THE BLOG

I Am A Rape Survivor And I'm Not Staying Quiet

22/11/2016 16:54 | Updated 23 November 2016
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It seems almost weekly that I see claims that accusations of sexual assault ruin men's careers and futures, which is generally followed by a man who is accused of sexual assault or domestic violence being cast in huge film franchises or being elected President of the United States.

It is the same reasoning that has been used for years to prevent universities investigating sexual assault. It makes me wonder why the same concern isn't given to the futures of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. We care so much about the potential success of the perpetrator - in case it impacts their career or affects their future relationship.

We don't give the same concern to survivors - but so many of us have been pushed out of careers due to sexual harassment or assault, we don't feel safe in our space of study so it affects our academics, sex becomes a very different experience when it has been used as a weapon against you. I think the long-term impact of these events and situations are frequently overlooked.

We're expected to have "moved on" and are made to feel bad when three years later we are still having panic attacks and flashbacks, like it's something we should have just dealt with by now, like it's something you can ever forget.

Being sexually assaulted changed my entire outlook on life and it's affected every relationship I have had since. We speak of success, but often it has not only been a fight to succeed, it has been a fight to survive.

Whilst at a conference, a speaker explained that they had chosen to specifically use 'victim' rather than 'survivor' in their sexual assault policy for the simple fact that many people who experience sexual or domestic violence do not survive. Whether this is homicide, death from resultant injuries, or suicide - what we do know is too many people are dying due to sexual and domestic violence.

Whilst I have survived, I am in no way the same person I was before. I am probably a stronger person - but that isn't from choice, it's from necessity.

I was sexually assaulted when I was 18 - just before I was due to come to university, and consequently I spent my first few years of my degree trying to recover from what had happened that summer.

I think the hardest thing is the way that it made me doubt everything I knew about myself - whether that was my sexuality, my sexual preferences, my mental health, and my memories. Being sexually assaulted fragmented my identity and left me unsure of who I was.

Because I was the girl who was "asking for it", the girl in skimpy clothes, the girl who was drunk, the girl who had sex with other people that week, I never felt valid. I questioned my memories and blamed myself. When society constantly tells you that people lie about sexual assault or that they invite it on themselves, it's very easy to start thinking that way about yourself.

However, I was driven out to the Greek countryside and told that I would be left there unless I had sex with him. Even if I did consent under those circumstances, my choice was between rape or death.

Were this to go to court, the fact that I stopped fighting, the fact that I let him assault me for fear of the alternative, would be used as evidence of his innocence. Just another girl who consented and then regretted it after and called "rape".

But, something that has taken me years to learn: consent when you do not have another realistic option is not consent. When you don't have the power to say no, or when saying no could be potentially life-threatening, you cannot meaningfully say yes. Consent when you do not have full comprehension of what you are agreeing to is not consent.

Consent must be mutual, it has to be ongoing, and it needs to be respected and active. Essentially consent must be a choice.

Whilst the choice to consent was taken from me four years ago, I am making a choice now.

I am not prepared to stay silent anymore. I refuse to be ashamed. I am ready to speak out - to be a voice for those who can't.

I know all I wanted when I was raped was someone to talk to who just 'got it' - who knew the feelings of doubt, who recognised the self-blame, who understood the flashbacks and panic attacks.

If speaking out means that one person feels less alone - then it is worth it. If one person recognises that what happened to them was not consensual - then it is worth it. If it encourages one person to tell someone what happened to them, whether friend, family, lecturers, or the authorities - then it is worth it.

I will not rest until survivors, and victims, of sexual assault know that they are loved, believed, and valid. This is the choice I make today and always - I will be the person I needed and I will fight my hardest to make sure that no one has to experience sexual assault again.

If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual violence, please know that you are not alone and that there are people who will believe you and support you. At Leeds University Union, our Student Advice Centre is a hate crime reporting centre and will always support survivors of sexual violence. On the 24th November, we will be hosting a discussion about the barriers that prevent people from reporting sexual violence or leaving abusive situations and the support that is available.

Rape crisis are a national organisation that offer support to women and girls who have experienced rape, child sexual abuse, or sexual violence. Survivors UK work with male rape and sexual abuse to offer support.

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