Dear Mr Helmer … an open letter

Dear Mr Helmer,

This morning I woke up, feeling positive. The sun was shining and I felt like I could take on the world. It didn’t last long. Because a few minutes after checking my emails I was having a quick scan of social media. Twitter mostly. That was my mistake of the day. I love twitter, a lot, and the positive aspects of it far outweigh the negatives. But it was a mistake this morning, because within 10 minutes of waking up in a bright and cheery mood that was crushed. Because the Independent had published an article by Oliver Wright, suggesting that rape be called ’non consensual sex’. He suggests a jury would feel more ‘comfortable’ convicting someone of NCS than of rape, which is what NCS is.

Then this evening I caught up with what you have been saying today. In an attempt to clarify comments you made back in 2011, you suggested that women should take ‘reasonable care’. And then you compared it with people going on holiday locking their doors.

I was gobsmacked. I thought I had misread what I was reading/what you were saying. But I hadn’t had I?

Oliver Wright really did suggest the word rape be changed to some thing people found more ‘comfortable’.

And you really did compare rape with locking a front door didn’t you?

 

So you can imagine how cross I was by this evening. Or maybe you can’t imagine that because you don’t know me …

Why should you?

You’re actually probably thinking to your self ‘why is this woman even bothering to address me’.

I might not be important. I might not be famous. I might not get ‘greeted like a celebrity’ wherever I go, as the Guardian reported earlier of the reception you received at an event you attended today.

I might not be someone you even care about because I probably can’t even vote for you.

To you I am probably a no one.

Dear Mr Helmer, as I write this line in this letter to you, it is almost 3 am. I have a busy day ahead, but I shall function with little sleep, because that is my reality. Why? – Because I slept well last night. I had 7 hours sleep without waking up, without a nightmare, without waking up with shakes, silently/loudly screaming and dazed. And I don’t get more than one of those ‘good sleep nights’ in a row. In fact I probably only get one of those good sleeps once/twice a week. So tonight sleep is not coming. I’m scared of closing my eyes for fear of what dreams or nightmares will taunt my mind, because they will come. They always do. And because they didn’t last night, I know tonight when I go to sleep, in they will flood. I’m pretty used to them most of the time, but sometimes fear sets in and I just don’t want to close my eyes. That is my reality.

Just last week, along side the nightmares/night terrors, which are a nightly occurrence mostly I had a flashback. My mind took me back to the trauma that I experienced almost 7 years ago. This August it will be 7 years. Since I was raped. The flash back relived every moment in my mind. And when I came out of it, I was left for the following days feeling like I had just been re violated.

This is my reality.

It is the reality of being a survivor of rape. (Yes, rape, not ‘non consensual sex’. I’m not sorry if that word makes Oliver Wright or yourself uncomfortable. I agree it’s an uncomfortable word. But trust me, it is more uncomfortable when you are the one being raped/surviving rape. That does not mean it should not be used).

It is one of the realities of being one of those women who you think should have ‘taken reasonable care’.

Life was already tough for me, having had incredibly painful and negative experiences as a child, being abused by both my biological father and brother.

But 7 years ago, it got a lot tougher. I never knew what black was, until then.

It took me to the edges of cliffs, and to the point where I would attempt suicide 8 months later because I could not cope. I could not cope with feeling filthy. Dirty. Bruised. Broken. Used. Abused. Worthless.

Every single last bit of my dignity was taken. What I had left had gone, what I was clinging on to was lost. Forever. It will never fully come back. And however far forwards I move on, a nightmare, flashback, or something else that triggers memories of that day always comes back to remind me I can never get that far away from it.

This is my reality.

One of my other realities is that I regularly read that someone, somewhere, with a platform has made some ill informed, misjudged comment about a topic they know little about, and that they use as a way to grab media attention. Maybe it’s a topic that gets lots of controversy for you and lots of attention, with lots of people talking. Maybe that’s what you want?

I wonder if you would make the same blasé comments about a woman ‘taking reasonable’ care so as to not get raped if it was your daughter, or mother, or your wife? Would you say the same thing if it was your son or your father? Would you say to them then that perhaps they should have taken more care?

If not, then why say it to us?

Dear Mr Helmer,

Each and every time I read something that suggests I should have taken better care of myself, like you have said today, it tells me that my experience was my fault. Because if I had not walked down that road, that day, or if I had chosen to cross the road, or if I had taken a different route to the one I always took, or if I had done something different then it would not have happened. You are blaming me.

