This is a blog about what happens when you are mad. How you stop being a person. How you can’t trust anyone. How whatever happens to you, it’s all your own fault. Don’t read it, it won’t make you happy.
Trigger warnings: sexual assault, abusive churches, mental illness, suicide, self-harm, loads of fucked-up-ness.
I had known my best friend Rachel since 2003, when we met at university. I still think about her and miss her almost every day. We shared a house for a year, spoke most days after she left York, and I considered her one of my closest friends. Rachel knows about my mental illness, we’d been through a lot together. She’d reassured me when I thought that everyone hated me for being mad. In particular Rachel knows that when I am distressed I have never done anything dangerous to other people, I just want somewhere quiet to hide, and reassurance.
In 2008, after I finished university, I was living in London for several months, volunteering with Catholic Anarchists on a project for women asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds, living on food out of bins, and wondering every night whether the noises outside were a gang with guns come to take back the woman who they considered their ‘property’. It was challenging and stressful and brilliant. I had one day off a week, and I used that to attend the church where Rachel was a steward, Hinde Street Methodist Church. After I returned to York I visited Rachel in London about once a month, staying with her in a community house attached to Hinde Street church.
Ali Dixon (now Alison Borysiewicz) at this time also lived in the community house with Rachel, and was a church steward. Bryn Monnery lived in Methodist student halls attached to Kings Cross Methodist church, and was a regular at Hinde Street on Sunday evenings. Rachel and Bryn both worked at Imperial College, and when I was in London I’d often meet them together for lunch. Rachel has an un-reciprocated and largely un-admitted romantic attraction to Bryn (this will surprise a lot of people, for reasons it isn’t fair to go into – but if you don’t believe me, ask about the doll Kirk made).
Bryn Monnery sexually assaulted me in December 2009, when I was in London over Christmas helping with a homeless shelter.
People have made a lot of shit up about this. To be clear, I have never accused Bryn of rape.
People who had seen Bryn and I together will know that Bryn had an annoying habit of touching me after I’d told him to stop, and being sexually explicit in ways that made me feel uncomfortable. This is just what he did in social situations, and I put up with it because that’s what women are socialised into doing, because a few times I’d shouted at him or moved place, and I knew that if I got any more visibly angry I’d be a ‘bitch’ with ‘no sense of humour’, and I didn’t want to ‘rock the boat’ because he was Rachel’s friend. Rachel and Ali and others had seen this a lot.
Bryn had a distinctly weird attitude towards other women too. His computer screensaver was a picture of his ex-girlfriend’s face. Not a photo which just happened to have her in, but her face tight-cropped, more than a year after they’d split up. With a different woman, Bryn went out for a meal with her, carried some shopping home, then acted as though he was entitled to sex and a relationship, and threatened violence against the man that woman subsequently dated, for months afterwards. There was also weird stuff going on with Bryn’s past. He always lied about his age. Bryn also admitted that he used to be a school teacher, until he had to leave very suddenly in the middle of a term, in circumstances which meant he could never go back, and was unemployed and signing on the dole for a year or so – Chemistry teachers are in short enough supply that this seems distinctly dodgy.
What Bryn did that evening wasn’t many orders of magnitude worse. At first it was just ‘banter’. Bryn was wearing very brief running shorts when I came round, even though it was the depths of winter. He’d tidied up before a visit, and left a condom deliberately visible on his bedroom floor. He kept telling me to lie on his bed. I said no, and sat in a corner on the floor. Bryn came over and sat with a foot on each wall either side of me and his crotch a couple of inches from my nose. He told me he thought he’d asked the wrong woman out at church. I said ‘Sorry I’m not interested, I’m tired and I just want to go home, back off a bit’. He started stroking my head, then the rest of my body. I shouted ‘FUCK OFF’, pushed his hands away, curled up in a ball, and started shaking. He kept on touching me all over after this, mostly outside my clothes but he tried to put his hand down my top. I didn’t know what to do. I was trapped in his room, in student halls which were empty on December 30th, with no idea of the way out of what doors might be locked. I even thought about jumping out of the window but we were about the third floor. I can’t be sure how long this lasted, maybe ten minutes? Then the alarm on my phone went to tell me in was time to get the train. Bryn let me stand up, and put the condom into my jeans pocket, fumbling with my crotch. Then Bryn walked me over the road to the train as though nothing had happened.
I didn’t tell anyone for the first few weeks. I was terrified it would upset Rachel. I didn’t want it to be true. But I was jumpy and upset, and kept flinching when people came near me. The first person I told was my housemate, because I nearly hit him when he tried to give me a friendly hug, and he was baffled and upset as to why I was acting strangely. I also told the psychiatrist I was then seeing every few months.
Because I had worked with women trafficked into the sex trade in London, I knew about the Havens sexual assault reporting centres. About mid-February 2010 I called one up and made an appointment for the next time I was in London. But I couldn’t live with the damage I knew reporting would do. One evening I walked out alongside the river by my house, to the fields where the water was peaceful and black and still and very cold, with a bottle of vodka and two carrier bags full of pills. The only way I could think of to avoid bringing about all this unhappiness and distress that I was going to cause, of making it all never have happened in the first place, was to get rid of me.
Looking back now, I think maybe I was right. But maybe God wanted me alive, or maybe I’m just too bloody-minded. I sent a text to half a dozen friends late that night, and cried down the phone to the first person who happened to answer, M. I didn’t mean to tell M, but she mentioned Bryn in passing and I started crying uncontrollably. Eventually I went back home.
Rachel was one of the first people I told after that. She said she didn’t know who to believe, me or Bryn, and carried on seeing Bryn as though nothing had happened. Rachel became very upset when I tried to discuss this with her. I was desperate not to lose my friendship with Rachel, but trying to pretend nothing had happened had made me think I had to be dead to hide it properly. Maybe I was right.
I didn’t tell Ali about what Bryn had done. I hadn’t told Ali about having a mental illness, either. Ali contacted me soon after, saying she had heard from Bryn and Rachel. Ali wrote me a letter saying I must have hallucinated the whole thing, saying
‘I know that you believe that what you experienced was real and in a way, the fact that it was real for you is the only thing that matters in terms of understanding the way you feel right now, and you have every right to be just as upset as if it really happened.
But I know enough about Bryn, including several things you probably don’t know, to know that that simply isn’t possible. Please please don’t bring this into real life or everyone involved is going to get horribly horribly hurt. And please look after yourself; we’re all worried about you. With love, xxx’.
I was sure I hadn’t hallucinated what happened with Bryn. It just isn’t the type of thing I hallucinate (mostly I get disembodied voices of supernatural creatures), I’d been doing very well the previous few months, including shift leading at the homeless shelter with no problems, and I have always worked out within hours or days afterwards that my hallucinations aren’t real, never had them carry on for months. But I asked my psychiatrist next time I saw her, and she said I definitely hadn’t hallucinated the assault, and she’d be happy to stand up in court and say so if I wanted to take things that far.
Ali hasn’t had training in mental health. She thinks that because she is an ICU nurse and occasionally sees people with organic toxic delirium she knows all about functional mental illness, and more about mine than my psychiatrist. This is clearly bollocks, as will be very obvious to anyone with real experience of ‘severe and enduring mental illness’.
I felt under a lot of pressure from Rachel and Ali not to report. I eventually made a statement to The Havens (sexual assault referral centre) in March 2010, but wasn’t able to talk to the police at the time. I was shaking so hard I couldn’t speak.
I just avoided anywhere Bryn might be.
Eventually I was told by Rachel that I was no longer allowed to go to Hinde Street, that Ali had demanded that they change the church locks to make sure that I could not get in, and that ‘everyone’ agreed with Ali and ‘didn’t feel safe around you’. I know this bit wasn’t true because I asked David J who I also knew well from York days, and David said he had no idea and this had never been brought up at community meeting as Rachel had lied about. I mind the lies a lot. They sang the hymn ‘all are welcome’, and even took communion with me, even as they were working out how to get me out. Hypocritical liars.
It seemed easier for Ali and Rachel to believe that I must have somehow hallucinated the whole thing than that Bryn could do something bad, or that I could be lying about it (I am known for being very honest). But the psychiatrist and the CPN who I was seeing then both said that this was not possible, and that they would be prepared to back me up in court if necessary. I couldn’t face going to the police though – I am very scared of particularly the Met police in London, having been kettled and hit by them at protests, I didn’t think as a Quaker it would be right for me to hand Bryn over to be hurt by the Met, whatever he’d done.
M told a member of clergy at Hinde Street Church, Sue KvA, what had happened, because M thought she had a Safeguarding responsibility to pass this on. I emailed Sue a bit to explain what had happened, and used the words ‘vulnerable adult’ about myself. The response I got from the church asked me to let them know if I decided to go to the police, because they would need to provide Bryn with ‘pastoral support’. Senior members of the church were supposed to be told what was going on, but I found out when I tried to talk to them about Ali and Rachel bullying me and lying to me, that the senior clergy hadn’t been informed as should have happened – giving more opportunity for Bryn Monnery to be a risk to other people.
I found the whole situation horrible, was signed off with depression, but since I live in York and everyone involved lived in London, I just tried to get on with my life here. I didn’t see Bryn at all after the assault for two and a half years, until Greenbelt festival 2011.
PS I know that people will be thinking of ways to get some comeback on this.
I can go after Ali’s nursing registration, and I could still get Bryn into trouble with the police (will explain in later post).
Also, see Streisand effect. If you find a way to take this down, or even try to put pressure on me to do so, it will mushroom.