‘Lancaster Survivors’ is the new Instagram support network for survivors of sexual assault

Allowing survivors to speak up and reclaim their narrative

Trigger warning: Sexual assault, rape. If you are affected by the content of this piece, please seek support at Women’s Aid.

Lancaster Survivors is an Instagram page created as a safe space to share stories and raise awareness of sexual assault in order to empower survivors at Lancaster University. This is not a university affiliated organisation, and the page aims to educate Lancaster students about the severity of sexual assault and how the university should do more to support survivors.

It was reported that there were 32 recorded incidents of violence and sexual assault in the Mary St. area by GLOW nightclub between October 2019 to summer 2020. This highlights the severity of the issue of sexual assault and why students need to be aware and supported.

Why did you create Lancaster Survivors?

Lancaster Survivors was created because nobody should have to go through such a traumatic experience alone. Lancaster Survivors believed that something was missing at the university in terms of support for sexual assault survivors. It is often seen as the survivors’ responsibility to “navigate the aftermath” of their trauma, such as seeking legal advice and aiding their own recovery and mental health. Lancaster Survivors said “If there had just been one person, one group, that had said, “wait, maybe we can help”, I believe things would’ve turned out very differently. Lancaster Survivors can be that group.” Lancaster Survivors wants to be that support network to “help signpost survivors to the correct organisations to support them” so survivors feel less alone and afraid in their journey to recovery.

Lancaster Survivors stated that “Every university needs to do better at addressing sexual violence within their community, as the systems in place often favour the perpetrator due to the process of reporting being quite re-traumatising, and the support available sometimes hard to access. Through sharing stories of survivors, we hope to raise awareness of the all to common reality of rape culture in university campuses.”

Lancaster Survivors also stated that the growing movement started by St Andrew’s Survivors in the summer of this year inspired them to set up Lancaster Survivors. They said, “There is great strength in unity, and being able to be a part of this growing network of survivors.”

What is the process for survivors to submit and share their story anonymously?

A Google Form has been created, which can be found in the link in their bio, which allows survivors to submit their stories anonymously and safely while retaining “complete control of their narrative.” No names can be given so survivors can remain safe and avoid any legal complications.

Additionally, a modification form has been included to allow survivors to change their story after being submitted. They also “ask each person to create a 10 digit passcode that is unique to their submission and can be entered by the survivor to make any changes whilst still remaining anonymous.” They only post “first-hand accounts” so survivors can maintain their agency. It is recognised just how difficult it can be to speak about sexual assault due to its sensitivity, so survivors are thanked for their courage and strength for being brave to speak up.

Why are sharing stories and raising awareness so important for survivors?

The ability for survivors to speak up about what happened can be painful as it can be easy for survivors to doubt themselves and invalidate their trauma, it’s life or death. Lancaster Survivors said “Thoughts such as “it could’ve been a lot worse”, or “maybe if I had just said no a little louder” are all too common for someone who has experienced sexual assault. So to have a platform that is actively saying “we believe you”, and can show a whole following of people saying the same thing, can be so reassuring for a survivor who may be struggling.”

Lancaster Survivors stated that “Reading the stories of other survivors can help a person in recognising something that they may be struggling to come to terms with on their own. It actually took a complete stranger intervening after witnessing a conversation between the person who assaulted me and I, for me to realise that what was happening to me was emotional abuse. Her simply asking “Are you okay?”, and explaining the problems in his behaviour towards me, validated my thoughts and showed me that I wasn’t going insane.” Additionally, Lancaster Survivors added “Although at the time I felt a little overwhelmed hearing terms such as “gas lighting”, “emotional abuse”, and even “sexual assault”, that stranger helped me find the courage to speak to my family and start the process of receiving professional help.”

We are currently living in the wake of the “Me Too” movement. Lancaster Survivors said “There is still such a biting stigma surrounding survivors coming forward and actively speaking about what has happened to them. Rape culture remains deeply embedded in our society, particularly within university campuses where many might not even realise what they are contributing towards, and it is so important that we have these conversations and listen to what survivors have to say. ”

How are survivors empowered through your page?

Survivors can feel as if they have “lost their voice” when their right to consent has been abused, making it feel as if their words have no meaning. It is empowering for survivors to know that people will listen to them, allowing them to “reclaim their narrative.”

Lancaster Survivors hopes to give survivors the courage to speak their truth, to feel accepted, and to understand that what happened to them was not their fault. “It is your body, your words, and we hope Lancaster Survivors can be the platform you deserve to share your story.”

How can we all show support for Lancaster Survivors?

Lancaster students can show their support to survivors of sexual assault by reading the stories on the Instagram page without judgement. The simple act of listening, understanding and caring is paramount to showing support and helping to aid a survivor’s recovery.

It is a brave decision for survivors to speak up, therefore “an affirmations form” has been created to allow people to “go one step further than simply hearting a story, and enable them to write a message of support in response.”

Additionally, everyone can show support by actively sharing and liking posts on social media. By initiating conversations about sexual assault with friends and family, this allows others to listen and learn. It is everybody’s responsibility to educate others in order to “help and save someone else’s life.”

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