#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. You can view the Storify of the Twitter Q&A by clicking here.

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. The Storify of the Q&A can be found by clicking here

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 Disability Themed Twitter Q&A 

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

This Friday, the 10th of February, from 1-2pm GMT, Disabled Survivors Unite will be hosting a Twitter Q&A with Respond centred around disability for Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

We welcome everyone to take part in this discussion! We are especially keen to hear from disabled survivors and disabled people.

However, we have purposefully phrased questions in such a way that means you do not have to disclose whether you are either disabled or a survivor when answering.

Disabled Survivors Unite are a user-led organisation (all founders are disabled) creating change for disabled survivors of abuse and sexual violence. You can find out more about our work here.

Respond is a service which provides support to children and adults with learning disabilities who have experienced abuse or trauma. You can find out more about their work here.

How our Twitter Q&A will work

Be sure to follow @DSUtweets and @RESPOND_UK on Twitter. All questions will be posted by the @DSUtweets Twitter account.

We will be using the #itsnotok hashtag for this discussion. However, please note that this hashtag is being used widely for Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, so other discussions might be taking place on it.

We will be tweeting ten questions over the hour, but please feel free to take your time answering these. All questions are available in advance below.

Format of Q&A

If you respond to a question such as Q1, your tweet should follow the format: “A1 [your message] #itsnotok”

In this case, Q1 stands for Question #1 and A1 stands for Answer #1.

The hashtag will allow us to see your responses, and the number means we know which question you are answering. However, if you find it easier, feel free to quote retweet with your answer.

If you might be overwhelmed by the volume of tweets and only want to see the chat’s questions so you can respond to them, check @DSUtweets account. Each question will tweeted about 6 minutes apart.

For an explanation of how to participate in a Twitter chat, please check out this useful example by Ruti Regan here.

Check out this captioned ASL explanation of how to participate in a chat by @behearddc by clicking here.

If you need any support during this discussion, or afterwards, please visit our website page on Getting Support here.

If you think posts may be triggering for you, please ‘mute’ the #itsnotok hashtag. This way you should not see the questions and answers. You can learn how to do this by clicking here.

Questions

Feel free to prepare your answers in advance, but please only post these once we have asked the questions on Friday.

Q1 Please introduce yourself however you feel comfortable! If you’re a service, please describe your work & reason for joining. #itsnotok

Q2 What services exist for disabled survivors? How can we create more specialised services? #itsnotok

Q3 How can existing support services become more accessible to disabled people? What changes would you like to see? #itsnotok

Q4 How do disabled people experience sexual abuse and sexual violence in different ways to non-disabled people? #itsnotok

Q5 What can schools do to educate disabled children about safe, appropriate sex and how to identify abuse? #itsnotok

Q6 How can therapy help disabled survivors who have experienced sexual abuse and violence? How could it be made more accessible? #itsnotok

Q7 What can the police do to better support disabled survivors? What changes are needed? #itsnotok

Q8 Does the criminal justice system put disabled survivors at a disadvantage? If so, how can we change this? #itsnotok

Q9 How important is it that disabled user led groups/survivors are involved in research surrounding abuse and sexual violence? #itsnotok

Q10 If you could say one thing to a disabled survivor, what would it be? We will collect these into a blog post for survivors to read. #itsnotok

We hope you can participate in our first #itsnotok disability themed Twitter discussion!

If you miss it, don’t worry! You’re free to answer the questions at any point!

We have tried to make this Q&A accessible a possible. However, can you think of anything that could make it more accessible? We welcome suggestions, please email these to us: info@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

We want to say a special thank you to Alice Wong, founder of the Disability Visibility Project, for letting us use her wonderful #CripTheVote twitter discussion template. Be sure to follow Alice at @SFdirewolf and the Disability Visibility Project at @DisVisibility.

#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.

Disabled Survivors Unite Says #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 story was sent to us anonymously.

Content note: this post mentions rape.

“I was recovering from brain injury, I had become paralysed on my right hand side and couldn’t walk very well. A person who had been my boyfriend a few years before came to visit me. We were now friends, buddies. We were looking at records and magazines in my bedroom.

He gave me a hug, then kissed me, then raped me in my bedroom. It was not consensual sex, I was stuck in my bedroom, deeply terrified and ashamed.

I never told anyone, not even my mum. I just remember being fixed in one position feeling very cold, scared and confused.”

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.

#ITSNOTOK Call for Submissions

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

Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week is fast approaching, and we want to hear from you!

From 6th – 12th of February we will be giving you the opportunity to have your voice heard.

We are looking for disabled people who have survived sexual abuse/violence to create blog posts for us. This will help people to understand how we experience this type of abuse and what needs to change.

There is no right or wrong way to share your story or feelings, but we thought we’d give you a few ideas;

  • Write a letter to someone
  • Share a piece of art you have created or a photograph you have took
  • Tell your story
  • Share information that you think people need to know about disability and sexual abuse/violence
  • Write a poem
  • Offer advice

If you would like our help to create a blog post, please get in touch and we’ll be more than happy to assist you!

You can send all submission by email: info@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

Or you can send written submissions anonymously using this form.

If you get in touch with us by email, you can still choose to remain anonymous and do not have to give us your name.

We hope you will consider helping us in our campaign to have disabled survivors voices heard!