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Gabriella Bosticco draws on her activism with sexual violence campaign groups to urge us to keep alive the resistance against rape culture and misogyny that emerged following the murder of Sarah Everard – raped and killed by an off-duty police officer in 2021. She splices together general reflections on all-too-common experiences of sexual violence survivors with semi-fictionalised stories inspired by individuals’ experiences and perspectives.

This feature is published as part of Aberystwyth University’s Ambassadorship scheme and hosting partnership with Planet.

  Aberystwyth University

There are thousands of Sarahs among us. Calling us ‘survivors’ is a reminder that not all of us do survive. It’s not enough to subject us to one of the most invasive crimes possible; they’ll do whatever they can to keep us quiet, too. We all feel the weight of this atrocity, no matter how far from London we are.

Since lockdown started, I’ve been going for runs at night. With the pubs closed, nobody else is out at that time, and I felt the safest while the streets were completely empty. Last night, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about her.

As the beam of the torch shook with every step, I couldn’t escape the feeling I was being chased, constantly looking over my shoulder. Instead of giving me freedom, the darkness hung thickly around me. It dulled my senses.

I sprinted home in my new personal best time. I want to reclaim the night, but I’ve never been more scared of it.

We come in all shapes, sizes, identities and bodies, and we’re tired of our experiences being narrowed down. It’s always easier for some of us to speak out than others, but we’re learning to amplify each other.

I’m tired of the notion that masculinity is what’s causing this. It wasn’t masculinity that made him take advantage of me, or as another man I’d be out there doing the same. I refuse to believe that I have inside of me the same toxicity that was used against me.

But I also don’t know how to talk about that. I know it’s not all men, but the phrase ‘not all men’ has been so weaponised by the wrong people that I wouldn’t dare be associated with it. My experiences must fit somewhere in this narrative, but I don’t know where.

People are finally engaged and trying to do something about it, but for every positive post, there’s pushback. The women defending men, who reek of internalised misogyny. The people who only care about male victims of sexual assault when it’s to distract from the women impacted. The people more worried about the consequences of false accusations than of honest people being called liars. It’s everywhere, and it’s inescapable.

The day after the news about Sarah Everard broke, my male friend posted a blog piece defending men. It was the usual schtick; berating her stupidity for walking home alone, bemoaning how unsafe it is to be a man nowadays. Of course it’s sad that she died, but what about all the men who have their lives ruined by false accusations?

I wonder if he’d say the same thing if he knew what happened to me. Predators are already defended enough; I’ve seen the same people that should’ve protected me from the assault protect the man from my accusation.

It doesn’t matter how long ago, we’re still wounded the same. There’s no such thing as ‘old enough’, but some of us have carried this since we were far too young.

It’s not just this faceless stranger in the street who does this to us; it’s relatives, it’s friends, it’s co-workers. It’s someone who wears the familiar uniform of someone safe, who we’re told we can go to for help.

I’ve been through it more recently than I would like to admit. I feel this weird protectiveness, even though I know I shouldn’t. It wasn’t a stranger and they didn’t do it to hurt me, they did it because they wanted to and because they could. Despite everything, I don’t want to tell.

There’s a protest happening on the beach, in the park, in the street. It goes against lockdown rules, but we don’t know what else to do with our feelings. We gather our friends, paint signs and march together. Some are vigils, some are demonstrations, but are all fuelled by the same grief.

Out of our house of four, I only convince one other to come with me. I’m disappointed by one of my closest friends. In the years that I’ve known him, we’ve always had pretty similar views. I’ve seen him advocate for so many good causes, and whether he would or not, I’d describe him as a feminist.

When I ask why, he says it doesn’t really feel like his place. He offers to drive us back home after, but waits until the crowds have dispersed.

It’s not until later that he tells us the real reason. He assaulted one of his exes; he’s part of the problem, and he knows it.

The atmosphere of pain is palpable. We’ve all been hurting separately for so long, but bringing us all together has distilled our sorrow into a thick cloud. As each new person comes forward, it hangs heavier and heavier.

I go to the vigil still bleeding from my emergency IUD. Every step that I take to my seat puts pressure on my bruised cervix. That would be painful enough, but it brings with it memories of why I needed it in the first place.

When the nurses asked if I felt safe, I lied. I didn’t want to admit that I was ever at that party. I invented a false partner, an imaginary condom that broke.

We stand up and we speak. Some of us have been silent for years, some of us have already started to talk, but now, we start to shout. There’s space for a new kind of honesty, where we don’t water down our experiences to make them more palatable. We’re under no illusions here; what happened to us isn’t fair, and enough is enough.

I can’t believe how many people like me there are. I convinced myself that it’s how it always is on TV dramas and soap operas, where each person gets handed a different problem. I thought I’d taken this one for the team, but I was so wrong. My whole world view has changed; this means that he wasn’t a uniquely twisted person, there are crowds of others like him. Not only that, but this means it can happen to me again. Just the possibility is terrifying.

Even our protests aren’t safe. Perpetrators using our stage for confession, as though we’ll grant them forgiveness and alleviate their guilt. Influencers using the movement as a chance to chase clout. People taking the megaphones to spout divisive, hateful rhetoric, scapegoating minorities.

This isn’t a new issue; I’ve been trying to get people involved for years. But it’s the kind of thing that people recognise as important, and want to support you in doing, but don’t actually want to do themselves.

While I’m glad that we’re finally talking about this, I have an awful feeling that it’s a trend. People love to reshare infographics while it’s a hot topic, but in three months’ time they’ll be rolling their eyes at the people still talking about it. As soon as they run out of quick fixes, they move on to the next thing.

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