Survivor stigma

It’s difficult to know where to start with a blog. This post will eventually sit at the bottom of a long scroll of posts. At some future stage, out of curiosity, someone might delve right back down here to find out how and where and why it all began.

I suppose this is why. On Wednesday, I’ve been invited to speak at a meeting staged by MOPAC (the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime). I’ve been invited because the subject of the event is Violence Against Women and Girls, and the purpose of the occasion is to highlight the GLA’s and Mayor of London’s commitment to devote substantial resources to tackling and publicising the problem.

I’ve been invited to speak as one of the many women who have experienced sexual violence, and who owe our survival from this trauma to the support that we have received from Rape Crisis Centres. I don’t speak ‘on behalf’ of other survivors, there’s been no election giving me that mandate & I wouldn’t presume to do so. Experiences of sexual violence are many and varied, so rather than speaking ‘for’ survivors, I speak as one. I share my experience in the hope that some of the stigma will be broken down & that others might feel safe sharing their stories too. I have been very humbled by the women who have heard my words & approached me afterwards, showing me the overlaps between our lives.

Privilege is a word which has expanded in its usage recently, encouraging awareness of the standpoint from which our views originate. Although I have grown up a part of London’s Irish migrant community, I do not have experience of what it is to survive sexual violence as a woman within any other ethnic group. At the North London Rape Crisis Centre, I was part of a space where common experiences could be shared whilst retaining respect for our individual & cultural perspectives. It’s hard to believe these Centres have to fight for funding to continue their life saving work. Between 2003 and 2005 two of London’s three rape crisis centres were closed. At the one centre which was left (in Croydon) after these cuts, there was a six-month waiting list.

Six months. There is little doubt in my mind that six months was probably too much for some: that their suffering in isolation would have been too much to bear. That they may even have taken their own lives. I have personally had occasions when my situation seemed to me to be unendurable, and the only rational response to the state I found myself in was to try to end my life.

I don’t say this out of some self-dramatising urge. It was not some plea for help or attention. It was simple, dispassionate logic. I didn’t want to die, but neither did I feel I could live with the pain, the flashbacks and the legacy of my attack. On my road out of the darkest manifestations of trauma, I found the Solace Rape Crisis Centre. I was supported, cared for, believed and I slowly began to heal.

It is curious to find myself in the position of being defined by something so hateful (if only for an hour at a Mayoral event).

I’m Caroline Murphy (not “Caroline Murphy, sexual violence survivor”). I’m a graduate in civil engineering. I’m someone who has possessed (for ever, it seems) a drive and a work ethic that is restless, relentless and all-consuming. Once upon a time, I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for four years, as director of a major company.

And then, at the age of 26, I just hit a brick wall running. Really hit it. I was engulfed by familial, legal, personal and work-related problems any one of which would have taken every last ounce of my physical and emotional strength to handle. Yet they all came together. They crashed through the ceiling on top of me, and I was pinioned underneath, rendered powerless and immobile from the weight and the pressure, and incapable of helping myself to find a way out.

I’m 30 now. It’s taken me four years to restore some order and calm to my life. It has been a strange journey, and life before my breakdown was (for me) an extraordinary and exhilarating adventure.

I hope to use this blog to unravel a little of that story. To comment, where I can, on things that matter to me. Not just on violence against women and girls: but on therapy, psychotherapy and our attitudes to, and perception of, mental illness. On asset-stripped, down-sized, ethics-free corporate culture and its impact on people and society. And on what possibilities exist for creating healthier, happier lives & communities.

Which, considering my background, is fairly apt.

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