#ITSNOTOK Campaign Roundup

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

For Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we ran a campaign to amplify the voices of disabled survivors.

I’d like to thank everyone who participated and supported our campaign. Thank you for helping to raise awareness of disabled people’s experiences.

At its heart, Disabled Survivors Unite is an activist organisation, and we will continue to campaign for change.

Why not catch up on the blogs we’ve posted this week?

On Monday, a disabled survivor shared their story which helped us to better understand the relationship between disability and rape.

On Tuesday, we announced that we’d be hosting a disability-themed #itsnotok Twitter Q&A with Respond.

On Wednesday, a disabled survivor wrote a letter of support to other disabled survivors.

On Thursday, we published a piece of writing by a disabled survivor who spoke about healing after sexual violence.

On Friday, I wrote a piece on the importance of accessible support after abuse and sexual violence. We also hosted the Twitter Q&A and we are delighted with how many people participated.

On Saturday, we asked our Twitter followers to write messages to disabled survivors and published these.

On Sunday, our co-founder Ashley wrote an honest account of life after sexual violence.

Would you like to keep up to date with our work? Please sign up to our monthly newsletter here.

Life After Sexual Assault #ITSNOTOK

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

For Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we are amplifying disabled survivors voices on our blog. This post is by one of our founders, Ashley, who is a disabled survivor.

Content note: this post is about sexual assault and rape. It also mentions a suicide attempt.

Disabled Survivors Unite means everything to me.

I’m sitting here, writing this blog after spending nearly six hours down the street from where I was raped. It’s past midnight, but sleep won’t come. This isn’t the first time I’ve been back. In fact, it’s been a couple years now since the attack even took place. Yet, I still found myself scanning every face, wondering if I’d run into my attacker. I scoped out the nearest exits. I made contingency plans. This is the reality of my life after sexual assault.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote “People don’t want to hear your story until it has a happy ending. But I’m stubborn.” I stand by that. Some stories need to be told with their awfulness intact, especially for things like Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week. The horrific must have a place in this discourse. I’m going to share my story with you today, because I don’t want others to feel ashamed or alone.

My name is Ashley Stephen and I was raped.

I was drugged and raped in London when I was 21. Due to my autism, I often go non-verbal under stress, yet I was very clear that I did not want to have sex with this man, this stranger. What I wanted was of no importance to him.

I fell into a deep hole that no one seemed prepared to help me out of it. The knowledge wasn’t there for someone like me, a rape victim with autism and other disabilities. And so the months went by without proper support. With each passing moment, I retreated further into my head. No one knew what to do.

Upon hearing that my case would not go forward, I tried to kill myself. I remember waking up in the hospital bed with an apologetic doctor explaining that England didn’t have any support set up for “people like me.”

I struggle every day with the knowledge that my situation is not an uncommon one. Through the people who have opened up to us, I know just how common this is. My work with Disabled Survivors Unite has made it extremely clear to me that sexual violence is an epidemic that is rarely discussed with us in mind.

People like us often go unheard. Disabled people are desexualised to such a degree in the eyes of the public that the possibility of us being victims doesn’t even occur to people. When I was raped, my disabilities were ignored by those in charge of helping me. It’s vital that this changes.

As I said at the start, Disabled Survivors Unite means everything to me. All four co-founders pour our hearts into this, for you. I want each and every survivor out there to know that I love and believe you and will fight for you with everything I have. I want it to be known that it’s okay not to be a “good survivor,” whatever the hell that even means. You’re allowed to be a broken mess, you’re allowed to identify as a victim. I sometimes still identify as a victim, too.

Living after sexual violence can be a constant, messy, and completely isolating challenge. You can pour everything you have into recovery and feel as though you haven’t moved an inch. One of the biggest things I learned was to allow myself the space to fall apart. In picking up the pieces, I’ve begun to stitch myself into something resembling a patchwork quilt, completely of my own design. Therein, I started to find my strength. More than anything in the world, I want to help you get there, too.

Please reach out to us. Please know people are there who truly care. More than anything, please know that you are believed and that you are loved.

For information about how we can help you to find accessible support, please click here.

Ashley runs the (re)storytellers, a project which gives disabled survivors the opportunity to write and anonymously share their stories. You can learn more about it here.

A Message for Disabled Survivors #ITSNOTOK

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

Yesterday, Disabled Survivors Unite and Respond hosted a disability-themed Twitter Q&A. We asked participants if they could say one thing to a disabled survivor, what would it be? Here are their responses.

