No consent, no dignity – why Sky News was wrong in recording FGM practices.

All of my friends and family will tell you, I’m a bit ‘odd’. I have a tolerance for things that are a little bit ick, a little bit bloody or gruesome and the ability to talk about things that make most people gag at the dinner table. But as anyone who knows any nurse, it’s really not all that odd.

 

What I can’t take, however, is the idea of people in pain and suffering, even more so when that pain and suffering is something we can prevent. The last year, through the privilege of being a nurse, has brought this most amazing woman and the organisation 28 Too Many, into my life. And with that, I gained an insight into the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM, also known as female cutting or female circumcision) that stretches far beyond just thinking that it’s an awful thing that happens in other places, far, far away from here.

 

I’ve watched my friend deliver training to health professionals, with photographs I could never share here, discussing the resulting infertility, the chronic urine infections, the gynaecological problems, the skin problems associated with scarring and the life threatening issues that can arise for survivors of FGM in childbirth. And that’s before we even consider the psychological fall out.  Whilst I once thought that FGM is something that happens mostly in Africa, a 2015 report by City University estimated 137,000 women living in the UK have some form of FGM. In the UK, it is illegal, and anyone found to be taking a child out of the UK for FGM will face up to 14 years in prison. Suspicion of FGM by health care services, schools or social services triggers child safe guarding procedures. It is defined by the CPS as an act of child abuse. With this in mind, why did Sky News think it appropriate to show the procedures around this act, an act illegal in this country, on national television?

 

Leading anti-female genital mutilation campaigners based in the UK, including Leyla Hussain, Hibo Wardere and Janet Fyle,  contacted Sky News asking that they did not show this piece, stating that the piece would be “harmful and stigmatising and could cause a lot of damage to the survivors of FGM.”  Yet Sky News still went ahead with the piece. In so many ways this decision by Sky News is wrong and in very poor taste. Whilst they may have travelled to Somalia, a country where FGM is not yet illegal, I seriously question the value of this piece. I am not against discussing FGM in public spheres at all – the more we can the better. But what I am against, however, is the filming of a 7 year old child from Somalia described as being “the optimum age” because that way she’s less likely to question the procedure. I am against the re-enactment of holding a child down for this procedure for our viewing pleasure, and children being asked questions, under the watchful eye of adults about their thoughts on the procedure. Where’s the consent? Where’s the dignity? I cannot remember any time that an act of child abuse committed in British society was ever recorded like this. It also leaves one to consider whether issues surrounding male genitalia could be covered this way, without a second thought. Whilst we must fight FGM at every opportunity, this is not the way. Instead of focusing on the ‘shock doc’ value of capturing the procedure, lets focus our energies at the long held attitudes that allow for this barbaric practice to continue, at the organisations that are letting communities continue with this and at challenging the poverty and inequality of opportunity and education that still blights women in many parts of the world into thinking marriage is their only life choice. Shame on you Sky News.

 

If you need support and advice regarding female genital mutilation, please contact The Dahlia Project.

Advertisements

Things they don’t tell you about what happens after a sexual assault, part 3.

*****Please be aware this is not my work – I am hosting this as part of my Safe Gigs for Women work, on the behalf of someone who would like to keep their identity hidden*****

 

I am nearing one year from when this all began, which is also my birthday.  I’ve never liked my birthday but now I don’t like it for different reasons.  This incident is still something I have not shared with all but a close few in my life.  I am trying to prepare for the wave of Facebook messages, phone calls and other celebratory notes from well meaning friends and family.  How do you prepare?  I don’t know.

 

Words that never fazed you before get under your skin now.

 

I am still cleaning up the mess of the past year, emotionally and financially.  I have previously written about how this has turned my finances upside down and I have continuously been searching for ways to remedy this.  I don’t want handouts.  I don’t want freebies.  I just want to get back to the way my life was and it doesn’t seem possible when you’re constantly running into roadblocks due to an incident outside your control.  There are ways to seek help but they come with a mental price.  Part of this recovery requires filling out paperwork, which includes the word “victim” at the top.  It’s a word that has never made me feel one way or the other.  Just another word, right?  Now, it feels like a label.

