The word empowerment suggests strong figureheads of those who have stood for greatness. When I consider the word, I think about women who advocated for change such as Emmeline Pankhurst. Women who held fierce conviction and followed their beliefs to pave changes for us today. However, some things have not yet changed. Despite the wave of #MeToo there are still uncomfortable truths society must face. Rape culture being one.
Personally, the phrase sex crime suggests on some level there is consent. It assumes the victim played a role in the crime and it’s this that can lead to victim blaming. However, the phrase rape crime plunges this suggestion to a more sinister depth.
As a girl in my twenties, I believed myself to be a pillar of strength and those who knew me would have described as loud, even brash. Until my world began to crumble. After my relationship fell apart and I had to move home, I threw myself into work. It was a very male dominated environment and if you weren’t ‘in’ you were ‘out.’
Having been ‘out’ in the beginning after asking too many questions, I kept my head down and joked with the guys. Their playful banter became stronger, more assertive in nature. Men a decade older and in relationships began to comment on my breasts, asking to see my bra, asking me about my favourite sex positions, and even touching me. All the while the men of the company would joke together, even in front of me. They would try and undo my top, try and get into the locked bathroom when I was in it, and constantly proposition me. And I allowed it, taking the easy option I laughed it off.
It never occurred to me that I was vulnerable
I experienced this behaviour towards me for over a year, which I now understand was grooming. As I viewed myself as strong, it would never have occurred to me that I was vulnerable. When I was invited to a party by one of my friends, I jumped at the chance. When I got there…it was just me. I felt he was my friend, so when he forced himself on me and told me he had waited so long to be with me, I froze. When he was finished, I waited until the morning. However, when I arrived back at work the men joked about it. For me, I made a decision in my mind… I’d slept with a friend who cared about me, which was better than work with the man who raped me.
The shame of rape led me into a one-year relationship with what I believed was a colleague. In fact, it was a friend who repeatedly forced himself on me with coercion and blackmail. Thankfully, it eventually ended without issue.
Empowerment – the process of becoming stronger and more confident
As a society, we need to remove the association of the term ‘sex’ with rape, and recognise it as a crime of aggression. Understanding and recognising that rape is a power play and that by encouraging victims to come forward is a sense of empowerment. They can take back control by coming forward and deter the crime from damaging their ability to have future relationships and intimacy.
It is our duty to look to the next generation and be the voices of change for them. Changing culture now can provide empowerment and pave a path for the next generation to rise.
It took me nine years to find my power and speak out. I finally was able to roar out loud that I did not consent. And, I finally felt safe enough that I would not be hurt again.
For me, although the case was dropped, the allegations remain on his record. I engaged with the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre in Cheshire and Merseyside, accessing counselling and support from an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA). This allowed me to look at my own choices and how I could make positive changes.
He can no longer hurt me! I have a family and friends, I am loved and valued, and, I won.
To find your local sexual violence support service, use the interactive map on the home page.
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This website was developed in collaboration with North West Police Crime Commissioners, NHS England, and Sexual Assault & Abuse Services.
The North West SAAS Partner Network (Strategic Direction for Sexual Assault and Abuse Services) is led by NHS England and covers Cheshire, Merseyside, Cumbria, Greater Manchester and Lancashire.