A Lot, But Not Too Much – ‘A Few Short Studies On Cannibalism’ Review

culture & society, Review

James Huxtable’s new play, A Few Short Studies On Cannibalism, begins with a silence that lingers just a moment too long, a precursor for the uncomfortable confrontation that will follow. And I say that in the best way, though only his 3rd play, Huxtable isn’t shying away from big questions as his newest offering is inescapably political and challenging. Though the title suggests a kind of thriller-movie gore, the play is deeply rooted in day-to-day morality as it questions the audience on everything from religion, to pop culture, to the lines and limits of political rhetoric.

All photos by Sam Dangerfield

It begins immediately as the Kelsey, played by Harriet Anderson, enters the minimal kitchen set positioned in the centre of the audience. Addressing the audience, her monologue is violent and deliberately aggravating as the character speaks of violence against men as a feminist act. Dressed in distinctly normal clothes, the character of Kelsey is unexpectedly confrontational, pointing at the audience as she spits her sermon of slaughter. There’s no rest in this opening study as Huxtable holds back on the humour, leaving the character as a sinister figure from start to finish, forcing the audience to consider their own stance. It makes the choice to place the stage in the centre of the audience interesting, as I found myself looking to the men across from me, attempting to process their feelings on a monologue that is so divisive. I saw men looking down, women with their head in their hands and even one woman crying, possibly a reaction to the character’s description of assault. The range of emotion seen in one corner of the audience immediately speaks to the power of Huxtable’s writing, opening the play with such a punch that I couldn’t help but wonder what was coming next, with feelings of anticipation and fear.

The second study sees the return of Huxtable’s dark, unconventional humour, as Joe Kinch, playing Flesh, steps onto the stage undressed and marked up like a Butcher’s cow. The contrast between Kinch’s ditzy Flesh and India Willes as the imposing and in-charge woman makes the scene dynamic and gripping with the perfect balance between humour and tension. The subject matter is a familiar one; a young woman’s experience within the music industry and the limits of our sex sells culture. But the conversation of cannibalism as the woman and flesh discuss contracts in a pre-arranged agreement that she will murder and eat him, leads to a confusing moral watch. Honing in on audience members across from me, there were looks of confusion as the audience grappled with their own opinion in the final violent moments. Huxtable writes no good characters, in the best way. Not one of his characters is wholly likeable or agreeable, his best work comes when he’s writing evil, sinister people with charm so intense you can’t help but laugh at their jokes. This scene shows that best as he allows no sway, no room to pick a side in this debate so the audience simply has to sit and take it. In his most political work yet, Huxtable takes no stance. His characters open up questions, leaving them to the crowd as the lights dim at what seems like only the start of something. For people that demand resolution, I can see why his work may not be for you. For people rigid in their beliefs and unwilling to loosen the ties of their morals for an hour or two, maybe skip this one. This show demands an unshaken, active audience, ready to sit and watch, questioning the whole time.

The climax of the play truly comes when Huxtable himself steps onto the stage in the final of the studies with Matthew Bevan. Playing unlikely friends, Huxtable as ex-con Jared and Bevan as Marty, a priest, the scene begins slower than others as Huxtable sways along to the music from a record play and sips wine. His transformation for the role has to be noted as he shaved his head and trained to make the character more muscular, his work truly leaves no detail untouched. Playing a role he wrote for himself, you would hope that he would be excellent, and he was. In contrast to Bevan’s sweet bumbling Marty, Jared is unnerving. From his twitch to the way he regularly stretched out his neck and licked his lips, Jared was imposing and unsettling as Huxtable took on a character head-to-toe. This study has all the key features of a Huxtable piece; dark humour, unsettling pauses, intense builds that provide no relief, clever use of music. To have such a recognisable and refined style so early in his career speaks volume for the confidence and self-assurance Huxtable seems to have in himself as a writer, so it was nice to see him display the same attitude in his acting.

As scene partners, Huxtable and Bevan are a match made in heaven. You can tell they are friends off-stage as they appear to ride each other’s waves of spontaneity and improvisation flawlessly. As Bevan ebbs into an impassionate monologue, Huxtable flows into a witty remark, providing a moment of guilt-tinged comic relief as we chuckle at humour so dark you know you should gasp. In such a short scene, each study lasting around 20 minutes, these characters especially go through an intense development as they touch on a number of issues from the political situation in Ireland to an underlying discussion of homosexuality and free will. Unafraid of a big question, the scene hangs on the timeless debate; ‘if this is a sin, why did God make me this way?’. It’s the opening up of this debate that leads the audience to undeniably feel a strange sense of empathy for Jared, one of the most tragically twisted characters I’ve seen on stage. As he tells Marty of the precautions, he’s taken to be untraceable, from cutting off his fingerprints to living in abandoned houses, his sinister performance comes with an underbelly of deep sadness as he lives completely in fear of the places his instinct to eat people may take him.

