"We do not label predators for what they are"- read Sydney's letter for Sexual Awareness Month

I’ve experienced sexual violence, every year, since I was 12 years old. From cat calls, to close male friends kissing me while I was asleep on two separate occasions, to stealthing, to being locked in a room with three male course-mates lying themselves on top of me in bed to stop me from leaving, to invisible hands groping in a dark club. Any time I leave the house, the internal switch flicks to survival mode. My experiences as a woman are not rare, but present in every woman I have ever met. With 97% of young women in the UK having experienced sexual harassment, according to the 2021 UN Women UK YouGov survey, that number may seem high. But my belief is that it is still too low. The women in the now infamous survey were not only comfortable enough to disclose their experiences, but also had the language to accurately label attacks that others may simply brush off as “a weird moment with my friend” or “just part of the club experience” or even “a compliment.” I wouldn’t have answered yes to until recently, after experiencing an assault that the average person would picture when hearing the word. For over a decade, I did not have the language or courage to call out my experiences for what they were. I believe part of that is due to the inherent internalised misogyny we all develop as a result of growing up in a patriarchal society. That boys will be boys, or that I did something to deserve it. On the whole, women are told to survive, while men are allowed to thrive. But, I also believe part of it is a calculated, sinister societal silencing tactic. If we do not have an understanding of what qualifies as sexual violence, then sexual violence goes unnoticed. We lose the power that comes with labelling experiences, and perpetrators, for what they are. Bystanders are discouraged from becoming active bystanders for fear that it isn’t serious enough. For similar reasons, we do not seek the support we deserve. We do not have the internal authority in the moment that might change our reactions. We do not label predators for what they are. By keeping us in the dark, perpetrators walk away with ease, and survivors are left with a deep wound they may not even notice until years later, when becomes infected. And this delayed processing only piles on guilt on top of the existing self blame. Why didn’t I say anything at the time? Why did I stay his friend? Why didn’t I notice? Why didn’t I..? But the fault is absolutely never our own. Why didn’t they teach us about the varying types of assault in school? Why didn’t they tell me what steps are available to me? Why didn’t they hold their friends, employees, students, sons, accountable? Why did they choose to fail us? As a white, cis, middle class woman, I do not face the additional oppression that bars accessible support and reinforces silence. I only began to look back on my history as a result of my diagnosis of CPTSD, in which having the tools to allow me to treat my mental health is itself a privilege most do not have. Instead, the endemic of trauma in our streets, schools, homes, and world is left untreated. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but women are aware of the dangers and the damage they bring every day. Awareness is useless and if it does not bring change. Knowledge is power. With it, we won’t just survive, we’ll thrive.

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