Derren Brown Stopped My Nightmares About My Abuser

derren-brown-stopped-my-nightmares-about-my-abuser

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.

Advertisements

30 Years On, Incest Survivor Speaks Out And 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

consent-is-sexy-poster-a4-victims2survivorsuk
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

Dear Yahoo: Please Let Revenge Porn Victims Make Link Deletion Requests

Yahoo is the only major search engine that doesn’t allow victims to report revenge porn.

We want to change that.

Last week, we tweeted Yahoo asking them let victims of revenge porn make link deletion requests.

What is revenge porn?

Revenge porn is the practice of posting intimate photos or videos of someone online without their consent.

It is usually done by an ex-partner, usually as “revenge” for the victim breaking up with them.

Pure and simple, it is bullying. It is vicious – designed to humiliate and degrade the victim. It can ruin lives.

These photos and videos were only ever intended to be seen by one person, the recipient. For the recipient to then spread this content online is a massive breach of trust.

What can a victim of revenge porn to do get the images or videos taken down?

If a person has been a victim of revenge porn, they can ask the website hosting the material to take it down.

However, if the website refuses or simply doesn’t respond, there is another way to reduce the accessibility of the images: asking search engines to remove links to the material from their search results.

This doesn’t get delete the content from the internet, but it does get rid of the links through which the majority of people will find the content. In short, it makes the content invisible.

Once a search engine has removed links to the material, a person will only be able to access it if they know the exact URL of the webpage the material is on.

Earlier this year, Google released a form allowing victims to report links containing revenge porn. Once the victim had filled out the form, Google would receive it and remove these links from their search results.

Shortly afterwards, Microsoft released their own form, also allowing victims to report links containing revenge porn. Once the victim had filled out the form, Microsoft would receive it and remove the links from Bing, OneDrive and Xbox Live.

However, Yahoo does not currently have a method of allowing victims to report links containing revenge porn.

Why isn’t Yahoo helping victims of revenge porn?

Yahoo is the only major search engine that doesn’t allow victims to report revenge porn.

It’s not clear why they haven’t followed Google and Microsoft in creating a form for victims to report links to revenge porn, but we can only assume it currently isn’t a priority for the company. Maybe they will introduce a form or other method of reporting links at some point in the future, but for now they have not given any indication it will happen any time soon.

But for victims, time is of the essence. The longer intimate photos and videos are available online, the more people will see and share them, and the greater psychological damage the victim will suffer.

It is imperative for victims that they are able to report links quickly and easily.

That is why we have launched this campaign to ask Yahoo to introduce a method of reporting for revenge porn victims, like Google and Bing have done. To empower victims and provide them with an easy way to report images and videos that have been put online without their consent.

We need your help

Victims2Survivors UK can only make so much noise. In order to get Yahoo’s attention, we need you to join us in our campaign.

We need you to re-tweet our plea to Yahoo.

We need you to inform your contacts in the media/news industry, if you have any, about this campaign.

If you know someone who actually works for Yahoo, we need you let them know that victims need a way to tell them about links to revenge porn.

Please help us to empower victims and let them take back their dignity.

Video: Explaining Consent – It’s As Simple As Making A Cup Of Tea

Blue Seat Studios have created a nifty short video explaining consent.

The twist? It’s done by comparing sex to making a cup of tea.

It sounds odd, but it works!

This video contains no swear words and is suitable to be watched by children for sex and consent education purposes.

Transcript

If you’re still struggling with consent, just imagine that instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea.

You say, “Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” And they go, “Oh my God, I would love a cup of tea, thank you!” Then you know they want a cup of tea.

If you say, “Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” And they’re like, “Hmm, I’m not really sure…” Then you could make them a cup of tea, or not, but be aware they might not drink it. And if they don’t drink it, then (and this is the important part) don’t make them drink it. Just because you made it, doesn’t mean that you are entitled to watch them drink it.

