It’ runs virulent and pernicious through every walk of life. No work place, no home is exempt. Age is no bar. It moves from baby to old age pensioner and all the years in between and gender is no safeguard. ’It’ is unspoken, frightening and invades lives crippling them not only physically but also emotionally. ‘It’ lies unspoken of and feared. ‘It’ stays with those it touches for life occupying a dark place in their soul all too often revisited to cause panic, distress, disbelief and shame. ‘It’ flaunts itself in the face of honesty, truth and self respect. ‘It’ encourages lies and deceit, taunting a mind sitting on the edge of reality and subterfuge, in some cases verging on a life lost forever, never to be regained: A place where thoughts of giving up and self doubt reign, where suicide raises its beckoning arms. If ever ‘it’ is discussed it commands the courage and bravery of those it has harmed, followed by endless questions calling into account the necessity for them to prove their honesty, their moral fibre and their integrity.


To talk about ‘it’ means entering a gladiatorial arena where once again those who have suffered, suffer once more as they fight not only for a right to be heard but a desperation that they may be believed. Robbed of their soul they search for a place of peace where they may find some solace in discovering who they truly are, not what ‘it’ has made them, trying to crawl back to a normal life that most people are able to take for granted. There was beginning to these stories but often times there is no happy ending. This expanding spider’s web of nightmare horror is fuelled by self-blame, self-loathing and self-protection.


Day to day life continues, each person appears the same, no noticeable difference you may say. The truth is they will never be the same. Indeed they are now lost in the uncertainty of who they are.


Everyone’s story is different but astonishingly the same: The brutality, the control the total obliteration of a person’s mind, body and soul.


A lost innocence, replaced by eyes wide open staring into a void of horror.




Now starts the never ending silence. A place where the victim wrangles with right and wrong, guilt and truth, suffocating in silence rarely daring to find their voice.




A word that is so abhorrent people recoil as it is spoken. Eyes fall downcast and glaze over. Features contort in questioning frowns. Arms, hands and feet shift uncomfortably. Mouths silently open and close. Brains are not able to find the words to respond, stunned into a brief suspension of time. Silence descends momentarily before chaos is unleashed together with confusion, despair and often misunderstanding. It is a chaos that envelopes all of those around them; It reaches out and begs questions to all of those who are close to them.


The deadly consequences of one action stretches out across families and friends causing arguments and recriminations that shake the foundations of a secure world. A world now reduced to rubble and dust, debris of such huge proportions that everyone is engulfed in its’ cloud of dirt and shame. Families and friends who once stood strong and united now lie vulnerable and shattered.


There is so much hope within the victim for absolution when those first words of rape have been spoken. Life stands still with all noise blocked out. The reactions and words spoken next have more impact and importance than can be truly understood. Rape is a word with such overwhelming consequences, an action that is so hard to understand that sadly often the first directed question to the victim is loaded with the need for clarification to check if they are sure of what they are saying and do they understand the grievous nature of their accusation. This inbuilt natural reaction plunges the person raped into their already subliminal and expected belief that they were right. It was their fault; they are to blame; they are dirty; they are deceitful, sinful…….. they are not worthy.


The initial pain of rape, ascends to a greater level of trauma as it reinforces the very thoughts that have been haunting them in their waking and sleeping moments, that somehow this act, these consequences are their fault. These presumed reactions perpetuate the reluctance of anyone raped to speak out.


The harsh reality is that all people who have experienced rape need to tell. What they don’t need is an immediate response. It is purely the fear of repercussions, of not being believed and the chaos that will wreak havoc in their life that prevents them from vocalising something so detrimental. Their silence walks side by side with them; the crime goes undetected and the damage slowly eats away at the individual like a cancer, leaving the victim a shadow of their former self, assuming the blame and responsibility for something that is categorically not their fault. They develop and use coping strategies that will warp and shape their behaviour for their lifetime and often leave much to be desired in their future relationships, life choices and mental and physical health.


We have a supportive police force skilled in their handling of sensitive cases. We have a strong Crown Prosecution Service fighting for justice and we have many varied organisations with dedicated professional staff and volunteers all of whom collaborate and deliver high quality care, advice and support for rape victims. We have people and services committed to helping rape victims and yet they are still reluctant to come forward to tell. I wonder if we aren’t missing something more fundamental about the victim from the beginning.


