Rape Survivor Uses Art to Speak Out About Her Trauma

by Ruth

“My story is just one, but there are so many women out there with their own story to tell, and it’s time to start listening to them.”


I grew up in Southampton, living in an estate called Northam, to what I thought was a pretty average family. But as time would tell, it was a family carrying a lot of historic trauma and abuse – something I cannot go into without sharing the secrets of other loved ones.

I was just a lonely girl, constantly looking for love in the wrong places, waiting for someone to ask: “Is everything okay? Do you need help?” So when I thought a good man was giving me attention, I would bend over backwards for it, and I thought all I had to offer them was my body.

When someone is emotionally vulnerable, it does not mean the abuse is their fault, even partially. In fact, in my case, I was an easy target for abuse because in my eyes, I wasn’t worth more than what I was given.

The first time I was raped was at my own flat, and the second was at his.

Self-blame after rape

The fact that I went back a second time has caused me to relentlessly self-blame. And others blaming me too. The other day, I was asked by a mental health nurse: “Why did you let him do it a second time?” The rage that filled me was exhausting.

To anyone that asks me this question, I say: “When you see a vulnerable person, is the first thing that comes to your mind to abuse them?” They should understand a perpetrator has many tools to abuse, not just that one violent act.

After the event, I was in a mix of numbness and shock. I felt a strange emptiness, which is very common among survivors. But it’s an extremely painful experience, as it means your brain is disassociating itself from the traumatic event to help you numb the pain and ultimately survive.

The IPF - Ruth OLeary Drawing

Poem written by Ruth O  for her personal blog [Image credit: Ruth O]

Afterwards, the first thing I did was to go out and get drunk. It was my coping mechanism. I was in a very bad place emotionally and physically. I was distraught and confused. So confused that I honestly did not know what had happened.

The word “rape” never entered my mind and it took me a good year to realise I had been raped. In this year, I developed many toxic behaviours to cope. I started to rely on alcohol and drugs to mask my pain. I would sleep all day and go out nearly every night, engaging in risky situations, especially sexually.

I am not trying to say that women who are sexually active are all survivors of abuse. Expressing yourself sexually and owning your own sexuality is extremely important, but that was not what I was doing.

After a downward spiral, I eventually hit rock bottom and tried to commit suicide. This too is a sad reality for so many survivors of abuse.

Fighting back with art

It has taken me three years to come to terms with what has happened to me and, to be honest, I am still working through the trauma. I find it hard seeing the narrative of sexual violence of the so-called “rape culture”. It can be watching a prank video of a man slapping a woman’s ass in public without her consent, or seeing a clip of porn where the woman is clearly in distress, or hearing about another celebrity being defended by the media because surely “they can’t be a real rapist”.

I can’t even harmlessly scroll though Instagram or turn on the radio without being reminded that my rape doesn’t matter, my pain doesn’t matter, my trauma doesn’t matter. But I have counteracted this through art. I have shown sexual violence through my eyes, the eyes of a rape survivor. I now write poems, I take photos, I sketch and I draw to help me heal from the trauma and pain.

I thought: “Why not capitalise something that has hurt you beyond belief? Why not turn shit into roses?”

I keep the majority of my work on a blog I created, called Outlastandoutlive, documenting my journey thorough recovery. It was a private blog at first, but as time went by, I grew more comfortable in my truth and made it public.

Going public

Before making it public, I felt a lot of fear, waiting for a backlash from friends and family, non-believers. But it was totally the opposite. People thanked me for my honesty and told me I was brave. I could not believe it. I didn’t feel brave. I still wait for someone to tell me I got what I deserved.

This is the sad reality for many women on the internet. You speak up and ten people will shut you down.

The effect rape and sexual assault has on a person’s mental health can be truly devastating. Among anxiety, panic attacks and nightmares, you can find it almost impossible to monitor your emotions.

Body writing by Ruth [Image credit: Ruth O'Leary]

Body writing by Ruth [Image credit: Ruth O]

And when we do speak out, we are called liars, vocally abused and continually blamed for our rape, so it is no wonder a lot of women stay silent and don’t seek the help they may desperately need. Sexual violence is often not reported to the police, and when it is, convictions are often too low, and sadly survivors do not know their options. I reported anonymously but was totally unaware this was a choice until advised by a support worker.

Prioritising sexual violence

Rape and sexual assault needs to end. Our governments need to treat it as a national priority and start making the correct steps to ending violence against women.

Sexual violence needs to become a healthcare priority, just like smoking or drink driving once was. People need to understand the extent of the problem, because every six minutes a woman or girl is raped in the United Kingdom alone. I feel like a lot of the issues around sexual violence come from a complete misunderstanding of the crime, so people blindly believe dangerous myths and victim blame.

I also think it is important to look at how other forms of oppression fit into the abuse women and girls face. This may be looking at racism, transphobia and ableism, to name a few.

Another poem written by Ruth for her personal blog [Image credit: Ruth O'Leary]

Another poem written by Ruth for her personal blog [Image credit: Ruth O’Leary]

As a woman, I am very tired. I am tired of reading about another women killed by their partners, tired of yet another friend telling me they have been raped, tired of hearing about women who were victims of revenge porn, tired of having my ass grouped in the club and tired of being shouted at when I speak up.

We need to start taking violence against women and girls seriously, and if any survivors are reading this, I believe you.

You are not a liar and you are not making a big deal out of nothing. You are stronger than anyone will know. You deserve to be happy and you deserve to be safe. My story is just one but there are so many women out there with their own story to tell, and it’s time to start listening to them.

To find out more about Ruth’s work, visit her blog.

If you need additional support or feel affected by the issues raised in this feature, please check out the following websites 

Rape Crisis  – NHS  – Victim Support

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy