How the World Silences Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Assault and Harassment – Me Too and Shame

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault there is never a day that these things are not brought up by the world around me. From rape jokes, depictions in literature and on screen, news stories about sex offenders and those who perpetuate and uphold rape culture. On top of this there are flashbacks, nightmares, and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder to contend with. This is torture, however it is the reality of victims who have survived.

Recently an old campaign was brought back to life after the revelations from the victims of Harvey Weinstein and his continued sexual offences were brought to light. The movement is called Me Too (#MeToo) and was started 10 years ago by Tarana Burke – to unify those who’ve been victimised by sexual assault.

“It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”

“What’s happening now is powerful and I salute it and the women who have disclosed but the power of using ‘me too’ has always been in the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation – but it was us talking to us,” – Tarana Burke

As a survivor who survives by using my trauma to educate people about sexual offences and offenders and who shares to help other survivors feel less alone through my art and writing, it was only natural for me to support the movement and join in. It felt odd as there was a sense of relief that I was not alone and that others were speaking out – however there was also the realisation of just how many #MeToo statuses I was seeing in my news feeds across social media platforms; not being surprised by these revelations as I am very familiar with the truth of how prevalent these crimes are.

Then the usual erasure started. Victim blaming was loud and clear, with those who have never experienced these crimes and trauma chiming in with their privilege – mainly white able “feminists”, such as The Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik. Mayim arrogantly used her platform to victim blame and projected her own opinions on those (who are in fact survivors) to suggest modesty protects against sexual offences, that not being “conventionally attractive” could also protect you.

Read the full article here

In response many survivors took to twitter to criticise this blatant ill informed and damaging piece.


As well as this many of us (the survivors) were subjected to people criticising those of us who had used the ME TOO hashtag, saying it was attention seeking, a “trend” and even people making comments such as:

“I hate people jumping on the bandwagon, with their #MeToo victim mantra”

or trivialising the movement by suggesting that women only feel harassed when they don’t fancy the man harassing them.

Fashion Designer Donna Karan was quick to blame women for their assaults and harassment by stating:

“How do we present ourselves as women?” Karan was reported as saying at an awards ceremony Sunday evening in response to a question about the accusations against Weinstein. “What are we asking? Are we asking for it? By presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality? What are we throwing out to our children today? About how to dance, how to perform and what to wear? How much should they show?”

“It’s not Harvey Weinstein, you look at everything all over the world today, you know, and how women are dressing and what they’re asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”

Far-right hate preachers such as Katie Hopkins used survivors (as she often does) in order to further her prejudice campaign against Muslims, as she “believes” that rape and child molestation are crimes perpetrated by Muslims and mainly against white girls.

As well as this (which is her usual rhetoric) she went on further to suggest the women who have come forward, have exchanged sex rather than being subjected to rape, assault and harassment. Clearly stating she herself is NOT a victim of sexual violence – begging the question, why comment? Well it is a simple ugly truth, Katie Hopkins uses suffering to gain financially and has no remorse for who she affects as she is blameless with her arrogant (teenager) style inability to be held accountable, shrugging her actions off, suggesting always that it is the “other” who is wrong or to blame. Many on the far-right of the political spectrum use survivors (especially children) in order to scaremonger and portray the white supremacist ideas that people of colour are feral and are more likely to rape, steal and murder. Katie’s agenda is to ban Islam, stop refugees from seeking asylum in the UK and to flip the reality of white privilege and suggest that “white genocide” is on the cards. This is why she uses the fear of sexual violence and child molestation as pertaining to certain ethnic groups over others in order to divide – but mostly for fame and capital gain.


The movement was also evolving and most of the community were quick to offer support to one another, as well as addressing the issues such as the inclusivity of men, trans and non binary people, remembering that often these are the most unlikely to come forward or have the platform to express their trauma. We addressed the issue that the movement was misquoted as being started by ALYSSA MILANO when in fact it was started by Tarana Burke as stated at the beginning of this piece, which left many rightly angry that the voices of black women and women of colour were being pushed further down and not being given the credit when it was due. Reminding us all further that #BlackLivesMatter is still a very necessary movement. We also made sure to include those who are unable to voice their #MeToo and I reminded people that there are also the children (like I was) who aren’t even aware that they too are victims, unaware that they have been abused, still being abused and who remain voiceless.

