The everyday resistance of surviving sexual violence

Content Warning: sexual violence

This week, The Student’s theme is ‘Resistance’: a word encompassing many actions, people and movements. Resistance has taken many forms, existing historically at moments of suppression and injustice. At the moment, we see it outside our university buildings each morning, holding protest signs and standing against cruel cuts and the steady commodification of education.

There was resistance in the reams of emails sent to our Vice-Chancellor, the masses present in Bristo Square on Monday 26 February, and the students arriving at picket lines armed with flasks of coffee and solidarity. Currently, resistance is looking like a very specific thing. It looks like action. As humans with varying degrees of privilege, we have a responsibility to be active in tackling the harm we see done to others. We have an obligation to turn up, to write, to donate, or to teach. When you are born into a structure of inequality that places you at the top, it is up to you to attempt to deconstruct it. We must never mistake privilege or luck, for hard work and talent. Resistance as a privileged person is being aware of that privilege, and wielding it to elevate marginalised voices rather than to drown them out.

Although this is true, there is certainly multiplicity to the word ‘resistance’, and sometimes, depending on your situation, it is a lot less tangible than targeted direct action. For this week’s edition, we reached out across the internet for stories of individual acts of resistance. Below are five stories of what it can mean to resist, highlighting the heterogeneous nature of fighting oppression. It is not always collective and loud. Sometimes it is quiet, and strikingly personal.

This year we saw the rise of #MeToo, a movement which solidified and validated an experience which had always been confined to whispered conversations between close friends. It was desperately and undeniably necessary, a collective realisation that what is happening – on screens, in restaurants, on campuses – is not something we can remain complicit in. I remain infinitely grateful to the many survivors who spoke up, to the many people who replied ‘we believe you’, and to those who said ‘we must be better.’ Amongst all of this, however, the emotional strain the movement put on survivors went ignored.

I was sexually assaulted over three years ago. I can’t remember it, but what I can remember, and what often becomes not just a memory, but a constantly repeating process of recovery, is the vulnerability I felt in the aftermath. I would cry without warning at school, at parties, and in clubs. I felt constantly exposed and at risk, and a cat call was enough to trigger a panic attack. My resistance was overcoming this, it was feeling disbelieved by those close to me and tackling it, in part, on my own. Resisting was an inherent part of attending doctor’s appointments and counselling sessions to repeat the same story in the same diluted script.

When the #MeToo movement was at its peak, detailed retellings of sexual violence were everywhere. Twitter, Facebook, and almost every newspaper became minefields for my mental health. The quantity and extremity of the stories being told was exhausting. Navigating each day became almost as difficult as it had done in the immediate aftermath of the original trauma. The endless conversations demanding well articulated, feminist arguments were impossible. I felt guilty for not participating in the hashtag or speaking out, but I was so tired. For that moment, resistance was getting by.

As someone who is white, cisgender, and privileged in a million different ways, I have a responsibility to speak out when I see a system that benefits me harming others. But as a survivor, my main responsibility is to look after myself. During #MeToo, resistance meant deleting Twitter from my phone, and not checking the news quite so much. It meant being thankful for the movement, and singing its praises, but temporarily removing myself from it to avoid a move back to square one.

The existence of my words on this page show that I now feel able to attach myself to those stories again, and to become actively involved in loud and collective resistance. Because a million other women more radical than I have made it possible, I have added my voice to the chorus of those fighting back, but it has taken me a long time to feel able to do so. Accepting that, and looking after myself in the mean time, was a form of resistance in itself.

 

 

Illustration: Josh Green

Image:  StockSnap via Pixabay

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