In new series After: Surviving Sexual Assault, Catriona Morton talks to fellow abuse survivors about what happened to them, and how they cope now
In June 2016, the now-infamous Brock Turner case was at its peak – while the judge showed leniency on grounds that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact” on Turner, the woman he attacked showed poise and power as she delivered a moving speech in court.
“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” she began. Her letter, published in full on BuzzFeed News, was not only a decisive telling of her story, but a message of support to all sexual assault survivors. “I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light,” she concluded, “a small knowing that you can’t be silenced.”
The following year, the #MeToo movement gained momentum in the mainstream. Though a crucial step forward in spotlighting the prevalence of sexual assault, and enabling survivors to reclaim power, conversations still too often centred on the accused.
Determined to change this is 22-year-old writer and sexual assault survivor Catriona Morton. Having being abused during childhood and adulthood, Morton started a blog called Life Continues After as a space for survivors to share stories and advice. “It’s important to hear what we go through and what we live with,” they tell me over the phone, “in order to show what surviving day-to-day is actually like.”
Now, Morton is continuing their mission to strengthen the support available to survivors through their new podcast, After: Surviving Sexual Assault. Launching today, the podcast will see Morton in conversation with a different abuse survivor each week, frankly discussing what happened to them and how they’ve adapted to life after sexual assault.
Split into two parts, ‘Then’ and ‘Now’, guests are given the space to talk as openly as they like about their experiences, and share their coping mechanisms. Despite the prevalence of sexual assault, there is still a huge stigma when it comes to survivors telling their stories, meaning many feel isolated in their experience.
In her book What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, Sohaila Abdulali writes: “We don’t talk enough about joy and rage and how to fit both into our lives”. By sharing not only their story, but giving a platform to a variety of survivors from completely different walks of life, Morton hopes their podcast will alleviate some of the confusion survivors can feel, and help them take back control.
Here, Dazed chats to Morton about their podcast, how sex education needs to evolve, and why it’s so important to keep talking about sexual assault.
Why did you start Life Continues After?
Catriona Morton: I’d been assaulted at the start of 2017, but only went to counselling at the end of that year. When I came off (three months of therapy) I felt very isolated – I wanted a space people could visit any time of day, and have unlimited access to. Everything I found online was quite like therapy, whereas I wanted somewhere for people to share TV shows that weren’t triggering, or podcasts that were good if you couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night.
How did the podcast come about after that?
Catriona Morton: Imriel Morgan (CEO of the ShoutOut Network, and host of Wanna Be Podcast) was doing a podcast festival so I went along, and there was a panel talk featuring Cariad Lloyd, who does Griefcast, and I asked a question about how you make guests feel comfortable when it’s a difficult topic. (After the panel) they all came up to me and asked what my podcast was called, and I was like ‘I don’t have one’, and it was just taken from there really!
I’d always wanted to do something (outside of the website) because I knew that if you’re feeling sick or sad, a lot of times you don’t want to read stuff, you just want to lie there, and listen or watch.
“(I want) to show that we can survive afterwards, and that everyone is together in feeling isolated” – Catriona Morton
What’s the main mission of After: Surviving Sexual Assault?
Catriona Morton: I want to show that it’s (sexual assault) a problem that’s society-wide – everyone knows someone (who’s experienced abuse), so the podcast aims to demonstrate how pervasive it is, and how it needs to actually be talked about. Also to show that we can survive afterwards, and that everyone is together in feeling isolated – I guess I want to normalise how confusing it can be.
What were the biggest challenges when creating the podcast?
Catriona Morton: One challenge throughout has been trying to get everyone’s stories authentically out there, while still following legal guidelines. If someone has taken something to court and the perpetrator has been found not guilty – or if it was never taken to court – you’re not allowed to say anything that might identify the accused.
Was this a cathartic process?
Catriona Morton: I think it was definitely cathartic for people, especially for those who had never had their story told before, or had never had people properly validate (their experience). Often, a huge problem among survivors is that you don’t think your story is bad enough, especially because of how rape and sexual assault is represented.
Then for me, a hundred per cent – I mean, I spent two hours talking in-depth to each of these people! Seeing the similarities across stories was really lovely, because you can be from such different walks of life, and yet you’ll have little things where you’ll be like ‘oh I do that too’.
Did you often find patterns in guests’ coping mechanisms?
Catriona Morton: Yeah, definitely. The main message that I got from guests in terms of what they do to cope is to allow yourself to feel things – be kind to yourself whatever you need, even if that means staying in bed for three days because you can’t face the world. It’s important to have self-compassion.
Yeah, people constantly berate themselves for having a down day, but sometimes you need to deal with things in that way.
Catriona Morton: For sure. What’s also been lovely is that I’ve had a couple of guests who are single, so a lot of the sessions were about sex, intimacy, and romance, and how that plays out after you’ve been through something. People have been really honest about it.
Why do you think it’s important to make these stories public?
Catriona Morton: One of the reasons I wanted to do the podcast is because with #MeToo – no matter how much good it did – the focus was always on the perpetrators. I totally get if people don’t want to be identified, but I think it’s important to hear what we go through and what we live with, in order to show what surviving day-to-day is like. Also, talking about (sexual assault) really honestly and authentically is the first stage in breaking stigma around it, so hopefully in the future survivors will be believed and supported more.
“Whatever you’re doing is right for you. You are the best expert at helping yourself” – Catriona Morton
Is there a general lack of support for survivors?
Catriona Morton: The system is bad and that’s because of funding. There’s Rape Crisis and The Havens in London – they’re wonderful services, but there’s only so much they can do with the funding they get, and sadly they have to turn people away because they literally don’t have the capacity. If the system isn’t there, I want family networks and groups of friends to be more equipped to talk about sexual assault.
What do you think needs to change about sex education in the UK in order to build those wider support systems?
Catriona Morton: There is a complete misunderstanding of consent, and often perpetrators might not even realise that what they’ve done is wrong because they don’t understand it. From a young age, there needs to be consent training – I remember my sex education was just learning how to put a condom on a banana.
Mine was exactly the same!
Catriona Morton: I remember at the end of primary school, they put girls and boys in separate rooms and made each of us watch videos – one about periods and one about erections. That was literally it! I was abused as a kid, and I think if we equipped young people with a way to see when something is wrong at an earlier stage, it could prevent a lot of harm.
What advice would you give to survivors?
Catriona Morton: No matter what happened to you – when it happened, or how it happened – there are people who believe you and who care about you. It doesn’t matter how you handle it, whether you never tell anyone or tell everyone like I have – whatever you’re doing is right for you. You are the best expert at helping yourself.
Listen to the first episode of After: Surviving Sexual Assault now on BBC Sounds, with new episodes every Thursday