 

There is a view in my country called “victim mentality.”  This is a way to shame people who need help, in any capacity.  There is a constant fear of being accused of taking advantage of resources when you’re trying to survive.  I’ve been told it’s there for me to utilize but I still am uncomfortable about it.  I know many other people who have refused help that’s there for them because they don’t want the social stigma.  It took me almost a year to find out that there were more resources out there for me, just because I have been brought up to never ask for help.  Struggle.  Deal with it.  Which brings me to….

 

Even the professionals do not know how to help.

 

After my assault, I reached out to a local rape counseling center.  They were very kind and compassionate, but they didn’t know a lot of what I needed to know.  Things like what to do when I was assaulted out of the country.  Who do I talk to?  Do I qualify for “victims” compensation locally or only in the country of the incident?  I’m having trouble paying my bills, what do I do?  I haven’t been able to work and I’m self-employed, is there anything out there to help me?  Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated story from what I’ve read.  This is of no fault to the people at these centers.  They do their best with very little funding and people who are volunteering their time.

 

After going through this, you are in crisis.  The drug I was given wasn’t entirely out of my system for several days, so I couldn’t think clearly.  I did not have anyone to write things out for me, to take note of things I needed to do because I wasn’t going to remember.  I needed an advocate and I did not have that.  My family was in denial.  My friends who would have acted as advocates were too far away or didn’t know yet.  It wasn’t until last week, nearly a year after this, I was given an advocate who will work with me.  This is something I truly needed months ago.  But it goes back to my earlier point, how do you ask for help when you don’t know what you need?  When you were taught never to ask because it’s seen as being a victim?

 

You will do whatever you can to avoid attention.

 

Up until a year ago, I was wearing size 4 or size small clothes.  I am now in an 8 (or a 10 if I feel like being able to breathe).  Most women out there know how much this stupid little number messes with our brain and self-worth.  It’s stupid but it does.  I should note that I’m very petite so while a size 8 or 10 isn’t that large for most, when you are less than 5 feet tall, it’s more visible.  11 years ago, I had the weight loss surgery so since then, I have been very tiny.

 

After being asked by a well-meaning family member why I had gained so much weight suddenly, I couldn’t quite admit that it was because I was using it as a defense mechanism.  Depression, of course, aided with the weight gain.  When I was younger and much heavier, people and men in particular were less likely to mess with me.  I was still short but I had the bulk of a woman who could hold her own and throw her weight around, so to speak.  Since this incident of being physically violated, I felt like my skinnier self was easier to take advantage of.  It wasn’t difficult for anyone to pick me up and toss me around at a size small.  This is how my brain rationalizes it and is, of course, not true.  People of any size, sex, and race can be subjected to this.  When it’s you, you look for things that someone else may prey on and do what you can to change them, even if it makes zero sense.

 

Also, men tend to not hit on me at this size.  It goes along with the society norms on what is sexy/attractive but I don’t want to be sexy.  I don’t want anyone to touch me, especially a man.  A very nice man came up to help me with something I dropped in a store, his hand brushed mine, and I became very defensive, snatched the item from him and scurried away.  He wasn’t hitting on me, he was just being helpful.  I know that now, but in the moment, I panicked.  As you see on social media every day, some misguided folks mistake kindness from a female as an excuse to take things further.  I’ve seen it in action and had it happen to me, even before all of this happened.  Now I don’t want to give anyone an excuse to jump to that conclusion.  It has changed my normally fairly upbeat, humorous personality into a distant one.  I’m afraid to allow anyone close.

Things they don’t tell you after a sexual assault, part 2

****Please note – this is not my work. This has been sent to me, to share by someone who has asked that I share her experiences in the hope we can achieve safe gigs for women. I thank her for her bravery.***

Emotions are expected after a sexual assault.  If you have not sought some sort of treatment on your own, you will be referred to therapy/crisis counseling if you report the assault.  If you already had depression, anxiety or any other mood disorders, this experience can cause damage to a shaky foundation.  I hesitate to say “ruin” but it feels pretty close at times.

