A disabled sexual assault survivor speaks out: “I had fantastic support and still felt to blame”
[trigger warning: description of sexual assault]
It was a Sunday, at about 5pm in 2003, at Derby station, and I was waiting on a platform when I clocked a guy walk past me a few times. I remember thinking it was odd because it was like he was literally circling me, and he was quite close. Typically British I didn’t really think anything of it, and thought that when the train got in, I could get on and wouldn’t see him again.
As the train pulled in and I went to get on, he was behind me all of a sudden. I always went for 2 seats on their own, and did again, but when I got near, he followed me in, oddly saying ‘you first’ despite me being in front. I still thought that it would be an awkward journey rather than dangerous and just started to look out the window rather than talk to him. I can’t really remember how long it was before he spoke, or what order he said things. I think he started by showing me some new trainers and then telling me of a club in Nottingham which wouldn’t let him in because he had the trainers on and because he was drunk.
I remember feeling uncomfortable how much anger he was showing about something insignifcant. He then showed me 2 peoms he’d written, I can’t remember the first but the second one terriefied me from the start. It was basically about a woman he saw from a distance in a club, he decided he wanted this woman and nothing would stop him. When he got close to her, he saw she had a wedding ring on, but believed that she only wore it as a flirtation, to encourage him to try harder. He told me that he had written it as he felt some women did things like that.
I can’t remember whether it was the poem, or him, which went on to tell me that he would treat her as badly (sexually) as he wanted and she would have deserved it, even secretly wanted it. I remember starting to feel really uneasy, I hadn’t really said anything by this time, I’d been looking out the window most of the time. A conductor came round and I felt an enourmous sense of wanting to get his attention, coupled with an enourmous sense of fear of annoying this man. I’m almost ashamed to say that I showed my ticket and let the conductor pass.
The guy then put his face close to mine and tried to kiss me, I turned my face to the window and caught my reflection, which was crying. He put his hand on my knee, and I tried clenching my legs together, he moved his hand further up my knee and between my legs untill he was touching me, I’d been saying no, probably too quietly as stupidly I didn’t want to make a fuss, and he said ‘you haven’t got any arms, you can’t do anything about this’. I haven’t mentioned my disability before as it has never been an issue, but this made it one.
We must have pulled into Nottingham around about then, I asked to leave as it was my stop, he got up but then gathered his things saying he was getting off too. I saw a woman get up about my age (I’d have been 22) and I moved as quickly as I could to her, still not really wanting to draw attention and I got to be stood behind her just a fraction before he got behind me, but before I could say anything, he put his arm round me and thrust his groin into me. I guess (apart from my tears) we just looked like a couple. He kept his arm round me till we got to the concourse, before we got there I saw two police officers walking in the opposite direction but again was scared to do anything.
I didn’t want to leave the station with him anywhere near so said I needed to get some tickets for an ongoing journey, he told me he was going for a drink, told me where and even invited me for a drink before kissing me on the cheek and saying how nice it was to meet me. I watched him leave then jumped a taxi home. I don’t know why I didn’t go to find the police, or tell anyone on the station, I just wanted to get home.
I didn’t tell anyone for a few days, I didn’t leave home actually. In the end I told a friend who encouraged me to go to the police. I finally did, and got an incredibly supportive response from them. I gave information over the phone then two officers came to take a statement later that day. One of the officers asked me what I was wearing on the day and I remember feeling glad I had been wearing jeans, a jumper and a long coat. I voiced my worries to the officer about how glad I was I wasn’t wearing something that could have been interpreted as ‘asking for it’, and the police man (I’ll always be thankful of this) admitted that whilst clothing was important in the court room, whatever I had been wearing would not ever give someone the right to feel they could take what they want. This policeman coincidentally turned out to be the one I had seen at the train station whilst I was with the guy.
They took a really detailed statement, reasurred me that none of it was my fault and left, promising to keep in touch. Asd they left, they told me they suspected who it was, he had really identifable tattos on his face, and knew where he often was. I heard from them again a few weeks later, they had arrested the man they suspected and had gone to his flat with a warrant where they found the trainers he told me about, and also the poems. He was arrested and charged and they said I’d be advised of any court processes as he was pleading not guilty so I would have to give evidence.
I got a letter from Witness Care with proposed dates etc but then heard nothing for 2 years. In that time, I had moved house, graduated, changed jobs etc, and one day in 2005, I received a call from the policeman who took my statement. He said that the guy had fled the coutry to India, he tried to enter the UK again and was arrested for my indecent assault, I never really found out why noone told me he’d fled. In credit to the policeman though, he had tried calling me at my old address, and somehow tracked down my Mums address who gave him my number, again I’ll always be grateful that he took the effort to find me. The guy changed his plea to guilty and was later sentenced to 4 years imprisonment and put on the sex offenders register indefinately. I received confirmation of this in writing, I remember thinking it was odd that it was the first time I found out his name.
