Giving Testimony: Breaking The Silence

I want to speak out: for too long I have been silent.

I have been told that my case will be closed but not officially confirmed.

I have learnt to be more quiet. I have learnt to love being more quiet, not having a mobile phone for nearly 4 months. Paying more attention to what’s around me, listening better to others and my own inner voice. Responding to emails when I am ready, looking at the internet and social media just sometimes. This has added enormous quality to my life. It wasn’t just because of the police investigation but the timing worked out, when my mobile naturally died, so long overloaded.

It was a good episode and so far has culminated in my rape survivor talk at WOW on March 11th. There was of course also doing a video testimony for the police, and that whole process, which as well resulted in the accused man being brought in for questioning. I am happy knowing that he knows that I was pissed off enough to report him now. It lets him know that his past actions could yet catch up with him and may be a warning to him regarding his present behaviour. It might make him more careful or even more dangerous… but he knows.

The video wasn’t easy though I was fairly calm. I was nervous too, and the preceding days were challenging for how vulnerable I felt again. Being so re-immersed in that earlier difficult part of my life was a headfuck. I was glad to get it done and found the police ok to work with. Also the support of an advocate from Rape Crisis UK was highly appreciated. I want to state that anyone can access Rape Crisis and its sister organisations like Solace Women’s Aid (there are men’s ones too). You can get advice to find out whether it’s a good idea for you to go to the police. The legal process may not be advisable, and if it possibly is, then it’s great to be armed with knowledge in advance. The Rights of Women‘s ‘From Report To Court‘ is recommended reading as is this essay on institutionalised misogyny in the legal system.

There has been the added bonus that a good friend of mine was involved as a witness, though treated as a separate case. It has been a privilege if in fact awful, to share this with her, naturally for the solidarity. It is a little challenging for the legal system if witnesses know each other, as they may contaminate the evidence, so we were obliged not to discuss the case. At first we thought we were not allowed to communicate at all, which felt very wrong, but fortunately it was discovered that the law was not actually so restrictive.

What I want to say is, it was great to do this even so many years later, in fact because of that and being in a relatively strong place in my life now so that being the right time. It has helped me to re-examine the map of my life, what led to what and what that means for where I am now. The rape preceded an important part of my life that I wouldn’t ever change. The important part didn’t only happen because of the rape, but it was heavily informed by it. I made close bonds in a new community and lived an alternative, underground lifestyle. That shaped me so much that I can’t imagine changing it now. But the rape was not a positive act and it is right to seek justice however unlikely to be met. There is a sense of realigning my relationship with my own past; underlining that my departure from that time in my life, has its origins in rape. There was a very positive outcome to an unhappy family life; I made good out of a dark situation. Moving on entails examining the background circumstances more fully. That was an empowering solution for that time, but by no means solved all the problems.

I would like the man to be put on a register at the least as I think if he is free, he is dangerous. I would love to give talks to teenage girls and vulnerable young women about my experience, though I understand the landscape has shifted towards the online. Still, being vulnerable hasn’t changed so much. It’s about when you are in a desperate place and you have to leave home, or you just arrive in a country with no place to call home yet. You are more vulnerable, sometimes with few options. Men like this one I am talking about, know how to spot this, and to avoid being caught. In my case it was all too easy. Others are drugged. I wish I had been able to report him at the time. I think speaking out must be a lot easier now, not just for me so many years later, but for young women who have seen #MeToo. Of course it is one thing posting on social media and another to report to the police. Then you are obliged not to post online, so it really is a dichotomy. The police are not always useful, and cases can be extremely stressful. I wouldn’t want to go through with a court case unless I was one of several witnesses. Historic cases are difficult to prove. But if you report, then at some point the police may realise they have several allegations against the same man. Or if you have strong evidence yourself and are able, going to court may be viable.

None of the other women I shared the panel with at WOW had gone to the police, so often it isn’t appropriate. There may be family entanglements involved, or the perpetrator is not known… Speaking out is important for being listened to, for owning your story, for fully integrating complex and challenging realities. That is what I have found, and it gave me an appetite to dig deeper, go write more, share more in this way, whether speaking or writing. This is not new to me as several of my performances include personal experience, but somehow this feels more direct. There is not the spectacle, but simply rawness.

