Following Barbara Hewson’s vicious comments about rape and sexual abuse, a survivor got in touch with me asking me to put up this open letter that she wrote. She prefers to remain anonymous and I have posted it here. Content note: this piece discusses sexual abuse and the psychological impact of sexual abuse.
Dear Barrister Barbara Hewson,
Today you have called for the age of sexual consent to be lowered to stop “the persecution of old men” and warning against “fetishising victimhood” in the light of the case of Stewart Hall.
Let me tell you, Ms Hewson, victimhood is not something to be fetished or enjoyed. As many have already said your remarks represent the fear that all victims have of being disbelieved and the accusations of being attention seeking liars who enjoy victimhood. Abuse is something that haunts and damages you for the rest of your life, effects all the decisions you make, the friends and relationships you choose, the relationships with your family and how you feel about yourself. It will have you awake screaming & crying in the middle of the night, make you afraid of your own shadow and make you hate yourself and the body you live in. It can make you want to hurt yourself, cause resentment and anger towards others and makes it hard to trust anyone. Your remarks show just how much you, as a supposedly impartial party, know nothing about the experience of a victim.
I am one of the victims you seem to know so much about. I have twice been subjected to the selfish actions of a man, a family friend, in a position of power who wanted to rape a trusting little girl, initially aged just 11 and then 13, who didn’t understand what was going on. My brain and body was so in shock and in denial about what happened that I blocked it out for years, only realising aged 15 what had actually happened to me. I had suffered years of mental health problems following my abuse, managed to be expelled from school due to my explosions of rage and extreme self harm and was chastised by every adult for just being a “naughty child”, by my school, my GP and my family. The moment I pieced together that this family friend 12 years my senior, who I had looked up to and admired, had actually raped me in his home and later in a more public space, I attempted to take my own life by swallowing two packets of paracetamol and a bottle of vodka while my parents were out.
I never received counselling following my unsuccessful overdose and, because of the relationship my abuser and his family had with my parents, I felt too afraid to come forward. As a 15 year old with a reputation for a short temper and years of mental health problems that were often fobbed off as attention seeking or just teenage angst, I felt I had no hope of being believed over my university educated, well respected and liked abuser with a promising career who had recently married and was expecting his first child. Because of this I had to live with my fear and the fallout from my abuse alone, resulting in years of self-destructive behaviour; I withdrew from family, entered harmful and abusive relationships, allowed myself to be used and taken advantage of by friends because I just wanted to be liked, despite my academic ability, I fell behind with work, I would go out, get drunk and have sex with anyone who was willing regardless as to whether even knew their names just to feel something, endured crippling insomnia because of horrific nightmares, found myself pregnant at 17 and dealt with having an abortion without any support or the knowledge of family or friends.
I am still living with extreme feelings of worthlessness and the urge to hurt myself because of the damage sexual abuse has done to me. I am lucky because I finally found a partner I could trust enough to confide in, help me come to terms with what happened to me and start rebuilding my life. I have finally ditched all the false friends I accrued who took advantage of my vulnerable nature and desperation to be liked and accepted, and now have a network of supportive & kind people who genuinely care about me and my well being. However, I have never sought to prosecute my abuser because that fear of being disbelieved and being told that I am playing a victim for attention is so strong. Because of the nature of my family’s relationship with my abuser, I even have to see him sometimes and you cannot even begin to understand how difficult and terrifying that is. I have no hard evidence of my abuse other than the decades of damage inflicted on my psyche. If I even thought about approaching the CPS, after initial investigation the chances are that they would say prosecution wouldn’t be in the public interest, and even if it did go to court, me and my integrity would be put on trial and dragged through the mud by the defense, not what my abuser did to me. I have weighed this up in my mind more times than I can count and I have concluded that I cannot put myself through the experience again.
Ms Hewson, the fact that you as an esteemed barrister in a position of authority see it fit to perpetuate the rape apologism and victim blaming that is already so prevalent in our society and prevents victims coming forward, speaks volumes about how out of touch you are and how little you understand about sexual abuse. It’s all very well from your privileged position to fire off soundbites about “fetishing victimhood” and “persecuting old men”, but you cannot even begin to understand how damaging, disrespectful and false those statements are. As someone who has lived the majority of her life with the knowledge that she was raped when she was still a child and has suffered decades of psychological & behavioral damage as a result, your statements are just a another reminder of how society protects and excuses abusers and chastises victims. As a representative of the British legal system, you have a responsibility to seek justice for victims, not sustain the cycle of shaming them into silence, allowing those in positions of power to go on raping & abusing and ruining lives.