I am Survivor 5 and this is my story...

One of the speeches at the powerful vigil held on 23 March was read out by another speaker to keep the victim of sexual assault anonymous, under the alias of Survivor 5. Today she shares her story with the Guernsey Press…

The torch-lit vigil for women like Sarah Everard who lost their lives because of gendered violence. Picture by Andrew Le Poidevin. (29405479)
The torch-lit vigil for women like Sarah Everard who lost their lives because of gendered violence. Picture by Andrew Le Poidevin. (29405479)

[TW: anyone who finds this content upsetting can contact Victim Support, Guernsey Mind, the Samaritans or Safer for support.]

TODAY I go by the name Survivor 5. This is the reality of being a survivor. Anonymity. For some, like myself it is a choice. For some, it is because they will never tell. For others, it is because they are never found, or known.

I am anonymous because my parents don’t know. I am anonymous because family would worry. I am anonymous because I do not want to upset or scare my friends. I am anonymous because I am scared. I am anxious. I could be and have been judged. I could and have been disbelieved, shut down and told to get over it. I could and have been blamed, guilted and shamed – by professionals, peers and others. I am anonymous for my own wellbeing and safety. Maybe one day I will reveal myself and tell my story as myself, but for now you shall know me as Survivor 5.

If at any point you feel you may recognise my story or think you know who I am, please keep it to yourself and respect my confidentiality and privacy, the last thing I currently need is to become a viral hit on the Guernsey Grapevine.

Many have voiced criticism in the UK and beyond that Sarah Everard and her family and friends may not want her name to be politicised and for her to become the leader of a movement. I get it, I really do. I have huge admiration for those sharing their stories and huge empathy for those who do not feel they can. My story is one of many. And so for those who do not feel ready to use their names, please use mine; Survivor 5. I am one person, but I represent a whole political, social and human issue.

What we are doing now, what women have been doing for years and hopefully will continue for a long time to come, is not just for Sarah. It is not just for me. It is for all women. Women’s movements have not always been great at truly representing, standing by and supporting every woman. I therefore think it is important to establish that this has been a privilege only for some and that has got to change. We need to take responsibility and truly stand for all women.

Cis women. Trans women. Non-binary individuals. Those who identify with a woman or feminine identity, regardless of pronouns or genitals. White. Black. Indigenous. Asian. Women of all races, ethnicities and nationalities. Straight-sized. Mid-sized. Plus-sized. Women of all shapes and sizes. Christian. Islamic. Spiritual. Women of all religions and faiths. Stay-at-home mums. CEOs. Doctors. Artists. University students and those still in school. Those with disabilities, mental health disorders, or neurodivergence. Those just beginning life, part-way through or even near the end. Those that are single, in relationships or committed to marriage. Those who have their rights. Those who don’t. Those like us, that in some aspect have the capacity to use their voices and those that have been silenced. Those that have great privileges, but especially those that have been marginalised for far too long. We are here for all women, as every woman deserves to feel safe, regardless of who they are.

I am sharing my story, not just to enlighten others about the reality of being a woman in the current society and world we have created, but also for me.

For teenage me who was groomed online by a man 10 years my senior. And who was then victim-shamed by an entire system of professionals. I’m sorry to the marginalised communities that have been screaming from the rooftops about the biases and issues in our societal frameworks and systems for years. Who I thought I heard and understood. And yet, even when the system turned against me, I was so brainwashed, I believed it was for my own good and safety.

I’ll never forget the words the police said to me the day I told them what happened. ‘If you don’t report him, what if he does this to other girls?’

For the other women and girls that need to hear this; you were not, are not and will never be responsible for your perpetrator’s actions. Regardless of what they then go on to do to others. If you are not okay to, or do not feel ready to, or safe to, you do not NEED to report them and if you do, it first and foremost is for your sake. In an ideal world, yes, we would all speak up every time, but that is not the reality of being a survivor. It is not our job to monitor and hold responsibility for other people’s behaviours.

I’ll never forget leaving the social worker’s office, almost in tears, feeling awful and completely shameful, as they continued to threaten me that if what happened happened again, I would go to jail. I’ll never forget walking out of the school nurse’s office, feeling dirty and uncomfortable. They had sat there reeling off one question after another in what felt like an interrogation. I didn’t want to answer those questions. I wasn’t ready to answer those questions.

