are those who distance themselves from their actions and believe, and live in the belief, like George, if they don’t fit the profile of a rapist how can they be one?

AN END TO GREY AREAS

I’m aware of the counter-argument to all this, and I understand it. Everyone has a basic understanding of what consent is, an understanding that George Lawson claims for himself, and if they don’t, they should. There’s no excuse.

I would like to subscribe to this notion.

It should be so simple, but it’s not.

Claiming consent is simple perpetuates that aforementioned dichotomy, one that lets perpetrators distance their own actions from that of a completely hypothetical criminal. A dichotomy that hinders self-examination, that allows defensive outrage to outweigh the reality time and time again.

Consent classes are designed to reach for clarity, rather than pretending that clarity is predefined, or that it already exists. The aim is a world where there are no grey areas, no more excuses. If we want to end grey areas, we need to teach people the delineation between black and white.

If you already know about consent, George, then good for you. But next time, instead of being wounded, perhaps the fact that a question about what defines a rapist even exists, might clue you in as to why consent classes are necessary.

 

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.

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.

——————————————————————————————————-

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

——————————————————————————————————-

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

——————————————————————————————————-

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.

——————————————————————————————————-

 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’.