I was to blame.

Due to the circumstances, I did not know my attacker.  I have an idea of who it may have been, but I did not feel comfortable putting that person’s name on any report because I could not be sure.  I would not want to wrongly accuse someone.  I have seen how that can affect both sides, mainly for the person who made the accusation.  You erroneously accuse the wrong person, who is able to prove their innocence, and immediately, the accuser is called a liar.  Your entire history comes into question.  Recall the “A Rape on Campus” article from Rolling Stone and the aftermath.

Very few people in my life know about what happened.  After the initial reactions once I admitted what happened, I chose to keep it very quiet.  It’s hard to point the finger at an “unknown” person.  People like to point fingers.  We all do.  Watch the news, people want to know who the assailant was.  “Who did this?”  When your answer is “I don’t know,” people are immediately skeptical.  How the hell could you not know?  The next questions were: “How drunk were you?”  “What did you say to him?”  “What were you wearing?”  “Why didn’t you fight back?”  I’m not going to go into details, because they are not relevant.  It’s hard for me to believe that last statement in my own situation, but I want to tell you that it doesn’t matter what you were drinking/what you were wearing/what you said/what you did.  It doesn’t make it acceptable in any circumstance.  Ever.

But since people in my life did not have someone to point the finger at, to accuse, the blame fell to me.  I was put into rehab for alcoholism.

I was an alcoholic.

Disclaimer:   This is my own experience.  Rehab and related services work.  Everyone has a unique situation and I am only speaking of my own experience.

A week after I returned home, I was told that if I did not go to rehab, I would have no more relationship with certain family members.  These people mean a lot to me so because I did not know what else to do and did not feel strong enough to disagree, I went.

I admit that I am a binge drinker.  I enjoy wine.  I like the way it tastes.  I will admit that sometimes I have a hard time saying “no” to the next drink.  Anyone with a bit of anxiety will tell you that sometimes, it helps to have a big of wine to relax.  I’m a pretty shy person by nature, so alcohol often has given me the chutzpah to get out there when I’d really rather not.  Is that good?  No, it’s not.  Am I attempting to make excuses?  No.  I admit to binge drinking when I’m anxious because I don’t know how to relax.  However, because I often travel alone, there are circumstances I know not to overdo it in.  I need my wits about me.  I need to know how to get from where I am to where I’m staying.  It’s hard to do that in a foreign country if you don’t know your way around and you’ve had too much.  I have made some poor choices in my life, but that is one thing I have always been careful to do.

In lieu of having counseling/therapy focusing on the sexual assault, it was rarely discussed.  I went to rehab 4 times a week with 3 AA meetings on top of that for 2 months.  I missed 2 months of work.  I graduated clean and sober after 90+ days.  I depleted my savings because I was paying for rehab.  I still owe money.  Money that I do not really have but will pay all the same.

When I made the conscious decision to take a drink again, i was filled with guilt.  I was a disappointment.  I was a failure.

I left rehab the same way I entered it.  Afraid.

I was the enemy.

I have come out of this experience not being able to trust myself.  I used to challenge people when I did not agree with something.  I don’t feel capable anymore.  I am angry that I allowed it to happen, because that is what I have been told I have done.  I am angry that I decided to buy two glasses of wine at a concert.  I am angry that I allowed myself to be talked into doing things I did not feel were right for my treatment because I was afraid of losing family and friends.  I am angry that I decided to leave the country on my birthday.  I am angry that I have bought into being at fault.  I am angry that I have not been able to “shake it off” and move on.

This anger isn’t directed outward.  I am angry at me.

This has played on already laid vulnerabilities and amplified them.  Any attempt to try to explain sounds like martyrdom/playing the victim/whining.  No one who goes through this wants sympathy.  No one expects complete understanding.  The label of “victim”, can feel, at times, like an insult due to the ongoing negative connotations relating to the word.  Filling out paperwork with “VICTIM” at the top.  Hearing news reports about “victimology,” the “possession of an outlook, arising from real or imagined victimization, that seems to glorify and indulge the state of being a victim.”

