Sexual assault, sexual abuse, molestation, ravishment, rape – all of these are wielded by men as weapons against a woman. Whether or not the woman was ‘asking for it,’ by dressing a certain way, whether or not the woman brought ‘it on herself’ when she walked that deserted street, whether or not the woman ‘provoked it’ by acting flirtatiously, no woman in the world should have to experience one of the worst crimes perpetrated by animals parading around as ‘men.’
Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License
Despite being victims to such heinous acts against them, women are often blamed for it and made to feel guilty for putting themselves in such situations. Why would a woman willingly put herself in jeopardy? Why can’t people understand this simple truth? But women aren’t taking it lying down either. They’re coming out and speaking up against such atrocious and reprehensible acts. In fact, they are waiving their lifelong right to anonymity to speak out about what happened to them, in an effort to let other such women know that they’re not alone in their fight.
Take Ione Wells, 20, for example. Wells studies English at Oxford University. While walking from her local tube station, Ione was violently assaulted in Camden, north London. Instead of feeling victimized, the brave young lady has written an open letter to her 17-year-old assaulter – ‘A Letter to my Assaulter,’ in her University’s newspaper, Cherwell.
Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License
In the letter, Ione, the Oxford University rape victim, says she refuses to become a victim or change her behavior. She also goes on to describe the horrible and violent attack, but she says that it hadn’t done anything to shake her faith in the power of the community coming together ‘like an army.’ Ione describes the moment her attacker pounced on her in a darkened street, with his hand clasped around her mouth preventing her from screaming, even as he smashed her head against the pavement. She goes on to describe the violence with which he grabbed her breast, which resulted in tearing her bra in half, and the resulting pain it caused her.
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Her open letter prompted an outpouring of support on both Facebook and Twitter, resulting in the letter being shared thousands of times by people using the hashtag #notguilty. The hashtag is to encourage others who have been through similar heinous acts to speak out about their experience. #notguilty is ‘a campaign to abolish the view that people put themselves into situations of assault. It is also a campaign to emphasise the wonderful solidarity of humanity and community.’
Here’s her tweet about her open letter:
“You did not just attack me that night. I am a daughter, I am a friend, I am…” #notguilty http://t.co/kZjJaS4Qqi pic.twitter.com/LOmjUquEFH
— Ione Wells (@ionewells) April 26, 2015
Image source Speaking on BBC Radio, Ione said she chose to waive her right to lifelong anonymity as a sexual assault victim ‘to connect with other victims,’ and to show them that they are not alone.
“I personally felt that by showing my face and revealing my identity I could encourage others to feel empowered and speak out,” she said.
Further, she said,
“There is a very dangerous culture of victim blaming whereby people can feel that because they walked a certain place or a certain time, or wore a certain item of clothing that they are to blame. That idea is beyond wrong, as victims we are always in the right.”
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She went to say that she hoped that the phrase ‘the victim is never guilty,’ would become a ‘household term’ and added that for her attacker ‘seeing a face and seeing a strong story is more effective than any sentence.’ After the overwhelming support her letter garnered, Ione tweeted her gratitude thus:
Wow – what a wonderful community. YOU have all proved my points about community in your support. Thank you! Let’s do this! #notguilty — Ione Wells (@ionewells) April 28, 2015
Cherwell, the University newspaper, is now preparing to publish letters or articles from other students who have undergone similar assaults. Three students have thus far come forward with their wish to share their experiences.
Why are women targeted and made to feel guilty for no fault of theirs? Why do men wield sex crimes against women as weapons? When will this misogynistic society become equal? Is that even in the realm of possibility given the current attitude of men towards women? Only time will tell.
Read Ione Wells’ letter in its entirety here:
I cannot address this letter to you, because I do not know your name. I only know that you have just been charged with serious sexual assault and prolonged attack of a violent nature. And I have one question.
When you were caught on CCTV following me through my own neighbourhood from the Tube, when you waited until I was on my own street to approach me, when you clapped your hand around my face until I could not breathe, when you pushed me to my knees until my face bled, when I wrestled with your hand just enough so that I could scream. When you dragged me by my hair, and when you smashed my head against the pavement and told me to stop screaming for help, when my neighbour saw you from her window and shouted at you and you looked her in the eye and carried on kicking me in the back and neck. When you tore my bra in half from the sheer force you grabbed my breast, when you didn’t reach once for my belongings because you wanted my body, when you failed to have my body because all my neighbours and family came out, and you saw them face-to-face. When CCTV caught you running from your attempted assault on me… and then following another woman twenty minutes later from the same tube station before you were arrested on suspicion. When I was in the police station until 5am while you were four floors below me in custody, when I had to hand over my clothes and photographs of the marks and cuts on my naked body to forensic teams – did you ever think of the people in your life?
I don’t know who the people in your life are. I don’t know anything about you. But I do know this: you did not just attack me that night. I am a daughter, I am a friend, I am a girlfriend, I am a pupil, I am a cousin, I am a niece, I am a neighbour, I am the employee who served everyone down the road coffee in the café under the railway. All the people who form those relations to me make up my community, and you assaulted every single one of them. You violated the truth that I will never cease to fight for, and which all of those people represent – that there are infinitely more good people in the world than bad.
This letter is not really for you at all, but for all the victims of attempted or perpetrated serious sexual assault and every member of their communities. I’m sure you remember the 7/7 bombings. I’m also sure you’ll remember how the terrorists did not win, because the whole community of London got back on the Tube the next day. You’ve carried out your attack, but now I’m getting back on my tube.
My community will not feel we are unsafe walking back home after dark. We will get on the last tube home, and we will walk up our streets alone, because we will not ingrain or submit to the idea that we are putting ourselves in danger in doing so. We will continue to come together, like an army, when any member of our community is threatened, and this is a fight you will not win.
Community is a force we all underestimate. We get our papers every day from the same newsagents, we wave to the same woman walking her dog in the park, we sit next to the same commuters each day on the tube. Each individual we know and care about may take up no more than a few seconds of each day, but they make up a huge proportion of our lives. Somebody even once told me that, however unfamiliar they appear, the faces of our dreams are always faces we have seen before. Our community is embedded in our psyche. You, my attacker, have not proved any weakness in me, or my actions, but only demonstrated the solidarity of humanity.
Tomorrow, you find out whether you’re to be held in prison until your trial, because you pleaded ‘not guilty’ and pose a threat to the community. Tomorrow, I have my life back. As you sit awaiting trial, I hope that you do not just think about what you have done. I hope you think about community. Your community – even if you can’t see it around you every day. It is there. It is everywhere. You underestimated mine. Or should I say ours? I could say something along the lines of, ‘Imagine if it had been a member of your community,’ but instead let me say this. There are no boundaries to community; there are only exceptions, and you are one of them.