Another side emerged due to the movement – where certain survivors were criticising other survivors for taking part. My heart felt heavy reading the statuses and comments projecting their pain and anger toward those of us who have been speaking out and those who (for many it was the first time) shared their story, only to be met with one-upmanship making those who shared retreat into the shame that we are all to accustomed to. When these games are played within the survivor community they can be misunderstood and met with understandable hostility.

To the survivors who were doing this:

No one is denying that what happened to you was terrible. You have been through hell and back and probably find yourself in a purgatory like state often. However you must try not to allow yourself to be goaded in to proving your trauma. You don’t have to justify your story with evidence or ask for others to do so either. We are all hurting and the invalidation that we have endured is infuriating and the feeling of being disbelieved and unheard can send us into a panic, triggering the emotions felt at the time we experienced the trauma. This I believe can be a feeling of such isolation and desperation that jealousy can rear its ugly head, when hearing of others and their stories – especially if it is perceived the other individuals are being heard and validated, isolating you further, making the bait of competition or minimising the other very tempting. This is understandable and I admit that in my twenties feeling jealous of the survivors receiving more support from crisis and health services, those who had families who were comforted, protected and those who were not left disabled from their experience, made me feel jealous and angry. This was misdirected anger on my part, not yet strong enough to realise that I was in fact a victim; my ability to protect my abusers in my mind and see myself as the problem was only dismantled in my early thirties. I finally saw my sexual abuse, rape and sexual assaults from the eyes of an adult, not the child who had no idea what consent was and just wanted to be loved. Allowing myself to finally direct my anger to my predators and the rape culture in which we live in, through my art and writing aiding in my continuous recovery, giving me purpose in order to live each day. This is my process.

The #MeToo movement is a way for us to feel less alone, it is for us (the survivors), it is not for anyone else. People will always chime in as social media allows us all to voice every thought that rattles around in our heads. The victim blaming, erasure and triggering through abuse is a serious risk to those suffering from trauma. Your safety is important! Please do not share if you do not feel strong enough. Even though people assume I am very strong due to the fact I am open about my story. What isn’t often understood or known about me is that it took me 15 years to accept what had happened. The fact that my trauma started in childhood means it has been something I have always known, my abuse started at the age of 4 – a life without abuse is not something that exists for me. There are times when protecting myself and stepping back from my activism, art and writing is all that can be done in order to stay safe. Especially when trolled on social media by people who wish to abuse me further by using my experiences against me and to even threaten me at times.

We know better than most what abuse is and the fact that when we speak out – we are abused further, is the reality of the world we currently live in. The hope is that through education in schools on consent, that addressing patriarchal systems and toxic masculinity, allowing survivors the space to tell their stories safely, that mental health services will do better, that justice systems do not use character assassinations and arbitrary details of the victims life as the key defence, that less stigma is given to those suffering, that the rhetoric of disproportionate “false rape” claims does not over shadow the prevalence of survivors,  that we support the marginalised within survivors – people of colour, mentally ill people, people with disabilities, religious minorities, trans people, non-binary people, men and children; if we are able to start with these things then progress will come. However the need for allies who are from the  most privileged groups in our societies and who have the biggest platforms is needed and their silence or silencing of others is telling.