“You deserve life. To be happy, to be free. It’s ok to laugh and allow yourself to feel.”Holly Scott-Gardner

“I believe you, it shouldn’t have happened. We can listen, we are not afraid to hear what you need to share.”Noelle Blackman (CEO of Respond)

“You’re loved, you’re worthy, & people are fighting for you. You’re never alone. Your experiences are valid. We believe you.”Disabled Survivors Unite

“It wasn’t your fault. Regardless of what they said, or how they tried to blame you, it wasn’t your fault.”Applewriter

“You survived, you’re strong and you know the truth and therefore you’ll know if someone is trying to silence you.”Respond

“You’ve survived – there’s hope now to find a way to live again and beyond the pain.”Jack Welch

“NEVER blame your impairment (only the abuser) and fight all you need to regain absolute pride in yourself, just as you are.”Merry Cross

“I’ll always be here for you and you mean the world to me. You’re never alone. I love you.”Ashley Stephen

“You are not alone, and you never will be.”Alice Kirby

“I find sharing stories helps survivors, shows that we can get justices.”Mandy Sanghera

I would like to personally thank each and every person who took part in the discussions we had yesterday. Next week, we will collect the responses to all questions into a Storify so people can see the full conversation.

Do you need support? Please click here.

The Importance of Support #ITSNOTOK

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

For Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we are amplifying disabled survivors voices on our blog. This post is written by one of our founders, Alice, who is a disabled survivor.

Content note: this post is about the impact that lack of support has on disabled survivors.

“Often it isn’t the initiating trauma that creates seemingly insurmountable pain, but the lack of support after.” ― S. Kelley

This quote is one of my favourites because it reminds us just how important support is after experiencing abuse and sexual violence.

In my work at Disabled Survivors Unite I have heard a countless amount of testimonies from disabled survivors, and the theme that runs throughout them all is the devastating impact of being unsupported. It is also a theme that I have experienced throughout my life.

Many disabled people we hear from have not gotten the support they need, whether that be therapy or emergency accommodation, simply because it was not made accessible to them. In their time of need, they are turned away.

Others are forced to have inaccessible support which is harmful to their health and wellbeing. It is crucial that we recognise the detrimental effect this can have on a persons life.

Some disabled survivors speak out about what has happened to them, but their stories are ignored or dismissed because of their disability. Others are blamed for the abuse they have endured, or are told that their disability was the cause.

With government cuts affecting the vast majority of front line services, it can sometimes be hard to see hope for disabled survivors. Many services simply cannot afford to make adaptions to their buildings or redesign what they offer, they are already struggling to operate on their budgets.

But I do see hope, Disabled Survivors Unite are changing things. The services we consult with are keen to support disabled people, and we have shown them how they can be inclusive without the expense of having to renovate their building.

The message that we give to services is this – no matter what, welcome disabled survivors with open arms. Invite us to use your service, ask us what we need, make adjustments, provide alternatives, and help us to find somewhere that can support us if you cannot.

Being given the opportunity and ability to access support really is vital. It can help a victim become a survivor. And without it, we suffer.

If you would like to work with us to improve your service, please email: info@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

If you are a disabled survivor who would like support, or help to find accessible support in your area, please click here.

#ITSNOTOK My Story: 5

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

For Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we are amplifying disabled survivors voices on our blog. This piece of writing was sent to us anonymously.

Content note: this post is about sexual violence.

5

5,889 miles. 12 hours. 5 years. 3 minutes. 1 person

One night, less than 12 hours. 5,889 miles from the safety of home. You took those hours away from me.

A slip of the hand, a disguised sedative. You marked my body with blood and bruises, imprinting my skin with your control. A constant reminder of my domination and shame.

Waking with no recollection, just the physical marks of power. The shame and embarrassment washed over me biting the wounds aggressively with tides of salt water. A million hidden tears, stinging my wounds. I recoiled and hid my shame from the world.

The bruises you had left on skin had faded but had become scars on my mind. 5 years later. My memory was lost again. The scars of your trauma began to bleed. A 5-year flood burst its banks, washing over me with fear, guilt, shame, terror.

Jolting me awake to the terror of this world. Everything a threat. Lights too bright. Noises too loud. Danger always constant. My mind hyper-vigilant to the potential of my loss of control.

As the people in my life watch me writhe and shake on the floor. My body banging against the floor, my mind attempting to expel your bruises from my mind.

3 minutes. My body disconnecting from the fear, shame, self-loathing and guilt. Trying to process the suffering you caused me.

Slowly I began to heal. Self-love stitched together those scars you made. A wash of anger clotted those scars, hardening them. That guilt and shame unable to penetrate. Resilient.

I now wear those scars as armour. I can talk about them. I can cry and scream about them. I accept them as signs of a battle that I lost, but of a war that I have won. Proof that there is always the possibility of healing.

1 person did this to me. 3 minutes of disconnection. 5 years of shame. 12 hours of domination. 5,889 miles away.

But they will not control me again.

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.

If you would like to share your story with us, you can anonymously submit by clicking here.

A Letter to Survivors #ITSNOTOK

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

For Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we are amplifying disabled survivors voices on our blog. This letter was sent to us anonymously.

“Dear Survivor,

Please know that what happened to you is not your fault.

I know myself how easy it can be to blame yourself or to blame your disability, but you have done nothing wrong and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

You matter. Your story is important. And you are not alone.”

Would you like to contribute to our blog as part of this campaign? Please click here to find out how.

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.