In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, myriad stories from many victims of sexual assault have surfaced in recent weeks. #metoo and #himthough have both highlighted the hideous truth about how widespread and commonplace these events actually are.
I have stayed as good as silent about my experience of sexual assault for four years because I felt that my case wouldn’t be taken seriously but also because I felt that I would be judged and blamed for what happened to me. It has taken a lot of time and many life experiences – including having two of my own children – as well as reading and listening to accounts from others for me to be bold enough to come forward with my own story.
I now know that I was not to blame for what happened to me but also that the way we all consider and approach all forms of sexual assault and harassment has got to change.
Reportedly 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault of some form, but many of those cases go unrecorded. I initially wanted to speak out about my experience to empower and encourage others to come forward also.
I hope that others who’ve also endured such demeaning and distressing experiences, including sexual assault and rape will feel emboldened and empowered to speak out – of course to own a sense of emancipation and closure for themselves – but also because the truth is powerful and once it’s available to others and individuals who read it, they too become responsible and hopefully able to speak out to the world.
Speaking of responsibility, the #himthough trend has quite rightly flipped the onus on women to come forward back onto the men who commit these offences instead, and also those who are aware of such behaviour and do nothing to stop it.
For victims who do speak out, it’s not necessarily about a declaration; it’s more about keeping a dialogue open and inclusive. Victims of any kind of abuse need to feel safe enough to come forward and the difficulty with sexual assault is this malevolent – but very tangible and pervasive – streak which runs through many stories of rape and assault; that women invite abuse (by being friendly, trusting, attractive or even present) and are ultimately responsible – especially if they are under the influence of alcohol at happen to be sexually active at a young age and under the influence of alcohol at the particular time of assault.
Indeed, retiring senior judge Lindsey Kushner QC recently spoke out during a rape case urging women to be cautious when consuming alcohol because ‘rapists gravitate towards girls who have been drinking’.
For me, part of the guilt I carried with me, was the fact that my attack took place following a work party, at which I had enjoyed a drink and I’d been chatting to various colleagues, including my male attacker and his peers. Additionally, I was deliriously happy because my boyfriend – now my husband – had recently proposed to me and it had been one of the topics of conversation that night. I felt so foolish afterwards and as if I must have encouraged it somehow by being friendly and chatty.
I do believe that in many ways I was fortunate enough to escape a much more violent attack, but at the same time that belief is upsetting and makes me feel angry because it infers that what happened to me really wasn’t such a big deal at all and because it wasn’t rape, it must have been my fault and something I had invited and deserved.
I now understand that this was not – in any way – my fault. How could I have possibly known that his intentions were far from honourable? I recently spoke to Marie Claire about my experience, who published this article. I feel very strongly that a change is now in motion in terms of the way that society perceives sexual assault of any kind and certainly the ways in which we discuss this issue.