CONTENT WARNING- Contains accounts of child sexual abuse & trauma
Dear Mandu, Christine & Tabitha,
Today we opened our inbox and found a searing and candid testimony from a Caucus member. She has asked us to share this deeply personal account with you as well as our readers. It is her hope that those policy makers debating her rights, may learn something from her.
A foreword from the Caucus
As the WEP self ID consultation turns its focus to the impact of self ID on our EVAWG* policy we would like to pause and reflect on the impact that debating our legal right to single sex-spaces has on women. The huge impact on the wellbeing of the one in four of us who live with the life-long trauma of sexual assault.
WE would like WEP to consider how those of us living with PTSD cope when asked to give testimonies of our trauma. How we cope when we have to fight publicly to defend our rights that we have already fought hard to win. How we feel when we are told our trauma is not significant enough for us to have the spaces we need. How we cope when we are told that our need for sanctuary is an act of hate. How we feel when the organisations we built, funded and lean on relegate our needs. How we feel when society shows us time and time again that as women and girls we must absorb the needs of others.
WE would like to extend our thoughts to all the women that are sitting with 'that feeling'. That will be watching the WEP consultation with their churning bellies rising. Women re-traumatised by this consultation. We would also like to extend our deep respect to those who have shared their testimonies and engaged in the process. You are standing for all women and girls, at a huge personal cost. For that we thank you.
On that note, we present you with the words of a woman who must be heard. Really heard. We are humbled by her strength, angry at what she has endured and honoured that she has shared her story with us. May we all learn a little something from it.
CONTENT WARNING- Contains accounts of child sexual abuse & trauma
This is an explanation of sorts of why I am so worried about the rise of misogyny in Left- wing, progressive circles. This is my story of abuse, as a child and as an adult. It is my story about where I have come from and why this feminist fight for women is so important to me.
I have never had a voice. I don’t believe that I ever will. This is not so much an attempt to be heard as a need, after so many years, to just tell the truth.
I grew up in alternative communities in the 1970’s and 80’s. I am entirely a product of the Left. I grew up in it and have remained in it despite the damage it has done me. All my friends are on the Left as are all my work colleagues. It has always been this way. You would probably be able to identify my tribe just by looking at me. I can’t help it. It’s in my DNA. Recently however, a growing number of my tribe are not talking to me anymore. Let me explain.
I am also a woman. By that I mean a female. The type that doesn’t have a penis. Despite what you might have heard recently, being a female type woman is not a lovely barrel of privileged cis-ness, making cupcakes in the Home Counties. I don’t know who these women are. I’ve never met any of them.
I was abused as a child. I was abused for over ten years. I was abused sexually, psychologically and physically by a man. He was a tyrant who controlled and gaslit my mother until the day she died. The crimes were entirely his, but he was enabled by a Left-wing culture that lauded sexual permissiveness, experimentation and individualism to such an extent that even now decades later, the stories of casualties are downplayed or denied altogether. There were abusers all around me. All of them were men. One girl was having an open sexual relationship aged twelve with her abuser. One boy has since committed suicide. Many have struggled their entire lives. All of them have had their stories airbrushed from history. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that the Left never owns its mistakes.
With my own particular abuser, the threat of violence was always in the air. He killed animals and starved others to death.
He had rules that had to be obeyed but they changed daily so it was impossible to ever get them right.
We were not permitted to raise our voices or ever sing. To this day I never sing. Looking back on it he was a textbook abusive man. The difference was that most of this happened while we were living in communal households where everyone believed they were the good people. Good people aren’t abusers therefore what was happening was not abuse.
We went on marches. Articles were written about how progressive we were in magazines. I didn’t go to school. I was isolated from ordinary ‘unenlightened’ people. I never went to a doctor. I was told to forget my mother was my mother because all adults would be my parents. There was a deliberate and systematic breakdown of family units. It was for the greater good. The nuclear family was an evil capitalist construct. Communal living was the road to utopia. We were the forerunners of a shiny new future unshackled from the oppressive past.
For a number of years, I did not have enough to eat because nobody in the many places we lived worked. I often slept in my one change of clothes because we had no heating or proper bedding and the houses were partially or completely derelict. For three years we had a bucket for a toilet and no bathroom. I never had a bedtime. I didn’t wash. I didn’t clean my teeth. I had parasites and skin rashes. I was always ill with one virus or another. My overriding memory of my childhood is hunger, cold and fear. The fear was always there. It became part of me, grew into my bones and it never left.