Giving a rape survivor talk has allowed me to look at my past through a contemporary lens. Rather than seeing the incident as just an unfortunate thing that happened and was bound to happen, I am ready to see it more for the damage it inflicted in its own right. I want to say out loud that what he did to me (and others) is wrong. Something ought to be done about him if it hasn’t already. I believe if not locked up, he would be dangerous, with a large appetite and no scruples. Even if he can’t be convicted there should be a way to warn women and teenage girls about him.

I met Winnie Li at WOW, she was leading the discussion session after our talks. She was one of the speakers I saw in 2016 at Giving Testimony, and she has written a book called Dark Chapter about her experience. She also started Clear Lines Festival in 2015 as a forum for discussing consent and sexual violence. I hope to join her for a meeting of Clear Lines supporters on April 17th. Her story is one of adult stranger rape and she was able to report and win a court case, most fortunately. She has an inspiring approach, as it changed the course of her life and she has made it into an extremely positive thing, for the benefit of others like myself as well as herself. She brings professionalism and confidence with leadership to an emerging scene; I hope to learn from her! She led the discussion with the equally inspirational Silke Grygier who founded the Survivors Collective and is an activist.

I myself felt a little different for being less innocent if just as vulnerable as my fellow panel speakers. It is just the nature of my circumstances that I was already in some question with the law; I had chosen an underground path. That feels a very valuable thing as society isn’t like that in the same way now, to have followed a less travelled path. Everything is more diversified now with the internet, yet still an oppressive mainstream dominates. We do enjoy considerable freedom of choice and expression here however, which I appreciate keenly. One of the other speakers regularly speaks as a survivor representative on the radio or does magazine interviews I think. Her name is Sophie Yates Lu.

As I grow older I become more interested in the bigger picture of my origins, beyond the immediate time of my life, into the past of various strands of my ancestry. It makes such a rich composition that touches on lots of 20th century history from fleeing Lithuanian pogroms, migrating to South Africa, founding the South African Communist Party, escaping McCarthyism to bring up a family in East Berlin, and living on one of the last colonial plantations in East Africa. With all this in mind, the smaller events of my individual life are put into a grander perspective. I may be relatively unusual for being such a mongrel in terms of having various origins, but all our ancestors lived in vastly different periods of human history, no matter where we come from. Taking it all in, I feel less victim, more survivor, and more connected to different facets in my character.

I wonder how my life may resonate with others, my particular story, who it might reach? I always felt no one could have reached me when I needed it most, as I was not open to it. So who might I reach? Simply being the best version of myself that I can must spread the most positive energy. It may have all manner of outcomes and that I could never plan.

A recent chance experience in Hamburg reminded me of one of the most effective forms of therapy I have come across. Death metal, head banging and loud industrial/noise music/sound. This kind of music saved me when I was a teenager. It’s the sort of thing that sensible parents work hard to avoid their offspring encountering, but sometimes there is a powerful catharsis available through the medium of live performance, the direct connection with singer (or growler!) or simply received via the sound. If you are in a place in life where you feel a great deal of anger, and find that there is no reasonable recourse to justice apparent, that can leave enormous frustration and an intensification of toxic anger. This is very unhealthy if left unchecked, as the impulse to seek revenge being thwarted by fear/legal implications, there is no place for the anger to channel except inwards to the sufferer, possibly affecting others too.

I recommend a good dose of death metal (or similar). Just seeing or hearing someone else expressing what appears to be angry dark emotions (I have wondered if sometimes they are in fact exploring more nuanced, sensitive mental states, though in their screams and roars it is hard to discern, I imagine they must as they produce so much!) seems to validate my own anger. It says, ‘It’s fine to feel this way – for whatever reason – and you don’t need to hide it. In fact you should definitely not hide it, but show it loudly and not holding back.’ Then to join in by dancing/head banging or growling/screaming along allows you to share in the righteous reclaiming of that part of you that felt forced into the shadows. At least that’s how it worked for me. It was my regular practice aged 16 – 20 perhaps, sometimes weekly or more often. It aided the processing of unhappy emotions, and shifted my sense of disaffected outsiderhood towards focusing on a state of elation found in dancing free-form with others. It is a tribal thing, to all be pounding the ground together rhythmically at the same time, to sweat the night through. The dance floor was a temple, the DJ/bands priests and the clubbers a congregation. It was not lost on us as we stomped to Ministry‘s ‘Psalm 69‘. That the psychedelic messages on all the record covers told us to take a trip, to drop out, to groove and feel the love (and the anger) but also to reject mainstream culture and capitalist consumerism, served as a wider political framework to hold such disillusioned youth.