We don’t owe the world our stories, our lives are not “inspiration porn” and our suffering is not a currency to be used to further hate and this is only when we are believed. When we have to prove our trauma because YOU choose to believe the abusers or victim blame us – you become part of the problem, you facilitate the rapist, the child molester, the sex offender. You give them the signal that this is still acceptable and that their accountability is not an issue. Society tells YOU that the risk of a false accusations of rape is more harmful and a higher risk than actual rape, that clothes determine whether or not “they asked for it”, that men and boys can’t be raped or sexually abused, that to be a sex offender you have to appear to be a monstrous being – when the proof is all around us with well loved “nice guys” being exposed as some of the most harmful predators; such as Bill Cosby, Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris. Or people excuse behaviour due to “genius” with men such as Woody Allen or Roman Polanski. The world is full of examples of how rape culture prevails and how survivors are pushed down – making us some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Next time a movement starts or reemerges don’t trivialise it because it doesn’t mean anything to you – either step back and listen or help. Next time someone is accused of a sexual offence – don’t be so quick to react in their defence, always take time to remember the facts, remember that there is nothing to be gained by accusing anyone of a sexual offence – so why would someone do this. If you begin to victim blame – challenge yourself! If you avoid helping a loved one who is a survivor for fear of saying the wrong thing or feeling uncomfortable – push past this! If you feel the need to ask survivors for more information on what rape culture is, don’t – we do not have to hold your hand, do your own research, we are never rewarded for our emotional labour. Don’t fall for the rhetoric that rape is more prominent in certain races and religions. All I ask from you all is to do better! Unfortunately you never know if you will fall victim next or if someone you love will – in this chaos all that is left is to be kind.


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This Body Survived - By Charlotte Farhan
This Body Survived – By Charlotte Farhan

Confronting my own blood – the aftermath of sexual violence

There is something which disturbs my mind every day, which no one knows to look at me – no one suspects that throughout my day I have to endure pain and flashbacks due to the metallic, heart pumped liquid that flows through our veins. When I was violently raped at 15 years old the injuries suffered were severe. Having to have vaginal and anal surgery was another violation but medically necessary.

Knowing I had been damaged severely during the rape and straight after, never having experienced such pain, it felt like being ripped open; however as a young girl who wanted to fit in with her friends, assuming this was “normal” and how sex was for girls, my immediate reaction was confusion and relief it was over. Even though my mind would flash with intense warnings to what had just occurred, such as the images of me faced down unable to breath, crying silently in agony as he split me open, or of me on my back paralysed as I was held down and forcibly penetrated and the image of being gagged from oral rape with no air supply and fearing for my life. However shock and dissociation kicked in, in the immediate hours after, wanting to be loved and not understanding what had happened led me to ignore the sever pain and remain silent.

It was not until the following morning that the realisation that my entire world had changed; waking up in a pool of blood and in agony was the beginning of the end. Knowing this was not menstrual blood, the shock of it all was still so incomprehensible – writing this now I understand this better, but then as a child in 1999, it was not clear what had happened to me. Still then – thinking that this was my fault and that because my other friends had not experienced this that it must be because I was a freak of nature. Did I do it wrong?

Upon telling my friends Mother (who I was staying with), what had happened and that I was bleeding heavily from both ends, her reaction was simply; “what did he do to you”? This sentence which still rings in my ears was the first indication that something wrong had happened to me and it was not all in my head.

The following days were excruciating, physically and emotionally, it took a few days before I was taken to a safe house, where my statement was taken and a medical examination was held with a rape kit. The doctor and nurse were horrified by my injuries and could not believe I had been walking around like this for days. Then they broke the news to me that I would have to have surgery and a lot of stitches – vaginally and anally. When I came out of the examination room, my Mother looked at me and she said the same thing “what did he do to you”? There were no answers, just a word which people -the adults kept saying; rape!

When people heard that this had happened to me most did not believe me, the reason being that at the age of 11 my mental illness had come to the surface, as a self harmer and a child who had tried to kill herself several times before 15, people treated me like a demented child who made things up for attention. The Mother of the boy who raped me even went as far as to suggest to the police and school that the sever wounds suffered, were actually done by me and not from vaginal and anal forced penetration, saying I had deliberately self harmed my genitals to accuse him of rape? Obviously this woman was not a fan of Occam’s razor.