At this time, I was contacted by victim support, they came and took information from me to be used in licence conditions, everything seemed perfectly sensible untill the lady asked if I’d like an exclsuion zone to be given to him so he couldn’t enter specified areas. She thankfully discouraged me from taking this as she said he would then be told my full name and part of my address so he knew where to avoid!!
Looking back, I find the whole thing really tough, but not for the most obvious reasons. I only remember small details, I remember what I was wearing, and things he said, but can’t even remember what month it was, let alone the date. I remember the physical aspect didn’t disgust me as much as his use of my disability against me. I never told many people what he said, just what he did, because he is about the only person who has ever left me feeling vulnerable for my disability, and it isn’t something I care to admit. I don’t remember his name, its something I tried to do intentionally. I’m not really sure why, I think it made it more real to attribute it to a person. I alse remember the importance of small things, such as how I was treated by the police. And I remember asking my sister what would happen if I gave evidence and he was still found not guilty. She said that him being found not guilty didn’t make me guilty. That single point is something I struggled with, I never made peace with the fact that people wouldn’t believe I had in some way, instigated it.
I had fantastic, and full support from everyone involved and still felt to blame. I still feel angry that it happened, but I find it harder to think people (men and women) don’t always get treated as well as I did, and don’t get enough support. My experience was relatively minor, I can’t imagine how people cope when they feel they are not only taking on their attacker, but also the system. It’s tough enough as it is.
Elane: Why I Am Marching
I am marching/stewarding because I hate the word slut and all it’s connotations of blaming women for sexism and sexual violence. We are not sluts we are women who can dress as we please, go where we please, have sex as we please, with whom we please and how we please without becoming sexually available or dehumanised. I’m determined that we will have a world where women are equal and free and sexuality isn’t alienated. A world where we are worth more than our looks and how much men fancy us. A world where the word NO is understood as no and not reinterpreted by how we dress, or what we drank, or whether we said yes before or yes to someone else..
We can do it!
Like many I have been the victim of sexual violence and had to deal with all the comments and sick reactions.
So, where ever we go, how ever we dress, lets teach them that yes means yes and no means NO
Marilena: Why I am Marching
(Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault)
The main reason why I am so keen in be part of your demonstration is because I was victim as well of sexual assault, three years ago.
I was living in Madrid for a semester, studying into a university to improve my linguistic skills, and the graduation day I went out with my colleagues to celebrate our goals.
As I was coming back home, quite late in the night, 3am I did find a man, on the way close to my building, walking in my same street at the opposite side. He just called me “guapa” putting an hand on my month trying to touch my breast. I felt blocked, for a second that was lasting an eternity. Than something shook me. I react, I start screaming and try to escape. He threw me on the floor starting to hit me. I didn’t give up. I bit his hand so strongly that after a while, he decided to give up, and quietly come back home.
Still sound so strong to openly talk about this. It was not the kicks that have hurt me, but the new feeling of insecureness of my following later on.
First going to police to report happening, the following day. I waited for my friend/flatmate to come after school because I wasn’t completely unable of getting out of my house alone. World seems a little jail with no air to breathe, and even the sky upon me caused me a kind of claustrophobia.
Then the immoral treat of police. They hold me for interview all afternoon long, bringing me to the other part of the city, realizing me at midnight just in time for letting me cross the city with night public transportation. It was one of the hardest thing to do that day.
I was feeling for quite a year paralyzed, afraid of my own shadow, with lots of panic attack, and a compulsive lifestyle. I felt alone. Even if I wasn’t. My sister came to Madrid to help me during the following days, and life went on.
But for me it wasn’t. I felt everyday in every single moment of the day that fear. I started to trust in nobody. Close myself to life. Eating and drinking disorders. No one seemed good to help me in quitting that dark patina full of fears my life was felt into. It was like screaming with no voice. The same of that night, loudly seeking help in a empty street. I took 13 kilos in 5 months.
People surrounding me didn’t know or understand how to help me, and how much I needed that.
Every time I tried starting to talk with someone about this, I can see them scared of earing, or just stopping my difficulty in talking telling me: you were lucky, you were strong, this is over.
But is not. This has changed my life. I have been working a lot on my self to go past the fear and the anxiety this has provoked to me. hardly working on studying, dieting, and after a while to take me back my sexual life as well. After Madrid abroad experience the thing that terrify me the most that this bad luck destroyed my dream life of travelling thought world to learn languages, that I could never have the strength of live again, alone again in a foreign metropolis.