I was visiting my friend Sabine in Hamburg over Easter and she is a musician who recently moved back to her home city from London. We wanted to see some live music and quite randomly picked something from the listings which none of us knew, and nor did we research. Just took a chance. I might not have chosen it had I known it was death metal, but I was so pleased we did. It took me back to the clubs of my youth and the immense source of power I found them to be! An issue that had been plaguing me relentlessly recently, now found a place to be deposited.

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Rolo Tomassi at head CRASH 31/3/18

In Rolo Tomassi‘s combination of rage and sensuality, soaring synthscapes and earthly torment, I found redemption. The switch in my head to release such negative emotions was flicked. I left the head CRASH venue just off the Reeperbahn, a happier, more connected and grounded person than the distraught harpy who arrived earlier. Modern life – mass produced culture leaves swathes of loneliness, devastation, anger and deep sadness amongst us. But there are natural remedies out there if you look hard enough!

Recently I wrote and performed Girl in Suitcase, once more at my local Telegraph Hill Festival. I had the tremendous musical support of Sarah Kent, and as well other friends were involved too. It was a wonderful opportunity to be celebratory and make something I wanted to, be an expression of myself in the moment! With some preparation of course… So I leave you with a few photographs by Judit Prieto. I was developing some of my narrative here, particularly about being a life model. The slideshow is very indulgent; for the non-nudity collection please see here! This was the Equinox performance at The Telegraph pub on March 20th 2018.

 

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Reporting historic rape; telling women’s stories; & the Solstice

It began in a funk; I was depressed and disinclined to leave my home on Thursday 1st June. Yet I had planned to go to a Women’s Equality Party meeting in Catford, of the Lewisham branch which I had recently become a member of. A friend of mine was going to come with me. She isn’t local but had also joined the party and encouraged me to do likewise. I messaged her to say I was not well and couldn’t make it; she responded that she was already on her way! So I quickly put sandals on (it was warm), and went to meet her. We had time before the meeting to sit in the park and chat.

After a couple of hours, and a drink, for by now we were in the beer garden of the pub where the meeting was due to take place, we got on to a subject she had been wanting to discuss with me for a while. Rape. I wrote a blog post almost a year ago, about being raped 22 years ago. This had resonated with her, but it had taken her a while to find the opportunity to bring the subject up. She started describing something that had happened to her about 9 years ago, being raped, and why she hadn’t felt inclined to report it until reading my blog.

As she described her experience and all the details, particularly of the man involved, I began to pick up on distinct similarities. I asked her pointed questions about the location and his physical and personality description, and came to the conclusion that this was the same man. We were struck with incredulity! How had this happened to us both, with the same man? Before we knew each other, and many years apart. How extraordinary. At that point it was necessary for her to check old emails, as her experience had, unlike mine, happened within the digital era. There were email records, with other digital links. This could lead somewhere and we were just left with the certainty that we would both report it to the police.

This process has since been underway, beginning with making contact with Rape Crisis UK. We wanted to learn about the system we would be getting involved in before contacting the police. We wanted to be prepared for a very challenging mission. This proved to be a brilliant move and I found much value from all contacts concerned. I was guided early on to the extremely helpful ‘From Report to Court’ document, written by The Rights of Women. This spells out step by step what to expect from the legal process and what you are entitled to as a victim or witness. It makes clear that there are a lot of safeguards and improvements in the system for victims these days. It actually made me feel firstly very empowered for the knowledge of the process, and secondly encouraged to go forward with my report. It made me feel supported, knowing that The Rights of Women exist, and that although there’s still a long way to go in dealing with sexual violence, there are structures in place to protect us. I knew there was help out there, and Rape Crisis also proved to be really efficient and supportive.

Not long after reading ‘From Report to Court’ I felt inspired to switch on Woman’s Hour one morning, and most fortunately the woman speaking, Karen Gardner, was describing her experience of taking a rapist to court and the legal system. I seemed to be in synch with the universe (I by no means often listen to the programme, and I had not checked the content in advance)! What she said was far less favourable than what I had read about in the document, and her experience was recent and in London. It made it apparent that sadly victims often don’t receive the good care and all they are in fact entitled to. It was useful to get this real life account, but also the speaker said that she still felt it was worthwhile. Even if there is not enough evidence to prosecute, and it is a very difficult case, you as a victim are doing your bit to achieve justice. This may be beneficial for your own inner peace and ability to move on, and it may also help to protect potential future victims. The report will still exist even if the perpetrator cannot be sentenced. It may add to a body of evidence. That said, I understand well why many women do not report, and that it may not always be helpful for a woman to do so.