The surgery was at Winchester hospital and it was a sunny day in mid June, I remember this, the memory of laying on the stretcher going into the operating theatre with beams of light dancing over me as we passed a corridor of windows. All I could see was myself as from above, having dissociated and experiencing psychosis my mind was detached. Another violation was happening, another medical necessity, defiling me once again.

When awoken from surgery, the first sounds which were audible to me, were my own screams – yelling at the top of my lungs, “this was not supposed to happen, he was supposed to love me”. It didn’t feel like the noise was coming from me, it sounded like it was coming from a little girl trapped somewhere, who I desperately wanted to find and rescue. Still detached and now suicidal, with no energy and so much pain, the world seem to drift by and all that was important to me was death, ending it all. This is when I was put into the psychiatric adolescent unit in Epsom.

Today as a woman who has only recently accepted what happened to me at 15, the blood still haunts me. Suffering from C-PTSD the flash backs which come about can be so intense causing sever vaginal and anal pain, it strikes me like lightning and locks me in the terrifying moments which happened. There are also everyday things which cause these triggers to overwhelm me, such as the fact I have PCOS which causes me to bleed a lot and often, every time I see blood – the violation and violence washes over me and drowns me in trauma induced psychosis. Another complication is that I can not have smear tests or any vaginal examinations, which puts me at great risk, especially as someone who has PCOS, as we are more likely to have cervical and ovarian cancer. Sex has also been an ordeal, throughout my late teens and twenties, not knowing when a flashback would occur and often happening during sex. Luckily with my husband through kindness and love I eventually was able to have sex without it being painful. Blood will always be the worst trigger for me, it even affects me having blood taken – which is essential as a diabetic. As well as having unexpected triggers, like when my husband recently cut his hand badly and blood spat everywhere – seeing little droplets all over the bathroom floor sent me into a psychotic state. Furthermore as I sit writing this – it has taken me weeks, as the need to step away and have breaks from this piece was required for my own sanity, it is overwhelming writing this and reading it back.

The reason for me sharing this with you is because the only way I can continue to survive is by helping to create change for others. My life started with sexual abuse in my own home (at 4 years old by a family member), which is then where I was raped at 15 at an overnight party by a boy in my year who was also only 15 years old. There is so much more to be told, however this piece is the most open I have been before, this is scary but it is necessary and having survived far worse than revealing this to you, this can only make me stronger. When I close my eyes at night the colour red is all I see, it has never left me in over 16 years, it remains my biggest trigger, however the more we “the survivors” share the more awareness is created and hopefully this will happen less or be dealt with better if it does.

Confronting my own Blood - By Charlotte Farhan
Confronting my own Blood – By Charlotte Farhan

 

This painting has been one of the most revealing and allowed me to confront my own blood. It is part of my ongoing collection:

Art to End the Silence on Rape 

For information on available originals or prints for purchase or for galleries wishing to exhibit these paintings in their venues please contact using the form below.

Stephen Fry, we the victims – who survived; are not taking your freedom of speech away, so please don’t silence our voices

AprilIsSAAM

This morning in a suicidal state of flashbacks and being locked in by reliving trauma, my eyes glanced over Twitter and saw that Stephen Fry was trending, so out of concern – immediately clicked the hashtag to see what was going on. Having admired Stephen Fry for so long, he has been someone I have followed and supported, he has championed open dialogue on mental illness, made me laugh, inspired me to take direct action and speak out about my own mental illnesses and trauma, as well as me wanting him to be my Father from a young age; as I saw him as a empathetic and caring man, which believe me; my Father was not.

I was a victim of child sexual abuse from the age of four to six, by a family member, I was raped violently at the age of 15 by a boy at my school, this resulted in me having internal surgery and being admitted to a psychiatric ward, in the psychiatric ward I was sexually assaulted twice by two different male patients.

As A Victim I Survived - By Charlotte Farhan
As A Victim I Survived – By Charlotte Farhan

This is what Stephen Fry said:

“It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place – you get some of my sympathy – but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy.”