Three parts of the system that were meant to be protecting me and making me feel safe and reassured instead left me feeling suicidal, depressed, lonely, isolated and to blame for a man 10 years my senior who knew my age grooming ME online. They left me feeling too scared to ever speak to a professional again about anything related to my sex or relationship life, until recently, over five years later. And the closer I get to the age he was, versus the age I was, the angrier I get, because the more I realise HE should have known better, HE was the one manipulating the situation and HE was the one to blame.

I’m sharing my story for older teenage me who was too scared to say no to a new boyfriend and found herself one night doing something she didn’t want to be doing and then continued to do throughout the relationship, in fear he’d otherwise leave me; even when a friend had tried to convince me to say no, knowing that is what I truly wanted. I had left the particular sexual act on a maybe, deep down with the intention of saying no. But he didn’t ask that night. He just did. He took my consent for things I was comfortable with as automatic consent for everything. He only checked in on me part-way through, by which point it was too late. He then spread private details about me and our sex life once the relationship ended. This led to friends coming up to me, questioning if I had really done THAT, when in reality, I hadn’t even fully said yes.

The worst part is, I blamed myself for years to come and it wasn’t until I got to university and something similar happened to a flatmate that I even realised it was sexual assault.

To the women and girls that need to hear it, sexual assault and rape is not always like the movies. It is not always screaming and crying and struggling. You don’t always come away feeling super traumatised. It is not always by a stranger. Yet your experience, regardless of how it happened, is still and always will be valid.

I’m sharing my story for younger adult me who was finally trying to set better boundaries with men and dating and yet, even when boundaries were applied, they were completely disregarded. When I told him some things I didn’t want to do, he replied that he didn’t want to be ‘limited’, made me do them anyway and – when I froze and became anxious and genuinely triggered – started getting angry at me for ‘not being good enough’.

When I asked him to use a condom, he refused. I was on the pill, so why did he need to bother? I left the date feeling completely disregarded and humiliated.

To the women and girls that need to hear it, you have a right to demand your boundaries to be heard and respected. You have a right to demand contraception, even if you are using your own. If we can be expected to take a pill every day that messes up our hormones, can create horrible side-effects for some and even lead some down a very dark mental health path, I think they can manage putting on a condom. You have a right to walk away and not feel guilty if either are denied.

I’m sharing my story for adult me. The recent me. The story that I am still having to process the most and one of the main reasons I am choosing to remain anonymous.

I had a sudden close death in my life that hit me like a tonne of bricks. The stress of it made my period disappear. I got scared as my boyfriend of the time didn’t like using condoms and so, once again, I was purely relying on my pill. I had had a blip a few weeks earlier, as oddly enough I am human and occasionally susceptible to forgetting things.

These two events combined meant I was not in a good place to have sex and asked if we could hold off. When I messaged to ask, he accepted. But once I arrived at his house, it wasn’t long before his hands were all over me. At risk of triggering other survivors, I will simply phrase this as my wish to not have any sexual contact for a while was not respected. Multiple times.

His excuses were that without sex he felt insecure as a boyfriend and that the relationship was one-sided and that I had been giving mixed signals when in reality I had ended up caving all the times except one, because that was easier than to continue saying ‘No’ and ‘Stop’ and physically trying to get him off of me, including the one time he pinned me down. It was easier to

disassociate and numb myself, than traumatise myself further by continuing to struggle.

This kept happening, no matter how much I explained that it was nothing personal and that I was just trying to process the recent death and lack of period scare. When I asked if he could at least wear condoms for my mental peace, he refused, despite the fact when I told him my period was missing he automatically went, ‘So I assume we’re both agreed that you’re getting an abortion if you are pregnant right?’

I wasn’t pregnant in the end, but that didn’t stop me from having horrific panic attacks and breakdowns for a week, until it was the valid window to take a pregnancy test.

