Wading out into the deep waters of sexual violence is vital for any feminist writer. Though as we stand on the shore and look out at those waters before stepping in, their dark expanse fills us with a strong desire to navigate them with the upmost care. Mayameen Meftahi is a survivor who chose to waive her lifelong right to anonymity in March this year. A spontaneous decision that she says literally happened overnight, after reading an article about her abuser in the Essex newspaper The Enquirer. Mayameen’s abuser was her father and finding out that he was about to be released from prison (after serving just 6 ½ years of his 10 year sentence) became the catalyst for deciding to share her story. While she acknowledges that it was difficult and painful, Mayameen is adamant that talking and sharing is a vital process for all survivors. It is the story of what she has done since finding her voice that we will be sharing with you here: her continuing activism in the fight for all girls and women who are survivors to access the care and support they need.
Combining her personal experiences with her professional background as both a Psychotherapist and NLP Practitioner, Mayameen founded She Can Consultancy with the aim of combining both a practical and therapeutic approach to recovery. Her mission with She Can Consultancy is to facilitate meaningful change in the way survivors of sexual violence are able to navigate the world as more than just victims. It is an independent social enterprise business that offers professional services ranging from consulting with local authorities in reviewing their current practices, to working with charities in re-writing existing training materials. She also employs Victim Advocates who - through lived and/or extensive experience in the field of sexual violence or psychological trauma – support organisations working with individuals experiencing barriers to participation. Finally there is the company’s in depth and focused professional training on FGM, informed by the most up to date research and real-life cases.
Mayameen has also been a public speaker since 2013 and recently spoke on the TEDX stage about her experiences. Being on stage as a survivor, telling her story simply and honestly, she hoped it might empower others to do the same. For it is in using our voices, sharing our experiences and telling our stories that Mayameen places the most importance. She believes it necessary if we are to remove the stigma attached to sexual violence against women. In her own words, an offender’s biggest power is his victim’s silence. For Mayameen, victim-blaming runs parallel to this; when we create the space and opportunity for survivors to be heard, their stories knit together and weave a narrative that can supersede any which seeks to defer accountability from perpetrator to victim.
The irony of course is that while power can indeed come from speaking out, many complex barriers exist to make this seem like an impossible feat for many women. It can take years for Mayameen’s aspiration for survivors to become a reality. In truth we still need more research, more funding and more education if we are to provide women with the safe mechanisms needed to facilitate speaking out. Mayameen envisions her mentoring programme as being one such mechanism, with her mentors using their own experiences in order to support young girls and women as they embark on what can be a terrifying journey. She wants her programme to help survivors understand and process all the emotions that come with sharing their experiences. Her own #IfSheCanICan movement is one she hopes will work alongside the mentoring programme, building a tribe of women and survivors whose voices can carry all those who are yet to share their experiences. In fact Mayameen tells us that since waiving her anonymity she has received overwhelming levels of support from some truly amazing women, helping her while she continues her own journey of recovery. Part of her on-going work remains paving the way for systematic law changes and sharpened victim protection, beginning with her new petition to the Government to provide safe housing in Wales for child victims of sexual abuse. The child house concept is based on best practice learned from the USA and Scandinavia. Recognising the vulnerability of the child victim and the harm caused by multiple interviews, the child house provides a safe space in which a child-friendly response can be fostered. In the UK there are currently 2 child houses available in London, however there are none in Wales – something Mayameen is campaigning to change.
We asked Mayameen what she thinks has led to some of the most alarming statistics we are seeing in relation to rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse and harassment. 1 in 4 women are survivors of rape or sexual abuse; in fact #8millionwomen in the UK have been affected by sexual abuse or rape. Her words echo our own when she responds by citing the widespread normalisation of sexual violence. You only have to look as far as #Westminster for instance, where a toxic culture of bullying and harassment has continued unchecked, becoming a status quo that many seek to maintain in a bid to hold onto their power. Or you could examine the language used by #SirPhilipGreen, when he recently attempted to shrug off accusations of unlawful sexual behaviour as just “banter”.
Only when we address the culture created by a society that routinely disguises sexual violence and excuses its perpetrators can we begin to facilitate change. Likewise it is this culture of dismissing and blaming victims of sexual violence that needs dismantling, in order to systematically undo the damage this continues to cause to women. The language we use to describe sexual violence must reflect its reality, with emphasis placed on the perpetrator’s actions rather than the victim’s.
We must continue to make it possible for girls and women such as Mayameen to share their stories. In doing so, we hope their voices can light the way for those who are yet to speak.
Follow She Can Consultancy on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/shecanconsultancy/ and Twitter @Mayameen_M. You can also join their Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/ifshecanican or visit the official website https://shecanconsultancy.com/.