“Self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity,” he said. “Get rid of it, because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. The irony is, we’ll feel sorry for you if you stop feeling sorry for yourself. Grow up.”

The context to this was on censorship and “safe places” on the internet as well as Trigger Warnings.

Here is the full interview:

Regardless of the context the words he used are unacceptable, the stigma he has further created is appalling and the silencing of victims who survived is unforgivable.

I Am Still Bleeding - By Charlotte Farhan
I Am Still Bleeding – By Charlotte Farhan

Freedom of speech and expression is something very close to my heart as a visual artist and writer, its importance is vital for knowledge, our evolving society and so that everyone can be heard. However it is not as simple as you being able to say whatever comes into your head and then being able to defend your remarks with the excuse of “freedom of speech”, it is far more complicated than this if we wish to use our enlightenment to progress as a better global community.

 

Now I know a lot about “safe places” and “trigger warnings” as a survivor – who speaks out and has a large following across platforms. With a great number of followers who are in recovery from sexual abuse, sexual violence and rape I am very aware of the dangers we face by being triggered. You see we suffer from PTSD or even C-PTSD (which I have) which means we are not 100% in control of our minds and behaviours, so when we hear or see triggers it could be enough to push us over the edge or cause ourselves harm. My latest art, poetry and writing is about my experiences as a victim who survived, I do not feel any censorship over my work just because I have added a helpful safety warning about possible triggers, giving my followers the choice.

Head on a Stick - By Charlotte Farhan
Head on a Stick – By Charlotte Farhan

We have little choice anywhere in life as survivors, our minds are a continuous reel of pain and shame; rape and pedophile jokes are everywhere, people use the word rape in trivialising ways to describe normal day to day occurrences, such as “my Facebook was raped”; we see depictions of rape and incest being glamorized in film and on TV, we hear about it in the news everyday…

So when we wish to speak out about our trauma or read about someone else’s we should be able to use these helpful reminders and warnings without being persecuted further.

Being judged as self pitying children who need to grow up is exactly what we fear most when sharing our stories of survival.

I was a child when my abuse started – a four year old girl, this four year old girl is still alive inside me, she is still scared and feels so much shame, Stephen Fry told my little girl to “grow up”, he told all the children who are still being abused right now – to “grow up”. Something they do without choice far too early.

People are now worried for Stephen Fry as he is a Bipolar sufferer, people defending him and excusing his behaviour all because he is mentally ill, however – who is rushing to defend us? Most of us are not privileged to have such amazing private care as Stephen Fry does for his mental health, some of us are not fortunate enough to have loving families and friends who will take care of us, a lot of us are alone in this, today we feel even more isolated.

Being someone who suffers from a long list of severe mental illnesses I can assure you our mental health is no excuse for holding such stigmatising opinions. In trying to be “funny” Stephen Fry used his position and platform in the public eye to ridicule victims. With this he has exposed how rape culture is alive and kicking on this planet, how victim blaming is easier for people than empathy and kindness. That your right to offend and hurt others is more important to you than the safety of us. Is it really that awful that we add a trigger warning, does this upset you more than we the victims are traumatized.

Bad Child - Crazy Girl By Charlotte Farhan
Bad Child – Crazy Girl By Charlotte Farhan

So upon reading Stephen Fry’s comments on how we should “grow up”, I have been triggered and it is my freedom of speech to say so!

Experiencing a relapse in my recovery recently, this is raw for me right now. My life is so hard due to my C-PTSD, I can’t go out alone and have not done so for 9 years, I have physical pain where I was violated, flashbacks, night terrors and so many more things which I don’t care to get into right now.

Now comments and attitudes which reveal the rape culture we live in – full of victim blaming and silencing, as people defend Stephen Fry (on social media and in the general media) is clogging up our screens, pushing us further underground but fear not as his “rights” (Stephen Fry’s) to take our lives into his hands is preserved, but our right to safe places isn’t, for fear of upsetting people?

Today has been made even harder by this, it will enter into the voices we hear daily in our minds, which muzzle us and tell us we are nothing but a burden.