Throughout cannibalism steps in as a symbol for other things. Rape culture, punishment, a desire to steal power from another, the differing worth society places on gendered flesh, homosexuality, general inequality through race, gender and religion; the discussion of cannibalism becomes almost silly and humorous when the audience knows he was addressing bigger fish the entire time. Strangely, it is the addition of cannibalism that prevents the piece from becoming too political. The outrageousness of Kelsey packing a dog bowl full of meat for the victim she keeps downstairs as a pet, the ridiculousness of Flesh’s nudity in such a twisted scene, Marty holding onto the cross in his pocket as Jared announces his desire to eat people; somehow the topic brings relief, allowing a slight escape from the depth of the subject matter that is truly being dealt with. While I left the play feeling exhausted and challenged, I also left with a slight stitch from laughing as punchy one-liners, cutting through the darkness with the absurd.

My only wish for the piece was for a stronger opening performance. For such an intense and divisive subject matter, I wish the performance would have been more over the top. Anderson switched from a soft tone to yelling and swearing, but I would’ve liked more commitment to one side or the other, either playing Kelsey as a sinisterly soft-spoken psychopathic character, or an actively aggressive figure. I think the swaying midground can be put down to nerves, carrying the opening scene all alone through a monologue is a scary feat for any actress, but pared with such a small and intimate set with an audience on either side, I can imagine it’s an intimidating role to step into. With these being the preview performances, I have no doubt this will be refined and perfected over time, but I would’ve liked more commitment to and consideration of the character’s voice.

Overall, this was my favourite of Huxtable’s shows so far. With each one, his style becomes more and more refined and perfected, so I’m excited to see where he goes being only right at the very start of his career. With some refinement, I believe this show has huge potential being a piece unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time. Intense and challenging but never too much, Huxtable provides no rest and takes no prisoners, but still wants his audience to have a good time. We all walked out questioning and confused but energised, just as any piece of theatre should leave you.

4 Stars

Refugee : Fred Ostrovskis

culture & society, head talks

Nobody else knew that the fountain was alive. He watched, spine pressed into the metal bench, as they walked past, blind. Tall men in woollen armour, brogues tapping over the cobbled street, phones pushed to ears, umbrellas tucked under arms like rifles; a steady stream went by. For a moment, he thought that one man was going to talk to him; he shuffled nervously as the strides closed in, recoiled as the arm outstretched, then heaved relief as it stubbed a cigarette on the bin beside him and joined the others as they marched.

He’d sat there for hours, staring, shivering. Burrowed hands in pockets of the jacket he’d been given, zipped so far up it threatened to close a clasp around his throat; I’d rather that than freeze. The fountain spat again. A different cycle, a change in bursts. He lost himself to the vision.

“Come here, quick, look at it!” A desperate whisper ripped towards him. He looked down from the tapestry of stars to see her hand grab his, and although he hated her for dragging him inside, the warmth of skin, velvet, silk, was apology enough. He followed.

“Stay quiet. Don’t you dare wake her.” She ordered, tiptoeing without elegance, crawling without sound. Soon, her hand left his and placed a palm upon the door. It crept open, aware of the necessity of stealth, and she turned to him and smiled.

“Look how fat she is.”

Their mother lay, propped against cushions, safe in slumber upon the floor. Faint moonlight shone onto her form, fell with the delicacy of whispers, and revealed that she had, indeed, become quite fat. They watched. Her belly was another being; a crescent, lifting, falling, stalling at the peak as if to try and reach the sky. She nudged him, pushed him forward so there was room to lie together, and propped her head upon his arm.

“That’s how we were made, you know. Dad told me.” She reported, proud of forbidden knowledge that she’d stowed away for weeks. He heard but did not listen. Look at it rise and fall!

It had stopped. The water collapsed, a drunkard, without a shadow of its grace. He looked around; even the men had left him now. He thought about standing, yet he knew as soon as he placed his weight onto weary feet, the fountain would roar again, mock him for his impatience or drench him in its wake. He paused. Seconds later, it was back, bored of elegance, of steadiness and calm. The rhythm took him, bellowed with laughter at his stillness and pulsed within his veins. He shone red with embarrassment. I can dance like that.

The sand was still hot under their feet. The sun had passed over like a tyrant, unforgiving, burning indiscriminately as they sheltered in the shade. He had got her a drink, shaking, nervous, trying not to drop it to the ground. They sat together, hiding, and he drank her words. Bathed in her presence. Soaked up her scent. She inched closer until her lips tickled the hairs upon his ear.

“Can we dance?”

Thoughts flew like arrows through his brain, it’s too hot, I can’t dance, I’ll look foolish, it’s too hot, I can’t dance, I’ll look foolish… She retracted, he composed himself and leapt up, held her waist, circled her feet, fingers entwined, moved with the energy of the moment without thought nor fear. They laughed, the sand burned, they went fast and hectic in the middle and slow and loving in the shade, a cycle, a pattern, I don’t want this to end.

It did. He grew jealous of the water. Angry at the past. He wanted to leave now, run toward the rabble from before, but he was jealous of them, too. He was stuck. Resentment grew within his chest and he didn’t care about the cold anymore; the fountain turned to fire.

