TW: Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence
By Lucy Gault, Vice President Education at Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union
Remember a time when someone has lied to you. Remember when you realised they were lying to you. Remember that feeling of disappointment, then of anger. That feeling that you’d been made a fool of. That loss of trust, that abuse of trust.
Now imagine someone has abused you in such a way that violated not only your feelings, but your body too. Someone has not just made a fool of you, they have corrupted, degraded, and debased your entire being. This is not something you want to, or should have to imagine, but this is something women and girls all over the world live with every single day. Myself included. When I was 17 years old, someone I trusted abused me. They raped me. They made that violation something I have to live with every day.
In a sense, I was lucky. I had a supportive family to find refuge in, I had a safe place to call home, I had an education that allowed me to grow and develop as a person. All of that allowed me to find strength, and move forward with my life.
However, there are millions of women and girls around the world who do not have that support in their lives. They do not have a family, do not have a safe space, do not have access to education. They have to live with abuse and violence from people they know, from strangers, repeatedly violating their bodies, repeatedly breaking them down.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, running from 25th November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10th December – Human Rights Day, is happening across the world. This campaign is calling the world to action. Women and girls have the right to feel safe, in their homes, their schools, their universities, their country, and this campaign is educating people across the world on how to help make that happen.
Education, is the first step to eliminating gender-based violence across the world. Education is the way we reach the groups of women and girls who are suffering the most, women and girls who are migrants, minorities, refugees. Education allows us to discuss this issue, to stop it being a ‘taboo’ subject that people are too afraid to tackle. If we, as women and girls can endure this abuse, this violation, if we can endure being raped and assaulted and survive, then we can talk about it. We can tackle it by educating on the reality of the situation, on how to support women and girls in dealing with this abuse, on how to end gender-based violence for all.
It has taken me almost 8 years to break my own silence. I decided to share my story now to show that this can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone we know, but also to show that strength can be found in suffering. I decided to turn what seemed like a loss, into a gain. I was not going to let it define me, nor stop me. I found strength in surviving abuse. I worked hard to make sure I would not be broken by it, I drove myself forward, and now I have the amazing job as Vice President Education at QUBSU, working on behalf of students to ensure their voices are being heard. I should have spoken up long ago, but I am doing so now to make the point that we can all find the strength to speak up. Every voice must be valued. Every voice must be heard. We must break the silence, and show that we stand strong and stand in support with women and girls across the world.
Women and girls are people. Women and girls are human. This is a human rights violation that we cannot and will not stand for anymore.
Humans of the world, let’s end gender-based violence by educating all.
If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this post you can contact the following organisations for support:
Women’s Aid, 24 hour Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline – 028 90666049 (9 – 5pm)
The Rowan, the regional Sexual Assault Referral Centre for Northern Ireland – 0800 389 4424 (24 hours)
Police Service of Northern Ireland – Dial ‘101’ for non-emergencies, 999 for emergencies.