Charlotte Farhan Status on Stephen Fry

Charlotte Farhan Status on Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry is the president of Mind the mental health charity here in the UK.

Here is a link to Mind’s statement and a statement of apology from Stephen Fry

CLICK HERE

 

cptsd quote

Art to End the Silence on Rape – Head on a Stick – Art and Poetry by Charlotte Farhan

Head on a Stick - By Charlotte Farhan
Head on a Stick – By Charlotte Farhan

Head on a Stick

By Charlotte Farhan

I offer my head to feed their eyes and tongues,

judgment spat at me with venomous vigour,

my body discarded leaving me without lungs,

crowds come forward with their mouths even bigger.

“Her head on a stick” the rabble loudly shout,

“she was asking for it” they scream insanely,

“But it’s the truth” I say, day in and day out,

“please believe me” I plea to humanity.

Life feeds on death; a self-destructive fury,

on public display my shame is left weeping,

my fresh blood is doused over the grand jury,

headless, with sexual organs for reaping.

The executioner offers salvation,

delivering me from my sin and evil

sex used as character assassination,

loss of life force, my soul is in upheaval

Like Medusa before me, our heads have rolled,

forasmuch as we were thought monstrous women,

our Fathers never let go their stranglehold,

still our legs run red with the deepest crimson.

The crowds start to disperse from around my head,

I feel I may be able to find some peace,

ripped apart, I could lay on my deathbed,

culpability placed like an altarpiece.

A victim I was, but a victim they blame,

told this violation does not happen here,

our voices attest; the night must be reclaimed,

identities are shaken and disappear.

Rape is not the act of sexual desire,

it is not uncommon as you may believe,

our minds are ruled now by an occupier,

we are the scapegoats, left – to be disbelieved.


This piece of poetry is from my degree course in Creative Writing.

The theme of this poem is that of victim blaming and the impact on the victim of sexual violence.

I am a victim who survived sexual abuse as a child, sexual violence and rape as a teenager as well as 2 sexual attacks in a psychiatric ward as a teenager.

Please take a look at my other articles and art on this important issue:

Click here: Art to End the Silence on Rape

If you would like to support my mission to end sexual violence and rape culture please like my awareness Facebook Page:

Click Here: No Excuses – Sexual Violence Must End


 

For any further information on my work please fill in the contact form:

PTSD AWARENESS ART – Pain and Detachment – By Charlotte Farhan​

Pain and Detachment – By Charlotte Farhan​

Pain and Detachment - By Charlotte Farhan

The pain from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) infects the mind like poisonous thorns and then to alleviate the suffering the mind detaches into a dissociative state. Leaving reality and separating me from the real world.

The PTSD I suffer with is due to childhood abuse from a family member and is also due to being raped at 15 violently.

PTSD is often only associated with war veterans, but many other traumatic events can cause this. Rape, sexual violence and domestic violence victims are a very high percentage of sufferers.

ptsd-for-primary-care-providers-under-the-new-dsm-8-638

Some Facts on Rape

 “Globally, about one in three women will be beaten or raped during their lifetime. About 44 per cent of all UK women have experienced either physical or sexual violence since they were 15-years-old. Britain ranks among the worst countries in Europe when it comes to women being violently abused.”

“1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).

“The most recent UK government statistics estimated about 78,000 people in the UK have become rape or attempted rape victims, and about 9,000 are men. Research suggests that the notoriously low report rate is particularly true among male victims. About 1,250 incidents of male-victim rape were reported to the police in 2011-2012.”

“The year in a male’s life when he is most likely to be the victim of a sexual assault is age 4. A female’s year of greatest risk is age 14.”

“Approximately 4/5 of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim.”

For more info visit RAINN and Rape Crisis England and Wales

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If you have PTSD or suspect you have find out more here and how to get help.

Quote by Artist Charlotte Farhan

If you are interested in this artwork for your collection, for an exhibition, charity event or would like to buy a print, please use the form below: