THE BLOG

Blame the Victim, You'll Feel Better

05/06/2014 17:06 BST | Updated 05/08/2014 10:59 BST

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Running 250 miles in seven days to and from 40 football clubs to end abuse

Waking up the morning after waiving my anonymity, speaking out about something so very personal, my heart sunk, my tummy flipped and a nervous disposition took a hold of me. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and not get out of bed. I immediately started to revert to an almost child like state - as if I had been naughty and was waiting for the telling off. I felt as if I'd let out a shameful secret and now I was going to pay. I walked with my head down avoiding any possible eye contact, embarrassed and ashamed.

Isn't the thought process here though a curious one? It doesn't make sense, after all I was an innocent and vulnerable girl groomed and taken advantage of by an adult in authority. I had done nothing wrong. Why should I feel as if I was somehow at fault?

My only intention of speaking out was in an all determined attempt to help others in similar situations and change attitudes towards abuse.

However even somebody who is public facing and can go live on radio to talk about such a 'private' crime, can still have feelings of shame, which are so strongly associated with the nature of sexual and abusive acts.

One of the reasons why there is difficulty in a public discussion and not an open forum about sexual assault is that those who have experienced it and are therefore credible to talk about don't because of the attitudes shown towards the victims. In fact only a small percentage actually report the crime for fear of not being believed.

Why are there still these warped and very sad misconceptions of a crime so devastating? This societal view of victim blaming leads to further victim suffering, miscarriages of justice and a continuing risk to our loved ones. Why do we victim blame? Is it to protect our own vulnerability?

I am determined to at the very least try and lead a change in attitudes. Only with a change in attitudes and education can there be a change in actions.

I have recently spent time creating a document of my thoughts, experience and research for the Ministry of Justice on how the criminal justice system responds to victims of rape, sexual and domestic abuse.

In 2012-13 the percentage of sexual offences in the UK resulting in a conviction dropped to below 15%.

It is very clear that as a society we disconnect ourselves from an awful act that we associate and acknowledge with happening elsewhere when the fact is, it is happening right under our very own noses.

In Nigeria rape and beatings of women are seen as normal. In South Africa many schoolboys think gang rape is a fun game. In the UK society often blames women for sexual assault and rape - one in five women experience some form of sexual violence - and that is just from what is recorded.

There is a global summit in the UK in June to end sexual violence in conflict. I was recently in Colombia where sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. I heard some horrific stories. In the UK it is used as a weapon in communities and families, a way to control, a way to command 'respect'. I was recently in a SARC - Sexual Assault Referral Centre - in England and interviewed the victims of appalling sexual crimes. Doesn't this then call for the global summit to address ending sexual violence whether in conflict or not? If sexual violence can't be addressed and put too an end in a country at peace how can it be stopped in a country in political, social and violent conflict?

It is essential for the sake of our next generation that we educate and change the public perception from one that automatically questions and blames the victim who did not have a choice to one that condemns the person who had the choice and decided to abuse.

I believe we must focus on gender-inclusive sex education - the only way that sexual violence can stop is changing the attitudes of the next generation. There is an unrealistic perception by young people about relationships. So what about creating a platform to openly discuss relationship realities and sexual responsibility? There are confusions over sexual signals or perceived sexual signals, social and cultural assumptions and stereotypes made about boys, social and cultural assumptions and stereotypes made about girls. Girls need to hear and understand these from a boy's point of view and boys need to hear and understand these from a girl's point of view amongst their fellow students. What it means to say yes and what it means to say no.

Young girls and boys should be taught about their bodies and private parts, so that they recognise that if somebody touches their private parts it is wrong.

I've seen and heard both men and women muttering judgments of such a misconstrued opinion learnt through upbringing, society and press - which absurdly blame the innocent victim.

There are perceptions that women make false allegations of rape with links to drinking, inappropriate behaviour and revealing clothing. Firstly there is no amount of drinking, no amount of flirting and a skirt not short enough to ever condone rape. Secondly in most cases the victim knows the perpetrator. 90% of rapes are committed by a person known to the victim and in a trusting relationship such as a family member or a neighbour. Thirdly I mentioned 'women' but men get raped too. 99% of abusers are men but this doesn't always mean their victim is a female.

So maybe my feelings of anxiety and fear after speaking out did make sense. After all this is my natural learnt behaviour from living in a society that blames the victim. I wonder how I would have felt if I lived in a society that has gender-inclusive sex education, openly helps victims and derogates the abuser?