Hannah Worthington speaks to a student for whom this week is every week.
‘Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week’: a statement so easily overlooked in the twenty-first century. Yet it simply shouldn’t be this way. Avon and Somerset Police’s crime statistics published in the latter of 2016 shows a 40% increase in crime instances, and 37% of these include offences of rape and sexual violence. Most distinctly, a rise was noted in Bristol and our own student population. The Awareness Week is largely organised by specialist administrations; Rape Crisis England & Wales, The Survivors Trust, and the NSPCC to name a few. Yet often the meanings of these names or these organisations can drift by unnoticed unless one has actually had to formally address or contact them through personal experience of sexual assault. In the light of The Awareness Week, a student at Bristol University bravely told me their story, and their voice is one we should all hear and reflect upon.
Owing privacy to this individual, this article will not expose any details about the offence or the victim’s identity, but shall relay the individual’s views sharing their own personal reflection of the importance of The Awareness Week, and what we don’t get told enough.
— Emily Harris 🎀 (@Lemmypie) February 6, 2017
‘Though we have Awareness Week, ‘awareness’ is just a mere definition; it’s a fact. Whereas for me, this has become a comprehension, something I have had to emotionally and physically endure. Too many facts and statistics are blurted out to us, we almost forget or become immune to the real feelings and emotional anguish involved in such an ordeal’.
‘Rape’, the student told me, ‘is increasingly exhaustive…I was emotionally overloaded into derision, and there needs to be more knowledge about these effects’. The student noted that in the moment, they didn’t necessarily think about consent, but more the quickest way to get the rape offender away, and the latter is something rarely illuminated. Victims may not have the opportunity to refuse, and are more concentrated on removing themselves from the situation as fast as possible.
‘Avon and Somerset Police’s crime statistics show a 40% increase in crime instances, and 37% of these include offences of rape and sexual violence’
As a student body, as a nation, and globally, it seems apparent that humans find comfort in creating scenarios they deem most likely to provoke these acts. The typical dark alleyway, the corners of clubs, but actually, according to my speaker, these do not communicate the most powerful, and the most prevalent of experiences. ‘We focus too much on drinking abuse and lad culture, almost as an excuse for these offences. Often, abuse of trust is the prevailing issue, and we hype certain images that we hear or see on social media that we think are fitting to what rape is. Equally, people suggest that if you’re a guy who is sexually assaulted by a girl you’re pathetic, if you’re a girl you must have had your cleavage out – or been wearing a short skirt – it simply isn’t always like that.’ According to Rape Crisis, ‘strangers’ commit only 10% of rapes reported, with 90% thus being committed by known friends or acquaintances.
— United Way Bristol (@UWBristol) May 20, 2016
Epigram then inquired why the student thought Bristol may have such a rising crime rate for sexual abuse and violence, and this was largely associated to the drug culture: ‘Perhaps this is due to drugs. I have heard of several instances where hallucinating on drugs are a supposed excuse for rape, and it’s simply not. Drugs are not seen or accepted as an excuse in the legal system, and thus they shouldn’t be to the boy or girl who thinks it’s acceptable to abuse them to a point where their morals dissolve.’
‘According to Rape Crisis, ‘strangers’ commit only 10% of rapes reported, with 90% thus being committed by known friends or acquaintances.’
They continued … ‘Going out in Bristol hasn’t affected me in the ways people might originally presume however. I’m not scared or nervous about clubbing, and I’m not suffering from a lack of confidence. My main worry is if the offender were to be in the club or social space. The offender coming into my public or private sphere again is what constantly preoccupies my thoughts and terrorizes me, hopefully proving to people that sometimes it’s a much more personal issue as opposed to continual paranoia’.
‘The good thing about Awareness Week is the ability it gives myself and others to talk about ‘it’, finding open spaces. I am still gradually revealing information to my counsellor that I have only just come to terms with. It’s only when I explain and picture these images I realise how bad this really was’. Particular to this student, the support charity ‘The Bridge’ has been a beneficial service to help with recovery. This organisation provides free, confidential advice 365 days a year: 24/7. Importantly this charity offers a page exclusively directed at friends and family, and methods they can adopt to help those dealing with rape and sexual assault traumas.
— Natalie Jester 🇪🇺 (@NatalieJester) November 27, 2016
Epigram too spoken to the individual about the other main misconception surrounding sexual violence; that women are the most common victims of sexual assault. Organisations such as Survivors UK specifically target male rape and sexual abuse to men who have experienced this at any time in their lives. Wrongly, we can often fail to picture the male sex as a victim. My speaker agreed: ‘Last week I was sat in my counselling meeting with a middle aged, Asian man sitting in the chair opposite, in the same scenario as me: a rape victim. I never thought about a tough, older man being the victim of such an emotional and physical crime. We always think about young girls, and not enough about boys or men.’
‘I never thought about a tough, older man being the victim of such an emotional and physical crime. We always think about young girls, and not enough about boys or men.’
The University have been incredibly supportive in this student’s case: ‘University were the one’s trying to slow me down, they wanted me to get better.’ From changing deadlines for essays, altering unit options or providing additional support from personal tutors – all have been available and dealt with appropriately by the individual faculty. As with the suicides that occurred in the latter half of 2016, the University were seen to promote the Big White Wall as an open space for support on our MyBristol homepage, as well as the Vulnerable Students’ Support Service. In a vast city based University as opposed to a campus, it is seemingly easier to feel lost and feel unsupported and isolated. However, the University cannot suppose that awful incidences of sexual assault or abuse are happening, which is why if you’re a friend, family member, or an individual suffering independently, it is crucial to find or go to the support offered.
— Olivia Evans (@vpsocsandcomms) November 17, 2016
Talking to people can be the hardest thing, and my speaker noted that the hardest institution to talk to was the police. ‘It was the right thing to do, but the saddest and most stressful part of the whole process, I risked putting myself into isolation and losing friends.’ They continued… ‘You equally hear about unsuccessful cases. Rape victims taking their case to the police and it being dropped or not getting through Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) stage. So as a result there is a constant fear of waiting for years and years and still obtaining no verdict, while your offender is able to walk freely. 1/3 of crime reports surrounding sexual abuse and assault will not get past the CPS stage, another emotionally exhaustive factor.’
‘My speaker noted that the hardest institution to talk to was the police.’
Of the approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men that are raped a year, alongside the terrifying knowledge that this equates to roughly 11 rapes every hour, each case will differ hugely. Hearing or reading about individual cases with doubt provides much more powerful insight into the shocking daily reality that rape victims deal with. Thus, it is imperative to hear from individuals like Epigram’s speaker in this article, and we hope that anyone else dealing with this same suffering- that your voice is heard too.
Did you participate in Sexual Assault Awareness Week? Let us know in the comments or via social media links below.