TW: Sexual trauma
Life Continues After was set up by Catriona Morton in 2018, to provide a safe space for survivors of sexual trauma as well as others; a community of sorts. She speaks to Plathoes Cave about her journey and the future of this crucial platform.
Artwork: Indigo Fuller Ayling
First of all, how did your journey begin? What first motivated you to start Life Continues After?
The idea for LCA first fully formed after I finished rape support group therapy with the Havens in London. I’d been in and out of therapy since I was a teenager, and at the end of every bout I’d find myself feeling lost and stranded once more. I wanted LCA to stand as a space that would always be there for people, specifically survivors of sexual trauma, when they needed to connect with others who understand.
I realised there was no well-known/go-to space for survivors to access advice from those who had been through the same trauma as them. I wanted a space where I could find TV shows to watch when I couldn’t get out of bed, where people could share their empowering music playlists and where anyone could share their story in a safe and acknowledging atmosphere. I wanted a space where anyone and everyone who needed it felt comfortable on the platform and also acknowledged in their survival. When I couldn’t find a space with all of these thinks, I thought ‘why don’t I just create this space?’
What were the struggles you faced when you began?
Mainly little things like working out the format and web design of that site. I made the site with Squarespace, which was great, but as a creative with not much web design experience I still had some blips along the way. I also struggled, and still do, with getting people to see that it is a space for everyone. Sure, it is primarily a space for survivors of sexual trauma, but it is also for those survivors’ friends and families too. It’s a space where I want people to hear and acknowledge survivors’ stories. I know it’s not really to do with the site itself though, as sadly most people who have worried about this say they can’t contribute because their trauma wasn’t “that bad”. I also know that some people within society, especially men, feel that these spaces may not be for them. To those readers, I try to reaffirm that LCA is for anyone and everyone who has experienced any unwanted sexual experiences, and that trauma is a non-hierarchical reality. By that, I mean all experiences are valid even though we may understandably doubt ourselves that they are not.
…and the most enjoyable first steps of the journey?
Having people reaching out and sharing their need for something like LCA! It always felt so right when I created it, and I constructed a lot of the site with consent and sensitivity in mind (e.g. not using any commanding language on the site and allowing anonymity). When it went live in May of this year, and I received messages from survivors whom I both knew and didn’t know telling me how much they needed this space, I knew all the hard work (and money) was going to be worth it. I still get those messages today, and each one means so, so much to me.
What achievements are you proudest of (within the project)?
One nice thing is that I find it very easy to network LCA, so I have had the chance to meet lots of amazing people within the industry and within other exciting parts of our culture. I am most proud of the upcoming podcast that is currently in pre-production. It seems quite clear that people have been waiting to hear/be illuminated to the truths and realities of survivors for a long time, and I am so honoured to be part of the movement to amplify survivors’ voices to the forefront of our society.
Social media seems to be a central aspect of the project at the moment. What do you think makes social media such an important (and unwieldy) tool for our generation?
I think social media, especially Instagram, has had an unparalleled effect on the amount of information and knowledge we hold as young people trying to make the world a better place for all. The (relative) accessibility and openness of it allows us to reach out to and connect with people we otherwise would have had no clue about. It has helped LCA by reaching out to other organisations and people who do similar work and has really helped with the art sharing aspect of LCA. I’ve also met some wonderful survivors from around the world thanks to social media, and I think those new friendships have been immeasurably valuable.
Considering the relevance of Life Continues After to what’s going on with the #MeToo campaign, what’s your stance on how attitudes are changing, finally, towards sexual abuse… and what the long-term impacts of this may be?
Although the full impact of Me Too only happened a year ago, I can’t really imagine the world before such campaigns came to light. Maybe it’s because of such things as ‘whisper-networks’ (women telling other women about dangerous men to avoid in industries) or because I had been pretty loud about my survival for a few years. I am glad society as a whole is beginning to see it is not just a minor problem, but instead that it’s a systemic problem that affects most people’s lives. The reality of sexual abuse is not a new thing (as can be seen from Tarana Burke’s original Me Too campaign in the 2006), but I am so glad it is finally becoming okay for people to speak about the truths of their experiences.
However, I also believe negative views regarding victim blaming have sometimes become more vicious in the wake of MeToo (for example, some of the responses to the Aziz Ansari allegations i.e. a certain article from the Atlantic). As Tarana Burke said last week, it is heartbreaking that the movement for survivors has sometimes been twisted as solely being a “vindictive plot about men”.
I think we are finally beginning to be heard, but I still think there’s a long way to go. One reason I created LCA and have progressed it in the way I have is because I saw that in the MeToo campaign etc, it was always abusers’/perpetrators who were focused on. I think the effects of this are sadly being seen with the speedy ‘come-backs’ of known/alleged abusers (e.g. Louis C.K., Ansari). I saw that no substantial discussion was properly had on how the survivors were affected, and how they actually survived through such abuses of power.
How has it positively affected the lives of others (perhaps beyond the obvious)?
I think seeing authentic and genuine stories from survivors has helped readers see that they are not ‘crazy’ and that their survival is valid and real. I’ve always said it would have done its job if it just helped one survivor feel seen and heard in a way they’d never felt before – and I’m pretty sure that’s been the case!
And how do you hope it will evolve in the future?
Aside from the development of the podcast, I would love to collaborate with other organisations to set up workshops/events for survivors to come together for things that aren’t necessarily to do with their trauma. Talking about trauma is great and all (for me at least), but I also want to create physical safe spaces where survivors can have fun outside direct attention to their trauma (having drinks, parties etc). Because we’re not always just sad in bed having a cry…
What’s one important message you would give to your readers and supporters?
That you are allowed to process your trauma in any way and at any pace you feel is right. Though I’m pretty loud about my trauma and my survival, that’s just my own personal way of coping with it. You don’t owe anyone your story, you don’t owe anyone anything, so allow yourself to heal and cope the way that you feel is best.
Interview conducted by Alex Howlett