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SRG Podcast: Episode 2 Coming to Terms Transcript

Brenna [0:01]:

Hello and welcome to speaking out the Rape Crisis Scotland podcast. My name is Brenna Jessie, and I am Press and Campaigns Coordinator at Rape Crisis Scotland, Scotland's leading charity working to end sexual violence.

I work with the Survivor Reference Group or SRG, who are a group of diverse survivors from across Scotland who have had some engagement with the justice system, whether that's a police report that never went any further, right through to a trial or trials.

In so many of our meetings and chats, members of the SRG have spoken about the way that the public conversation around rape and sexual assault is so often taken out of survivors’ hands, survivors are spoken about rather than to, and sensationalist media agendas are seen as more important than the reality of survivors lives and experiences.

The Survivor Reference Group wanted to change the conversation and so here we are. In this SRG podcast miniseries, we cover loads of different topics and issues. Please listen with care and be aware that there are discussions of sexual violence and people's experiences of the justice system. You can find links to support in the show notes of each episode.

This podcast is by survivors for survivors, but it's also for anyone else who wants to hear directly from survivors about their experiences from seeking justice to self-care, from what it's like to access support to media coverage. So, make sure and give other episodes a listen and let us know what you think

Today, we're looking at coming to terms with what's happened. And we're joined by SRG members Cerys, and Emma.

Cerys and Emma: Hello.

Brenna: Now, if my memory serves me rightly, Emma, the idea for this episode came from you. So, I suppose if I could come to you first, why do you think it's important that we talk about and hear from survivors about their journey first-hand?

Emma [1:56]: So, I really wanted to do this podcast because I think it's important that survivors talk about what it can actually be like, after an attack or an assault, because I feel like quite often other people speak on our behalf, people who aren't survivors, or maybe aren't so connected with it. And yeah, I think it's important to give survivors a voice and a chance to actually talk about, this is what I experienced after, after my assault, after my attack, or whatever it might be.

So yeah, I think it's really important to hear directly from that. And I know that, personally, I would have benefited from something like this. In the past to hear about other people talking about something like this, I feel like it's quite a…for me anyway, it's certainly quite a unique opportunity.

Cerys: I totally agree with what Emma is saying you know; I think it's important to hear from people that have experienced it. And I do agree that there's a kind of misconception that people that have experienced sexual assault or rape become quite like broken, fractured individuals, and can’t go on necessarily to lead full and successful lives despite that happening. And I think it's not about pretending it didn't happen, but kind of learning to live with it, which is obviously what we're talking about today anyway.

Brenna: I'm always quite struck by that. And the way that survivors are pigeonholed either as being broken or destroyed by what's happened to them, or pitched as being like an inspirational hero, and it doesn't feel like there's ever really that much space in between, which I suppose is kind of what you're saying there Cerys. What do you think the harms are of doing that in terms of only ever seeing one kind of representation of survivor?

Emma [3:47]: So, I think that it can be quite frustrating as a survivor, because quite often, we have to listen a lot to conversations, because there have been a lot of conversations happening recently, a lot of people have been talking about violence against women because of the current media stories.

And it can be quite frustrating for me, and it's a bit of a bizarre experience because some, some people don't know what I've been through. And they will maybe talk about how awful it is and how horrendous is for these poor women and girls and how they feel absolutely terrified that it's going to happen to them. And I always sit there, and I sort of think, well, your nightmare is my reality. What you're talking about this horrendous thing - and it is a horrendous thing - but to actually hear somebody talk about what you've actually gone through, and such as if it's such a horrific, awful thing, which it is. It's just it's just quite a…yeah, it's quite a strange experience.

Brenna [4:51]: You know, in many ways, we want a public conversation about these issues, because that's really important and that's how we address the attitudes, that’s what we need to do. And yet, sometimes the way those public conversations are conducted, I think can very often completely lose sight of the fact that very often, more often than not, survivors are in the room and listening to those conversations. Cerys, do you have thoughts on that?

Cerys [5:16]: I think what I find really frustrating about the idea of kind of painting survivors, as, you know, broken people that just can't continue on with life after this horrific event is actually you definitely know a survivor, whether or not you've had that conversation with them. Sexual assault in particular is so, so common, that, how can you say these people are broken, when they're all around you working and, you know, maintaining happy successful lives?

I feel like, when we portray survivors like that, we encourage the narrative, that it's not something that happens frequently. And I think that's a huge, huge part of the problem. It doesn't support the idea that actually these people are everywhere, because, you know, either…I can't find a single female that I have spoken to about a topic like this, who doesn't have something to share with me that is sexual harassment or sexual assault. Not one. So, let's not pretend that all these people are absolutely broken and can't get on with their lives because they're everywhere. And that's what I find really difficult about that narrative is it allows you to pretend that it's not common when it is.

Brenna [6:30]: Yeah. And I wonder if that's actually part of the, the usefulness of it in, in some senses is that people find it easier by doing that to other, that's a problem that's over there, rather than one that's actually in our daily life.

Emma [6:45]: Yeah, we never see the other side of somebody going on and kind of doing things like a podcast, like what we're doing right now, or doing other things with their life.

I feel like as a survivor, that I, quite often in the media, I'm seeing empathy for people who have committed crimes. And personally, because of what I've gone through, I find that quite tough to be honest. And quite often, I'll see things like people who have committed crimes, taking part in these projects. And don't get me wrong, I do think that that I can understand why that is a good thing. But for me, it just frustrates me that there's not enough for victims, people who have been affected, survivors, to have these opportunities as well and for it to be shown in the media too.

And when you asked me earlier about why I wanted to do this podcast, that's why because I feel like, as somebody who's experienced a crime or experienced an attack, I feel like I don't have my voice heard enough, and that I'm misunderstood. And I'm this voiceless person in society.

Cerys [7:55]: What I feel really kind of deeply about this sort of thing and talking about it and getting perspective from survivors is, actually we don't want your sympathy. We don't want your pity. We want your voice, you know, we want you to stand with us, and actually help us make a change. It's not about having a pity party for us. Although that I, I know that people do that, from a good place. Like you said, you know, we'd be concerned if they had no reaction at all. That actually, that's not enough, that's not going to make a difference further down the line.

Brenna [8:30]: I just totally agree with what both of you are saying. I mean, today, we're talking about coming to terms with it. And we've sort of kept that, I think, quite vague in terms of the language that we chose specifically for this podcast. So that actually, we're able to cover like, lots of different things. What does that look like? Or what do we mean by that?

Cerys [8:47]: Now, what I found really funny is I'm very open with my family about all this and they’re like, thankfully very supportive of me. And I told my parents that I was doing this podcast, and I was speaking with my mum today, and I said “Oh, this one's on kind of coming to terms with it”. And she said, “do you think you've come to terms with it?”. [Laughs]. I was like well, thank you.

I think actually, that's good point. Because I feel it is quite a vague question. But do I feel I've come to terms with it? Well, what's your definition of coming to terms with it? I think that I'm, I'm in the most comfortable and accepting place I've ever been, and I think probably ever will be? I'm not sure. You know, I think that coming to terms it for me, is accepting it, which sounds you know, that's a very easy thing to say but that takes a long time. But accepting it and trying to move forward with it rather than being in complete denial of it.

And I think that there's a key difference there, which I think can sometimes be difficult to recognize, because initially I was just definitely in complete denial and deliberately wouldn't think about it at all. And because I wasn't thinking about it, I thought it didn't bother me. But that was completely inaccurate.

And unfortunately, I don't think there's many people in the world that are able to cope with trauma like that, where they can honestly not think about it again, and that is successful. If that's you, that's, that's fine. But it's highly unlikely that actually, that is a successful coping mechanism for you.

So, I think, for me coming to terms with it is, is accepting it and moving forward with my life knowing that, to be honest, nothing can undo it. And I don't know if that sounds a bit depressing. But it's not about sort of pretending it didn't happen, or…you know, because it did, and it has affected my life. And I do feel, in many ways, it has changed my life, it has impacted my life, including, you know, my work my relationships, and it probably always will. And, and I think that's okay, I don't have to pretend that, you know, “oh it did for a bit, but now, nothing's gonna stop me now”. And it's a really big traumatic thing to happen. And it will continue to affect my life. But I feel that I'm probably in as good a place as I can be considering, although I know that doesn't sound very positive. So, I don't know if he how you feel about it or?

Brenna [11:20]: I don’t think we need to…for me, that's just nuanced. Like that just actually conveys a lot of like, difficult emotions. And I kind of wonder actually, whether, in some ways, we've fallen into the same trap that that I literally just accused folk of in terms of the justice system and stuff, where it's like maybe coming to terms with it, maybe that's not a thing that happens.

