Survivors’ Stories: How I Recovered From Sexual Assault – Talking, Acting, And The Passage Of Time

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This blog post contains details of sexual assault that some readers may find upsetting. If you do not wish to read this, please skip the section subtitled “The assault”.

The assault

I was 13 years old when I was sexually assaulted. I was at my friend’s house for a sleepover, and her boyfriend came over with his friends. They molested me, despite my obvious resistance. For me, the next 24 hours were strange. I’d stayed awake the whole night and in the morning my friend made me promise not to tell anyone what had happened; she didn’t want the boys to get in trouble.

How it affected me

As I walked home, I felt like I wasn’t in my body. I was numb, confused. It was almost as if it was some kind of horrible dream, not something that had actually happened to me. It was only that evening when I wrote down what had happened in my diary that reality set in. This delayed terror came crashing down on me. I felt completely helpless, weak, and frightened.

For the next few months, my mind and body couldn’t process what happened. My period stopped completely, and I couldn’t sleep. I stopped eating properly. My parents and friends didn’t know what to do, but I wouldn’t tell them anything. I still felt like I had to protect my friend and these boys, I didn’t want them to get in trouble – I convinced myself that it wasn’t a big deal, that maybe it was my fault for letting them go as far as they did, even when there was no way I could have fought off all 3 boys by myself.

By the time that nine months had passed, I decided that enough was enough. I told my mum what had happened. She was hugely upset, and wanted to go to the police, but by that time I was sure there would be nothing that could convict those boys, because so much time had passed. She agreed, but made me promise not to see my friend anymore, because it wouldn’t help me get over my experience.

My recovery

Having the distance between someone who was so directly linked to my assault was just what I needed – with the removal of the person constantly telling me to forget my experience, I was able to reflect on it, and grow from it without feeling this sense of guilt at betraying her.

Opening up to my mum was absolutely vital in my recovery, because for the first time I began to trust people again, and rebuild my connection with the rest of my family and friends.

I took another major step a few months later, through drama. My local drama group was writing monologues, and I decided I would write about my experience of sexual assault. When I performed it, it was like I was finally accepting my feelings; my character was allowed to be hurt, betrayed, angry, and so I was too. I didn’t have to hide my emotions or pain, and for the first time I felt truly free.

Since that day, I started opening up to more people about what had happened – my dad, my grandma, some of my closest friends. I suddenly had this network of support around me, which I hadn’t had before, and I didn’t feel alone, I felt loved, and most importantly, I felt strong.

It’s so easy, so natural to feel weak, to feel vulnerable and even responsible after being violated in such a way, but regaining your strength, your worth, is the most important, and also the most incredible thing. Now, with years between me and my sexual assault, I am living happily, with great friends, a loving and supportive family, and most importantly, living confidently, freely and happily.

Sometimes, I still have setbacks – feelings of doubt and weakness, but I truly believe that this is OK. I am human; I am not capable of forgetting what happened to me. It doesn’t define me, but sometimes it is still there, but learning how to accept that and remain happy is the most important thing.

My message to other victims/survivors of sexual violence

My message to other victims/survivors would be this: No matter how lonely you feel, how sad you are, how bad it gets, there is always someone to support you. Whether it’s friends, or family, or a counsellor, you are not alone.

Never, ever blame yourself, or take responsibility for someone else’s actions.

And most importantly, with time, it will get better. Making the transition from victim to survivor is not easy, but it will happen. Whatever it is that you’ve lost – you happiness, your strength – just because it’s not accessible right now, that does not mean it won’t be in the future.

No matter what you think, or what ever else happens, you are important, you are loved, and you are strong. Believe this, and you will move forward.

It does get better.

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Survivors’ Stories: How Writing Helped Me Recover From Rape

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This blog post contains details of sexual violence that some readers may find upsetting. If you do not wish to read this, please skip the sections subtitled “The abuse” and “How it affected me”.

The abuse

I have experienced sexual abuse on 3 separate occasions. The first time, I was 8 years old; the perpetrator was an older boy who lived on the same street as me. The second time, it happened as I was held against a wall in a nightclub on my 19th birthday. Finally, 7 months after that, I was raped in a taxi behind my home.

