My Body BackJon
Two months ago I started the My Body Back project. I started it because I am a rape survivor, and I desperately needed a service that would help me with how I felt about my body.
I contacted charities and discovered there was no service for rape survivors and how they felt about their bodies, sex, and sexual health. But I know how necessary this is, so I started something myself.
In July the project will begin running monthly workshops for female survivors of sexual violence, where they can openly discuss sex after rape or assault. The workshops will be led by the women who attend, who will choose the themes they would like to discuss during upcoming sessions.
Women will be able to openly discuss issues they have with flashbacks and triggers during sex, orgasm, masturbation, penetration, fantasies, and anything else they wish to talk about.
Survivors of all ages (18+), backgrounds and sexual orientations are welcome. The workshops will run with the help of Sh! Women’s Emporium – who have been incredibly supportive. This will be the first space in the UK for survivors to talk about the effect of sexual violence on their sex lives, and hopefully they will be a source of support for the women attending.
Rape is a crime where sex is used as a weapon, and for some women the lasting impact has affected their sex lives for years or decades afterwards. This doesn’t have to be the way, but currently there is no real discussion about the long-term sexual effects some women are struggling with.
But we deserve to own sex, our sexual pleasure and our bodies again. That’s why the monthly group will be called ‚ ‘We Won’t Be Sh!’
The project is also working on setting up the UK’s first smear testing clinic for survivors of sexual violence. This comes after interviewing women about how they feel about smear tests after rape.
Many of the women said they avoided smear tests because they experienced flashbacks of violence they had endured in the past. The clinic will provide smear tests for survivors in a more sensitive and gentle environment and will focus on them being in control. We are currently in the process of working with some excellent sexual health clinics in north London, and are discussing the details of setting it up.
At first, survivors will be able to access the clinic once a month for smear testing, but if there is a need this could become more regular and offer other services such as STI testing.
Through the My Body Back project, nearly 30 rape survivors were consulted about how they felt regarding smear testing. The vast majority said this made them very anxious and many felt unable to go for a test – despite wanting to – because the process would bring on flashbacks for them.
Women said they felt ‘very frightened (of the test) because someone is forcing me to be penetrated again’, they felt ‘someone else would be in control of my body’, and some women pointed out the language health professionals used was similar to that of their rapist – phrases like ‘relax and it’ll hurt less’, ‘it’ll be over soon’, and ‘you have to do this’ were all mentioned as triggering flashbacks and had been used by nurses in the past.
Survivors described what would make it easier for them to attend testing: a place specifically for rape survivors so they would not have to explain what happened, where testing would be treated as ‘an emotional experience and not just a physical one’.
Some women said they wanted a number of sessions booked so they could have ‘trial runs’ and complete it ‘a stage at a time’, the majority wanted a consultation before the test to discuss what they needed to be in control of their surroundings.
Some wanted to change the decoration of the room, for example putting photos up as a comfort, others mentioned music in the background, aromatherapy because certain smells were calming, and massage beforehand and maybe after to relax their bodies.
This is in the process of becoming a reality, thanks to staff at the clinics we want to pilot this with. We hope this will be the safe and welcoming space many women need.
Pavan Amara set up the My Body Back project, a safe space for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories.