Culture

Fern Champion On Fighting For Sexual Violence Survivors: ‘I Do Have Control Of My Story’

Fern Champion was raped while travelling, and later denied access to trauma therapy back in the UK due to government cuts to women's services. Fern started a hugely successful online petition to raise awareness – and found herself meeting ministers at 10 Downing Street two months later. Here, she tells her story.

By Natalie Cornish

Culture

Fern Champion was raped while travelling, and later denied access to trauma therapy back in the UK due to government cuts to women's services. Fern started a hugely successful online petition to raise awareness – and found herself meeting ministers at 10 Downing Street two months later. Here, she tells her story.

By Natalie Cornish

“I didn’t know what was going to happen [when I started the petition]. I was working with [charity] End Violence Against Women, so I knew I had their support and there was a potential for it to get somewhere. I remember that moment when I announced I was launching this, and then I remember being told, ‘Fern it’s already at 50,000 signatures’ having only gone up a few hours before. My brain just stopped in that moment. It’s a huge moment of, ‘Wow, this is happening’.

“I do look at the comments [on the petition] and the number of people commenting, saying ‘rape and sexual assault happened to me and I couldn’t get support and, in some cases, I still can’t get support’. It speaks to so many different people on so many different levels. Something like this has been needed for such a long time.

“I think #MeToo gave this a platform and it gave women the confidence to speak out. But also I think we need to not forget our history so quickly. #MeToo wasn’t new… It’s been happening for years and years and people have been trying to get their stories heard. We do women before us a huge disservice by [forgetting] this.

Image credit: Jez Smith

“The first time I discussed my story very publicly was on the BBC – and it really wasn’t great. When I look back I wish I’d had a bit more guidance and a bit more sheltering. It all happened so, so quickly. I have been screaming out into the void since March, 2018, because I was unable to access help and support that I felt like I really needed. I met with my MP, I was emailing any kind of organisation I could find explaining my story to see what I could do about it – just screaming out ‘this is shit’ and then eventually I had a breakdown.

“That’s when my employer stepped in and massively helped me by sorting me out with private therapy and everything else just fell into place. Women’s charities got in touch to see if we could work together. I gave evidence in parliament about this through them. It all happened so quickly, I finally got support and suddenly I was flung out there. At the time I thought, ‘this is good, this is what I want to do, I want to use my story for good, I want something to come from all of this’. I felt obligated to do it because I’m one of the lucky ones who got help. I ran with it.

“I went to parliament and then went on the BBC, but when I was there I blurted it all out and I didn’t need to. I didn’t need to give as much information as I did and it was so damaging for me. I think maybe I thought it was from a position of some kind of ownership and empowerment, but there were still people out there who were going to use my story to hurt me. All I say now is, ‘a man raped me.’ It was such a powerful moment for me, I do have control of my story. My mental health has definitely peaked and troughed since the petition launched. It’s very easy to detach myself from it, and I’ve learned that I have to, to live my life.

“I don’t want this to die down. I want to keep it in people’s minds, and keep the pressure on the government for them to act on it. Now I have boundaries in place, I’m better equipped.”

Finding Your Voice is a special photographic series highlighting female activism. You can find out more about Fern’s campaign here and follow her @fernemily93

If this article brings up any issues for you, or if you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.