But you know what? However much you blame me and tell me that I should have taken better care does not remove the fact that actually it is/was not my fault. I am not to blame. The two men who decided that they needed to exert power and control over me are to blame. The two men, who decided that they would block the end of the road I was walking down, are to blame. The two men that were much stronger than I was and who were able to silence me not only on that day but in the months and years after too, are to blame.

Women (or men) who are raped are not to blame.

The people who are raping them are to blame. Why don’t you focus on them instead of suggesting the victim should take responsibility?

Dear Mr Helmer, your comments today have proven you know little about rape, and the rape culture that prevails currently in this society. Your comments today show very little compassion and understanding towards men and women affected by rape. Your comments today prove you know nothing about the realities of our lives and the real life realities of being raped.

I respectfully suggest it is time that you educate on yourself on this issue more. There are some amazing charities and organisations out there that do amazing work on raising awareness, and who provide training that I am sure would love to engage with you and give you proper insight into rape and its effects on people.

I highly recommend Rape Crises for England and Wales, and www.everydayvictimblaming.com who you can also find on twitter at @EVB_NOW

Yours Sincerely,

Helen A

 

twitter – @helen_a13

blog – http://www.helenblogs.com

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#rapecultureiswhen you inadvertently contribute to it.

Ever read a tweet that makes you want to shout, scream, cry or punch something/someone quite hard because it has made you THAT angry? Yeah … me too.

But what do you do when that tweet is one you yourself have published?

All of the above, and then apologise. Which is what I did and am doing now.

On Wednesday I delved into reading the latest hashtag that was doing the rounds on my timeline – an incredibly powerful and painful one to read but incredibly important too. It was ‘#rapecultureiswhen’ … started by @ZerlinaMaxwell

I had seen it the day before, but struggling with some serious health issues, and having had a seriously bad day sickness wise I was not strong enough to read it then. But by Wednesday I was. And I did. And I wanted to contribute to it. To the hashtag.

As someone who has been raped. As someone who knows. As a women who lives within a society that enables a rape culture to exist. And as someone who tries to speak out against male violence against women and the myths and perceptions that exist regarding it.

So, I contributed. I tweeted. And then as soon as I had hit publish I realised. Realised that the very tweet I had sent out, wanting to highlight and speak out about what rape culture is was actually participating in it.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 19.55.06

I tweeted just two of the many ill informed things that I’ve had said to me over the years, since I’ve started talking much more openly about my experience. But then I felt I needed to add something to the end of it. I felt the need to add on ‘I had on jeans and a hoody’.

Why did I feel it necessary? I guess I wanted to try and speak out against the perception that it is women in short skirts or scantily clad clothing that are raped. That it is not only women in high heels, or revealing clothing. That I was raped and I was wearing jeans and a hoody.

But, as soon as I tweeted it I regretted it. Because why am I even discussing what I was wearing? Why was I ‘trying’ to speak out against perceptions of different types of dress making a difference to whether women are raped or not. Why was I making it about clothing? When it quite simply is not?

LETS BE CLEAR HERE – RAPE IS NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU WERE WEARING.

So immediately after the first tweet, I sent this …

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 19.55.22

#RAPECULTUREISWHEN – in trying to speak out against it, you inadvertently find yourself speaking INTO it because the views and thoughts that allow it to continue are so ingrained in our culture and society that its hard not to be affected, sometime, somehow, someway.

If you don’t know what rape culture is, I have demonstrated it perfectly for you. And it is worth checking out the ‘rapecultureiswhen’ hashtag.

I am horrified, gutted, angry and sad with myself for actually contributing to that culture in my effort to speak out against it.

And I am deeply sorry.

 

 

Lets talk about rape (again) and being one of ‘only 9%’.

Last year when I blogged/wrote as ‘fragmentz’ I wrote several blogs titled ‘lets talk about rape …’ – not something I planned on writing much about again really, but here I am and I am able to talk more openly offline and more confident to write online as me, Helen.

7 years ago my life which I was already battling changed for the worse. It was a sunny day, where one moment made time freeze. One afternoon on the corner of a street where a building site was boarded up (with broken down boards). One second I was walking down a street I’d walked down many times and a few minutes later I ran into the high street, collapsing while some passers by called the emergency services. You always think – well I did – that you know what you would do in that situation. But I didn’t do what I thought I would. And that was it, in those brief moments life changed. Forever. Never ever to be the same again. How can it be?