It’s everywhere. He awoke to the smell of burning. Screams raped the divine silence of night, calls for help, for God, for mercy. A cacophony of suffering. A nightmare, surely. He ran, naked as the first man, muddled from the grip of sleep; movement, voices, the world sounded like a thousand horses raging into war, where are they? The rooms were empty aside from the thunderclouds of smoke. Where are they? He was outside now, facing the fury of the blaze, orange, red, warning of the danger it possessed. They were running. Neighbours, friends, lovers, handfuls of clothes, fleeing out towards the hills. His lungs drew plumes of sickly smog, eyes stung with heat and fear and tears. Where are they? A hand, not theirs, clawed at his skin. A mouth, not theirs, screamed echoes. He ran. He had no choice.

He closed his eyes, understanding now why the men ignored the fountain. His breathing had become shallow and sharp, and he fought to suck it deep. The bursts of flame had sunk and died; he embraced the cold once more. Just listen.

The waves slapped lazily against the boat, never-ending, a constant battery of sound that simultaneously reassured and nauseated. He was sick. Hanging over the metal frame he retched like an animal, spitting and frothing just like the ocean was below. He would have been ashamed if the others weren’t asleep, or pretended to be at least, huddled, drowning in their own way, a tsunami of despair.

It ended. It had all ended; the fountain swirled and groaned as if someone had pulled the plug, draining slowly away into a silence that was louder than the world. He could feel her hand, velvet, silk, even as he froze.


27/6/17 : Charlotte Knowles-Cutler

culture & society, head talks

When you beat a man for being gay you tell him
“this is how we treat our women”.

You show him what male privilege means, how respect exits
once you are entered.
Good girls are virgins. Good girls are men.
Hymens are not the delicate sheaths of skin within we once believed them to be.
They appear in your demeanour, your tone and pitch, your hands and your hips. You switch

We weave new binaries. You choose between a clean life with your dirty laundry confined to your
sheets and your mind, or a rabbit-hole world,
a tiny door through which you compress into a caricature of yourself, an LGBT poster girl.
Checked shirts, clipped nails and ponytails. One day
I’ll take a clipper to my hair. One day
I’ll be gay enough to take my place here, among the glitter
and the adolescent dreams of what attraction means I need to be for you to read me.
One day I’ll find my label and my tribe will welcome me.
Like finding the colour that speaks the tongue in which you dream, or
the rhythm working in your step before you knew what music meant.

Where are the words for this. I knew them
when you came against my lips, but they dissipate amongst the politics.

VOTE BABY VOTE : Natalie Friesem

culture & society

“Do not mistake that the Ballot is stronger than the Bullet”- Abraham Lincoln

As a young person, I am constantly being told that “we are the future”.

I think that the first time this felt like it actually meant something to me was when I placed my first vote in the Brexit referendum of 2016. It didn’t get the result that I had researched, believed in, and voted for, and I will never forget the bitter resentment and disappointment I felt, partly with my generation for the miserable 64% turnout it relinquished. I do, however, live in a country and a society where I was allowed to use my opinion to influence that decision, as did the 33.6 million other people that voted, and that is not something to be brushed over. Our democracy is, I believe, a right, but it is also a privilege afforded to the general public through the dedication and militancy of many disenfranchised people, and to forget their struggle would be, quite frankly, insulting.

In England, parliamentary democracy has quite the murky past, due to the Monarchy, the Revolution, and various attempts at tyrannical leadership, but the Bill of Rights in 1689 gave requirements to the Crown to seek public consent, as represented in Parliament. Despite this, suffrage remained a struggle- particularly for the working class, whose right to vote was heavily restricted with property and residential qualifications. The Women’s Suffrage movement, spearheaded by Emmeline Pankhurst, was renowned for being a radical and militant protestation. The government countered the Suffragette’s hunger strikes and damage of property with jail and force feeding, and after becoming a national movement in the 1870’s, it was put on hold with the outbreak of WW1 in 1914. Before the Representation of the People act in 1918, which gave certain women over 30 the right to vote, only about 60% of the male population in England were eligible voters, due to the working class restrictions. Women over the age of 21 weren’t allowed to vote on the same terms as men until the 1928 Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act.

In the present, voting is still important as a representation in the running of the country. It is your chance to vocalise what you believe in, your chance to exercise your rights in order to better society. It sounds grandiose, but it’s true- if you have the opportunity for democracy, and don’t take it, than it is not only an insult to the suffrage movement, and to those living in totalitarian regimes without this opportunity, but also to yourself. It is an insult to your own intelligence to not have an opinion on who should be running the country in which you live.

A lot of people are struggling with who to vote for in this snap election, which is perfectly reasonable, providing you are, at the same time, attempting to do something about it. As a starting point, I suggest using websites such as https://uk.isidewith.com/political-quiz , which will help to recognise which of the parties your principles align with. After determining this, find copies of party manifestos, and READ thoroughly. It is also absolutely worth doing a little research on your constituency, the current and past political status of where you live, and polls to see how your vote would be best used to achieve the result you are aiming for.

To exercise your right to vote is to be making use of a right and a privilege. Do your research, and choose wisely.

Who Empowers You Most? #internationalwomensday

culture & society


‘When talking about inspirational and empowering women there are a plethora of names, both of history and our modern era, that come to mind. For me, I think Malala deserves to be very high on that list – in 2012 she was shot three times in the head whilst aboard her school bus, a punishment for speaking out about education for girls. Not only did she survive, she was immediately cast into an international spotlight and now, at the age of only 17, is an incredible spokesperson for equal rights across the board who has received a Nobel peace prize for her triumphing bravery. She never faltered and used her attack to continue fighting against the oppression that tried to take her life, and if that’s not inspirational I don’t know what is.’ – Fred Ostrovskis

11167686_10153392692862701_6576739506821468312_n - Copy

‘My Mother: For always being the light and the voice in my head reminding me how to treat people.’ – Lucas Jones


‘Patti Smith is like the face of god to me. She’s a constant thought, a constant reminder that you never need to limit yourself. You can be wise, you can be poetic and creative and intelligent and vulnerable and open, while still being ferociously, unapologetically bold and strong. She empowers me to think more, write more, live more, be more. She radiates.’ – Lucy Harbron


‘To Isis, my favourite woman. You are strong, intelligent, beautiful and kind. You have always been my best friend.’ – Maya Kearney


‘I suppose its not just one woman that empowers me but a group of women, there are two in particular, Halla Tomasdóttir and Kristín Pétursdóttir, the Chairman and CEO of Audur Capital in Iceland. Now I’m not one for understanding politics or banking and financials, suppose I haven’t got that far in life, but what I do know is that when Iceland had its financial crisis in 2008, Audur Capital succeeded in keeping the funds of their clients while the rest of Iceland collapsed. Audur Capital is ran entirely by women, Halla argued that having more women in finance and in decision-making processes will lead to better decisions, not because women are better, but because they are different, and can lend a different perspective, leading to better-informed responses and solutions.’ – Elizabeth Evans


‘Initially I tried to think of women that inspire me the most and I honestly believe that every woman that I come into contact with inspires me in some way. But at the crux of all of this its my responsibility to inspire and empower myself. My independence as a woman is my greatest asset and motivator, and recognising this inspires me to try and support and cultivate this positive feeling in everyone else I know.’ – Sophie Curtis


‘It sounds a bit too much like a cliche to say this, the woman who inspires me the most would be my mum. I’ve always been raised in a single-parent family and my mum has had to face a lot of challenges with me and my brother that were very physically and emotionally draining. I have never really needed to have my dad around because I have my mum who is everything. She continues to make huge differences in people’s lives daily by just offering her support and guidance. Obviously, still very much including me and my brother. Honestly, without my mum I don’t think I would have made it anywhere really. I think to be able to have such an impact on people in such a touching way is so important, especially in current times where we forget how important it is. If I can be anything like my mum, then I know I have done good.’ – Eden Southall-Martin

Here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

Happy International Women’s Day

‘A Note On Empathy In 2016’ – By Natalie Friesem

culture & society

For the longest time, I had assumed that empathy was a fairly common trait of human decency. Maybe I had just been living a charmed life, but everyone I knew and surrounded myself with felt and discussed empathy on a relatively regular basis until 2016 came along, and the boundaries of human decency were pushed. I have felt and seen a seismic divide between friends, families, and even generations on what they feel is their responsibility to humanity, and this makes me feel uncomfortable in itself.

Brexit not only divided a nation, but I think it also exposed the underside of human nature that most people like to pretend does not exist. Ugliness and hatred in the form of xenophobia, racist slurs, and a failure to own up to blame suddenly became an accepted view, and not only did people admit to thinking these things, but they also were encouraged to be proud of it under the falseness of ‘Patriotism’. This was the worst thing about the whole campaign in my eyes- this sense that the world owes us more than this, and that we, as a country and a race, are ’better than this’. We are what we have made ourselves, and the world owes us nothing.

The Trump Presidential campaign took this feeling, and multiplied it exponentially. Empathy and acceptance were no longer even a consideration, and somehow it became permissible for men in positions of knowledge and power to talk down to people of ethnic or gender minority groups in equal or greater positions. It can seem that education and suitability are void in the face of privilege, and it has become hard not to lose hope in how far my opinion can be taken seriously being both a woman and of a religious minority.

All of a sudden, people I know and love began to express thoughts I did not realise they had the capacity to think: thoughts filled with fear, dread and a willingness to turn a blind eye to anything that did not affect them. I have been so shocked at the amount of intelligent, thoughtful people close to me that I have had discussions with only to reveal that they made decisions based on a shallow understanding of what they were voting for, based on numbers and statistics with no regard to actual people.

I think it is the dehumanisation of people that has been the biggest catalyst to a lack of empathy in 2016. This can be seen in all walks of life, but the most prevalent example of this is obviously the refugee crisis. It pains me to see the willingness of society to absolve all of the blame onto these people, most of whom have sacrificed so much to break away from suffering we can’t imagine, only to come into a country where they face humiliation and degradation simply for trying to survive. It is so easy dismiss others and retreat back into our own worlds, but it is so crucial that this doesn’t happen, and empathy is used to be able to treat everyone with respect and dignity.

I am aware that this all seems highly pessimistic so far, but the clouds of 2016 have many a silver lining. I have such admiration for the people who have come out and used their voices, no matter how small, to protest against oppression for both themselves and others. In particular, my generation have impressed me so much with their ability to hold their own against a more conservative older generation, and it is this that gives me hope. Whilst it may not seem like we can do a whole lot now, we ARE the future. We hold so much power in our beliefs and convictions, and it is more important to remember this now than ever. If 2016 was the year we would like to brush under the carpet, let’s make 2017 the year we want to remember. Let’s continue to fight for what we believe in, protest what we don’t, and try our hardest to make the world a safer, happier, and more empathetic place.