How it affected me

I felt different things with each incident.

The first time, I felt confusion for a very long time. I did everything I could to stay away from the boy, which was difficult because he lived so close. I didn’t know how I should be feeling but I knew I didn’t like it – I knew it was something that adults did; it was weird for me. I didn’t know if he was wrong or if I was, or if it was us both, so I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to be in trouble. I buried it and never faced it again for 10 years.

The second time was true fear. I froze. Everything inside me was screaming, but my body couldn’t move, my brain and mouth didn’t cooperate. The men were chased out of the nightclub by a friend. I went into the toilet, fixed myself up, put on my face and walked out as if nothing had happened. In the early morning, I broke down and verbally attacked my Mum for allowing me to go out in the outfit I had decided to wear. My outfit had nothing to do with it, but I wanted to lash out. I cried, I slept, then it was never mentioned again. I began to feel that being sexually abused was my only purpose in life. I felt empty. It felt like the start of a dark path which held no love or happiness. I became a shell with a perfect mask.

The third time, I didn’t freeze. I did everything I physically could to get him off me, to stop it from happening. I screamed so loud for help that my throat became raw. I kicked out and punched, slapped, pinched – everything I physically could. But I couldn’t stop it. Afterwards, I felt numb; I felt nothing. I got home, got into bed without changing and lay in the darkness, awake for hours. I don’t remember thinking anything for a long time. There were no thoughts about anything.

Then, something inside me snapped and I was re-living the last minute of the attack over and over again. Something felt off. I knew that what had happened was wrong, I remembered screaming no, I knew that I hadn’t wanted it – but I kept asking myself the question: “why did you enjoy it?” I couldn’t shake the question. I couldn’t make sense of what I was asking myself, or why I felt disgust and self-loathing. The fear of my “enjoyment” coming out stopped me from speaking up.

For weeks I was on self-destruct, drinking more than usual, even taking vodka and coke to work – in a coke bottle, so that nobody would know. And those were only the days when I decided to turn up to work. I started smoking weed to knock myself out because I couldn’t deal with the nightmares. I gave everybody attitude. I spoke down to people. I pushed everyone away and tried to prove to myself that I was in control of my body by having sex when I wanted to. It was on my terms, but I didn’t enjoy it. Afterwards, I always felt empty and used – but this time used by myself. It was like I was punishing myself.

I knew I couldn’t carry on like that and that I needed help, but I was terrified that everyone would think it wasn’t rape because I had “enjoyed” it. I couldn’t understand why my body had defied me. It made no sense to me and it made me feel like I couldn’t tell anyone; I was scared they would think I was either lying or a freak. It confused and disgusted me so much that I took an overdose. I couldn’t deal with any of it at all. I did speak up about the rape eventually, but this right here, in this blog post, is the first time I have ever spoken about my body’s betrayal and “enjoyment”. I had learnt to bury that piece of information because I realised it didn’t take away from what happened to me, or the severity of the attack. My body’s “enjoyment” of the attack never made it okay.

As a result of the rape, I found I was pregnant. I was torn between my options and hadn’t a clue what to do. This hard choice was taken from me when I suffered a miscarriage.

How I learnt to cope

Having gone through 3 separate incidents, I have approached each one differently.

I was so young with the first one that I didn’t know what to do, so I just battled through and learnt to cope with it. Eventually, when the truth came out 10 years later, I went to the police. The perpetrator was investigated but nothing could be done because he was under the age of criminal responsibility at the time of the incident.

The second time, I swept the incident under the rug. I hid and ignored it. I have still never spoken about – until right now. I suppose writing this blog post is my way of helping myself heal from it.

The third time, I kept it to myself for a couple of months and then I spoke to my Mum. We went to the police station together. No evidence was found, no CCTV, so unfortunately they had no case. I felt deflated and mad at myself for not coming out each time; I felt guilty for other potential victims after me. For a while, I hid away and went back to ignoring things.

Then, one day, I started seeing a counsellor. She was lovely and non-judgemental. I had no emotional connection to her, so I felt no need to cover up and hide away. I opened up. There was no pain in her eyes when I looked up, no hand covering her face, she just sat and listened. It felt good to be able to talk, to get it off my chest – but I still held back. I had done it for so long that I didn’t know how to stop; I didn’t know how let it go. So I stopped going.

I tried writing diaries but had a fear that someone would find them and read them. I was stuck, at a loss at what to do, but I knew I couldn’t go back to how I was, so I started reading, anything and everything. I would get lost into a fictional character’s world and leave my dark one for a short time. It got me through a lot, but the past would always creep back in because I hadn’t faced it.

So I decided to try writing again. I wrote down what had happened to me and by who, over and over again. I wrote down the thoughts I had had, the smells and all the little memories. It was like breaking through a fog – and all the things I had buried and forgotten about came flooding back. I cried a lot, out of pain and frustration, but mainly relief. I felt like I was letting go. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. It all became a jumbled mess of words and random thoughts but it was my safety net. It was my listening ear without judgement which I had been craving. My mind became less hazy. I could see further into the future. I let go of all the blame I had laid on myself. It felt incredible.

I’m 10 years past my third incident, and 22 since my first. My life has had a lot of dark times. I’m not going to pretend and say that writing down my thoughts was a total breakthrough and stopped the darkness; I’ve suffered a lot of darkness over the last 10 years, my life has had a lot of struggles, but it has also had a lot of wonderful and life-changing moments. I became a mum to 3 beautiful and perfect little people. When my first child was born, everything changed for me. I had created this tiny, beautiful, perfect baby who relied on for everything. I had never seen a future for myself, it was always dark, but here I was with this wonderful girl who needed me around for as long as possible. She made me want to live again, not just exist but really live. I saw the world through different eyes and I couldn’t wait to start this beautiful journey with my beautiful family.

I still sometimes have darkness hit me – I have nightmares, even more so now I’m a mum, my fears have grown massively – but my control over the demons has grown with it. My strength and control is now stronger than the darkness. I don’t crumble under the weight of my memories anymore – because my memories are my past and my family are my future. I still do self-help (reading and writing); it’s my way of coping, my way of staying in control. It’s what works for me.

My message to other victims/survivors of sexual violence

I used to always hate the terms “victim” and “survivor”. In my stubborn and closed-off mind, I felt I was being pigeon-holed and stuck in a category or box. I resented not being in with the “normal” people. But as I’ve grown, I’ve realised I was being ridiculous. I was a victim; a victim of a terrible act that a horrible, spineless man decided to inflict upon me. I was a victim through no fault of my own; it was something I had no control over. I’m also a survivor, because I survived. I’m still here, I’m still living, I’ve moved past it and I’ve taken back control.

For anyone who is struggling and reading this, please hear me: it wasn’t your fault, no matter how many ways you try and tell yourself it was. Always remember that you were not and are not the problem. As hard as it is right now, it does get better, you can and will power through and find yourself again. Keep holding on and always believe in yourself. The light you can’t see right now is there, and you will find it. It will brighten up your world again – you just have to keep moving forward. You may feel alone right now, but you’re not. There is so much support out there: police, counsellors, helplines where you can remain anonymous. It’s also okay to not be okay, just please always be kind to yourself.

You’ve got this.

Survivors’ Stories: How I Recovered From Being Raped On Holiday

This blog post contains details of rape that some readers may find upsetting. If you do not wish to read this, please skip the section subtitled “The assault”.

November 21st 2015

I lost three people that night.

My best friend, for the need to cover it up, for the need to have no part.

My boyfriend to the assumption that I objectified myself, because for him, that could be the only explanation, the only sane reasoning. That I asked for it. That I wanted it – because when it comes down it, I am a woman after all.

Then there was myself. For a period of time, I lost myself.

Budapest

My best friend of 16 years and I took a 5-night trip to Budapest. We had been there 2 nights when on the Saturday we decided to go out for dinner and go to a few bars we wanted to see.

We shared a bottle of wine with dinner and got in a taxi to a ‘ruin bar’. We had a couple of glasses of wine and were having a good evening. My friend left to use the bathroom whilst I sat at our table, when this guy immediately came over and said “Hey, you speak English! Thank God! Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” I didn’t want to be rude, so I engaged with him. My friend returned and I introduced them, and we were having a general chat about work, Budapest, travel etc.

The guy then suggested we go to a club not far away. I wasn’t too keen but I knew it was one of the places my friend wanted to go, so we got in a taxi.

We went upstairs and he came in with drinks. I recall saying: “No, don’t buy us drinks, we can buy our own”. We took them anyway.

The next thing I recall is running around different rooms in the club, dancing on my own and laughing whilst he stood there and watched. Then, I went over to my friend (who was sat at a table) and told her I was going for a cigarette. I think I must have used the bathroom as well because he was waiting outside the door for me, which I remember thinking was a bit strange seeing as my friend was on her own.

Back at the table, my friend was leaning over saying she felt drunk and that she wanted to go home. My response: “No, I want to stay. I thought you wanted to dance”. As quickly as that, the guy told us that there was a taxi outside for her. I am later told that we got her coat, walked her out and put her in a taxi. I did not get in.

The assault

The next thing I can vaguely remember is being in a taxi with him, feeling pretty out of it.

Next, we were at a strange club in what looked like a field. There were half-naked women dancing on stage. The place was quite busy. It seemed to be in a tent.

Then, we were at the bar, where he tried to kiss me. I push his face away with my hand, and said “No! I have a boyfriend.” He looked annoyed at this and shook his head. I was sipping wine and looked down and realised there were 3 or 4 drinks in front of me. When I asked him why, he said something about a credit card minimum.

At this point, I was slurring my words and leaning over the bar. I then said: “I can’t. I can’t. I don’t feel well.” He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside.

Blank.

I opened my eyes and I was in a taxi. I thought I was going home. We pulled up outside a different hotel: his hotel.

I was walking to his room.

There was another drink in my hand.

Some talking.

I moved to the end of the bed, lay down and closed my eyes. I remember feeling tired. I opened my eyes and realised he had undressed me. He was inside me. I told him to stop. He shook his head with his hand around my throat. I quickly came to the realisation that he wasn’t going to stop and I was not able to fight.

I just lay there. Waiting.

The adrenaline must have kicked in because I don’t remember getting dressed, all I remember is screaming and shouting at him and frantically running around the room telling him to call me a taxi. He grabbed me by the arm, marched me out of the room into the lift and threw me outside saying “There’s your taxi”. I somehow managed to remember the name of my hotel, but when I told the taxi driver, he said he ‘spoke no English’ and started laughing. He wouldn’t take me back, so I got out. For some bizarre reason, instead of going to the desk I got back in the lift. I couldn’t remember his floor, so I hit 3. I couldn’t remember his room, so I walked to the end and knocked on the door on the left. He opened the door and had obviously just been in the shower. His suitcase was half packed on the bed. He asked what the hell I wanted. I started shouting at him about the taxi. He then asked if I wanted money, which he tried to give to me. I told him I wanted a taxi.

In the next taxi, I glazed over in the back. I’ve no idea how long the taxi journey was. I was jolted back to reality with the driver shouting at me to get out and I tried throwing money towards him.

I managed to get back to my room, and my only thought was “I need to get these clothes off”, then I blacked out in bed.

Aftermath

I awoke to my friend coming into the hotel room. She had been to get us coffee. I sat upright in bed and said “Oh my God. That guy had sex with me last night.”

She was shocked. She immediately said about not having to tell my boyfriend, to which I replied with “What do you mean?! Why wouldn’t I?!”

I called my boyfriend of the time immediately and told him. He did not take it well and from then on it was a constant battle to just breathe in and out. I had two days left in Budapest. My friend was not exactly supportive.

When I arrived home, it was no better.

I saw the doctor the day after I got back and had all the necessary tests done. Luckily, I was clear.

I would receive phone calls on a nightly basis at 3am, 4am, 5am from my boyfriend calling me every name you can think of, drunk, threatening suicide. I would have just a few hours sleep, have maniacal phone conversations in the dead of the night, then get up and go to work.

It was in those times – times of darkness and what felt like pure, choked desolation – that I realised very quickly who my true friends were. Sometimes it takes something like this for people to truly reveal who they are.

Recovery

I made the decision 3 months later to go and see a therapist. I decided to go privately. I did a Google search for therapists in my local area, saw one that appealed to me and found their contact details on their website. I sent an initial email as I didn’t feel comfortable speaking on the phone and we organised our first session.

The first session was the hardest. I felt uncomfortable speaking with a stranger and also did not want to discuss what happened or even say the word ‘rape’ out loud. But each session became easier than the last; I found that I had so many emotions bottled up, that it was a relief to let them out.

My therapist taught me to focus on my hobbies. I love photography, so she told me to focus on that. This helped me a lot as it gave me something to do and focus on, rather than what happened that night and the aftermath. It was a difficult and emotional time, but I ended up getting a lot out of my photography.

She also told me to ask myself every morning how I was feeling, and to answer myself with the emotion I was feeling. This also helped because if I felt angry or sad that day, I would tell that to myself and then tell myself it was OK to feel that way and to just let it be. This had a positive effect on my mental well-being. I was a relief, just saying and knowing that I could feel however I felt like that day and not need to pretend otherwise.

She would give me tasks for the week. For example, she told me to do something for myself at least one day a week, like having dinner with a friend or going out for a walk.

She also told me I could contact her whenever I needed and to take it one day at a time.

Although it was hard, getting therapy was the best decision I ever made. I continued to see my therapist for 9 months and managed to work through everything with her.

Some people have asked why I didn’t contact the police. The answer: because I didn’t want to. Especially not when I was in a foreign country. That was my decision; the one thing I did have control over.

I have slowly found myself again and regained who I am. I still have times where I think about what happened, where flashbacks occur, or I suddenly become defensive. It takes time. It’s been nearly 2 years and I am still healing, still coming to terms with that night, with relationships that were broken.

As a survivor, I feel lucky to be here, living the now. Two years on, I am now with someone who makes me very happy; someone who I can picture my life with.

All the time you feel like there’s nowhere to turn, or like there’s no one to turn to, like the knot inside you will never dissolve, just know: it will.

It gets better.

Survivors’ Stories: Derren Brown Stopped My Nightmares About My Abuser

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In July 2015, I went to see Derren Brown perform his Miracle show live on stage.

The night before, I had a dream about the man who had sexually assaulted me.

The dream itself was nothing special; the man just appeared, umprompted, in the middle of the dream, and I woke up.

When I woke up, the real nightmare began. Awake, I remembered what he had done to me. I was in a state of panic for around half a hour. It may not sound very long, but when your heart is beating that fast, and you feel physically sick with fear, horror and shock, half an hour feels like a very long time.

Eventually, though, the panic subsided and I did not think about the dream for the remainder of the day.

That evening, I went to see Miracle.

I was excited. I had never been to a live show of that type before. I had watched some of Derren’s programmes on TV, but that was the extent of it. I was intrigued as to what it would be like to watch him do his stuff live.

For those of you who don’t know, Derren bills his work as a mixture of “suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship”. He is not a magician, because there is no such thing as magic, but in the past his tricks may well have been termed “magic”.

I won’t go into detail about the show overall, but I do want to focus on one particular bit that taught me a lot about self-belief and inner strength.

At one point in the show, Derren got all the audience members to stand up. He wanted to demonstrate what some Americans like to term “faith healing”. It’s basically where the crowd gets itself all riled up and excited and then Hallelujah, praise the Lord, the crippled man can walk again!

In Derren’s version, there was no religious element. He got us all to close our eyes and imagine ourselves on a beach. He got us to imagine seeing the perfect version of ourselves, without any of the flaws or ailments that may afflict us in real life.

For a moment, I was not sure what to imagine. There was nothing about myself that I particularly disliked. I had a healthy body and a largely healthy mind. Then I remembered the panic I had felt after waking up from the dream about my abuser.

What the hell, I thought, there’s no harm in playing along. I imagined my perfect self on the beach: someone who did not feel engulfed by panic after dreaming about that man.

That section of the show finished, we all sat down and Derren “healed” some members of the audience of their afflictions.

I did not feel any different after sitting down. I did not feel like a whole new person. I felt like me. Just normal me.

The show finished. I left, thinking that it was very enjoyable and that I’d be telling my friends and family about it later.

It wasn’t until about a week later that I realised just how much it had changed me.

I had another dream about the man who sexually assaulted me. Like the time before, seeing him in the dream was enough to wake me up.

This time, however, it was different. There was no panic attack. There was no crying, or shaking, or feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I just woke up and I felt fine.

I am a scientist, a rationalist. I do not believe in magic or religion. I know that what happened was not supernatural or the result of some divine intervention.

It was so much more beautiful than that.

It was psychology.

It was faith, of a sort, but not religious faith: this was self-belief. Faith in myself.

When Derren got me to imagine my perfect self and told me that it was possible for me to become that person, he allowed me to unlock a part of myself that may otherwise have been difficult to access.

Whilst I may have struggled, by myself, to overcome the fear that engulfed me whenever I woke up from a nightmare of my abuser, he allowed my inner strength to be unlocked through my unconscious faith in him.

Everyone who goes to see a performance has some level of faith in the performer. Why else would they spend their cash and give up their time to go and see them? The same applies to those who attend religious faith healings; they have some level of belief in the leader, and that faith allows them to believe that good things can happen.

The crippled man shall walk again.

will not panic when I wake up from a nightmare about that frightful man.

Faith healing works because the recipient has faith that they can be healed. The strength of this faith allows them to find the strength to heal. They unlock their own inner strength. They heal themselves. I healed myself.

This is a very long-winded way of saying this: believe in yourself. You are so much stronger than you know. You have the strength to heal, even from the most horrific of tragedies.

To any fellow victim-survivors of sexual violence, I want to say this: you are strong. You can overcome what happened to you. You have a whole load of inner strength that you might not even know about.

All you need to do is unlock it. For me, it was going to watch a stage show. For you, maybe it’ll be attending counselling sessions or writing a story or doing a marathon or just looking yourself in the mirror each day and telling yourself not to give up.

I never would have imagined that I had the strength within myself to stop my nightmares, but the strength was there, just waiting to be unlocked. You have it too, so find a way to unlock it, always keep fighting and never give up.

Survivors’ Stories: 30 Years On, Incest Survivor Reveals Remarkable Recovery

Trigger warning: This article contains descriptions of incestuous abuse which some readers may find distressing.

Victimhood

My first memory of anything sexual in nature is my step-father pulling down his trousers and asking me if I liked what I saw. I was around 8 to 10 years old. I stood in the doorway feeling shocked, scared and very frightened.

Often, he would get into bed with me, drunk and naked. I always pretended I was asleep. One time, my mother, ill with depression, walked in to find him naked laying in bed with me. She said, “I hope you haven’t laid a finger on that child,” but then, she walked out of the room.

I knew then I could not ask her for help. She was scared of him due to the numerous beatings he doled out to her – something that triggered the beginning of her mental decline.

He told me several different things to keep me terrified: that he would kill my mum; that these were things I needed to know for when I had a boyfriend; that he would beat me if I told anyone. On occasion, he would pay me afterwards.

Amongst the sexual abuse there were beatings: being dragged out of my sleep by my hair for something he had made up; being put on the doorstep, naked, as a teenager and being forced to hide in bushes so that no-one would see, totally humiliated; watching as he tried to strangle my mum until she foamed at the mouth; watching as he raped her.

I witnessed a lot of sexual violence from this man and it had a profound effect on me. I felt literally gagged with fear at the time.

From the ages of 12 to 15, my mother became so mentally unwell she spent very long periods of time in psychiatric wards, leaving me the eldest of four children, at home alone with him. The sexual abuse became more frequent as he didn’t have to try and sneak into my bedroom. On New Year’s Eve in 1983, my mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the Thames.

I was now alone with this monster.

With my mother dead, I was now raising three other children, 9, 10 and 13, the two youngest being his. I remember feeling like I was now his wife as that was the role I was fulfilling.

I truly hated this man – I knew what he was doing was wrong. He might not have pushed my mother in the Thames physically, but he did mentally.

One night, I took a bread knife from the kitchen, climbed the three storeys to the top of the house where he was sleeping, and held the knife against his throat. But I couldn’t kill him. I don’t think fear stopped me, I just didn’t have it in me.

A turning tide

My periods started and I began to worry I would become pregnant. We had a social worker who came to the house periodically when my mum was ill, so I wrote her a letter telling her in a sentence or two what he was doing. I walked to her office and handed it in to reception and left.

The following day I got a message to attend the social services department and suddenly I was surrounded by lots of male police officers. Someone said I was going to be examined. I thought, “No, not again!”

I refused the examination as I was too scared, scared that he would kill me for telling. I don’t regret this decision – I think the police could have been handled me more sensitively. It was the 1980s and I wasn’t supported properly at the time.

I was placed in foster care a long way away from him and my siblings. Happy as I was to be away from him, I missed my siblings a lot. My foster parents were nice but I couldn’t relate to them – they were strangers. I felt very alone.

I took my first overdose at 16. Nothing changed.

I was placed in a flat at 18. Living in a flat on my own compounded my issues, there were a lot of drug users in my block of flats – drugs were a way of life. I began smoking weed which exacerbated my already fragile emotional state. I felt like I was going mad. I finally took myself back to social services and sought help.

I am Mary, a survivor

Good fortune smiled on me. I was referred to a therapeutic community and underwent intensive psychotherapy. It saved my sanity and my life. I did not take any medication. It was me that got me well, with tools given to me from the mental health professionals.

A pivotal moment in my therapy was when I finally realised and accepted that it wasn’t my fault. I remember feeling light, unburdened and happy when I realised this. I realised it was OK to forgive myself. I allowed myself some peace from believing it was all my fault.

I cried almost every day for those 2 years. I felt like I was drowning in my feelings – they floored me, they overwhelmed me, they battered me and I felt suicidal. But I learnt I didn’t have to act on these feelings, that they do pass, that there are better days, that there is a future for me despite the damage and the trauma. To this day, I find crying a useful tool in releasing my emotions.

At 27, I married and had 2 girls.

At 41, I decided to go to university and follow in my mum’s footsteps. I had always wanted to be a nurse.

I’ve been a mental health nurse now for three years and, apart from my children, it’s the best thing I could have ever done.

Talking to someone saved me, kind words saved me. I would remember those kind words on bleak days when I wanted to kill myself. Being busy, working and having goals saved me too.

I also have my mother to thank for being here today. Her suicide ripped my life apart, the loss of her literally changed my world forever. But her suicide prevented me from doing the same, as I could not put my daughters through what I had gone through.

My message for other survivors is this: don’t give in to fear and, when you’re ready, face it and get help. Don’t give up – there will come a point where it won’t consume you anymore, bringing with it hope for the future.

My life is OK now. I am no longer scared. I am an incest survivor.

As for the monster that abused me – he is still alive and well, and that’s OK too. I have decided not to hang on to any malice, for my own sake. There’s a lot of hatred and twisted feelings that I could fall back on, but I don’t want to become that sort of person.

Poster: Consent Is Sexy

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Poster 1
poster-a4-be-consent-aware
Poster 2

At universities across the country, new students are descending on their new homes for Freshers’ Week.

It’s a time to make friends, and for many, to drink alcohol and party hard.

For many students, their time at university will also be the time they have their first sexual experiences.

Secondary school sex education will have have taught them all about safe sex (“use a condom!”) but has it prepared students for that other all-important, safety-related, C-word: consent?

The topic of consent is often lacking from sex education classes, meaning that it may not be on the forefront of some young people’s minds as they engage in sexual activity for the first time.

But it’s hugely important.

