Vulnerability is Never an Open Invitation

Slightly different to my other pieces but some thoughts I wanted to share.

Content Warning: Sexual Assault

“They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.” – Louise O’Neill, Asking For It

Growing up in rural Cheshire, I was never into partying so the risk of being drunk or alone after dark hadn’t crossed my mind. Consequently, it surprised me when I first started going out in Belfast and my friends refused to let anyone walk home alone at night out of concern for each other’s safety. Two and a half years later, this is still the case, and, after my friend was harassed by a stranger as she walked home from the library early one evening, I now understand why. However, it should not be the case that anyone fear the nasty potential of different situations, such as meeting a Tinder match for the first time, going on a night out or even walking home in the dark.

Sober, attractive, respectable women who are distraught after an attack by a man they don’t know in a dark alley are treated sympathetically by the press as sexual assault victims, as if this is the only true version of ‘victim’. If a victim’s circumstances do not conform, then they don’t qualify as a true ‘victim’. In reality, there are varying circumstances in which people are sexually assaulted. For example, the victim may be male, drunk, or unconscious. The perpetrator may be known to them, possibly a friend or loved one. The assault may happen in a club, a car, a friend’s house, even the victim’s bedroom. People also process their experiences differently and should not be judged on how they deal with the assault. Just as there is no true ‘victim’, there is no correct ‘reaction’.

Victims are targeted based on what perpetrators perceive as vulnerability, for example if someone is alone or drunk. However, ‘vulnerability’ is not an invitation. Nobody welcomes the physical or psychological trauma of sexual assault, or any other kind of assault. It is never the victim’s fault. Those who perceive and seek to exploit vulnerability are the ones to be held accountable.

Consent is defined as “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something”. Consent is a clear, enthusiastic and verbal confirmation that someone is happy with what the other is asking for and requires a sound state of mind. This can never be assumed. If a victim was too drunk to process what was happening, they could not consent. If they were unconscious, they could not consent. If they were paralysed by fear, they could not consent. If consent is given, it can, at any time, be withdrawn. When consent is given, it does not become a free pass that entitles someone to your body whenever they so choose. It is not automatically carried over into the next day, week, month or year, regardless of relationship.

Current high-profile cases, such as the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, are slowly effecting a deeper understanding and awareness of sexual consent. The complainant in the trial of four Ulster rugby players was criticised for not fighting back, as if a lack of struggle meant she consented. This is wrong. The absence of resistance does not by default signify the presence of consent: no one is entitled to your body. Vulnerability never justifies assault.

Advertisements

Congruence is key

“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” ― Mark Twain

Throughout my years studying Literature, I have continuously been told that to make a point I need to have sufficient evidence; while I may consider other arguments, I should focus on my goal, relating all points back to it to convince whoever may be reading it that I have a solid response.

Maybe as a result of this, or the consequence of my tendency to pick apart every single tiny detail, I have come to notice a level of imbalance in the real world between what people say and what they do. In my mind, words should be supported by actions. However, in my experience actions, or lack thereof, can contradict the words people use and I am tired of hearing things that aren’t reflected in action. Surely if someone wants to talk to you, if you’re important to them, if they want to spend time with you, if they say they care, then what they do along with their attitude towards you should reflect that? I would rather someone not say anything at all to me than tell me something untrue and, while I may not abide by this without fail, it is something I try to do. Maybe people believe what they say in the moment they say it, but once that moment passes there seems to be a lack of execution which creates a mismatch between their words and deeds, whether they’re aware of it or not. It’s not to say that this isn’t evident in other walks of life: take politicians for example, how often do they go through with the promises they make? I am just finding it increasingly difficult to take words at face value when there is little to nothing to back them up.

Remembering matters

“One couldn’t be selective when remembering the past. Ignore the turmoil, chaos and pain – and the truly great memories would not shine with such lustre” – Karen Fowler, Memories for Sale

 

I have just finished reading ‘Maus’, a graphic novel depicting a personal account of The Holocaust, for a module I am taking on Visual Culture. The text is rather apt given the time of year: a time when we choose to remember past events that affect the world even to this day. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine the things you haven’t experienced or witnessed for yourself, particularly loss on a scale as significant as war. It’s portrayed in books, film, television and is seen all over the news even today yet it still feels detached in some way. I think I struggle to relate to it because it’s not something I could imagine going through. The concept is so abstract that it feels like it belongs in another world from one of these books or films, not my reality but sadly I know it is the reality for some. That said, I connect a lot more with personal accounts such as ‘Maus’, finding them more heart breaking to digest, while the huge statistics associated with war are too big to fully comprehend.
The imagery in ‘Maus’ is particularly interesting as Art Spiegelman presents each human figure within his father’s account as an animal, different animals relating to different parties involved in the war. As it was so personal, I found I had to keep reminding myself of the reality of the topic as it was easy to become absorbed by the abstract narrative structure and characterisation.
I think it’s important not to dwell on the hard times but also not to forget them either: if we did not remember, we might fail to appreciate how we got to be where we are today.