I was assigned an advocate who I met up with a few days later. She added more insight to what I had gathered already. Where I had been led to believe that if my friend and I continued speaking with each other, this could be used against us if the case went to court, as we may supposedly be contaminating each others’ evidence, this turned out not to be the case, much to our relief. While we are obliged not to discuss the case once it is in the hands of the police, that does not inhibit our friendship otherwise. I had wondered how victims would feel encouraged to come forwards if they could not support each other during an already testing time.

My advocate accompanied me to the police station to make my first report. I was not exactly in a traumatised state, so many years later, but I did feel anxious and I knew that her presence would only be positive. In the end it took more than two hours with quite a lot of waiting around, and the policewoman not being sure of protocol in such a situation so checking with others upstairs. But it was fine. I had already tried to think about it from their point of view, the facts they would want to know, some of which are uncomfortable to remember, while others I could not. I was able to describe the scenario fairly matter of factly, while she looked up spellings in the dictionary! She listened, asked sensitively, and very importantly, I felt believed and treated with respect. I was thanked for my patience, for coming forward and being brave. This was the beginning of an important process that is a sort of turning point.

A few days later my assigned SOIT (Sexual Offences Investigative Techniques) officer called to check a few details that the first officer had missed. These concerned the nature of consent, or lack of; questions that help to determine if, when and how the perpetrator committed crimes. To understand how the case may unravel in court if it gets there, what sort of line of defence would be likely, and perhaps the probability of a successful conviction. These questions could feel intrusive, but they are important. I felt very grateful to be approaching this now, so long after as I am not so reactive. There are still triggers, but I can see them more. I was aware that if I was freshly traumatised, this process would be an ordeal I think. I don’t know how they improve that for victims. In cases where it is not physical overpowering that is involved so much as psychological manipulation, there may be a very strong burden of guilt on the victim, for allowing it to happen. Yet the more people that come forward about these sorts of cases, the better understood they should become and more familiar to those who work within the law and police.

It is an unexpected turning point, even if a natural progression from sharing the blog post. I did not expect this, but it has been a game-changer in terms of going to the police. This has allowed me to consider the past differently already; I have imagined being in court, seeing him again, what I would say. It has bonded me in a newly bizarre way with my friend, and that certainly helps one to feel empowered on this path. I reconsidered the actual impact of the rape all those years ago. Where I had blurred the memory into the hectic and intense events that soon followed in my life at the time, I now unpicked it. The rape itself had happened at a turning point. I was at a very critical juncture; soon to leave home, make a new beginning, and I lacked strong guidance. What was going to affect my choices? Maybe I would have made the same ones anyway but I will never know. That incident stood out at the time as extremely disturbing. I masked it with drugs because I didn’t know how to get justice.

Apart from this serious matter, I have been aching for new activity on the artistic and activist front. Something to distract me from dwelling too long in the past, and focus instead on creating a new Spirited Bodies format. I met the Feminist Library last year when working at the Fawcett Society conference in London, and having visited them knew that they have a workshop space. I wanted a venue that share my values and were not commercially driven. I also felt it was time to involve professional models in a more active (and paid) way. It is all very well creating a space for body empowerment through life drawing, but as a professional model myself, I want to work with my colleagues rather than separately. I want them to share their experience in a way that enhances their modelling role. I want to include all our voices, especially of women who are outside of mainstream beauty ideals. I want to give them a chance to share their feelings and any difficulties they may have come up against by giving them a lot of freedom to create their session in their own way (with some guidance), so expecting variety! The new series is called the Stories of Women and began on 17th July, for women only. The next is on Monday – 21st August, featuring model Jennifer Farmer.

Finally, this year’s Summer Solstice celebration was exceptional with the heatwave coinciding perfectly! This time my friends and I were not the only ones with the same idea at Hilly Fields stone circle! We were in brilliant company and enjoyed sharing a ritual with lovely folk, dancing naked until late. I leave you with a few images and a lovely clip which was originally found on Instagram.

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By Rodger Kibble

solstice

By Rodger Kibble

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