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Rape victim using art to help rebuild her life
DURING her darkest times she admits that she didn’t want to wake up.
Traumatised by the frightening ordeal she was subjected to by a man she did not know, and scared to venture out alone, Emma Townley had lost all hope for the future.
But through her love for art, the 25-year-old found the strength to fight on and, more importantly, the confidence to know that she doesn’t need to hide anymore.
Bravely waiving her right to anonymity, Emma wants to show other victims that they are not the ones who should be hiding away and prove that there is life after rape.
Her decision to exhibit her artwork has not been easy and she still feels anxious about showing some of her most personal pieces, but those feelings are overshadowed by her desire to help those who are suffering alone. She said: “It has been really hard and I still feel anxious about showing my work but part of me wanted to get this out in public to show that I don’t want to be scared anymore, that I don’t want to keep hiding.”
She recalls the terror from the night – despite being quite a confident person she just froze, unable to move and petrified of what her attacker might do if she fought back.
She also remembers the cruel hate mail she received after he was jailed for six years, with his friends accusing her of being liar despite a jury convicting him.
“I didn’t know the guy, I had no reason to be against him and there is no way I would have put my family and friends through all of this, let alone do it to myself,” says Emma.
“I know the truth, so do those closest to me, and the law knows the truth because the courts found him guilty.
“I still get nightmares and still get panicky around strange men but at the same time there is a massive part of me that doesn’t want to give up, and I’m channelling that energy on people who don’t have the same chance as I had.
“What scares me so much is that there are people out there who go through this on their own.
“I had amazing support from the start. The police sent me to Southampton Rape Crisis and immediately there was help. My family and friends have just been so supportive too.
“But I know for a fact that there are so many people that don’t get a chance to have that, maybe because they are too scared to report it and that just ruins their life.
“I am just so grateful to be able to show this stuff now.
“I won’t lie, there were times I just didn’t want to wake up, but you have got to find that something to keep going. It will get easier.”
Standing proud in the middle of her exhibition at the Harbour Lights Cinema, in Southampton, where she works, Emma is a true inspiration to anyone who has gone through the trauma of rape.
But, she admits, it has taken a long while to get where she is today and she nearly backed out at the last minute.
None of it would have been possible had it have not been for the continuous support from her friends, family and Southampton Rape Crisis.
Immediately after reporting the rape to police, she was in the safe hands of the specialist team at the centre based in the city.
At first talking didn’t come easily and Emma found it very difficult to open up, but when her counsellor suggested going into the centre’s art rooms, everything suddenly changed.
Emma said: “I started painting and suddenly I was opening up like I never had before, without even realising it. It really saved me, and a lot of thanks goes to my counsellor who got me back into my art.
“I told him that I used to paint to de-stress before the attack so he took me to the art room and it was from that point I really started talking.
“My exhibition is showing that people can get through it, there is help and that there are easier ways of dealing with stuff.
“If just sitting down and talking isn’t working for you, there are other ways and I am now looking to get into art psychotherapy so that I can help others the same way I was.” Emma’s exhibition 25 Greater than 2 showcases a variety of pieces from her collection, created both before and after her attack.
The date is poignant as the exhibition will be running on the two-year anniversary of the attack, something which Emma felt was important to show what can be achieved, and a year after her attacker was jailed.
The exhibition includes some striking photography, capturing places close to her heart, as well as craft creations, where she has created small worlds and locked them into a frame.
But her most personal piece takes pride of place in the gallery, a canvas painting which was the first artwork she did following the assault.
Emma, who goes under the artistic name Mini T, said: “It took a while after the attack to get painting, but one night, I just felt terrible and I saw I had a blank canvas so I just started painting.
“Most things I can finish in one or two days but this took me ages. I just had to keep going back to add to it.
“For me it just captures that moment, that night and how everything looked in my head at that time and how I felt.
“It will be interesting I think to hear what other people see. I can see what it is and friends and family have said that it is quite haunting without knowing exactly what it is.
“It’s meant to be me and reflect just how terrible it really was.
“It still feels so surreal what happened and even when it was happening it was as if I was looking on from the outside, so that’s why the painting looks on from that perspective.
“I am anxious about showing it but because it is so personal to me it doesn’t matter what other people think about it.
“Some of the photographs are from quite a while ago and photography has always been a massive passion of mine.
“But the ones from Dungeness, in Kent, are from the time my friend took me there not long after everything had been reported.
“It was the most peaceful I had been since the attack, so these are my most important images. It was a crazy and surreal place but it was absolutely fascinating, a place where I could relax and be calm.”
And if her strength in going ahead with the exhibition wasn’t inspiring enough, one of the pieces features a postcard that Emma was determined to use after the quote on it struck a chord with her, despite everything she has been through.
“Life is the greatest adventure”, Emma says, “it really is. I just really loved that saying and wanted to use it.
“I have had my ridiculous low point but you cannot let it keep bringing you down, you have to keep going.
“I still get edgy going into town on my own or around strange men and there are still times I don’t want to leave the flat. “But if people can see that one person can do it, can try to carry on and accomplish stuff, then hopefully more people will find the confidence and just know there are people out there to help and support in lots of different ways.
“The thought of knowing people are going through this on their own is terrible and I want my experience to help.
“The reason I reported it in the first place was to make sure it didn’t happen to someone else, it wasn’t about me.
“It was only through the court process that I realised it was such an important thing to do. Some people don’t and they end up in a really bad place or are not here anymore and I didn’t want that to happen to me.
I feel like there is so much in the media and news about rape culture and how girls are attacked when they haven’t done anything.
“So from having gone through that myself I just want to raise as much awareness as possible.”
ONE of the major forces behind Emma taking the brave step to exhibit her artwork is to raise awareness for Southampton Rape Crisis.
The specialist centre was vital in helping Emma to come to terms with what had happened to her.
It provides a range of integrated, specialist services to those who are at risk of or who have been affected by an unwanted sexual experience.
The Independent Sexual Violence Advisory Services supports anyone who has suffered abuse, who is considering reporting it or are currently in the criminal justice system, as well as practical support.
They also have counselling services, group therapies, creative arts groups and family therapy, to ensure all needs are met.
For any advice or support call the counselling helpline on 023 8063 6313, which is open between 7pm and 10pm on Sundays, 10am and 1pm on Tuesdays and 1pm and 4pm on Thursdays.