I am sitting here eating homemade chocolate cakes so I don’t chew all my nails off.
Part of why my mood was so low last night was that I had read yet another article about a teenager who had committed suicide after being bullied, only this time it wasn’t over her sexuality, but because of the fact that she had been sexually assaulted. This isn’t particularly surprising to me because I have friends to whom this has happened, and I’ve read other similar stories in newspapers. I was even been sent a nasty message myself about a year ago, by some troll who thought I was lying about what happened to me. But my god, time and experience don’t make these articles any easier to read. They make me feel sad, furious, frustrated and impotent. I want this to change. Bullying is always indefensible, but to torment someone who is already in such pain is inhuman.
There’s a campaign going on in the UK aimed at reducing stigma and discrimination around mental illness. When I joined, my pledge was to stop acting as if my mental health problems were something to be ashamed of. I think a lot of stigma comes from fear and lack of understanding – either people believe the myths about mental health problems (all schizophrenics are violent, all anorexics want to look like Victoria Beckham, etc), or they want to distance themselves from those who suffer so they can pretend that it will never happen to them. My feeling is that if I tell people with confidence that I have suffered from XYZ and answer any questions they have, they will be more likely to gain a real insight into it rather than falling back on what the media would have them believe. Of course there will always be people who don’t want to understand, but some people do, and are surprisingly open minded and willing to learn more if you can bring yourself to talk about it.
So earlier today I decided to take the same approach to this problem…and just over an hour ago I posted a note to facebook, basically telling the world that I had been violently sexually assaulted eight years ago and trying to disspell some of the myths/stigma around rape and assault.
I’m not expecting a big response because I know people don’t like to read about such things, especially somewhere that is supposed to be fun like facebook. I’m half expecting to get flamed to hell myself for “oversharing”, or at least to get an angry phone call from a family member asking me what the hell I’m playing at. But I couldn’t not do it. I am in a position now where I can talk about what happened to me, and I think I should. Talking about sexual assault is such a big taboo in society still, and there is a lot of stigma attached to being the victim of sexual violence. What’s more, I was assaulted by a woman and her boyfriend. When people think of sex crimes they think of men raping women, and they usually think of stranger rape. What happened to me breaks all the media stereotypes. By personalising the issue – showing my friends and family that it happened to someone they know – maybe they will be encouraged to speak out if they know someone who is struggling with any one or combination of mental health problems, trauma and bullying.
Now I have to go and try to stop the butterflies in my stomach from tearing up the joint. I’m still not sure if what I just did was brave, misguided or completely nuts, but it’s bloody scary nonetheless.