Security is an illusion. One you take entirely for granted until you can believe in it no longer, until you find it has been plucked from your possession viciously and malevolently, leaving you only with a gaping emptiness, a horrendous, debilitating insecurity that invades every aspect of your being. Without a sense of assured security but with a brutal experience of your vulnerability, you find yourself existing in constant terror, in a panicked, fearful mistrust of the world around you and in an agonising, savage isolation because you no longer know how to tell what is safe and what is not. Everything seems just as it was the day before, it looks like it did before you knew better, it appears innocent, innocuous, trustworthy but now you know, you know, whether you want to or not, that that appearance is but a fine veneer barely disguising the inherent potential danger that lurks in every corner of human existence. The terror that proceeds assault is crushing to the point of nihilism. It negates every bit of faith you held and diminishes your life to an endless series of exaggerated responses to every noise, every unexpected movement, every stimulus, accompanied by a paralysing internal monologue of ‘what ifs’.
To look around you and see only impending chaos, menacing violence, looming aggression is not only physically debilitating, restricting your ability to move about in the world as you’d like, to go to work, to visit friends, or even swing by the shops for a bottle of milk, but more appallingly, it is psychologically devastating. Looking at the faces of men and wondering if they’re capable of hurting a woman like that, walking into a room with only the expectation of attack, closing your eyes only to relive the trauma of sexual assault is, needless to say, an awful way to exist. Once you know what can happen, what people can be capable of, how events may transpire, you cannot unknow it, no matter how determinedly you practice.
On top of that your past experience has shown you to be powerless, proven that you are utterly lacking in the necessary resources, the force, that would enable you to stay safe in a world that is cruel and unreliable and unsafe. Victimised once, what’s going to stop it happening again? Not you, not unless you change. But with your heart racing every time someone sneezes, or looks at you strangely, or bumps into you on the street, you feel marked out as a pre-prepared victim. You feel certain that those people, the ones who hurt others, must see straight through you, must see your fear and panic and vulnerability like a flashing light on your forehead. Newly traumatised and living firmly in the grips of Post-Traumatic Stress, it frequently seems an impossible task to gather the strength necessary to speak out loud, let alone to defend your rights, so how do you counter those voices that keep on asking ‘what if’?
Learning to live with the intimate awareness that safety can never be a sure thing is a deeply unsettling task to undertake. To attempt it at your most vulnerable, in a state of permanent terror, is almost impossible. However, as you slowly undergo the process of incorporating this knowledge, reneging any absolutes and embracing that uncertain, unsafe reality, you begin to discover that your vulnerabilities can also be your strengths. While the terror never leaves you completely, it will ebb and flow, and while it ebbs you can relax. But, when it’s flowing if you listen to it and manage to act calmly but firmly in response to it, you may indeed be able to protect yourself. Rarely are women taught that their fear is actually an instinctive, protective mechanism. Fear means danger means get the hell outta there. By listening to our fear, we make ourselves stronger, not weaker and by learning to trust our fear, and ourselves, we can potentially protect ourselves from violence.