All the time that this was happening, everyone around us knew. They may not have known the details of the sexual abuse, but they knew. There was no secrecy. Breaking boundaries was the culture. This was a time when wholesale questioning of all things establishment was de rigueur. I was told that the word paedophile was just a term for those who were interested in freeing children from repressive bourgeois values and that as a society we needed to reclaim it. I was told that the age of consent was invented by prudes terrified of sex and that this terror was a Victorian hangover that society needed to rid itself of. This backward thinking was damaging to my psyche and would stunt my ability to grow up happy in my own skin. I was told children were sexual beings. I mustn’t let myself be deprived of this human right. I deserved sexual pleasure as much as adults. The thinking of organisations such as P.I.E were seen as radical yes, but generally progressive. If there was disquiet about their ideas, and sometimes there was, it was pointed out by men that they were really no different than the Gay Rights Movement. Both were about smashing down the barriers to sexual freedom.
As a child It all felt wrong and horrific and terrifying, but I never spoke out because there was no one to tell who would take my side. I was told I was lucky. I was told I was happy. I wasn’t told I should be happy. I was told I was happy. The fact that my experience of the world did not match anything that was said to me didn’t matter. I was groomed and educated to dismiss my own instincts and feelings. This didn’t just happen to children. It happened to women too. they were called frigid or unliberated if they didn’t freely have sex with men or condone the continual nakedness, the penises at the breakfast table or the lewd talk. There was something wrong with women who couldn’t let go. There was something wrong with me if I didn’t want to be sexually touched aged twelve. I was told it was innocent and natural. If I didn’t think that, then it was my mind that was dirty. I had to re-educate myself.
I repeat. Everyone knew about this culture. Everyone. They may not have known about the specific incidents of abuse to individual girls and women, but they knew in general. All around me there were people who knew. The Socialists stayed silent because they were busy fighting Thatcher which was more important than women and girls. The Trotskyists stayed silent because women and girls were not featured in their glorious manly revolution. The hippies stayed silent because they didn’t want to get involved in anything that would disturb their utterly self-absorbed quest for spiritual peace unless it meant having sex with women and girls. The mothers stayed silent because they were either fucked up by their own parents, running away from their own abusers, gaslit by present boyfriends they couldn’t give up, or just broken, weak and in denial.
As a child I never wore a dress ever. I wanted to be a boy. I knew it would be safer. It wasn’t a hunch. It was an animal instinct. I hated my developing body and wore shapeless clothes to hide it. In my dreams I wasn’t a girl or a boy. I was free of all of that. I was just myself, happily alone, living in a forest with animals.
I ran away as soon as I could. I sat in a DHSS office on a metal chair screwed to the floor and told an employee through the holes in the safety glass that I couldn’t live at home anymore. I was a minor. He needed to know why not. I said things had happened that shouldn’t have. I couldn’t stop crying. It was humiliating. He looked irritated that he would have to help me. He wrote something on a form, and I got sent to a hostel. It was the 1980’s so no one asked me a single other question about it.
As a teenager I slept with much older men, who I was drawn to because they had nice warm homes and food in their fridges. I also wanted a father figure. I wanted to feel safe. I didn’t know that at the time. I thought I was in love with them. One man, a Left-wing professor at a university, in his forties, used me for sex for several years. Always on his terms. Sometimes he’d pick me up from my hostel but usually I got the bus to his house. He phoned me up when his real girlfriends weren’t available. He didn’t believe in monogamy. He said it was repressive and unhealthy. Every time I saw him was the same routine. He’d give me drugs and alcohol, make me have a bath and then have sex with me. I never had an orgasm. He never cooked me a meal or saw me outside his house. I had to be gone before he got home from work the next day. Sometimes he would leave me five pounds. I hated that but I needed the money. I was 17. I was living on Weetabix and chips. One night I told him about being abused. I had been planning it for weeks and was very nervous. I think I was hoping he would rescue me somehow. He laughed and then told me to never mention it again as it was a mood killer. I shut up. I hated myself for having told him afterwards. The shame was so intense and painful that I couldn’t eat for three days and then I fainted on a bus.
