‘I’m Not Ashamed Of My Sexual Assault – But That Doesn’t Make It OK’

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  • Hannah Camilleri is one of the founding members of Girls Against - a campaign fighting to stop sexual assault at gigs - oh, and she's still at school. As part of our #BREAKFREE from shame week, she's sharing her story...

    ‘If I’m being perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I have much shame.

    I’m more than happy to admit it. It’s a part of myself that I’m actually quite proud of. Having no shame means that I get to be myself – all the time – and I don’t need to make any apologies for it.

    But this doesn’t mean that I’ve never felt ashamed. I’ve made one or two decisions that probably weren’t the best idea – but who hasn’t? And then, on there are the occasions when people have tried to victim blame me.

    I have been sexually assaulted.

    It happened at a concert and it’s something I’m bored of going through the gritty details of – please get your porn somewhere else. But my brush with shame didn’t occur directly after the event. It was actually a number of months later, over the internet – caused by strangers I had never met, who hadn’t even bothered to address me directly.

    After I was assaulted, my four best friends – Anna, Anni, Bea and Ava – and I set up a campaign, called ‘Girls Against’. We’re raising awareness and tackling sexual assault and harassment at gigs. The campaign has become rather big rather quickly – which is something that none of us ever predicted. We’ve received huge publicity from appearances on the BBC, and interviews in The Times, The Independent , The Guardian and now Marie Claire. That means we’re able to spread our message to people who we wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise. We’ve received messages of support from key industry members, while gaining thousands of followers because of this publicity.

    But we’ve also opened ourselves up to criticism. And by criticism I mean slut shaming, various insults, patronising comments and victim blaming.

    [READ MORE: ‘Why Naked Photos Made Me Love My Body Again’]

    ‘Victim blaming’ is a term that most of us are familiar with. It’s something that’s banged around the internet in various feminist discussions every day. It’s a judge asking a rape victim, ‘Well, what were you wearing?’. Or it’s somebody tell me that I deserved to feel someone else’s hands down my tights, because I hadn’t bothered to fix my skirt. I’ve had comments telling me how much I deserved it, that it was my fault and that I should have been more careful.

    But I hadn’t gone to that concert with protecting myself from sexual harassment in mind. I shouldn’t have had to. The only thing I should have worried about that night was whether I was screaming the lyrics loud enough or not. I deserve to be able to go to a concert and not ever worry about being sexually assaulted – no matter what I’m wearing.

    Luckily, I’m not the kind of person that is greatly affected by criticism, however, other people are. Girls Against sent out a tweet asking victims of sexual assault whether they had been victim blamed and to describe how it had affected them. Out of the 500 responses we received in the first hour, 62% of people had been victim blamed. And for many, it had made the situation feel ten times worse.

    Someone who has been assaulted needs support; not a mental bashing. For one person victim blaming and sexual assault meant that the memory of their first kiss had been tainted. A first kiss is supposed to be a fun memory of your childhood and something to laugh about in the future! It’s not supposed to be something you associate with sexual assault.

    Victim blaming has forced people into clothes they don’t feel beautiful in. It’s meant that teenagers have been denied help at school – even though school is a place where you’re supposed to feel safe. Thousands upon thousands of rape victims have been forced to drop court cases against their rapist, because of victim blaming from the people around them.

    [READ MORE: ‘How I Coped When My Best Friend Was Assaulted’]

    At the end of the day victim blaming is one of the main reasons why sexual assault and harassment still continues. If people keep quiet about what’s happened to them out of fear or criticism, then no one will know that it’s happening. And that means nothing is going to be done about it.

    That’s one of the main aims of Girls Against. We’re here to support victims of sexual assault at gigs, regardless of gender. It’s such a niche area where a lot can be done to change the situation and yet, until we came along, nobody was doing anything. It could easily be stamped out – and that’s what we’re working to achieve. We’re raising awareness of the situation by gaining the support of musicians across the world. Through this we’re discussing different ways to tackle the issue. This mainly involves speaking to music venues and their respective security companies. We want to change the way they are trained – and make learning how to spot and appropriately deal with sexual assault mandatory.

    It’s not an easy job and since we’re all still at school it takes up a lot of our free time. But at the end of the day we’re more than happy to do it, because we’re making a real change. Victim blaming shouldn’t exist in 2016 and we have the power to do that.

    We all deserve the right to wear and act and say and do and be whatever the hell we want.

    (Unless it disrespects someone else’s existence ’cause then we got an issue. But that’s a discussion for another time.)’

    Find out more about Marie Claire’s #BREAKFREE from Shame campaign here.

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