It is time to rethink. Speaking to victims who can recount both historical and recent rape there is one thing identifiable to them all, the inability to tell. It is this inability that is always questioned. ‘Why didn’t you tell? What took so long?’ etc


The reasons we know focus mostly on the fear of shame. Their self-blame and the thought that no one would believe them. This is a crime so stigmatised, so unspeakable and the process of finding justice so difficult to go through, it is driven underground. Telling the truth and those consequences followed by the search for justice and building a life when it is all over can be as traumatic as the original trauma. Unfortunately, the victim is rarely strong enough or well equipped to cope with what lies ahead when they dare to speak out. There must be a better way to help the victim find their voice so that they can then build their strength and their coping skills so that they can not only tackle the issues head on but to survive them and to successfully move on afterwards to a better and rewarding life to be lived with confidence, joy and self belief.


In the midst of supporting unknown victims to come forward we miss the most simple thing. To tell their story is almost impossible. To hear it out loud and see the reactions are unbearable and it’s here we need to stop, think and change.


Today in a climate where women and men are being persuaded into coming forward to tell their story, the question is: ‘For what reason, why?’ Is it about truth, justice? If it’s the latter it is certainly true that rape and especially historical rape is the hardest case to prove. All too often ‘not guilty’ verdicts are returned. Where does that leave the victim? The process of trial and deciding a verdict leaves the victim vulnerable, unsafe and petrified . All the things that they feel from being abused. So as we offer help and support for an opportunity for justice we may not realise that the first step in this direction should come after that person has told their story, on their own, from their own free will unknown. They need to see the letters form words of their story on a piece of paper, to hear their voice crack as they speak those words for the first time, in return they need to hear silence. We need to offer these people a vehicle through which they can recount their experiences with initially no reaction apart from their own. An anonymous Jackanory. For the majority of victims it is the verbalising of the event(s) that provides release from their torment. From that significant first step with no judgement, that person may choose to walk away, cleansed, never to return and there is a chance, that that person in time will be ready to face head-on all the issues in front of them coupled with a framework of support where counselling, a police presence and legal intervention can all be signposted.


Together with telling their story and then seeking help through counselling many more victims are able to take a further step into the future, to seek what they think they need to heal whatever that may be. A national rape crisis number is needed, a safe place is needed, a secure place is needed, a solution problem solving place is needed. This place needs to have national recognition, be available to contact across every media source and offer anonymity. A place to literally ‘dump’ your rubbish and walk away or provide the opportunity to clean up the mess. This place needs to have immediate familiarity and awareness with the public. People who are raped need to know who to call and where to go. They need to be able to relieve themselves of the pressure of such a brutal secret with no judgement nor requirement of them once told. They need to have the freedom of choice and the absolute ability to tell without feeling shame, blame or pressure to be part of now public situation that they may not be prepared to handle. They want to know that those who read or listen to their first words spoken have been in their position.


I am a 38 year survivor of rape. I found my voice after 36 years. In that 36th year, after harbouring a secret held close since I was 12 years old, a sequence of events happened which almost drove my story further down into the unknown, threatening to take me down with it. Somehow, maybe through maturity, being a mother and most of all being all too well aware of the many recurrent mistakes I had made in my life, the survivor in me recognised that this was my life line and I had to take it. I had to be able to look at myself in the mirror and change. To become the person I knew was buried inside me, to be free. I had a story to tell, many people do. I wish I had told it earlier, most people do.


To tell my story into a listening silence, to hear no voices, no questions, recriminations or sympathy, was the first step to freedom. You need to hear the silence to be able to take the next step. That silence provides a space in which you can accept what happened to you. It takes a while for these feelings to settle and once they have, you are stronger than you were. The worst part is over. To take the next step you need professional help to understand the many questions that have plagued you since your life was turned upside down. Help with how to evaluate your thoughts and actions and help you to start to like yourself and believe in yourself. The rest of your story unfolds at its own pace and you are well equipped to deal with the difficult times ahead that will challenge you. This new way of life is reinforced by bravery and courage replacing fear and shame. Once your story is spoken by words or letters, once breath has been drawn, once the right reply made, everything and all is possible.


Most importantly becoming who you truly want to be and being free.


Article Author: Nicola Herbert

7 responses to “SURVIVING”

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