But look, now I am here, I am proud of having forgot sufferings, and still I want to fight for woman rights. Woman that have been less lucky or strong or helped than me. Even my mother, when I told her the happening after some months, her first sentence was: ” how were you dressed?” It was not my fault. I wasn’t dressed sexy but either, I have the right of dressing in whichever way I want. Even on media is not rare to hear statements regarding woman dressing in a sexy way are looking for sexual assault. Whoever had been looking for such a withering thing? I was not. And that’s the reason why I want to join you.
Crissie: Why I am marching
(Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault)
I will be on the Slutwalk to help make visible the many ways in which we women of colour have been abused by those who want to justify our rape and exploitation.
I am a mixed race lesbian pensioner who survived child abuse. When I was 14 my white racist stepfather called me a slag and a slut as he beat the c**p out of me because he’d caught me wearing lipstick – he’d been sexually abusing me since I was seven. He took that as his right, and my growing up was a threat to him.
Black women and girls have been raped by white men through centuries of slavery and colonialism. We continue to be raped today. In DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Palestine, India, Iraq, Libya … millions of women have been raped as a result of Western governments and corporations exploiting our natural resources. As people fall prey to their corruption, and families and communities are destroyed by their proxy wars and arms dealings, women and children are most vulnerable. Our centre is full of asylum seekers fighting for the right to stay after fleeing rape and other torture by soldiers and others in authority. What clothes were we wearing to justify these atrocities?
In France the Slutwalk placards got it bang to rights when they said ‘We’re all chamber maids’. DSK’s victim was a Muslim with a head scarf. Were her clothes too provocative? Did he think she was a slut under cover, or not enough of a slut?
Domestic workers in our network in India, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago are organising against rape and exploitation by employers who think they are there to service them. They have formed trade unions and are participating in this month ILO conference to demand decent wages for their work and justice from rape.
By taking back words traditionally used to insult and diss us, Slutwalkers are following the tradition of the Black civil rights and other movements for justice.
I’ll be marching along with other Black and immigrant sisters, with white sisters, and with men who support us, to break down the barriers which divide us and pit us against each other. Either we are all sluts or none of us is.
Aimee: Why I am marching
[Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault]
In no other crime is the victim subject to so much scrutiny during an investigation or at trial; nor is the potential for victims to be re-traumatised during these processes as high in any other crime.” (HMCPS & HMIC, 2007)
We are marching to prove that “a slut” does not exist – it’s a term of abuse catapulted at women for so many different reasons, with countless different definitions. It’s a word that shows that female sexuality is still controlled, that is objectified rather than celebrated. By coming together and putting us all under a SlutWalk label so to speak, celebrating sexual diversity and choice, we’re highlighting that not only can women be called a slut for such irrelevant reasons, but that by using words like slut, society is ignoring the real causes of rape.
Victims of sexual assault need society’s support not its scrutiny.
We believe ignoring a word’s existence because it’s a part of misogynistic language is not going to work. Just because we ignore a word, doesn’t stop it existing or take away its power. We believe you can attack a word and render it meaningless. It’s just like standing up to a bully; you metaphorically attack it head on. Like playing the system, you have to get inside, use the term, break it apart, take away its power and that’s when we can start to create a society that doesn’t use such terms at all.
Slut is a socially constructed term. If we come together - people of all different kinds, in all different clothes, anyone from a-sexuals to those who sleep with 100’s, it’s dispelling this “slut” myth and showing that it holds NO relevance over rape cases.
We are protesting against victim-blaming, against slut-shaming, against a sex negative culture which is perpetuating rape myths and therefore ignoring the real issues, and a justice system that is incredibly unjust!
The UK currently has 47,000 rapes reported a year; this number is steadily rising, despite the fact that the conviction rate is steadily lowering. At 6.5%, the UK now has the worst conviction rape in Europe besides Ireland, despite the fact that there is supporting evidence in 86.7% of charged cases of rape. Those are the facts – we’re also hearing more and more stories of how dreadfully victims are treated by police and within the justice system and they are often put off from reporting their attacks at all! It is estimated that even only 5% of rapes are ever reported – and of course men are victims too, anyone can be, but in a society that perpetuates a sexual double standard – everyone is put off reporting what happens to them for fear of how they will be perceived by the courts and by society as a whole.
The biggest rape myth is that the victim does something to provoke a rapist.. This is not statistically backed up and makes no sense. It’s strange how so much emphasis is put on the victims of sexual assault and not enough is asked of the rapist – SlutWalk is highlighting this injustice and trying to show society that nothing a victim does made them a victim – someone was raped because a rapist decided to rape them. There is no such thing as an invitation or a provocation for something that, by definition, is forcing someone to do something that they don’t want to partake in.