And if they say, “No, thank you,” then don’t make them tea. At all. Just don’t make them tea. Don’t make them drink tea. Don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea. They just don’t want tea, OK?

They might say, “Yes, please, that’s kind of you.” And then when the tea arrives, they actually don’t want the tea at all. Sure, that’s kind of annoying as you’ve gone to all the effort of making the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea. They did want tea, now they don’t. Some people change their mind in the time it takes to boil the kettle, brew the tea and add the milk, and it’s OK for people to change their mind. And you are still not entitled to watch them drink it.

And if they’re unconscious, don’t make them tea. Unconscious people don’t want tea. And they can’t answer the question: “Do you want tea?” because they’re unconscious.

OK, so maybe they were conscious when you asked them if they wanted tea, and they said, “Yes!”, but in the time it took you to boil the kettle, brew the tea and add the milk, they’re now unconscious. You should just put the tea down, make sure the unconscious person is safe, and this is the important part again don’t make them drink the tea. They said “yes” then, sure, but unconscious people don’t want tea.

If someone said “yes” to tea, started drinking it, and then passed out before they’d finished it, don’t keep on pouring it down their throat. Take the tea away, make sure they’re safe, because unconscious people don’t want tea, trust me on this.

If someone said “yes” to tea around your house last Saturday, that doesn’t mean they want you to make them tea all the time. They don’t want you to come around to their place unexpectedly and make them tea and force them to drink it saying, “But you wanted tea last week!” Or to wake up to find you pouring tea down their throat saying, “But you wanted tea last night!”

If you can understand how completely ludicrous it is to force people to have tea when they don’t want tea, and you’re able to understand when people don’t want tea, then how hard is it to understand it when it comes to sex?

Whether it’s tea or sex, consent is everything.

12 Brave Rape Victims Reveal Their Coping Strategies

12-brave-rape-victim-coping-strategies

We recently asked on our Facebook page for survivors of rape and sexual assault to share their coping strategies.

We had 12 amazing responses.

Being the victim of a sex crime is something that no one should ever have to go through. Unfortunately, many do.

If you’re struggling to cope, remember that support is available. And remember that these 12 people once felt exactly like you – and managed to survive. They are super-heroes. And you can be too.

Here are their coping strategies.

Carol: Running and trying new experiences

“I started running. I dove headfirst into new experiences and meeting new people. I spent time carefully tailoring myself, my appearance, my outward image. I delved deep within myself and pursued the things that allowed me to be and embrace and celebrate who I wanted to be, who I knew I still was – despite my fears that my identity had been eroded by trauma. I kept myself so busy that I didn’t have time to fixate on the damage done. And I grew. Each new experience, each celebration of self helped me pick up more and more pieces, until I had gathered more substance than there had been initially and I was overflowing with life. All those joyous pieces gathered to me help me when the darkness looms.”

Suze: Walking and meditation

“After trying to deny what had happened to me and using alcohol to numb me, I realised I would have to tackle the fact that I was raped head-on. I walked out my anger and spent as much time as I could in nature. I meditated and came to realise that being raped was something that happened to me. It was not a mark on my soul. It was not an indelible marker on my head. It was not who I am. Understanding this allowed me to release myself from the burden of shame and guilt that I had been carrying as I felt inexplicably responsible. I am still healing, but I am healing.”

Fiona: Talking and therapy

“I contacted my local Rape Crisis centre. Just having someone to talk to, who understands what you’re going through, without being judged, let it all out to start the healing process. I also asked my doctor to refer me to a psychologist. This can take a few months depending on where you live. You have to be ready to do this or it won’t help. Psychological therapies offer several coping strategies. Your psychologist will help you explore ways to find what suits you best. Be honest with yourself and your psychologist. If you ever get the opportunity to attend psychodrama, grab it with both hands! You also need a support network to help get you through each day at a time. Opening up to psychology sessions makes it all so raw. Be prepared for flash backs, panic attacks etc. It’s not easy but bear with it because you are worth it. I wouldn’t be here today without the love and support from my family and both my counsellors. Not forgetting all the hard work I put into putting one foot in front of the other. Empower yourself to start the journey to become a survivor.”

