This is a guest post by Mel Hughes and Kate Ravenscroft, editors of We Will Not Go Quietly: a zine for survivors of sexual assault.
We met at a group for survivors of sexual assault – an awkward start to any relationship and one hardly guaranteed to lead to longevity.
The most relieving element of a group like this – the removal of the need to ‘out’ yourself as a survivor of sexual assault, done before you’ve even walked into the room - is also the quality most likely to dissuade you from continuing a relationship outside the room. How do you socialise with someone who knows the worst thing that has happened to you, who has shared your fear and horror and shame, seen your anger and your trauma in all its messiness, in the context of your everyday acquaintances?
So, although there was a connection between us, it was an uneasy, uncertain one. One we did not know how to extend – or even if we should extend it beyond its initial context. As time passed though we began to find each other circulating in various social media contexts: Twitter and Facebook, blogs and Tumblr. We saw that both of us wanted to talk about our experiences, that both of us were searching for a way to voice our outrage at a world in which sexual assault occurs so frequently and yet is discussed so rarely.
Realising that we both needed to speak and be heard, we began a conversation about what we could do with the ideas that rattled around our respective brains. We came up with the idea of a publication, an informal and conversational zine, that would allow survivors a safe space to speak about their experiences - their survival, their courage and their strength as well as their fears, loss and pain - on their terms, in their own words. We both know only too well how rare such a space is. And how necessary.
As victim/survivors of sexual assault it is our voices that are the least heard. There are so many perspectives on sexual assault in society - whether they be from the legal system, the media or general popular culture. But most of these perspectives fail to take into account the views of survivors. In a culture that normalises sexual assault through the way survivors are portrayed in the media, through sexist language and through a legal system that often does not advocate for us, many survivors never get the chance to speak for themselves, on their terms, without shame.
That is why we need this publication. That is why we need a space of our own, one that is determined by us. A space where we can reclaim our autonomy, our right to be safe from violence no matter what we wear and how we behave, our right to speak up for ourselves, no matter how our words might sound to others.
Our recovery from the violence and brutality we have experienced, as well as our society’s capacity to establish a world free from sexual violence, depends on the paradigm of the rape being dismissed - the coercive assertion of one person’s needs and desires at the cost of another’s. We can only do this by learning how to hear others’ voices, with tolerance and respect, even when we don’t like what they have to say.
This is where We Will Not Go Quietly emerged from. It is our publication - ‘us’ being any survivor of sexual violence as well as all those who stand with the survivors, who want a world free from sexual violence. It is our small step towards changing a culture that has for too long enabled rape and silenced survivors. By us and for us, We Will Not Go Quietly establishes our right to be heard, whether we choose to yell or whisper, to murmur or rant. We may have been silenced once but we refuse to let that silence continue, we refuse to let that silencing determine our survival.
As the title suggests, we will not go quietly. Our stories demand to be told and we will tell them.