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Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings Silences the Victims Not Protect Them

15/04/2016 17:33

As of late Stephen Fry has been opening a lot of risqué doors in the spirit of open debate. He's made questionable remarks about Auschwitz and Poland, dismissed the MP's expenses scandal as "Not that important", made unwise remarks regarding Operation Yewtree and even made what some would say as sexist remarks about feminism and women.

Most recently, this week in an interview with the Rubin Report, Fry made comments on safe spaces and trigger words - a debate that has been in the news over the last couple of years with the National Union of Students (NUS) - and how they can be damaging to free speech. This has caused a storm of digital pitchforks to march on him across all forms of media chanting that he is belittling the terrible experiences of victims.

Now, I admit he could have said it better. He said some sentences that I think were harsh, ill-conceived and brutal, but that does not take away from the gravity of the point he was trying to make. Safe Spaces are oppressive.

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As a survivor, and yes I mean survivor and not victim, I have personal and first-hand experience of the effects of safe spaces and trigger words. They are apparently designed to protect the feelings of people like me from being put into unnecessary distress. Certain topics and words, such as abuse, rape and molestation are banned or come with warnings, and I am supposed to feel grateful to those who are stopping those mentioning them. This isn't what happens.

Safe spaces are a lie. They prevent survivors of abuse and rape from coming to terms with their experiences and silence the voices they have been so brave to build up the courage to talk. They also offer a scapegoat to those who just don't want to talk or acknowledge taboo subjects like rape - which is a shame for organisations such as the NUS with the rise of reported rapes on university campuses worldwide.

Instead of offering a hand to help survivors face their experiences head on, we shut them away in a dark lonely room where no one acknowledges what happened to them, forcing them into a silence and taking their voice away - ultimately prolonging their recoveries. Instead of help preventing rape, we're just telling survivors to stay clear of reminders of their trauma.

Those who defend trigger warnings and safe spaces will do so under the basis of what's known as self-care; allowing those to recover in their own way and at their own pace. Although some will feel this is right for them, it can also be seen as metaphorically wrapping a survivor in bubble wrap and postponing their recovery for someone who cares.

It can be true that safe spaces can have benefits in the short term - everyone's different in terms of recovery. However, they can also have a lasting long-term effect on the mental well-being of survivors and can cultivate a victim culture where survivors become dependent on this shield safe spaces provide and never truly come to terms with what happened. Then, when they're outside the safe space and in the real world - boom, it'll hit them. And they weren't prepared.

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It's my hope that everyone starts talking about rape. As a survivor of abuse and exploitation, I want to be able to shout it from the rooftops without the feeling of shame and without repercussions. This is something NUS denied me, and still denies its members, with the insistence that abuse and rape should never be discussed openly without warnings telling those who should be listening to avoid them.

Unfortunately, we live in a violent world. Women and men are being raped and abused every day. It begs me to ask the question; why are we making it harder to talk about it? Talking means people are informed, which means people are prepared and it means people can take action - which leads to prevention. So instead of trying to wrap me in bubble wrap, let's hand me a megaphone and tell me that it's perfectly okay to say I was raped, what happened to me was awful - and let's stop that happening to someone else!

If you need to contact someone, or if you would like to talk about a rape or abuse, you can contact these organisations:

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