For some reason my brain tunes into ‘anniversaries’ of various events. Dates of meeting someone, end of relationships, moving cities. In this case; it’s been about a year since my case with the police for a sexual assault committed against me was dropped.
At the time, I was utterly devastated. I felt lost, hopeless and like my version of events hadn’t been believed; 7 months of giving evidence to the police for nothing. After speaking with police and counsellors, I learnt it wasn’t a matter of disbelief it was a matter of an evidence threshold needing to be met needed for it to guarantee conviction in court. Now, in hindsight I can see the case being dropped is probably the best possible outcome. Those 7 months of giving evidence were agonising enough, so for that to be drawn out longer, to have my story scrutinised in front of a court I think would have broken me. I’d also like to believe that just the act of me standing up for myself and reporting it has been enough to scare the other party into never trying anything like this again. A lot of guys don’t understand what they’ve done is wrong, so to report is to educate and it becomes a lesson learnt as to where the line is drawn. I’d like to believe I’ve played my part in my perpetrator’s lesson learnt.
Dates like this that pop into my mind have me very reflective over how things have changed; within myself, others around me and as a whole worldview.
Inevitably, what’s gone on has changed me; but in a way I never expected. For the initial 7 months up to the case being dropped and up to receiving counselling, I was numb. I completely shut down, barely talking, using drink and sex as coping mechanisms and definitely void of the sparkle I normally possessed. Since then, I’ve worked far too hard to regain my ‘Jen-ness’, and get to the point I’m at to let anything or anyone jeopardise it again. I’m very determined and driven in how I live my life now; if anyone tries to treat me badly (particularly men), I have zero problems in firmly calling them out on it. I definitely take less shit from other people; I’m more outspoken, operating with a lot more conviction and gumption about me. From bad dates to bad jobs; I’ve not got a problem with speaking my mind and standing up for what’s right, especially in how someone treats me. After 28 years of being pretty placid, this is a new gutsy facet to my character I’ve never had before; and I frigging love it!
I now class myself as a feminist; an ideal I really steered away from years ago. I’ve become extremely vocal and ready to engage in debate over mental health, politics, female issues and beyond. I’ve become a big pioneer for women’s rights, especially in the realms of consent, sexual health and period poverty. I’m a proactive part of a body positive collective, raising awareness across Manchester and further afield. Before my attack, I lacked that level of grit, shied away from showing any voice for strong opinions and moral stances. I had them – but never really vocalised them or stood up for what I believed in, wary I’d be judged or come across confrontation. Now, you can’t shut me up and I thrive on a bit of a opposition. I think it’s all down to an air of not really giving a shit about what others think about me any more; not letting anything hold me back from being passionate about the things I hold dear. All of the anger, confusion, frustration and hurt from my assault is whats driven me to be bold, live the life I want and try to challenge others’ boundaries; hopefully making the world a more moral and just place for everyone.
In terms of others; I’ve received an incredible reaction to opening up about my experience. Unfortunately, this has been bitter sweet. Whilst it has been such wonderful support with the amount of people who have got in touch – it’s generally been because they too have experienced some form of sexual assault. That’s something that has really opened my eyes. Not just the high number of women have been subjected to something truly horrid at the hands of a man at some point in their lives – mums, sisters, friends, girlfriends, daughters, aunties. The flip side, is just how many men must have committed such acts for it to be such a wide spread occurrence – our boyfriends, brothers, dads, uncles, sons. It really does make for some shocking reflection.
One in five women in the UK have a sexual offence committed against them – and that’s just the statistics for those reported to the police.
Now the wider world, is the most interesting and promising aspect to have changed over the last 12 months. In that time, a misogynist has come into power over the pond, whilst a female anti-feminist has come into power in our home country. Rights for women are teetering on a knife edge, with laws being thrown out the window like sweet wrappers. Despite all that, there is a huge movement and it’s gathering momentum. Women all over the UK, USA and worldwide are rising up, standing up for their rights and proving they have a voice that needs to be heard. One voice on it’s own can’t do a lot, but together, many can. Days after Trump was sworn in as President, millions of women took to the streets all over the world in protest – one of the biggest multinational protests in the history of the world. That is huge, and something I am immensely proud of.
Outside of politics, the importance of consent and women’s rights is being addressed and taking the forefront of a lot of plot lines in fictional viewing. The likes of Orange is the New Black, Big Little Lies, 13 Reasons, Handmaids Tale are all recent series with leading story-lines of assault; each one presenting it in a completely different context and power struggle. Not only is this vital in getting women to open up about their experiences and report it to hopefully deter the perpetrator from hurting others. These fictional characters help to define the boundaries of sexual consent; there are no grey areas, there are no excuses. No means no; something so often forgotten, overlooked or something we talk ourselves out of, making excuses and validating someones wrong actions. These story lines, are horrid to watch and close to the bone, particularly for those of us who have been there before. I still can’t say the “R” word, and watching an assault on a program is a huge trigger for me, especially if I’m not mentally prepared for it. But, as horrid as they are, these story lines are vital in putting other people out of their comfort zones, opening up the conversation about consent and putting actions into place for how we can put an end to it.
This power, this drive, this voice is spreading. Women are fighting for equal pay, equal work opportunities, equal health, equal education, equal rights. This most recent election saw more women than ever before earning seats in Parliament. Little by little, our voices are being heard. It’s a formidable force and I see no sign of it stopping until big action is taken. Looking back at the year, how much has been overcome and how much has been achieved worldwide, it really does give me so much hope for the future and I can’t wait to be a part of it.