That’s why we’ve put together these posters, to help young people learn that consent is just as important as condom-use when it comes to having safe sex.

You can view them here (Consent Is Sexy) and here (Be Consent Aware), to print and put up around your campus and in your halls of residence.

Or you can share them on Facebook here (Consent Is Sexy), and here (Be Consent Aware) if printing and sticking is not your idea of fun during Freshers’ Week – which is totally understandable!

Have fun, and remember: be consent aware this Freshers’ Week!

Poster text

Title: Consent is sexy / Be consent aware

Man: “Are you ready for this?”

Woman: “Yes. Are you?”

Man: “Yes”.

  • Always ask for consent before engaging in sexual activity.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no” if you don’t want to do something.
  • Respect your partner if they ask you to stop.
  • Remember it’s OK to change your mind, and that it’s OK for your partner to change their mind, even once you’ve started engaging in sexual activity.
  • Have fun and remember, consent is sexy!

Image credit: “The Kiss” by Robert Werk

Posters created by Victims2Survivors UK

Debate: Do Victims Of Sex Crimes Need Better Legal Rights?

Sexual violence has been a key topic in the news of late. With Operation Yewtree showing few signs of coming to an end, the emerging narratives of abuse of girls in care by groups of men in Rotherham, Oxford, and elsewhere, the currency of the issue means that those who experience sexual violence are increasingly likely to report it.

Nor is sexual violence a historical horror to be narrated as a thing of the past: estimates suggest that one in four women in the UK will experience sexual attack during their lifetime.

Britain quite rightly has a reputation as a country in which those accused of crime, any crime, will get a fair trial. It is proper that this continues; nobody wants to see the innocent wrongly imprisoned as this is of no benefit to victims. At the same time, those who cling to the status quo often express an opinion that women routinely make false allegations – and this is entirely untrue, and bolsters a fear of reporting which means that attacks often go unreported and therefore unpunished.

At the Feminism in London conference this October, we have a panel of legal experts looking at the apparent tug-of-war between the rights of a defendant in court and the rights of victims.

Last year the inquest into the tragic death of Frances Andrade, who died a week after giving evidence against a man who had abused her as a teenager, highlighted the current problems within the adversarial court system. Likewise, the apparent indifference to the Rotherham teenagers, who had reported that they were being trafficked for prostitution by their ‘boyfriends’ but had found indifference rather than support, suggests that there is huge scope for a sea change in the way in which victims of sexual violence are treated in the legal system. These are high profile cases but it is no exaggeration to say that every family in the UK will have at least one member affected by this – whether that is in a decision to, or not to, report an attack, or someone who has had to give evidence.

How can we ensure that victims’ rights are as carefully respected as those of defendants, without prejudicing the right to a fair trial?

Is it simply a matter of better witness care, allowing prosecutors to have regular contact? A defendant will meet their legal team on regular occasions, preparing their defence and being advised of how the procedure will work. Should a victim, likewise, be entitled to an advocate who will help them navigate the system? Would this be enough?

One suggestion has been to dispense with jury trials for certain types of case, a suggestion which has met with disapprobation from those who regard this as a slippery slope towards dispensing with jury trials altogether.

Another has been to look at increased use of “Achieving Best Evidence” interviews which are done on video rather than in person, and an increased use of special measures such as screens in court, as well as increased training of barristers and judges in dealing with sensitive issues and vulnerable witnesses.

Others have argued that all of this is window dressing and that there needs to be baseline legislative change.

The panel at Feminism in London will look at the “right to a fair trial” but from the victims’ perspective. The expert speakers will be Felicity Gerry QC, author of the Sexual Offences Handbook, Angela Rafferty QC, the lead prosecutor in the Peterborough child exploitation ring case heard at Old Bailey, and Debaleena Dasgupta, the solicitor who acted for a number of the women failed by Operation Sapphire.

It promises to be a fascinating discussion and audience members will be encouraged to participate.

The conference is 24-25 October 2015 and tickets as well as details of all of the panels are available at www.feminisminlondon.co.uk.

Image credit: Flickr / Eric The Fish