Thursday, 24 July 2014

Posters and Tweets

The last week has been an eye opener for me, and reminded me of the kindness, resilience and passion of the women out there, regardless of whether I know them or not.

Due to a series of strange migraines which leave me unable to move or speak (they present themselves a bit like strokes), I've been off work for two weeks. And, somehow, my consent forms and other details went missing from occupational health, prompting my boss to suggest I deliver them by hand.

So, last Friday, I did exactly that. I printed and completed another consent form, phoned the occupational health people to warn them that I was coming, and hopped in my car. I was a little hesitant and determined to put on the "calm, put together" facade, because they obviously know about my past and I didn't want them to decide I was hysterical and incapable of working. Not that it was likely, but I do tend to over-think these things, and I had poor experiences with people wielding power (whose preconceived ideas about sexual assault caused big problems) last year.

I arrived at the building and rang the doorbell. The lady I spoke to on the phone asked me to come in and take a seat, as the nurse wanted to speak to me personally. Personally? I was a little concerned about this, but sat anyway.

That's when I saw it. After all, it could hardly be missed. On a blue board about alcohol abuse, where most posters were white and featuring individual drinks, there was a "featured" one in the centre. This most prominent poster was black, showing a woman and stated, "1 in 3 reported rapes happens when the victim has been drinking. Know Your Limits."

I felt sick. After all the campaigning, after everything that is being done, council-run centres are still displaying posters like this. Not that they should be anywhere, but the EVB Campaign was founded here in Nottinghamshire and that, somehow, made it worse. Then, of course, there was the fact that an establishment like this, that would be judging me, had these archaic views. I might as well pack my bags...

I surreptitiously took a photo, and managed to sit down just before the nurse came to collect me and talk me through the process. It left me with more answers than questions (seeing as everyone seems to be contradicting each other), but my mind was elsewhere. That poster.

A few hours later, I tweeted the photo. In the days since, it has been retweeted 53 times, and @manderlay1940's retweet with additional comment was tweeted 74 times. And various other modifications have also done the rounds.

I was taken aback by the interest shown. I knew the poster was awful, but I had initially thought that I was being oversensitive. I never thought that so many people would be outraged. A lovely lady on Twitter asked to phone and interview me for her blog, and she has recently told me that a petition to get these posters removed has begun.

I found out today that this petition has over 5000 signatures, that the NUS has also waded in and commented on it and The Drum is also running an article. Part of it seems a little crazy, that this little "Yuck, look what I saw!" has taken off.

But then I'm really, really glad.

You see, even now, I don't have the courage to do anything myself. I'm happy to speak in public about violence against women and girls (like at Nine Worlds), I'm happy to teach about gender equality or sexual violence or even do very personal performances about it (like at the Silence the Violence event in Nottingham). But for me to ask them to remove this poster, that was making it too personal. That felt like I was trying to remove something that was uncomfortable for me, for my own personal gain rather than for the greater good, and I was scared of the impact that could have on my career. After all, occupational health hold my life in their hands right now.

This isn't about just my feelings, though. And it doesn't matter how old this poster is (apparently, it was released in 2006). By displaying that poster, which is endorsed by both the Home Office and the NHS, it effectively tells you that those organisations will look at your culpability first, as the victim, and also that the organisation displaying it will do the same. These are organisations in positions of power and trust, ones that are supposed to be supporting people.

If, on a pre-employment form, you declare that you have suffered anxiety attacks, flashbacks, depression or any other lasting effects of assault, the chances are you will be called in for an interview. Imagine sitting in that waiting room, as a woman who has experienced rape, and seeing that this establishment thinks it's your fault. Imagine what that does, on top of the nerves and worry that you already have.

So I'm glad that other women have taken this cause and run with it. I'm glad that so many people are outraged, because it shows how our outlook as a society is beginning to change, how people are willing to act for change and how we can stand in solidarity to support each other and say, "no, this isn't just you feeling this way." 

Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I had been brave enough to do it myself. To step up and say, "this isn't right, we need to change it". But then, I know that the reassurance and support, and the knowledge that I'm not alone in this, is what I needed this time. That was my discovery to make.

For those wondering, I have been told that the county council received complaints, and that the poster has been removed. I will be checking this when I go in for my next appointment in a few weeks.

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