As a rape survivor I’ve been waiting for this moment of outcry against male violence for years. But now it’s arrived, I’m struggling.
It’s close to impossible to describe the way I have felt over the past few days. As a survivor of two incidents of sexual and gendered violence, the outpouring of public support for the cause I care so deeply about is overwhelming. The moment feels pivotal, and not one I dared to imagine seeing in my lifetime.
Activists who have previously channeled energy into almost every other social and political cause are, finally, turning to the matter of women’s lives. For the first time in my lifetime, here in the UK, a spontaneous political movement has erupted with women at its centre.
I don’t know why Sarah Everard’s death, rather than the countless deaths before hers, has caused a spark. Perhaps, a combination of it being during the pandemic and the wake of the Black Lives Matter Movement has meant there is greater inclination to reflect and act on injustice in meaningful ways. Perhaps it has to do with how relatable the first part of Sarah’s story was – walking home on a main road at a reasonable hour, on the phone to her partner. Or perhaps women have just finally had enough.
I have done so much work to heal, to move on – but now a large part of me feels perpetually pulled back to the moments that changed my life for the worse.
It doesn’t really matter to me why it’s happened now, it just matters that it’s happened. But I’m also navigating frustrations and triggers. My job means that I am plugged into the news 24/7 and this means that, at the moment, I am hearing people talk about violence against women all the time.
The news is triggering. Soundbites about rape and assault naturally prompt me to remember my own experiences. I have done so much work to heal, to move on – if you can ever really call it moving on – but now a large part of me feels perpetually pulled back to the moments that changed my life for the worse. Before the Sarah Everard story I struggled with sleep, but the last several nights ‘sleep’ has just morphed into a long stretch of time that’s monopolised by fear.
The effects of violence are constant; impossible to escape.
After I was raped in 2017 I devoted much of my energy into activism around the issue. I was intent on communicating with the world the horror of what I had been through, wanting more than anything else for the wider population to understand that the act itself was merely the starting gun. It was what came afterwards that mattered: the fractured friendships, the failed relationships, the nightmares, the flashbacks, the drinking, the loneliness. How could I get them to notice, how could I get them to care?
People who have scarcely, if ever, engaged with the issue are sitting up and taking notice… It’s long overdue and it can only be a good thing. But as a survivor, it’s also frustrating.
This week, I find myself blinking in disbelief. People who have scarcely, if ever, engaged with the issue are sitting up and taking notice. Twitter is bursting at the seams with declarations of anger and upset at the state of the patriarchy. Men and women, journalist and commentators, and popular figures all cry foul at the systemic misogyny that’s allowed for violence against women to become so pervasive.
It’s long overdue and it can only be a good thing. But as a survivor, it’s also frustrating. “Where were you,” I just keep thinking. “Where were you?”
I have had several conversations over the weekend and I know that my feelings – my triggers, my frustrations – are commonplace amongst survivors. And that is not to say we don’t welcome this movement and this moment; of course we do. We’ve been waiting for it. But some of us have lived for years, even decades, with what many of you are only just noticing.
For us, this isn’t a moment, it’s a lifetime.
Eve Jones is a writer and activist, writing under a pseudonym