No means no, it happened should mean it happened

It is a year this week since I was sexually assaulted at a Christmas party. I re-read the blog I wrote at the time, it went like this:

One evening I endured a demeaning three hours of sexual innuendos, harassment and I fear if I hadn’t left, assault. (Though I think pretending to air kiss my cheek then pushing my head down to imitate oral sex perhaps counts towards the latter). 

With comments made with a hungry glint in their eye, I take a guess they thought of it as a great sport, knowing in any other circumstance their behaviour would not only not be tolerated, it would’ve probably earned them a slap if not a police call. 
They knew I was in a position whereby it would cause massive upset to both hosts and guests if anything were said, and enjoyed this to their advantage.

I came home so outraged and disgusted, somehow I felt like it was my fault, like I could’ve warded them off better. The plain black shift dress, thick black tights and cardigan – with only forearms and head hinting my pale skin that should have been further covered up… I felt sullied.

A long, hot shower that burned as it poured over my skin, the scrubbing with a sponge that left my body even more hurt than I was, and the tears that stung my eyes and caught in my throat as I tried to catch for air, it left me no cleaner than when I stepped in the cubicle.

As it happens I was assaulted that evening, but even on a little read blog, I couldn’t manage to say it aloud. Over the past few days I have thought long and hard about what, as a survivor, I have felt over the past 12 months. Consciously, not that much. But when I choose what to wear on an evening out, the first night I kissed my partner, it was there. What if it happens again? And it had. I have suffered three accounts already in my lifetime, and a barrage of sexual harassment from adolescence onwards.

This week I have spoken to several people about their stories. One incredible woman, whom I happen to adore, was raped and sexually abused as a young adult by a much older man she called her boyfriend. She didn’t say no again, what would be the point? A year later, on holiday with friends, a fellow camper she quite liked crawled into her sleeping bag. She protested, vehemently, did she shout and kick? No, for fear of disturbing others and making a scene. Does that mean there was consent, because a terrified woman didn’t shout out her unwillingness from the roof tops? No, it doesn’t.

Another friend of mine was assaulted by a stranger at a party, whilst also being in an abusive relationship. On that occasion she did call the police, after taking evidence, they got back to her a month later, there was no trace of him. Her girlfriend at the time paid no sympathy, and became increasingly verbally abusive. This lead to a second abusive relationship that finished some months ago, after it turned into physical abuse and an affair with a married man.

In all instances, these women are left wondering, “why me”? “What do I do, what have I done that promotes behaviour?” Because in our society, it is far too easy for a victim to feel like it was somehow their fault. It was their stupidity. Why did it happen again, why go back, why not shout out?

The past few weeks have seen dozens of opinion pieces on the subject of Shia LaBeouf, who was raped during his recent performance art exhibition #IAMSORRY. The crux of the incident is that Shia would sit in an empty room whilst one of his co-artists would stand outside and offer a ‘prop’ relating to the actor for people to take inside. This included a bottle of Jack Daniels, a Transformers toy and indeed, a whip. The perpetrator took in the prop and proceeded to whip him for ten minutes then rape him. Upon realising something was wrong several people entered the room and pulled the woman off, leaving a victim. Many people, including Piers Morgan, have accused LaBeouf of detracting attention from ‘real victims’. Why didn’t he push her off? Why didn’t they cry out?

Rape, sexual abuse, assault and harassment are rarely clear cut. They are a violation of the physical self, but the internal scars last a life time. Men CAN be victims as much as women. They are ALL survivors. Various agencies have advocated anti-rape campaigns, but most of these are centred around women.

Not only in terms of being the victim, along with directing advice on how said women can protect themselves (try an internet search for ‘ways to discourage rapists’). For support after a crime, methods for recovery rarely feature re-introducing others of the same gender of the perpetrator in a safe environment, thus helping to re-build trust for future relationships of any kind.

One that has bucked the trend, and should be greatly appreciated, is Greater Manchester Police. Their recent campaign has the tag line of ‘Drinking is not a crime, rape is.’ along with what has become a popular Twitter trend #noconsentmeansnosex. Our society desperately needs to wake up to this line of thinking, and develop it further across sub-cultures everywhere.

We need to be teaching not only our children, but all men, that not only does no mean no, but anything other than an enthusiastic yes is no too. A year ago I could’ve been wearing a thigh splitting flesh coloured dress and platform heels, or dressed as a nun, neither one makes me more or less deserving of such behaviour.

I asked those I spoke to if there was one thing they could say to a fellow survivor, and with a sad but brave smile, each and every one said; ‘It’s not your fault. You are not stupid, you did what you could. You CAN and WILL get through this.’ You are a survivor. You will have dark days, we all do, but the light shines again, it always does.

Next time you hear of someone, whether celebrity, next door neighbour or loved one, who has suffered some form of sexual violence, take a minute. Our default setting, for the sake of humanity, should be to comfort, to listen and most importantly, to believe. We cannot know whether they are telling the truth, but we should always err on the side of kindness until proven otherwise.