The following is my speech at the Cairns book launch (11.2.12) of Angels in Hell: Re-empowered after Rape. I share it here because it is a recycling of my past career as a sexual assault therapist and my ongoing "other" passion: sexual assault prevention.
Angels in Hell: Re-empowered after Rape: Two different Australian angels, two different hell stories, two continents but the same effect: strength, survival, empowerment and freedom.
Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a book launch that may well change your life.
I have the great privilege of knowing one of the authors, Leanne Peard, from our younger years. We were teenagers in the same place, Cooktown, and I re- walked the town as I read her descriptions and characterisations. I re-experienced small town attitudes and urban myths about rape. I re-experienced the silence that small towns often evoke and I experienced a deep, angry, growl: oh my goodness you people that rape, don’t you know that there is no statute of limitations on sexual assault in Australia, which means that your sins can come back and bite you at any time.
Leanne married and stayed in Cooktown. I left post-divorce. I went to uni and I specialised in child sexual assault counselling. I became a sexual assault therapist. I am a published author across several genres that deal with protective behaviours: protection from child sexual assault. I am also an active member of Book Creators Circle, an international network of book industry people, and through that, I get to talk about my favourite topic, sexual assault a lot. Leanne Peard and Ruby Johnson have just joined Book Creators Circle and we welcome them.
Over the years I worked with many Cooktown people and often the same names of perpetrators came up. Reading Leanne’s story, my head started nodding: how well I recognised the universal MO of the perpetration – 3 perpetrators with really pathetic excuses for isolating and capturing their prey.
Ruby’s story also speaks of three perpetrators.
People, let me assure you, that rapes where two or three perpetrators are involved is not uncommon. They are gang rapes. But, women tend not to talk of it. One perpetrator is bad enough, but three becomes almost too hard to explain to others. Multiple assaults throughout a lifetime are also not uncommon
Once a child is sexually assaulted, they are more at risk of being sexually assaulted by another perpetrator and to be sexually assaulted in adult hood as well. The victim begins to think, “So many perpetrators, so many incidents, so many times I was the focus so it must be my fault. I won’t talk about it because nobody will believe me and nobody will help me.”
I wonder how women know this if they never talk about it. They know it because of the social taboos WE place upon talking about sexual assault. This is 2012 and it is time to smash through the silence: no more rape taboos, no more women in isolation, no more hiding from the reality of life for many Australian woman.
Both authors speak of statistics and make reference to the massive under reporting of rape. The stats they offer in their book are incident stats: the numbers of reported incidents. But, many studies measure the prevalence of sexual assault. The prevalence captures sexual assault events that weren’t reported to authorities but that nonetheless occurred.
Could every third person put their hands on their head please?
Now, head holders, step forward.
Take a look; Ladies and Gentlemen….this is the documented prevalence of people present in this room today that have had a sexual assault experience in their childhood. That may also be the amount of people keeping their mouth shut and not talking about their experiences because of the taboos WE place on the subject.
In a 2003 International Violence Against Women Survey, 6,677 Australian women aged between 18 and 69 years were interviewed around the prevalence of sexual and physical violence. Over half of the women surveyed (57%) had experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence over their lifetime.
This has to end. It ends by talking, by acting and by supporting. If you are serious about ending sexual violence then buy Leanne and Ruby’s book, Angels in Hell. READ IT and recommend it to someone else.
Voice ends silence so I urge you to use yours, even if it is to recommend this book to one other person.
You could also walk in the Slut Walk next Friday night in Cairns. The SlutWalk protest marches began on April 3, 2011, in Toronto, Canada, and became a movement of rallies across the world (similar to the old, Reclaim the Night marches). Participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman's appearance. The rallies began when a Constable Sanguinetti, of the Toronto Police, suggested that to stay safe, "women should avoid dressing like sluts."
In 1978 the first international Reclaim the Night march was held in reaction to police comments that women should stay inside at night-time to avoid getting raped.
Have we moved anywhere in the last 30 years? Do people not understand that it is not up to women to protect themselves from rape? It is up to men to NOT rape and up to all of us to have a pro safety voice.
Read Leanne and Ruby’s stories and decide for yourself whether they were dressed like sluts.
- Ask the Nuns, in full habit, that have been raped if they ever considered wearing something a little less provocative.
- Ask the grandmothers asleep in their beds when attacked and raped if they think that staying inside at night-time makes them safe.
- Look at the women here today – we are each at risk of rape…yet none of us are dressed as sluts.
Sexual assault is not about dress, sex or time of day. It is about power and domination.
Angels in Hell is about empowerment and domination over victim-hood. It is also a personal journey made public and a piece of bibliotherapy: the written word that helps to solve problems.
Angels in Hell is a book of silence breaking and a book of truth.
Part workbook, part consciousness raiser, part inspiration, Angels in Hell is one of those books that will become a seminal piece of literature that will be referenced again and again.
The most widely used workbook, The Courage to Heal is now 24 years old…so move over Bass and Davis because here comes Johnson and Peard (2012).
Buy a copy of Angels in Hell and celebrate empowerment when another woman tells you they have been raped. Give them a copy of the book and give them community support.
To Ruby and Leanne, from a professional point, thank you for adding your voices to the body of knowledge around sexual assault and survivor workbooks. Your book will empower because it is honest, raw and written in plain speak: psychology often confuses and acts as a barrier when traumatised people try to read it.
From a personal point, to Leanne: I am so sorry that I did not know of the rape and that I did not share my professional passion with you earlier. But, you clearly didn’t need my help because you tapped the internal strength available to us all: you added an “o” to your hell and said, “Hello” to empowerment.
Buy Angels in Hell: Re-empowered after Rape here.