After an online threat of rape from an unknown man, Ilona Harker – mother, musican, writer and teacher – has vowed to take the power back by launching a campaign to “take the hate and create”
On March 22 this year, I received an email from a stranger threatening to rape me.
Here’s some context. Weeks before this I had eggs thrown at my car by someone who I thought at the time was the same man who got annoyed at my parking an hour previously. At the time, we’d had words and he’d driven off calling me an idiot. Nothing to worry about I’d thought.
Someone egging my car is really quite laughable. I’m not precious about stuff like that so I posted a lighthearted entry on Facebook about revenge and value systems.
Around the same time, I had supported a friend on social media who was being harassed by a local man; he was posting unpleasant things about her appearance and credentials.
She’s a recognized comedian and writer who also happens to be vocal about many social justice issues, including women’s rights – as am I.
Eventually, this same man sent me a private message on my Facebook calling me “a fat ugly slut”.
Again, I was more amused than offended so I reposted his message for all to see his charming turn of phrase. However, a few hours later, I received the above email from a man with a different name.
That email didn’t make me laugh. It frightened me immensely so I immediately went to the police because I was very afraid. I take rape threats seriously; I was raped when I was a teenager and this threat brought back feelings of being frightened, helpless and worthless.
The email was intended to create terror within me and to say otherwise negates the experience of my last few weeks. I have sat in cafes paranoid that the man next to me might be him, even thinking the gardener at my new home might be him.
The terror of a rape threat is insidious and the worst part is the unknowing. It created a poisoned cloud over my life that has been effective in making me want to shut down and hide.
I’m an adult – a mother, a musician, a writer and a teacher. I have a place in my community and great friends, yet I have been scared to open up and tell them how affected I have been because I am ashamed of how I feel and I don’t want to burden them.
I am not a 15-year-old girl in a small football town anymore. I am a grown woman, yet this email has stirred up the old mud that had settled in my adult stability and clearly still existed deep within.
Knowing that I can still be raped, used and discarded even now is quietly terrifying.
It’s horrible to feel this weak again, the police have been slow and this has only added to my anxiety. Three weeks on and they still haven’t got around to even tracing the IP address. Apparently their resources are stretched and my single threat is not high on their list of priorities – or so it appears. I still have no idea who this threat is from.
Thankfully, I am solution-orientated. Once I recognised that my fear of being hurt by a man was creating my anxiety, I then thought about how could I transform this into feeling supported and cared for by men?
After all, men are not all monsters and this one man doesn’t get to ruin their good name. And yet, how could I get the beautiful men I know to say something?
I decided I’d invite my male friends to talk to the man who wrote the email. I asked that they respond without violence because retribution and retaliation simply becomes an endless cycle. I wanted this unknown man to know that I had many male friends whose values were vastly different from his and were there for me – and I wanted to give those men the chance to stand up.
And they did… I take your hate and I create.
The responses from some of these men had me holding my heart in tears. The strength, support and conviction in their words made me feel safer, gave me hope and made me feel less alone. Men that I had never even met stood up for me – it reached further than I ever expected.
Since the post, many women have pulled me aside to say that in their experience men are mostly silent on the issue of men’s violence against women. They were relieved to see that the men who responded proved that this is not always the case.
Other women also privately messaged me.
“As a fellow survivor, the comments made on your blog are very empowering for me.”
“I cried reading the comments the men made, (because) sometimes, when I look at what’s happening, I feel like they don’t care.”
So here within lies a bigger issue. It appears many women feel that men don’t support them nor understand the fears they can face. It’s also apparent that men are feeling confused about what to do in terms of how to address men’s violence against women. There is a big elephant in the room in the shame and discomfort that many men feel around this that makes these conversations difficult. Maybe all it takes is for more men to make a stand – and for more public awareness to be made of their collective voices?
I have learned from this as well. As a younger woman, I often tried to placate violent men out of fear. The older I got, my anger towards them made me want to retaliate, often through putting them down verbally. It felt like I was standing up for myself. Yet, now I understand that in the online world, feeding violent and threatening trolls just encourages them further.
Although the situation I am in is a horrible one, I intend to turn it around and try to make the world a safer place for women. For every abusive man, there are many more men who aren’t and we need to give these men a platform. We need to give our attention to the beautiful ones and encourage them to speak up.
This does not, in any way, mean ignoring the issue of men’s violence against women, but rather shine a light on it by allowing men to acknowledge it so they can help change it.
It’s the men who responded to my blog, and the many, many others who are standing up beside women and supporting them that will end men’s violence against women.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
This is a call out to everyone who wants to help end men’s violence against women.
I wanted to change this dark experience into a positive one, so I decided to “take the hate and create” so I could take the power back and own it. I have, with the support of good friends, begun using the hashtag #takethehateandcreate to help build awareness of my project and allow others to do the same.
How are you able transform the hate you have experienced into something positive you own, something that you’ve made, something you have created?
What can you create from the hate? Can you sing, write, paint, dance, make balloon animals or rhyme to convert a place of pain into a place of positive reinforcement that beams with your creativity.
So, how am I going to take the hate and create?
I shall use all the comments I receive and print them onto fabric to make little flags of support that I will wave proudly into all winds. Because the men who respond to this deserve to be praised and raised.
I invite everyone to #takethehateandcreate.
Photo: Donatella Parisini