All kinds of people get raped, women, men, genderqueer people, children, the elderly, disabled people – and people of all shapes and sizes, ethnic origins, backgrounds, sexual orientations, dress senses etc etc etc. Anyone can be a victim as rape isn’t about sexuality; it’s a hateful act about power and control over someone, using their sexual anatomy as the vehicle to express that. Most victims know their perpetrator, something that a lot of people often overlook.
We grow up in a society where words like slut (whore, tart, etc etc etc) are used to brand women who are promiscuous or perceived as being, and by branding them, we are out-casting them, which leads to objectification which leads to a mindset of them being lesser people - less deserving of respect somehow… and that leads to a culture where people feel it’s then okay to objectify them, where society feels it’s okay to see their body as public property if they choose to display their sexuality. Sexuality can be celebrated, the human body can be celebrated, sexuality can be celebrated without leading to objectification – but this sex negativity is so ingrained within us that it’s hard to break free from. Our sexuality is still being controlled.
Anna: Why I’ll be marching
(Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault)
Hi, I’m Anna and I’m only 16 years old. I’m in high school, you know how boys that age are. I will be marching for every single girl that experienced some sort of sexual harassment in high school.
I remember some boys always slapping my bum, always doing something I didn’t want them to. I’ve been ashamed, I felt dirty. I didn’t say anything which was the worst decision I ever made in my life. I stopped wearing skirts, tight tops, I wore baggy pants and generally started dressing like a boy. They didn’t stop. then I spoke out, I told someone, they got in trouble.
It might not be as humiliating as some stories I read on here but it sure did damage my self esteem for many, many months.
Ladies, never stay quiet, always fight for your rights.
“No Means No; Yes Means Yes; Wherever We Go; However We Dress.”
Rosie Jones: Why I’d like to walk if I can make it from Devon…..
(Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault)
I am walking because as a thirty-something female, over the years, I’ve faced that familiar feeling before leaving the house for a night out, particularly when I’ve been living in a big city. Do I look ok? Will I get any hassle between home and destination? Can I run in these shoes if I need to? Will I get home safe? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to dress how we liked and not be afraid, of judgement or worse. Without getting too deep into it, women are expected to be sexually continent. They CAN control themselves if a hot guy walks past. They are not likely to use it as an excuse for violence. It’s time to end the sexual double standard.
Nee: Why I’ll be marching
(Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault)
I’ll be marching because when I was walking home from the library I was approached by a boy my age. I was wearing my school uniform and it was not flattering or revealing in anyway.
He offered to walk me home and I accepted. We ended up walking past my house and living in a remote farm town we heading into the grapevines for a walk. We kissed, but I didn’t want to kiss anymore and said no and asked him to stop. He didn’t take no for an answer and kept kissing me then forced himself onto me and held me and started to finger me. My resistance and pleas were unheard and I was helpless.
He finally stopped and I walked home alone.
In the evening there was blood on my knickers and I decided to call a friend to tell her what happened. Her mum told my mum and I had the police around that evening and the next day interviewing me.
The police caught up with the boy but couldn’t get a matching story so they said there was nothing they could do and it just sounded like a misunderstanding and that I had changed my mind afterwards accusing him.
I didn’t consent to what happened to me.
When I went back to school my friend told everyone who told everyone and I had the share of I deserved it comments and I asked for it comments.
Even in later years my mum used it against me in a fight telling me I deserved to be treated that way.
I’m walking because NO means NO.
B: Why I Will Be Marching
Because I was sexually assaulted. Two years ago I was walking home from school (wearing a thick coat over my baggy clothes might I add) and someone came up from behind me and groped me. He started talking to me telling me how he thought I was beautiful and had to talk to me. He then grabbed one of my breasts and kept telling me I was beautiful. He ran off after I had lied and told him I had a boyfriend. This was the first time I had been touched in this way, all I had done before was kiss a boy.
It completely warped my idea of the world, and of men, and I asked myself so many questions. Afterwards I couldn’t walk down my own road, where it had happened. I reported it to the police several months later, which resulted in nothing, after having panic attacks and seeing Victim Support who helped me realise that I was the one in control of my body, not anyone else.
What shocked me was that a while later I started a debate in a psychology class while we were discussing free will. I posed a similar hypothetical situation and the side for free will simply answered that the girl in question must have been dressed in a suggestive way. My teacher then seemed to agree with them.
That is why I want to march and why I want to wear the clothes I wore when I was assaulted to see if it is at all provocative to wear a baggy t-shirt with a skirt and tights, and thick coat over it.
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Photos: Tom Radenz and Claire Butler