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Well, the festive season is well underway. The tree is up, the fridge is stocked and I went out today to buy my works Christmas party outfit. I spend more time in pubs and clubs over Christmas than throughout the rest of the year combined. Me and the girls don’t get to see each other as much as we used to, so when we get together we have the best crack about the most bizarre things and after 2 glasses bottles of wine we put the world to rights and make a list of strongly worded letters we are writing by the end of the week.

 

Last weekend was no different, but one of the subjects that came up had us divided in opinion further than I’ve ever seen us. It was all friendly banter of course, but the next day it just stuck with me. So I thought I’d do something about it…so ladies if you’re reading this…. This is my alternative strongly worded letter!

One of our collective favourite actors is Ed Westwick aka Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl. When the news broke that he had been accused of rape I was gutted as were my girlies. Our Whatsapp group exploded with a mixture of feelings but mostly sheer disbelief.

And it’s this disbelief that caused such a heated debate.

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There were 3 sides to the debate

Side 1. He’s guilty – He’s a rapist, he’s a reflection of Chuck Bass, just another A-list celebrity who thinks he can do what he wants.
Side 2. He’s innocent. She’s just looking for her 5 minutes of fame and should be ashamed of hersel
Side 3. Innocent until proven guilty, an investigation should take place in accordance with the law and he has a right to a fair trial just like anybody else.

We discussed all aspects of the situation, why would she just post the account on social media?, why she didn’t go to the police? He’s so lovely in interviews, he couldn’t possibly rape anyone. Like, we talked the arse end out of the whole thing but one thing we all kind of agreed on at the end.

As a group of women, all educated, all self -aware of our status’s as women, all totally against any form of sexual assault. We were victims of the system. Our opinions and feelings had been based on what we had seen, read and heard in the media. Nowt was based on facts or first- hand accounts. And in actual fact none of it was any of our goddamn business.

The following day, whilst dying on my sofa with a gallon of dent lemonade and a packet box of Cheese XL I pondered the debate and wondered why I was so unnerved by it. So as you do, I started googling… I read through the recent allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, I looked at Rose McGowans twitter feed and I read through a whole host of #MeToo stories (~MeToo’ is the hashtag being used by people who have been sexually assaulted to highlight their own stories as a way of networking and raising awareness). And one things for sure, the term sexual assault and its definition means something different to people than it did even as little as 5 years ago.

I was blessed? Cursed? With what my fella calls ‘a cracking rack’.
Now when I was younger I would go out with my lasses, chat up lads and have a laugh, and one thing that always used to annoy the shit out of me was that blokes would just grab my boobs, and often make that stupid honking noise or pretend they were playing bongos. On extreme occasions they would get what ever my tipple of choice was that evening over their head but mostly I would smack their hand away and say something stern & explicit as a warning.

Looking through the #metoo’s it occurred to me that every time that had happened, I had been assaulted.

Victim Support defines sexual assault as:

“if someone intentionally grabs or touches you in a sexual way that you don’t like, or you’re forced to kiss someone or do something else sexual against your will, that’s sexual assault.

This includes sexual touching of any part of someone’s body, and it makes no difference whether you’re wearing clothes or not.

Anyone can be sexually assaulted and both men and women can commit sexual assault.”
( https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/crime-info/types-crime/rape-and-sexual-assault)

This really got to me, as I put myself back there, and how I felt and how it used to enrage me. And blokes that did it would get pissed off and irate when I had a go back. Getting drowned in Malibu and lemonade was probably not how they envisaged their night going. But; how dare they touch me without permission!
People would tell me I’d over reacted, told me to calm down and often some of my mates would get a cob on with me coz I’d shown them up. Not once during those incidents did anyone ever ask if I was ok, or get security involved or did anything really. But then again; neither did I. Back then…so we’re looking at 12-8 years ago, you wouldn’t report something like that to anyone. If you took it to the police, you’d have gotten laughed at and sent on your way.

Society has evolved since even then; rape and sexual assault is being taken far more seriously than it was. Some say it’s gone too far, but hey everyone’s entitled to an opinion.

I’ve had so many questions rolling around my head the last few days. Should stories be told on social meida? Is it helpful? Do the police do anything about historical allegations? Is there support for victims. Is this being addressed in Cumbria? When you research there are so many stories and accounts and its so confusing. So I thought sod it. Go straight to the horses mouth……

Yesterday, I spoke to the Cumbrias Police Crime Commissioner Peter McCaul. What a lovely bloke!

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We had a great chat, he allowed me to share my story with him, gave some great advice and answered all my questioned intently.

