For the first time ever there is a clinic which focuses specifically on the body and caring for it after sexual assault. Set up in London in 2014, My Body Back is a place for women to find support and over time begin to reclaim their bodies.
Statistics show that 1 in 5 women will suffer sexual violence at some point between the ages of 16 and 59. The trauma can impact a woman’s life everyday – from problems attending doctors appointments or basic health checks, to negativity surrounding body image, sex and even childbirth, the repercussions can be long-term and severe.
Pavan Amara set up the nonprofit after realising she had not come to terms with her own sexual assault as a teenager. She found there was little or no dedicated help online or through the UK’s National Health Service. Running specialist services like a cervical screening clinic, and an STI self-testing clinic for women who have been raped, the centre works with women to make sure they feel safe.
The clinic is run through hospitals and completely medically accredited, yet turns the traditional doctor-patient dynamic on its head, with women setting the tone, pace and agenda. How quickly a procedure is performed and in what stages, when it happens and who does it, even what music to listen to, is all up to the individual. Some women carry out examinations themselves with medical staff guiding them through a procedure. The STI clinic also allows women to remain anonymous by providing a self-testing kit and a private space and a video guide on how to carry out the test correctly. The results are texted to a mobile phone.
As well as medical help, the clinic also offers Cafe V – a Saturday morning meet up which runs once a month with hour-long sessions covering problems to do with sex and sexuality. Topics include orgasm, masturbation, anxiety or pain during sex and body issues. Ky Hoyle the Managing Director of Sh! the UK’s first women’s sex shop, set up Cafe V as part of My Body Back after receiving a letter from a visitor to Sh!: “It was one of the most powerful, shocking and inspiring letters we’ve received (and we’ve received a few!) We knew we had to do more to help. It so shocked us that there was such a huge gap in the physical recovery after assault, that we felt we must do something.”
The project’s beautiful Notes of Love campaign is a gathering of thousands of messages from the public all written to women who have experienced sexual violence. They are caring, strong, supportive and sometimes funny, and are displayed in clinics around the UK. Written on Post-it notes, women can take the messages away with them when they leave as a reminder, should they need it, of people’s support and love.
The project is also looking to set up a group for FGM survivors to come together and talk about the physical issues and possible paths to pleasure. Giving women a place to talk openly, as well as drink tea and eat cake, this crucial health care provider is guided first and foremost by the women it serves.
Pavan Amara, Founder