Woodstock: Learning self-awareness

“I learned to listen to my body. This was the best coping mechanism I have discovered. I developed PTSD after my experience, and when I started listening to my body… well, it hasn’t been an easy road to recover, of course, but it has been a lot easier than if I had fought against what was inside of me. Instead, I now consistently check in with my body – “What am I feeling?” and “What do I need/want here?” I gave it a voice when it was crying out to be heard. I also let the people in my life know about what was going on, and made no apologies for however I would work to recover. The ones who love you are the ones who stand by you through it all. Keep them, let go of the rest. You need to support yourself and also have a positive support team.”

Francesca: Understanding my feelings, seeing beauty in everything, living a simple life

“I learned to communicate about what I was feeling. I learned to put names and definitions to my emotions. I learned to read beneath the reaction (e.g. Anger is a secondary emotion. Why am I angry? What else am I feeling? Am I afraid? Hurt? ) and react accordingly. And I learned to see peace and beauty in everything – from the light shining through the trees to two people interacting – and focus on how beautiful life can be. Most importantly, I acknowledged that it was more important for me to live a simple lifestyle that makes me happy, mostly engaging only with people that I trust and respect, and taking my time to finish school and find a part for myself. I am 22 now, 11 years have passed on this journey. At the time, I had no way to cope or comprehend. Now, I can wake up and say that I like my life and want to live it.”

Vicky: Having a goal and avoiding bitterness

“I tried a lot of different things, some adaptive, some hurtful to myself. But what I found was that no matter what, you need a goal to keep your recovery and rebuilding what was taken from you on track. Mine was to never become hard. I had been taken advantage of and used, and I could have used that to become bitter and hateful and distrusting, but that isn’t a coping strategy that is good for you deep down. I always kept in mind “Being both soft and strong is a skill very few have mastered”, and that I wanted to be one of those people. Stay strong, but stay soft. What happened was nothing to do with you, and as long as you remember that you are more, and you can do more, than what happened in your past, then you’ll get there in the end.”

Christi: Raising awareness of sexual/domestic violence

“I did everything and anything I could to fight back, and still do to this day. Any chance I am given, I talk about what happened to me so that other people know the signs of an abuser, and how to stop domestic violence that is happening in front of their eyes.”

Anonymous: Running and keeping busy

“I run a lot, because I find that it allows me a lot of blank head space. I also have found that work is a powerful tool. I find that I simply don’t have time to get upset because I always have something else to do.”

Lily: Writing

“I started writing an anonymous blog about how I was feeling. It hurt sometimes, but ultimately it helped a huge amount to write everything down and get it out of my system. It also helped me to make sense of my thoughts. I am healed now, and I know I couldn’t have done it without the therapeutic act of pouring out my soul onto the page.”

Michaela: Exercise

“I took up the gym. Exercise helps me manage my depression, my insomnia and my intense emotions. It helps me feel strong and helps me realise even though my back is damaged due to abuse I’m still fit, strong and able. I have lost weight which has improved my self-esteem. I slowly started to trust people and having a few understanding friends has broken the isolation. I also find walking my dogs a pleasure and they offer me the unconditional love I lost out on as a child. Pets, I find, are very healing.”

Rebecca: Talking and group therapy

“A regular therapist and going to groups is really important for me. When we share experiences it feels like I’m not facing everything alone, that it isn’t just me.”

Jonathan: Painting

“Painting allowed me to express myself and pour out my grief, anger, confusion and hurt. With each brush-stroke, I feel calmer. Every time I mark that canvas, I am less broken inside – like I am becoming whole, like I am evolving from a victim to a survivor.”

Do you have your own coping strategies you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below.