When I was 21 an older man I slept with gave me herpes. He didn’t wear a condom. He didn’t refuse to wear one. I never asked. I didn’t think he would sleep with me if I did. I never thought I was worth that much. Having boundaries was an alien concept.
After I got the herpes rash, I was so ill I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. He told me what it was, and that I’d probably caught it from him. I said I wanted to end the relationship. He cried and said he would kill himself if I did. So I didn’t. At the STD clinic the elderly male doctor on duty told me it was my fault I’d caught it. He examined me roughly by sticking his fingers into my inflamed vagina and I cried out in pain and burst into tears. I couldn’t stop crying. He was cross. After I had put my clothes back on, I asked him through my tears if it was incurable. He said it was and anyway what did it matter? He told me I must stay with the man who gave it to me and not sleep with anyone else ever again. I thought I was now soiled property and no one else would ever want me so I stayed with my boyfriend for years. He was an alcoholic. Eventually I left him. He wouldn’t accept it was over. The only way I could get away from him was to leave the country. He told me repeatedly he was going to kill himself. He didn’t but every day I lived in fear that he would.
Three years later he died of cancer. His friends and family blamed me for his death. They said leaving him had made him ill.
In my late twenties I told my mother about the childhood abuse. She told me that she had known but that she didn’t think it was that bad. She told me he was abusive to her as well but if she left him, he would kill himself and she couldn’t live with that on her conscience. A few months after this she got angry with me. She was a strong feminist woman and therefore what I was saying happened couldn’t possibly have happened. My version of history was just one version and anyway truth is subjective. Her truth was just as valid as my truth. I became estranged from her.
Years later she died of cancer. I was blamed for making her ill. I should have kept quiet.
My truth was not the truth. I was too angry, too difficult. I should have been kinder.
I am now a middle-aged woman and entirely invisible. I have given up on having a voice. No one wants to hear it. I am not cool. I am not young or fuckable anymore and therefore I have no currency. In a way it is a relief. I don’t have to mould myself to fit because no one sees me even if I do. I’m not in the marketplace. The marketplace is for young women. I see them pandering to male egos for likes and profile and acceptance. I see their bright minds and bold words about shiny futures and inclusivity and smashing capitalism. I see the gaslighting. The same gaslighting. The same words and phrases. The progressive Left telling me my experience of the world is wrong. I am lucky. I am happy in my body. I am privileged. If I say otherwise, I am hurting people and making them want to kill themselves. My words kill people. Women wanting to make boundaries around their bodies, their safe spaces, their children, their language, their truths, their abuse, are hateful, bigoted, dried up bitches. Once again men tell me I don’t understand the shiny new future. I have to be silent and dismiss my instincts, my logic, my anger and my fear. And once again women who proudly call themselves feminists, who believe they are on the right side of history are going along with it.
I try again to have a voice, because I am not dead yet. I go to the police and report my abuse after 35 years. As I write this I await to hear if the CPS will prosecute. He tells the police that I am a manipulative liar and mentally ill and that he is the real victim. He has been a staunch feminist all his life. I don’t know if he will be convicted or not. It is a long process and I must hold my nerve. His lovely Left-wing friends all believe him. They know they are the good people. How could they have got it all so wrong? If you are on the right side of history, you can’t be wrong! The police ask me, why now? I tell them I told lots of people over the years. I told doctors, authority figures, lovers, counsellors, friends and family. No one ever said go to the police. I thought I didn’t have a right to. I thought I wasn’t worth enough to be believed. I thought it would kill my mother.
I tell myself now that I know my own truth and that all that is important for the remainder of my life is to be authentic. It is important not just for me but for my daughters. My beautiful eldest, who thinks she might be a lesbian but doesn’t know yet. Who has been told by her peers that the cool lesbians have penises and that if she doesn’t believe that, she is a bigoted transphobe. She keeps her mouth shut. It is too dangerous to speak. I tell myself, whatever the cost of telling the truth, the cost of staying silent is far worse. So I write this.
I contemplate joining a singing class. I’ve never been able to sing. My throat closes up in fear whenever I try. Perhaps if I could sing, I could finally be free.
Without further comment,
The WEP Sex-based Rights Caucus
*EVAWG- Ending Violence Against Women & Girls