At the time, one of our deputies had even suggested creating more strict rules on abortions, limited to situations like assault. Our abortion laws in Guernsey today are still so far behind many other places and yet our deputies feel that because they discussed it last term and ever so slightly amended it, it need not be brought up again this term. Many use religious justifications. Many say that it couldn’t be brought to a public vote because, ‘We can’t have referendums for everything’. When it concerns my body and not even just a temporary change like a minor surgery, but birthing a child and having a human to raise, I think it is worthy of my say and my choice. Don’t like abortions? Don’t have one.

We, as a collective of people with vaginas and wombs, including trans men and non-binary individuals, should not be ruled by religions that we do not all follow, nor bounded by ‘worst-case-scenarios’, or the responsibility to have to sit there and talk through our traumas to you, in order to ‘qualify’ for a basic human right to choose what is best for our bodies and our lives.

Even though I would have qualified for assault and/or mental health issues being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I don’t think I had the strength at the time to keep having to explain this to professionals time and time again. Professionals under the same system that only five years earlier had shamed me for another incident. And before you start using infertility or fertility issues as an excuse to try and justify pro-life, I have been diagnosed with PCOS. I have fertility issues and have been given 5-10 years ideally to have children and still would have gotten that abortion if it had been needed and will always remain firmly pro-choice. We need universal laws, to support universal women, having universal experiences.

To the women and girls that need to hear it, their excuses do not justify their actions. You are not their personal sex toy to take out their insecurities on. Caving is not consent. It is OK if you have to give in for your safety and wellbeing, it does not make your assault any less valid. You are not sending mixed signals, they are choosing to ignore yours. It is OK if you need time off from sex, if they truly love you and care about you, they will respect it. You deserve the right to choose what happens with your body and life. It is OK if you have needed, or end up needing, an abortion. It is OK to have one even if it wasn’t assault. It is OK if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. You deserve to choose.

We deserve proper laws that truly protect us, that let us choose what is right for us and not just follow what some say you ‘should’ do.

My story is one of many and even extends beyond this. I haven’t mentioned the butt touches in clubs, or being told by men what I should wear, or policed by them on my makeup. The heart thumping in your mouth as you walk home in the dark, even if it’s only 5pm but in winter. The comments on my weight, time and time again, or worse, men thinking they can fetishize you, or aim for you because ‘fat girls are easy’. The fact my school prioritised skirt lengths over our mental wellbeing, the first being questioned much more frequently than the latter. Or that we had to monitor what we wore on mufti days, so as not to make the male staff uncomfortable. These are just day-to-day things that we have neutralised and normalised in our society.

If Sarah’s family and friends do not want us to politicise her that is OK. We can take the time to remember her and send them all the love we can. No one should have to face what they are going through.

There are plenty of stories out there. For those who chose to, let our voices and stories continue to guide change in society and fight for the right for every woman to feel safe. On the streets, in her relationships and online. Everywhere. We deserve laws, systems and professionals that are truly going to protect us. All of us. Including those that have been previously targeted and marginalised. It breaks my heart to think about what other women have to face, when looking at how much privilege I have in my life. I’m sorry I have not always heard you. I’m sorry you have not always been seen. You, too, deserve the right to feel safe.

I am Survivor 5.

A survivor that, over five years, has had to face various assaults by four men; three in person, two of which I was in a committed relationship to, and only one being reported. But zero took, or would take, any responsibility for what happened. It may not be all men, but in less than 25 years since I have been alive, it has been too many. Survivor 5 is one person, but represents so many more stories, some of which may never get heard.

I choose to remain anonymous. But please do not take that as silence. I am a survivor. I am strong. And in my own way, I will continue to shout and keep telling my story.

If there is one thing you take away from this letter, let it be this: since all of these happenings, my view on consent has changed a lot. We keep telling everyone that it’s all about saying no. But not everyone is given the luxury of being able to, feeling capable to, or given the time to. Consent is not about the fact that they didn’t say no. Consent is about the fact they didn’t say YES. A clear, sober, fully committed, comfortable, happy, safe, willing, verbal YES.

I am Survivor 5 and I am committed to making sure every woman feels safe and reclaiming not just our streets, but our stories, voices and lives.

Help is available for sexual assault survivors in Guernsey. Contact Victim Support on tel. 223000 email victimsupportgsy@cwgsy.net, or visit

www.victimsupport.gg

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