Everyone has a story. That’s what I believe. A story that people will benefit from hearing. It doesn’t have to be long, grand or extraordinary-it can still be a story that can be learned from or provide comfort to another by the reassurance that they are not alone.
I want to share my journey because it is something I feel that needs to be spoken about more something that people should feel more comfortable talking about be less ashamed of.
My journey will resonate with many people-probably far too many people. This is because sexual violence is far too prevalent. In fact, recent movements such as #metoo although helping to get the issue out in the open and providing comfort that nobody is alone in their experience, it also reveals a startling reality.
Once when I briefly share the fact that had I been a victim of sexual violence, the other person didn’t know what to say and thought that potentially ‘I’m sorry’ was a far too common response. What is in fact far too common response that I received after sharing this information is ‘oh I’ve been through something similar’, ‘my friend experienced something like that’ or, the likes of ‘I know so many girls who have been through something like that’. It reveals the unsettling reality that sexual violence happens too often, to women, children and yes, men too. The victim can be any race, gender or sexuality-the perpetrator too.
The conviction rate for sexual offences is far too low. Speaking at reporting it does not guarantee justice and an empowering experience. It’s too easy to feed into a victim blaming narrative, especially when media outlets often only report on the very few cases of false accusations, or on how being accused of this crime is affecting the alleged perpetrator’s life and especially how the victim can’t possibly be telling the truth because ‘he/she’ is not the type of person who would do that-it can’t possibly be true.
Sexual violence far too often comes down to a he said she said type of narrative. But I can honestly say nobody wants to identify as a victim of sexual violence. Being a victim of this crime is not easy-the acts involved can be disputed as something consensual, that they wanted it because sexual activity is something many indulge in. A victim of knife crime is never-I hope never- told they wanted to be stabbed or that they enjoyed it. You wouldn’t tell a victim of a mugging that they just gave it away, or tell a shop owner that was threatened so emptied their till to avoid an even worse outcome that it’s no longer a robbery because they ‘gave in’, or gave the money away because they were scared to something worse was going to happen.
Sexual crimes often have the problem of not having enough evidence. Victims get persecuted when they keep quiet and when they speak up.
‘Why don’t you tell someone?’
‘You should go to the police’
‘why didn’t you go to the police earlier?’
‘Why didn’t you say something earlier?’
That ‘it can’t be that bad if you’re talking about it’
‘are you sure it was that?’
‘If it happened to me I would have…’
If you speak up you are criticised about how long it took, why now? Then subjected to potential judgement and victim blaming. You are exposed, vulnerable and ready for everybody to comment on what you say and how you act and whether it conforms to their idea of a sexual violence victim. I feel sometimes people forget that everybody is different and that trauma affects everyone in different ways.
If you keep quiet you often feel alone, left with your thoughts, in denial and potentially prolonging the inevitable. You get asked why didn’t say anything earlier but you felt embarrassed, ashamed, didn’t know who to talk to, or were busy trying to deny that that was even what happened and ignore it.
No matter what action you take it never seems to be good enough, or the right one.
Experiencing it is terrifying, talking about it is terrifying, reporting it is terrifying. Nothing about it is appealing.
People are becoming more open about talking about mental health but talking about trauma from sexual violence is still scary and potentially taboo. Yes, more and more people are speaking up and speaking out but it is also revealing how much victim blaming is ingrained in some people’s culture. It is still scary and difficult and probably a lot of people are less open to talking about it. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point but I feel like I should have no shame about having experienced sexual violence. I should be able to talk about it because it is necessary people shouldn’t feel caught off-guard or scared when hearing about it. But perhaps, one of the reasons it’s so difficult to talk about is not just because the act itself was traumatic but because it is so personal, such an intimate violation and because it can happen to absolutely anyone.
There is often the fear of the stranger rape but in 90% of cases the perpetrators known to the victim. And the fear and concern around false accusations, which are in the extreme minority-it is a rare occurrence.
Perhaps it is naïveté, or innocence, or even lack of education or awareness of the prevalence of the issue but it never occurred to me that I could/would become a victim. I knew about being careful who bought you drinks, not leaving drinks lying around in case they got spiked etc.
You think if it was to happen to you, you would know that that was what it was. It would be a black-and-white situation. It would be crystal clear. It would be forceful, you would say no-put up a fight. But the thing is it can happen in many ways and you can never plan or foresee how you will act and react in a traumatic situation.
I’d have thought going out drinking with friends I would be fine, talking to different people on my course would be fine and that one more drink would be okay. I was a sensible person. I don’t believe in one-night-stands but it was other people’s choices on what they did. I was a virgin. I’d never had a boyfriend, I’d never done anything sexual. I kissed someone before – and in a club, but that was it-what happened in the club stayed in the club. If they wanted something more, I always ALWAYS said no. That is why it never made sense.
The situation I found myself in at university is an example of one that happens far too often. Universities have difficulty tackling it. Only in 2016 were new rules and guidance for universities brought in on how they might be able to deal with these situations. But it is still not enough.