And I became a statistic. I was already a statistic having been abused as a child/teenager. But I became another statistic, a different one this time. One of the 9% of people raped by strangers. As opposed to someone I knew/a partner/husband.

A few months ago a charity which I love dearly/respect and support tweeted a tweet which made my blood run cold. It was this –

‘Only 9% of rapes in the UK are committed by ‘strangers’ #fact

I responded to them with a tweet, asking them to reconsider their use of the word ‘only’. I explained how it made me, one of  9 % of people who have been raped by a stranger even more isolated that we already are – because we are a minority. They said they would be more careful in future in how they phrased things. Because if I was feeling that way, about that word and the phrasing then I could imagine other people would be too.

This afternoon I had a quick flick read down their timeline as I often do and was really really dismayed to discovered that last week they tweeted exactly the same thing.

‘Only 9% of rapes in the UK are committed by ‘strangers’ #fact

I totally understand that it was/is not their intention to offend/upset/isolate anyone as a few people suggested to me in reply to my frustrated tweets at them asking why they have used the word ONLY yet again. Why the need for the ‘only’?

I accept that 91% of women raped are raped by people they know/partners/husbands. And that society needs educating that it isn’t always people you you don’t know in dark alleyways (or in my case building sites in broad daylight).

BUT please please please do not diminish the experience of a group of people, who as a minority already feel fairly isolated. Being a survivor of rape full stop is isolating. Despite 1 in 4 women being victims it isn’t as widely talked about offline as it appears to be online. I love the fact that social media is seeing a rise in people speaking out and educating and raising awareness – and the rise of people talking about violence against women and wanting to see the much needed end to it. Thats all great. But offline my experience so far has been its not so easily talked about/discussed. And we need to work on that.

I wrote for years as ‘fragz’ but over the last 12 months have merged that identity and ‘Helen’ together and am more confident and able to speak face to face with people about my experiences. Online and offline. I’ve found a way to be ‘me’ and be outspoken on the issues that affect me, and be strong is using that voice – which I hope to build on (and importantly I’ve found a place to be ‘me’ on the bad days. A community of people that are helping and have helped me grow faith wise, but have also let me be ‘me’ in my weak moments. In the tears, tantrums and shouty times).

Its important that what we do online we do offline too. In talking about issues that make people feel uncomfortable. Or squirm in their seats. Or blush. Or just want to offer ‘there there’ responses to. Its important we educate. As I get stronger in myself, the more passionate and the more I seek and desire and want to be part of that process somehow. Not entirely sure how yet. But I’m working on it. Which is why I respect this charity a lot for what they do.

But we need to be mindful of how we do it, and the language we use, and what it means and says to people.

Being a statistic is tough, full stop, and for me, being reduced to an ‘only’ is painful. Isolating. More than ever.

I cannot relate to someone who has been raped by someone they know. I can’t imagine it. But I expect it has its own set of issues as does being raped by strangers.

For years the faces of these two people I had never seen in my life haunt me. I don’t know their names. Or where they lived, or their lives. Do they have a wife, a girlfriend, children? Do they work? Do they have a faith? What do they do now, do they remember me, do they think of that day, do they even care?

Do they have an illness I need to be worried about?

Do they regret what they did, or laugh about it with each other?

Do they think they they escaped justice because they were never caught, because, I, in the moment could not get myself together enough to describe them to the police. Or because I was too traumatised refused to allow any DNA to be taken.

Are they still alive? Would they have killed me if I had fought them, or would I have gotten away and not had everything I had left taken from me if I had tried?

Why didn’t I just cross the road that day? Or why didn’t I walk down a different street.

How do I forgive people I don’t know. How do I move on?

The list of questions and thoughts I have had about these two men are endless. And maybe some of them are the same questions and things people who know their perpetrators ask. I don’t know. As I said, I can’t relate to that experience.

All I can relate to is that MY perpetrators were strangers to me. And that I am part of that small minority of people who make up the 9%.

But calling us ‘only’ diminishes our experiences. Lessens it.

So, I urge you, any of you who write about this topic, this issue, whether its about the 91% who know their perps or the 9% who don’t, please don’t use ‘only’. For any of us.

My name is Helen and I am not an ‘only’.