Maybe that's not like you've reached a point where you've come to terms with it, but maybe actually, that is something that's an ongoing process. And I think what you said there in terms of, you know, the desire to not acknowledge it or not think about it, like that's just a very common trauma response, like that's something that we see and hear a lot about. And it can take some folk months and years to speak to anyone about what they've what they've been through. Emma, do you have?

Emma [12:06]: Yeah, so yeah, coming to terms with it…I remember shortly after my attack, thinking that it was almost like a timeline, and maybe after a year, and I would feel better, and then a year came, and it didn't happen. And then another year came and you're just kind of kept going and going. So yeah, I mean, that there is no end point. It's something that that you live with, and that for me was really, really tough to accept.

And just after I was attacked, I was I was kind of numbed motion. And I didn't feel much at all, I didn't cry for a year, I couldn't feel anything. But everybody was like “wow, you're amazing!” And I was doing things, like I started running, and I was I was doing my first half marathon, and everyone kept saying, “wow, you're an inspiration, you've managed to get over this” almost. Because they didn't understand either. The people round about me hadn’t experienced anything quite like this.

And I started to think “wow, like, I am amazing. I can’t feel emotion about this. And it doesn't really bother me all that much. And I thought something like this would absolutely devastate me, but I feel great”. And I genuinely believed that for over a year and I carried on my life doing all these great things and, and thinking I was being this wonderful inspiration. And it was, so like I said it was just over a year after, and it started off with a panic attack and it triggered horrendous anxiety, horrendous depression that lasted a long time.

And I'm very passionate about survivors getting proper mental health support. I went to the doctor initially, and I told her what happened to me, and I was rejected from psychological services. And I found that really tough because I was really, really struggling and I was in a very dark place. And basically, I decided that I would pay for therapy, pay for a psychologist and that always annoys me a wee bit but there's nothing else I could have spent my money on that would have been better. Because if you don't have your mental health, you don't really have much.

So yeah, through the therapy sessions, I realized that I'd been actually suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and actually not feeling emotion is a symptom of that. And nobody around me knew that. And I'm not…I didn't know that. And I wouldn't have known that if I had seen it in somebody else, and I realized that all this time I was I was actually unwell when I thought I was this great person, and don't get me wrong, I'm proud of the things that I did. I'm glad I ran the half marathon and I'm glad to that I did what I could at that point in my life to get through it. But it was a real turning point in my life, because I realized, wow this has affected me, much more than I thought it did initially.

And I remember the doctor saying, because I said “when am I kind of going to get better with anxiety?” And she said “you're never going to be get better as such, this is going to be something that you deal with, you know, you're gonna have good times and bad times, but it is going to be something that is there for the rest of your life”. And I had such a hard time accepting that.

Brenna [15:50]: And I know that in our sort of chats, you know, when we were thinking about the podcast, and kind of coming up with the ideas Emma, that you were particularly keen to make sure that the conversation around coming to terms with it and sort of things that maybe have helped or not helped. That it didn’t just fall down a hole of self-care and bubble baths and candles and the sort of really individual approach I think that we take to wellbeing. What more, I suppose, do you have to say on that, because I think those points are really important. Cerys, I wonder if you would want to pick up on that?

Cerys [16:22]: I think you're right. And, you know, I'm sorry to hear that you had a kind of disappointing time with trying to get help, because that's just, it's just unforgivable. And it's just like the last thing that you need. And I had a similar experience, I've spoken to a few people about it, as in professionally, or, you know, that had been my doctor or something like that.

And then I got referred to counselling through the NHS at a GP practice. And that took nine months or something until I saw the woman. And it was about being raped, and I told her about that at the start. And she said something very early on saying “Well, you know, eventually you will forgive him”.

Brenna and Emma: [Gasp]

Brenna: Wow.

Cerys: I was just like “I don't think this relationship is gonna work”. So, I, you know, I think I, it was just totally wrong. And I think it probably helped to confirm to me how important it is to talk to a professional about it. Obviously, you can talk to your friends and your colleagues or whoever you can talk about it with you and help you kind of let off a bit of steam. But actually, I've had a huge amount of counselling about this, and my kind of mood in general. And it's, it's been absolutely invaluable. But some of that was private as well. And again, I feel very fortunate that actually, I was in position that I could get private help.

But wow, that it comes to that, because a lot of people don't have that, so what are we expecting for them to go and see that shitty counsellor who will tell them they’ll forgive someone eventually? I mean, that's ridiculous. So, I think, you know, it's actually, some people might not like this, but actually you're kind of healing and coming to terms with it isn't just your responsibility. You know, it's kind of society's responsibility, because society is partly the thing that's creating the problem. And so actually, what can we as a society, do better for survivors and make support more readily available and stuff like that?

And I think that, obviously, it's great that more women are coming forward about their experiences, whether that's reporting or confiding in sort of medical staff or whoever, but the more that that happens, the more pressure there is going to be on the services. So funding is going to have to go up because otherwise, you know, it's good that people are coming forward. But what are you going to do about it?

Emma [18:51]: It always, really frustrates me that there's all these campaigns and they think - you know, I don't know who they are or who I'm talking about here - but people think that because we have celebrities who people look up to saying you need to talk, they think that we've made progress with mental health. But actually, yeah, people are talking, the problem is that there's no one there to listen or there's not enough people there to listen, that can do enough about it. I'm in a fortunate position where I could pay for a psychologist. But how many people out there are there that can't afford a psychologist? Loads of people. Enough with the patronizing campaigns of talking and going for a walk and exercising. Like, you know, I’ve ran the half marathon…

Cerys and Brenna: [Laughs].

Brenna [19:37]:

I see your walk and I raise you a half marathon.

All: [Laughs]

Emma [19:40]: …And I did everything that I was advised to do according to all these campaigns and I was still in a crisis and I needed more. It makes me so sad to think about the person who couldn't afford the therapy, because as if that had been me, I don't know. I don't know where I'd be today. It scares me.

Brenna [20:02]: I guess my final question would be, what advice would you give to anyone listening, who's maybe identifying with what you're saying? Or your experience? Or some of what you've said is resonating with them? Is there anything that you would say to them?

Cerys [20:16]: I think one thing, there's many, many, many things I would say. But one thing I would say is that, like coming to terms with it, and moving on looks different for everyone. And I don't think there should be any pressure, that moving on or coming to terms with it means talking about it on a podcast, or talking about on your social media or sharing things all the time and getting into campaigning about it and stuff like that. Like if you're moving on and coming to terms with it is just continuing with your life, that's totally fine, too.

I don't think we should put pressure on survivors to have to, as you say, kind of turn it into a positive. I think coming to terms with it and moving on is different for everyone and whatever you feel works for you, whether that's not talking about it again - not from a point of denial, but because you just want to move on with your life and not think about it and you want to explore other projects and blah, blah, blah - then you should definitely do that. It's not because that's the only thing. I think these podcasts are absolutely great. But I don't want anyone to feel like, you know, I should be doing something like that. If they don't want to. Does that make sense?

Brenna: They don't…. it’s not owed.

Cerys: Yeah, exactly. You don't owe anyone anything, you know. So, whatever it is for you, you should do.

Emma [21:36]: Yeah, funny you said that Cerys because I was going to say, when we have all these campaigns encouraging us to talk, when it comes to sexual assault, actually, it's nobody's business. And don't do what I do and tell some stranger in a bar what you've been through, because I tried it, it didn't work. It didn't make me feel any better and so, there's some person out there who knows my story.

My advice would be because of what I've been through personally, would be to just try - easier said than done I know - but try not to be afraid of the sadness and the extreme pain. Because I personally - and again, like Cerys said, everyone has their own ways and journeys - but I personally found that when I let the pain in, and I allowed myself to experience it, even though it hurt more than anything I've ever experienced, more than any physical or mental pain I've ever experienced, when I eventually let that pain go, like, I let myself feel it, I noticed that that is what that is what's helped me the most.

And, again, you know, I don't want to start giving people mental health advice, I'm not an expert, but I find that I still have days when I lay on the couch all day and I can't do anything because I'm just so sad about what happened to me and I'm so angry. But if I have a day of just letting myself - or more if I need it - of just feeling awful, even though it hurts, the next day, I feel like I can get up and I can do things.

Again, that's just, that's just me in what I've been through. But I think that I would… if I could go back to my past self, I would say you know, don't be afraid of the pain that you're going to feel because of this, don't try and push it down because it has to come out and it's gonna come out one day whether you like it or not. And that would probably be what I would say to my past self anyway.

Brenna [23:57]: This podcast has covered a lot of really difficult issues. If you're looking to talk then our helpline can provide initial and short-term support and make referrals to other services and local support. The helpline is open from 5pm till midnight every night and all details are on our website and in the show notes. Thank you as ever to our guests, and to our amazing producer Amanda Aitken, and to all of you at home for listening. Take care.

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