Happy New Year to you all.

‘The Dilemma Of Being Women In The Dark’ – By Lucy Harbron

culture & society

“I’m most aware of my womanhood when I’m afraid”

In recent weeks, my university life has been flooded with horror stories. Weekly I walk roads where I’ve heard a girl my age was attacked, I think of her with sympathy, I think with gratitude that it wasn’t me. But mostly I’m afraid, all too aware of the proximity and reality of crimes I’m programmed to fear from infancy, so much so that they almost fade to fairy-tale. Until it happens in the street down from your flat.

On a walk home, in the dark, last week the girls I live with and I talked about the subject as we fast walked through well-lit streets, phones in hand, staying close. I think that’s when it hit me how much of a shared experience fear is within femininity. All of us had a story to tell of roaming hands forcing us out, but anxiety of possibility kept us in. It’s the dilemma, the threefold issue of being a girl, a young woman, on a night out.

Back home, this is when your mum would be giving you the speech, the weekly reminder to “not put your drink down, don’t go anywhere alone, look out for each other, be aware.” I once even got the speech off a female taxi driver; it’s innate, unrehearsed yet always performed.  For us girls, we must be reminded of the rules. Whereas my male companions normally receive only a “look after yourself, have fun”.

You arrive, and you fall into duality. I’ve talked to so many of my friends and they all agree on this; we will never relax. Regardless of how many vodka cokes I’ve downed, my drunk state could never persuade me to take my eyes off that bartender, or put that plastic cup down. A portion of my brain always remains sober when it comes to it, it’s the portion with the voice of my mother, the knowledge of periods and the true girl code; ‘how to try to not be raped’. And I can hear these thoughts echo around the women around the room, yet meanwhile I hear men say “I hope someone spikes me, I can’t afford my own drugs”, or pick up and drink anything they find when the funds run low.

A common scenario- Someone comes too close, a hand you don’t know touches your arm, your hip, your ass. You give your friend the look, and go to the toilets, the safe haven. You decide to leave.

Let’s ponder the weapons-

1)Taxi home alone.

2)Walk back with a group of friends.

3)Stay .

That’s the dilemma. Three big question marks choose your door.

1)I heard that story the other day about a girl being driven to the middle of nowhere. I’m new here, would I realise if we went the wrong way? How could I stop them? Do I sit in the front or the back, does it look like I don’t trust them if I sit in the back? But if I sit in the front, I’m easier to get to. It’ll be fine, I’ll text my friends when I’m home, What was the number plate again? Please don’t talk to me.

2)It’ll be fine, there’s guys with us, it’s practically day light, everyone’s walking back this way, it’ll be fine I’ll just tell my mum we got a taxi and oh god of course I’d never do this on my own.

3)Can we change rooms, that guys freaking me out? Oh okay after this song. Back on back, arm graze, someone stood on my foot, no air, I want to leave, why do people get so close? Can we change rooms?      Why does this always happen to me? Do I look easy? Is it how I dance, how I dress? Is it my fault? No.

The dilemma of being a girl at night- it’ll be fine it’ll be fine, as long as my phones got charge, I’ve got my keys and I’m never alone.

However, a friend reminded me of a point so often brushed under the carpet. Men are scared too. It would be wrong to assume that males are completely void of anxiety at night and have internalised no level of fear. But the argument that those levels of fear are similar, or at all comparable in indoctrination or ideal, is unfathomable. As articulated by my friend, Men fear violence, the worry of a fight or an altercation that in 90% of cases could’ve been avoided. Whereas girls, we not only fear violence (physical and sexual), but deceit, manipulation.

We learn gradually that our attackers, most likely, will not jump out of the trees but will walk us home holding our hand, drape their arm over our shoulder in a taxi. The spectrum of threat is so broadened it all blurs to an ingrained constant state of subtle vigilance. I like you, you seem kind, I like how you dance but I’ll follow you to the bar, never leave you with my drink.

I know not all men are rapists, women are not walking target boards, and the world is less scary than we imagine in our privileged lives. Yet all women are taught fear, we’re raised on it. The sisterhood of scared girls coming home at night, we make shallow conversation in the taxi back and live out our unspoken promise to always have a third eye watching the other. We hold hands as we walk the corner round to our real address, fingers laced together in a prayer than our daughters need never walk so fast. The shared experience and the shared hope that when the sisterhood is a motherhood, the dilemma is of outfits and the speech goes only “be there for each other, you look beautiful, be young.”


Guns In Their Houses – A poem by Elisa B

culture & society, head talks

come on,
be yourself.

make sure your house
inside is filled with joy.

start off with
your first walk,
tiny step
I fall,
now I stand tall.


sing your soul out.
smoothing and calming
bang bang
you’re dead
shot in the head
3 times, 2 times, one.


dance your heart
out. breathe in
bang bang
50 people are dead.

and hold.

nothing else can be told.
disasters, and misery
in busy streets.

and candles on the floor,
I’m sorry they’re not here anymore.

these people,
put guns in their houses
and looked at their watches.
time ticked and ticked
and all we heard was gun shots.

people are crying,
and sighing yet
guns are still in their houses.

bang bang.

‘Sexual Violence – Forget Your Preconceptions’ by X

culture & society, Uncategorized

(TW. Rape/sexual violence)

It was only after I was raped that I became fully aware of the disparity between the way society perceives sexual crimes, and the way they actually are. I was expected to feel one way about the crime committed against me, but I felt something completely different. Contrasting this to other experiences I’ve had only makes this all the more apparent. In sharing two of these with you, I hope to highlight this and teach you something. I’m not sure what yet.


Seventeen, a virgin, never had a boyfriend. Naive. I was on a trip with a group of school friends. One boy there I was particularly close to and probably considered him to be one of my best school friends. Things were slightly awkward between us though. We’d gotten off at a party in November – it was now August – and had had no sexual contact before or since then, however about a month prior to this trip he’d confessed that he had strong feelings for me. He went as far to say “madly in love”. I’d rejected him, and had even invented an imaginary boyfriend, just to try and help him move on.

It was the first night. We were all sat around laughing, drinking, talking, whilst the sky darkened over us. Someone brought Amaretto. I love Amaretto. I mixed it in with my cider, along with some of this boy’s whisky. He gave every person present a head massage apart from me. I wondered whether I’d upset him, so I brought this to his attention. He must have taken it as an invitation.

Quite a while and many drinks later, he approached me and my best male friend and massaged our heads. It felt okay. But then he moved onto just me. Beyond my head. He caressed my neck, each stroke injected with a little more passion than the last. I felt uneasy. I thought he was trying it on but didn’t want to look presumptuous, as no sexual contact had been made yet. My drunken brain thought that pretending to go to sleep would be a good idea – because no one would continue on somebody who was asleep, right? Mistake. I put my head to the side and shut my eyes, and a combination of alcohol, fear and sleepiness locked me into that position. I couldn’t move most of my body – only my forearms, my mouth and my neck slightly. Noises were blurred into one, my vision was barely present, the only stimulus I could sense were his affectionate strokes.

And these strokes got deeper, harder, faster, and spread not only across my neck, but now my chest and shoulders. I could hear him breathing heavily. It wasn’t normal breathing. The only other time I’ve heard a man breathe that way was during intense sexual contact with a boyfriend at a later date.

I knew this was going to turn into something regrettable. I just about managed to shuffle my right forearm onto my friend’s knee. He turned and asked what I was doing. I couldn’t speak but I looked him in the eye for a long while. I mouthed ‘help’. He got up and left me alone.

The boy’s strokes got even more intense, and his mouth moved to right above my neck. His breath tickled me and moved between the corner of my neck and my shoulder, moist and warm. He’d kiss me every now and then. Occasionally he’d lift my head up with one of his strokes, pause for a second, and let it flop back down. I started to whisper “no,”. He continued anyway. Breath, stroke, kiss, “no,”. Stroke, kiss, “no,”, breath, kiss. His hands moved to my breasts, and started massaging those too. I said no three times. Eventually he moved his hands from my breasts, but didn’t stop stroking me. The encounter lasted around twenty minutes.

He was interrupted by my sister. She saw him molesting my limp body and panicked. Tried to get another friend to look at what was going on, but that friend ran off. She tapped me. “Are you okay? Do you want this?”

“No, please don’t. Please… Stop,” I barely managed to whisper.

She started to cry. “I need to speak to my sister,” she told the boy.

“Okay speak to her,” he said, still massaging me, though I was now free of his mouth.

“No it needs to be in private. Please leave.”

He left. I stayed sat down, head to one side, unmoving, heart pounding. I could still feel his hands even though they weren’t there. A tear escaped from my eye and rolled down my face. My sister sat next to me and apologised desperately for letting it happen. She turned her back to me for perhaps a minute. He returned and started massaging me. Again. She got rid of him. Again.

Many other things happened that night. I phoned my dad asking for advice, started crying hysterically, as did my sister, all the while defending him to myself. “He didn’t mean it. He isn’t like that. It WASN’T a sexual assault. It wasn’t even sexual contact.” But I still felt violated. Teary. Sick. When I got home, not the next day but the day after, I spent two days in bed, switching between lying down and going on my iPad, and weeping.

For the next two months after that I physically felt his hands over my breast. I’d brush them, trying to escape from his touch, but it was never enough. I started having panic attacks. I’d had the odd one before but these were on a different level. Full on hyperventilating, sweating, crying. My sister remembers waking up on the first day back at school to what she thought was the sound of sawing wood, and looking across the room to see me curled into my blanket, having an anxiety attack. I hated myself. I felt sorry for him. Can you imagine how he’d feel if he found out he’d caused me all this pain? Not very bad, it turned out, but that’s for another article. My dad actually came in and comforted me, but in doing so he hugged me and breathed on my neck. It made me cry. When I got back to school, I skipped most of my lessons, instead choosing to go to the toilets, where I’d either snack on chocolate or watch myself in the mirror shake with anxiety. I shared three quarters of my lessons with him, and they were small classes. I learnt to deal with this eventually. Somehow.


