“I decided to start a charity. I didn’t do it for philanthropic reasons or because I wanted to be the next Mother Theresa. It was actually a selfish move – I had no other option, and I did it for my own welfare.”
After being raped as a teenager, nurse Pavan Amara experienced immense distress at the thought of having medical procedures done such as cervical screenings and STI testing. Although she felt emotionally fine, she struggled with the physical aspects of having medical check-ups in the set-up offered by the standard health care clinics in the UK; “Lying down on a tabletop and being inspected – examined – felt impossible.”
Searching for some research on specialist services for women survivors of sexual assaults, she came up short-handed.
“I still can’t get my head around the fact that until August, nothing like this existed in the UK. I think that says a lot about the state of services for women – especially for those who have experienced assault. No wonder we’re made to feel like we’re at fault, or like we should be embarrassed of our assault…”
Amara decided to conduct some research of her own. She interviewed thirty women survivors to learn about their experiences with the health care system in the aftermath of being sexually assaulted. She found an alarming common tactic among the women, namely that they would avoid going to the GP altogether, because it would trigger memories of their assault.
“… the big concern was that they didn’t want a stranger touching them again. The power dynamic between patient and doctor was problematic for them. They felt out of control of their bodies.”
One of the women recounted how her rapist had said “just relax and it will be over quicker”, and when she went for a smear test, years later, the nurse had used the exact same words. With all the findings from the interviews, Amara had a clear vision for the specific support that should be put in place in order for these women to finally access basic health care.
In August 2015, Amara launched the ‘My Body Back’ project – a number of specialist NHS sexual health and maternity clinics in England for women who have experienced sexual assault. The demand for this kind of service was immediately palpable. Before the first clinic had opened, or even been advertised, they were fully booked to the end of the year and there was a waiting list of more than fifty women. There were also women travelling to the clinic from Spain, Ireland, and Scotland, which led to the opening of another clinic in Scotland, since many women who needed these services couldn’t afford the travel expenses.
‘My Body Back’ focuses on the physical aspects of recovery, making them feel safer at a doctors’ examination, and the project also seeks to surpass the taboo that often surrounds “women’s bodies and sexual violence in this patriarchal society”, and, ultimately, #breakfree from shame
By Ida Larsen, WAVE Intern