Leap of faith

“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

In my final year of A-Levels, tickets for the Imagine Dragons ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ tour went on sale for autumn 2015. My sister and dad got tickets to see them in Manchester which I normally would have done too. However, I knew that I wanted to go to university that September and, while I had my heart set on being in Belfast, I didn’t have a firm offer. I simply did not know for definite where I would be come November when Imagine Dragons would be touring the UK, not that this little hiccup was going to stop me.
I had already decided that if I didn’t get into Queen’s, I would re-sit my A-Levels to get the required grades because I absolutely wanted to be in this wonderful city. For me there was no question as to where I would see Imagine Dragons: it had to be Belfast. Whether I was studying there or flew over for a couple of nights with my mum to go to the concert. Fortunately, I did get the grades and was thrilled to move over in September. The second hiccup was that I now had no one to go with. Planning ahead, I had bought two tickets and so, during Fresher’s week, one of my lovely new flat mates offered to pay for the other and go with me.
Initially, my friends at home had told me I was crazy to jump into buying those tickets but I believed it was worth a shot and I was determined not to let doubt get in the way.

Here we are

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

As it is World Values Day, I thought it only right to acknowledge two of my values that have played a vital role in this blog: Transformative Communication and Congruence.

I have had many wonderful (and not so wonderful) experiences so far and I am more than happy to share these with the world as my life is essentially an open book of dos and don’ts. It is through this blog that I want to share my experiences, the insights these have given me and the lessons that I have learned. This is my method of Transformative Communication. When people ask me what I want to do I say I want to change the world. I don’t mean I want to end poverty or establish gender equality while I have the utmost respect for people that aspire to such greatness and those that contribute in any way, no matter how small. I simply mean that if I could make the slightest difference then I would have accomplished my goal and I would be happy. But it is my Congruence, being true to myself, that allows me to both work towards this goal and write this blog. My word is my deed, I mean what I say. It is understandably hard to commit to your word in this manner as it is relatively permanent: once it has been published it is difficult to recover it. This was half the reason I was so hesitant to write a blog, the other half being the question of whether people would like what I had to say. But it is important to me to not treat such things as potential risks but as opportunities and I am so glad I took this one.

Tone of surprise

“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” – Alan Turing

I thoroughly enjoy surprising people – my friend is repeatedly surprised every time he hears that I can play the flute, primarily because his memory is shocking but his reactions are brilliant so he’s forgiven. Last year I choreographed for a production of FAME and the cast seemed surprised when they realised I could “actually dance, like, properly”, as if they hadn’t expected me to able to because it wasn’t something they knew about me. This summer I was asked to sing at an event some of my co-workers were attending. One of them came up to me after and said “well you kept that quiet”, as if belting out musical theatre numbers would have been appropriate in the office. The thing that amuses me about this is how shocked people can be when they uncover something new about you, as if you had been keeping it secret from them. I personally consider myself an open book and yet people are often surprised when they discover something about me whether they are an acquaintance I have met a handful of times or one of my best friends but I know I am guilty of this too. I just feel that we seem to forget sometimes, in a world where information is usually at our fingertips, the lives of others often go as deep as our own.

Make it happen

“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” – Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

When I first moved over to Belfast and realised there was no Musical Theatre Society at Queen’s, I was amazed. With Musical Theatre being a large part of my life, I wanted to continue with it as it would provide a sense of normality in the move to university across the water. Initially I heard there was a group starting a society which I was very excited about but nothing came of it. When I went home for Christmas, my performing arts friends asked me what I was doing in Belfast and, after I explained the situation, they said “well why don’t you start something then”. They were right: if I wanted something that wasn’t there, I had an obligation to myself to start it. So, I emailed the Student’s Union that night and started to pull together a group who also liked Musical Theatre, drafted a Constitution for the society and arranged to speak at the first Student Council meeting after Christmas.
Cut to May 2017 and, in fifteen months, the society had received £5,880 thanks to a hard-working team, produced three showcases, organised socials, staged a full-scale musical with help from various people and groups around Belfast and had been shortlisted for Most Improved Society and came second for Society of the Year at the Annual Student’s Union Awards. All I wanted to do was sing but creating the opportunity for fans of Musical Theatre to come together and perform led to so much more. I could not be more proud of what the committee and I achieved in the society’s first fifteen months and, while none of this had been in the plan, I will be forever grateful.

Who, me?

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have danced for years, performing and competing. I was never a typical Festival competition dancer: they were covered in glitter and strutted around with cheesy grins plastered across their faces which just wasn’t my style. But I was doing something I loved and that was more than enough for me.
Three years ago, I was lucky enough to perform an incredible routine that was entirely my style, choreographed by my brilliant teacher. At the end of our section, all dancers were called on stage for the places to be awarded. My school’s dancers were numbered something like 5 to 16 so they were the numbers we were listening for. Third place went to one of our girls, Second to another dancer and First was tied between number 14 and a dancer that we had seen perform and immediately thought “show’s over, everyone go home, he has it in the bag”. But number 14 was one of our girls. I looked along the line and then down at my own number. I had just placed joint First. Thinking there had been a mistake, I took a small, hesitant step forward, bowing ever so slightly when I noticed my dancer teacher’s wide eyes in the audience. I walked forward to stand next to the other winner and receive my medal. The adjudicator then asked me to give it back and I was so embarrassed, of course it was a mistake. And then she said something I will always remember: “Now go back and walk forward like you won”.
Doing something I enjoyed and being myself not only won me joint First but also the joint highest mark in the entire Novice category. From this, I have learnt a valuable lesson: Never underestimate how high a love for something can lift you.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