A year later, still a virgin, had broken up with my first and only boyfriend about a month prior. Less naïve. That morning I wrote a song about the first assault, and that afternoon I watched The Hunting Ground – an amazing film, for the record, that I would definitely recommend – and felt so empowered and inspired. I wanted to do some activism. Ha.

My sister and I were going on a night out in London. Having supported her through her mental health problems, I wanted to make the night special for her. My first assault had affected her just as much as it had me, being witness to that and carrying the guilt, as well as watching me turn into someone else. We were both damaged.

After she left a club in London, two men approached my sister. They approached her again when I joined her. One clearly liked her. He was good looking. I felt happy for her. I was sort of stuck with the other one, and was willing to keep him occupied so that my sister could have some fun.

I ended up giving the man I was with oral sex. He was pushy, but it was consensual. We did other sexual things. Apparently some digital penetration happened though I have no recollection of it. I’m choosing to assume it was consensual.

At one point in the night I asked him to do something very mildly sexual, with no penetration involved. He told me to turn around. I asked him why but he just told me to turn around. So I did. I felt his penis enter my bum. It didn’t hurt. My entire body had been numbed from the alcohol. I giggled and said “no no no,” clearly and all at once. He continued to penetrate me anyway, gently thrusting in and out of me. I pushed him away. He ignored this, but very shortly after removed himself. In the morning, when I asked over text about what happened, he told me he stopped because it was too dry.

My initial reaction was non existent. I don’t think I even realised that what happened was wrong. I still kissed him afterwards, and felt relatively safe. It was when I woke up that I realised I’d been “technically raped”. I didn’t tell my sister the details, but laughed about this fact with her over the phone. But I soon felt a deep sense of shame. I’d lost my virginity. To anal. To a stranger who I didn’t even fancy. And I didn’t say yes. I curled up and groaned. I told my dad what had happened and burst into tears. He said that he believed my assailant had crossed the line, but didn’t push this feeling onto me.

A lot of things happened after this. Again, these should be saved for another article, but I did end up reporting it, which made coming to terms with what had happened much easier.

My feelings were slow. During the first week there was some crying, and a lot of worrying. I was scared for my family. How my autistic brother would deal with the news, how my sister would cope going through this again, and my parents were clearly very affected by this. It was almost annoying how affected they all were.

There was one unbearable moment. I realised that I’d never trust a man again. If my first assailant had taken away my trust for men, my second had completely obliterated any chances of regaining it. I didn’t believe all men were perverts, but I didn’t trust myself to distinguish between the good men and the perverts. I’d failed twice already; is there any reason to assume I never would again? I began to miss my ex a lot. I didn’t know whether I’d be able to have a relationship again, simply for the fear of being raped. It made me feel pathetic. It had been a very casual relationship, but I found myself craving it desperately.

I think the thing that saddened me the most was the irony. I’ve never bought much into the whole virginity thing, but I always knew that I didn’t want to lose my virginity to rape – that was the golden rule. I was extremely promiscuous in public but never took it back home. I remember telling my ex about the first assault after he asked me to sleep over his. All through our relationship, I would think about what would happen if he raped me, and what the consequences would be. And now I had lost my virginity to rape – and not just any old rape, anal rape. My friend was teased for doing anal with her boyfriend months into their relationship and it had happened to me after one night. I try not to think about it.

That said there’s no trauma attached to the incident. I wasn’t scared, nor did it hurt. I was just numb. Sometimes my emotions vanished and were replaced by fatigue and headaches. This was due partly to antiretroviral tablets and partly to the exhaustion of it all. I considered killing myself a few times, but decided against it. A dry life was undesirable, but I knew deep down it had the potential to improve, and I owed it to my family to try to make that happen.

Perception Vs Reality

After telling my friends from outside of school about the first assault, they were all relatively sympathetic, however I got the impression that some were relieved that it didn’t go further. Glad that it ended where it did, and that in terms of sexual offences, it would probably be considered a relatively minor one. The ones at school were reluctant to hear me talk about it at all. He’d gotten there first, so I somewhat was under scrutiny. After my second assault the response was very different. Even though I felt fine in and of myself, many of my friends were shocked. Devastated for me.

My parents, although incredibly supportive of me, seemed a little defensive of my first assailant, considering him to be a boy who had gotten overexcited and made a mistake. This changed with time, but is how it was initially. Towards the second, on the other hand, my Dad felt an immense anger, even though I wasn’t particularly damaged by the experience. Was I shocked? Maybe. Deflated? Definitely. But traumatised? Nowhere near. Yet this sad rage, which seemed to be lacking after the first assault (that led to flashbacks and anxiety attacks), consumed him.

Begged, therefore, is the question: what was the difference? In almost every measurable sense, my first assault was far worse. My assailant was known to me, it lasted much longer and I was affected to an ever greater extent by it. The only obvious way in which one could possibly arrive to the conclusion that the second assault is worse, is if you look at how ‘far’ it went. The second involved penetration – it was rape. The first was ‘merely’ sexual assault.

I too had been guilty of considering penetrative assault to be automatically worse in the past. I spent the year following my first assault almost apologising when I referred to it as an assault. Every time I brought it up, a disclaimer would be attached: “I know it could have been worse but,”; “It’s not like I was raped,”; “Thank God it stopped when it did.” I was rarely corrected.