I hate that I do not know who I am anymore.  I hate what I have become.  I hate me.

Things they don’t tell you about what happens after sexual assault.

***Important – this is not my work. I have been asked to share this as part of my Safe Gigs for Women Work, with the guarantee that I won’t reveal who it’s by. Please read, please share. Lets kick this shit out of our music scenes! Many thanks to the person who shared this***

This is going to be very hard but I feel it’s necessary.

Last summer, I was drugged and raped at a concert while I was out of the country.  My case is settled.  I don’t know who it was but I was fortunate enough to be in a country where witness accounts and medical reports trump the fact that I couldn’t identify the person.

That being said, the things that are not talked about are the after effects.  When your case is done or what someone is going through when this happens is so much more than emotional and physical.

My finances were ruined.

I am self-employed.  I am single.  I am financially independent.  I had a savings. Regardless of how good of a payment history you have with a company, how you have court documentation, and still have been paying although not the minimum, your credit will be ruined.  There is nothing you can do.  I was planning to buy a house.  I can’t do that now.

My confidence was ruined.

I have been traveling alone for years.  I have been going to gigs alone for years. Out of necessity and also because I enjoy it.  I live alone.  I have never been afraid of being alone.  This has caused me to become even more of a homebody than I would normally be.  I am supposed to go see Johnny Marr tonight but no one can go with me.  I’m considering not going because I am scared.  I have not been to a gig alone since this occurred and I don’t know if I’m ready.  I used to enjoy talking to people at gigs.  Meeting new people, making friends with other fans.  I don’t feel capable of trusting even that amount of interaction anymore.  What’s the saying “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?  I’m living it.  I am afraid.

My happy place was ruined.

Music has been a constant in my life since birth.  It’s what has always brought me joy.  I would rather squander my money going to gigs than spend it on anything else.  Nothing is better than a live gig.  Hearing a song that you love live, there is nothing like it.  Being amongst people who are as excited as you are, amazing.  This all happened to me at a place I have felt comfortable.  I was seeing my favorite band, on my 33rd birthday.  I was thrilled.  Now, large gigs give me a large feeling of anxiety.  I’m panicking about going to a fairly small club gig tonight.  How will I react when my favorite band tours again?  Will I be able to go?

Admitting fear has never been something I have dealt well with, but people need to understand that the physical result can heal and the damage goes WELL BEYOND what most people take into account.  Do not shame women for having fear when something like this has happened to them.  “Don’t be afraid” is so easily said until it’s you.

This is my culture, man. 

The last few months have yielded many exciting things. New dream job, back in my home city that I perhaps hadn’t realised I’d missed as much as I have, back with my bestest mates, discovering body positivity. But the most unexpected change has been becoming the founder of an activism project  called “Safe Gigs for Women” after the event detailed Here

This has been picked up in ways I never even considered when I started it. I’m sad to think that the above account isn’t the first time I’ve experienced hassle from men at a gig or festival.  A gig goer for about 20 years, it’s safe to say, I’m a seasoned gig goer. I’ve lost piercings, my skirt (the shame!) almost fingers and many nights and weekends to the happy madness of a mosh pit. I’m more than a little proud of my pit scars.  Music speaks to me in ways I don’t think I can ever explain. It consumes me completely. It makes me the happiest I can be, makes me sob unconditionally, unashamedly, (thanks Idlewild, Arcade Fire and Manic Street Preachers). My best mates are mine through a shared love of music. My best memories come from gigs and festivals and helping my nephew learn to stand by dancing. I don’t tend to go on holidays, choosing to spend all my spare time and money on gigs instead. So why then is the thing I love, seemingly got issues with women?

