When a woman has been sexually abused, she may feel completely powerless. This sometimes means that she is more vulnerable to further abuse by different perpetrators at different times in her life.
Finding any personal power to assert her rights and remain safe can be extremely difficult, and she may be coerced into further abusive sexual activities.
This may create a downward spiral for the woman - feeling more ashamed and powerless to change what happens to her whilst at the same time being less supported by her friends, held responsible for any sexual attack, being less respected by partners and therefore suffering more sexual violence.
It is important for all women to remember that your body belongs to you and no one has the right to hurt or abuse you. You can decide what feels safe for you e.g. touching that is something that you want, something that feels comfortable, something that you’d feel okay talking about and something that makes you feel happy.
It is useful for everyone to explore their own thoughts and feelings around what feels safe or not for them personally. Recognising feelings within yourself and trusting your intuition enough to take action can sometimes help you to avoid a sexual attack.
Women and girls have usually been taught to be aware of the threat of sexual violence and so it is usual to feel uncomfortable or scared in certain situations. However, we have often been taught to ignore such feelings, so we stay in a situation even when we don’t feel safe.
The feelings and certain situations vary between everyone so it is more helpful to make your own choices about safety.
There are times when it is impossible to avoid sexual violence, so survivors should never be blamed for their experiences. We are not usually taught how to keep ourselves safe, or the information we do get is based on the myths around sexual violence e.g. don’t wear a short skirt.
Discussing personal safety with friends can be a way of looking after each other and yourselves without having to drastically change your lifestyle or feel that you can’t enjoy the freedom you are entitled to.
The following points have come from women and girls that have used Rape Crisis services, and are examples of what they have said that helps them feel more in control of their safety.
Remember that if you have experienced any form of sexual violence at any point in your life, it was not your fault.
Trust your instincts
- If you start to feel uncomfortable with your partner or feel scared of them for any reason, your intuition is usually right. Act on it. Try to get away or avoid being alone with them. Seek support to evaluate the relationship.
- If you feel pressurised into sexual activities you do not want to do, remind yourself that you do not have to do anything you don’t want to. Being coerced into sexual activity by a partner before feeling ready or comfortable is still sexual violence. Take as long as you need to explore your thoughts and feelings before rushing into a decision and seek support if necessary. Your partner should respect your decisions.
- Get together with some friends and think about as many different ‘uneasy’ or ‘threatening’ scenarios as possible. Explore possible choices and options you may have that will keep you safe in each scenario (the ‘What if …’ Game).
- Perpetrators of sexual violence are usually someone you know and trust, including family members, partners or friends your own age, so include them in your ‘What if …’ Game.
- Practice assertion techniques - its okay to say no, or to shout or scream, or leave an uncomfortable situation if possible. This includes breaking the rules if necessary. You do not have to obey those in authority or those close to you if you don’t feel safe with them, although sometimes you may have no choice. Discuss all the difficulties and possible consequences in the ‘What if …’ Game.
- Remember your rights - no one has the right to abuse your trust and make you do anything you don’t feel comfortable with.
- If you are going out, think about travelling safely, meeting friends safely, your route home - what feels okay or not okay?
- Try to stay in a group and walk home with friends.
- Carry some change for the phone - this way you can ring for a lift if you become separated from your friends.
- Give someone an approximate time you are due to arrive home.
- Keep hold of the phone number of a taxi service (preferably Women Drivers if there is one available in your area) and enough money for your fare home.
- Do not get into a two door taxi.
- Make sure the taxi has a recognisable license on display.
- Find out about community services e.g. female bus drivers.
- If you are walking home alone e.g. from your friend’s house, agree to ring as soon as you get home to let her or him know you’ve arrived safely.
- If you feel you are being followed, call the police, or go to the nearest house with a light on and ask them to call for help for you (you don’t need to go in the house to do this).
- If you’re feeling scared or worried about anything, walk in the middle of the road where possible - as long as this doesn’t put you in a dangerous position with traffic.
- Do not be afraid to shout ‘fire’ - as opposed to help or rape, people are more likely to come to your assistance.
- You may choose to ignore intimidating behaviour e.g. whistles, remarks about your physical appearance, a man flashing at you etc. If the intimidation continues call for help.
- Think about the risks of confrontation. You may prefer to ignore, retreat, change direction, tell someone, stay near people or phone the police.
- If someone approaches you or a car pulls up alongside you, keep your distance and keep walking away. Still keep your distance if you are giving them directions, even if they say they can’t hear you.
- Do not let strangers into your house without prior arrangement and identification cards (e.g. workmen). Do not let them in, even if they ask to wait indoors, saying they are a friend of your brother or parents etc.
- If you are going on a blind date or with someone you don’t know very well, tell someone where you may be going and when you will be back. Let them know when you are back or if there are any changes of plan.