The impact this had on me, as a victim, was enormous. I felt embarrassed talking to others about the assault, as though I was making a big deal out of nothing. I constantly felt as though I was going to be exposed to the world as a pretend victim, that friendships that had been made based on me opening up about the experience would end with me being revealed as a fraud, when they found out what exactly happened.

The second assault actually brought me some relief. The fact I’d been raped and felt less bad about it than the first assault proved to me that it genuinely was a sexual assault. That I wasn’t just a sensitive person who was making a big deal out of nothing.

So why is this? Why are penetrative assaults considered worse in at least my circles?

We could start by looking at the law. Assault by penetration and rape both carry maximum sentences of life, but sexual assault only carries one of ten years. Perhaps the distinction in legal severity of the crime carries through to society, and our emotional responses align with this. Personally I find this unlikely. Most people are not aware of the sentencing of each crime, and despite it being a very, very easy crime to get away with, most people see rape, or at least what they consider to be rape, as abhorrent.

Instead, what catches my attention is how different sexual violence is portrayed in the media to my experiences. That may seem redundant, but unless you have been a victim, or take an interest in sexual violence, it’s unlikely you’ll have much insight into it outside of films, television and the news, so lots of people form their opinions about it based on this. For instance, fictional victims seem to fall into two main categories – vulnerable and traumatised (e.g. Carla Connor from Coronation Street), or strong, ‘kick ass’, but emotionally cold survivors (Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium Trilogy) – and when talking to me, it was clear that even some adults expected me to react in one of these ways.

Furthermore, the rapes are, far more often than not, depicted as physically violent. I have a theory that this is because it makes it easier to empathise with the victim, because we can’t all relate to the feelings of violation that come with sexual violence, but we can all relate to feelings of fear and intimidation present when someone hits at you, or shouts at you. This is a two sided coin though. We become so accustomed to this image of rape, that we find it hard to understand cases that fall short of this.

I am yet to see a non penetrative sexual assault depicted in the popular media, and especially one that leads to the victim feeling the same levels of violation as a rape. Although more common than rape, it seems to be talked about less. We only look at the more ‘serious’ offences, the more ‘extreme’ examples. This shows a comprehensive lack of understanding of sexual violence. The root of pain for the victims is often that someone had control over their body, their sexuality, their actions. It’s the immense violation that comes with being treated like a possession, and the indescribable fear of not being able to stop it. Uncertain of what will happen, when it will end. How far the actions went sexually can add to it, but they don’t define the experience. There are so many factors that can be more important, such as the perceived arousal of the assailant, the extent to which you knew and trusted them and whether or not you were expecting it to happen at all.

The way I viewed my rape was very different to how my assailant did. For him, the entire encounter was purely sexual. His purpose was to get sexual gratification. My purpose was mainly to keep him occupied whilst my sister was with his friend. This varied from time to time – I remember enjoying it a lot at one point – but the rape felt very impersonal, and not at all sexual to me. People seemed to look at it more through his eyes. They may have felt sorry for me, but they projected their image of what happened being a sexual act onto mine. Okay, so it was a sexual act, and I acknowledged that, but it didn’t feel that way when it was happening. Because of this, I didn’t feel so helpless or scared or violated. It was only after it happened, when I started to process it all that any feelings came. But because, straight off the bat, they knew it was a sexual act, they imagined that I would, and they imagined all of these feelings coming all at once as soon as he put his penis inside of me.

The first assault they saw as less sexual, because he only touched my breasts and massaged my neck, but I saw it as a deeply sexual experience. As friends, we’d established boundaries that we didn’t really cross. I wasn’t in love with him. I’d told him that. I didn’t desire intimacy with him. He knew this too. But he completely tore apart these boundaries. Though touching a girl’s neck and shoulders wouldn’t excite most boys, it was clear to me that in that moment, he felt very, very aroused, and very, very lucky. He cherished my body – I could feel the excitement radiating from him – and he pushed this act of deeply passionate affection onto me. It didn’t just feel like an act of sexual desire, it felt like an act of love. Going from letting me ‘just’ be his friend, to forcing me to be a participant in an act of such consuming romantic desire felt sickeningly violating. And it really is hard to get that across by telling someone “he touched my tits and I said no”.

What can we do?

It’s close to impossible to guess how the victim feels about a sexual assault. Every assault, every assailant and every victim is different, so even if it has happened to you, it can be hard to empathise with other victims for this reason. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I would never expect anyone to know how I feel. That said, with those I told, it was certainly easier to talk to those who didn’t have the image of a ‘typical rape’ already implanted in their mind.

I would advise that if your friend has suffered any sexual violence, the best thing you can do for them is put aside any preconceptions you have about what has happened to them. As if you’ve never watched or read or even thought about rape, and you’re learning everything you know about it from them. Because really, this is the case. You may know about rape in general, sexual violence in general, sex in general, but you know not of their personal experience. By listening to and learning from them, it should provide a natural dialogue and communication, giving them a space where they feel comfortable sharing their feelings with you, whilst giving you invaluable insight into a world which is deeply misunderstood.