The rebranding of XFM as a ‘male focused’ station, reports of rape at big name festivals, and Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches standing up to online trolls are just a few examples illustrating that music isn’t too easy for women right now. But this makes no sense. I an enthuse all day about how music transcends normal boundaries. But there’s also another case to make ( and as a socialist it kills me to do this). I am a financially independent woman. In 2011, I went to three festivals. That’s easily £700 just on tickets, never mind spending when I’m there. Why allow music to be hostile to women if it threaten your income? Music has been changed irrevocably in recent years. It’s not right it’s taking what looks like a huge step back. 

Body positive. 

“Body positivity”. One of those words I think most of us hope we are. But scratch the surface, and I can’t think of many people who would honestly say they are 100% happy with what they look like. Hell, I’m not. I don’t read women’s magazines, watch fashion TV or spend all that much time shopping, but even so, I feel like I know my place in the world of fashion and beauty. 
But a recent shopping trip changed that. I have a job that means I have uniform, so I don’t have to think too much day to day about that, except for fitting in laundry time.  But changing my job recently meant I needed new black trousers. New black trousers shouldn’t of been that difficult. But here’s my insight into my own personal hell. 
I am tall. Not supermodel tall, but taller than the average woman. My whole family are – I’m actually the short arse. I hate high heels. And I mean really hate. I wear a knee brace. And there’s no doubt about it, I’m overweight. Not, shock doc overweight, but still bigger than medical guidelines suggest is good for me. But I can buy clothes from the high street, so black trousers, town centre – no problem, I thought. 4 hours later, I’m almost in tears and no black trousers. Not one major high street store I went in stocked black trousers long enough for me. Take my knee brace into account, and I then have even less choice. 

Now, at this point it occurs to me that I can’t do anything about my height. I can lose weight but I can’t shrink an inch or two to fit the high streets ideal of how a woman looks. At this point I finally realise it’s no me that has a problem, it’s our imposed standards of beauty, it’s how we see women and what we want from women. I finally “get it”. I become “body positive”. 

Because I can’t shrink down.  I can’t make my hyper mobile joints adapt to heels without the risk of dislocation or fracture. I’m never going to have straight hair when my dad had such curly hair you’d of thought he’d had an Afro perm.  I can’t cover my scarred chest without making one hell of a mess  I really don’t want contacts and I really don’t do “mainstream”.  

This is my life, not theirs. So from now on, my standards are:

No more straight hair. My hair looks best messy and back combed. Straightners are not my friend.

Weight loss for health, not for some preconceived notion of beauty and thigh gaps. 

My feet, my shoes, my business. 

Heavy eyeliner and heavy rimmed glasses make me happy. 

My scars are mine and part of my story. Don’t like it, you don’t get to see. 

If I want to wear pink/animal print/something “to young/too old/too weird” so what? I used to go out in lace night dresses, what’s it to you?

My standards, my life, my body positive. 

Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

With such a topsy turvey year so far, with some low lows but some bloody incredible highs, the nurse in me really can’t help but reflect. It’s the three years in nursing school that did it. (Bloody reflective cycles…. That I now offer my student nurses, for shame!).

Today is is especially one of those days, for two reasons.  Two years today, my Grandad passed. But I can’t be sad today. I think about everything he taught me, manners, fairness, how to play fight with my extraordinarily chaotic family, how to be in that chaotic family, and that even when you’ve done wrong, move on, get up and family will still be there.

He was a gentleman, born of another time where holding a woman’s arm as they cross the street whilst still keeping himself between said women and the traffic really, really mattered.  Till he was unable to leave the house (no matter how odd it must’ve looked to everyone else) he did this to my Granny, my Mum, Aunties, my female cousins and me. He never held a grudge, even when you’d been a complete arse, but you daren’t cross him either for fear that disappointment was always worse than being cross.

So today I remember him, not with tears, but with pride that he installed some pretty decent standards in all of us, as shown by the second, thing that happened today (meaning nothing to most so I’m keeping that to me!) but by honouring two of my best memories of him. A pub dinner, like we had almost three years ago together where he told me some amazing stories, and with a sneaky Archers and cranberry night cap, which was always my nightcap when I stayed at my Grandparents and be happy that he was my Grandad, a huge part of me being me.