I asked him if he believed that we (residents of Cumbria) should be encouraged to share our stories of Sexual assault and Rape and his answer threw me a bit if I’m honest, he said something that hadn’t really occurred to me

“I absolutely do think that if you have been assaulted in any way you have got a right to report that crime and be taken seriously. IF it’s right for you. We are finding that some people put it in a compartment and deal with it later often many years later.
I would urge people to report things sooner as the police will be able to gather evidence. You can access counselling and support through the appropriate channels. It’s not just about reporting the crime it’s about getting support for victims”

Yes he reiterated my own thoughts of reporting assaults but put a massive emphasis on that fact that by reporting a crime such as this opens doors to access support as a victim. In my head the reporting was purely to bring the perpetrator to justice but no, it goes further than that. I dunno why but I hadn’t really thought of that side of it. Makes you think though, there’s more dimensions to the police than what we realise.

I asked Peter how he felt about the #MeToo hashtag and how sharing stories on social media can impact on cases? And on people

“By putting things out on social media you might prejudice something which can prevent a fair trial, as can publicity.
People should be very cautious about naming people on social media, putting yourself at risk of litigation. As a victim – do you want that in the public domain where it’s there forever.
I would say “ report it to the police” and they will put you in touch with the help and counselling you need, they will give you advice etc.
We do not under estimate that typing behind a computer is often easier than talking to people face to face and you can report things online if that’s easier for you  there is a 101 email and we have specialist officers who deal with cases of this nature
Just get in touch. Just make that initial contact and the police will support you. We’re not here to criticise or judge. We’re here to help”

I asked Peter If anyone in Cumbria would like to report a sexual assault or rape, who should they contact? (obviously 999 in an emergency) but what about historical incidents?

“There are no limitations on time – there is no point at which things are too late.
Obviously the longer you leave it the harder it might be to prosecute – the police need evidence In historic cases it can be difficult to find evidence for instance there’s more than likely no forensic
Having said that, you might not think there’s evidence but the police might well just find some – they police will interview the perp and find something.
Even with an interview though the perp will know that they have been caught –and one allegation often leads to further cases being brought to light.
As an individual you may think there’s no point, but you might just be helping someone else!”

Reading it back, the writing of this statement just doesn’t do it justice. If you heard the assurance and confidence in his voice… the smallest details could lead to something, he explained things a bit further – it wasn’t a formal interview! We chatted around the subject for ages. But he stressed, that interviews can often reveal the smallest details, and these specialist coppers who deal with these cases, are trained to the hilt to find these details and act on them to recover evidence. Utterly brilliant. Restores your faith.
As CumbrianLass is, I didn’t beat around the bush…at all. I asked him point blank what he would say to people who truly believed that the police were interested in historical incidents.

“They absolutely are interested Only last week 6 or 8 people were charged with historical abuse crimes in the county and this was from 30 years ago.
We get asked why we put resources into historical crimes and my answer is this-
A crime is a crime and it doesn’t matter when it was committed – if a crime is committed then that victim deserves justice. Whether it was recent or 30 years ago.
We will investigate irrespective of when the crime was committed.”

A crime is a crime… he said it himself.
I asked the Commissioner if reports had increased since the surge in tabloid coverage on the matter and he explained that over the last 18 months there has been an increase in reporting of sexual assault crimes but he states that it’s not an increase in crime, as its always there but people feel able to report crimes and then he said the most powerful statement to me

“I’m not into playing politics with crime or numbers. I would rather people report crime regardless of the impact on our figures” BOOM!

And that right there is why I truly have the utmost respect for our Police Crime Commissioner.

My last question was I thought the most important – I asked him what he would say to a sexual assault victim who was worried about reporting the incident to the police.

 “I personally can absolutely understand that you would want to shut that away and there will be feelings of embarrassment and it must be the most difficult thing to talk about but there are people waiting to help you, and they do this all the time, and they will do it at your pace everything they do is geared towards helping you to get you justice. No one should have to suffer in silence. It’s as much about taking care of you as a victim as well as the police side of things. So please come forward, we just want to help you.”

So, peeps, there you have it. Whether it be historical, current or if something happens in the future.

Dial 999 in an emergency

Dial 101 to speak to someone about a recent or historic assault.

Or use the contact form on their website: https://www.cumbria.police.uk/Contact-us/Contact-us.aspx

The Bridgeway can offer support to Victims: http://www.thebridgeway.org.uk/
As can victim support: https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/help-and-support/get-help/support-near-you/north-west/cumbria

Dial 101 from any landline or mobile number

Stay Safe.

This is a sensitive subject and one that I hope I’ve broached carefully & Sensitively. Whatever your feelings on Rape and sexual assault. One thing we can all agree on….No one should be subjected to it. And we must make help as accessible to everyone effected. So please, share this article…. you never know who it might help!

 

All my  Love

CL xx

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