This is the first line of Fabric, a powerful play written by the award winning playwright Abi Zakarian. It centres around main character Leah and her journey through falling in love with a coercive partner to experiencing brutal sexual assault and the devastating impact this has on her life. What you hear in these first words is the complete erosion of self-esteem and self-worth resulting from the experience of abuse. No two survivor’s experiences run parallel but there are recurrent themes that cannot be ignored and must be addressed.
In what was an incredibly moving performance by actress Nancy Sullivan, we are shown Leah’s inner dialogue that moves from the ecstasy of falling in love to the despondency of not believing what has happened to her, and not being believed by anyone else either. Her support networks crumbled, her employer wasn’t confident in how they should support her, the criminal justice system viciously undermined her credibility until she was but a shell of the bright and happy individual we met in the first act. What was she wearing. How much alcohol was in her system, it looked like she wanted it. Nobody knew how to talk to her.
This is one story, but at the same time it is a million stories combined together in a raw, uncomfortable but vital narrative. Sexual assault and rape are one of the most difficult crimes to disclose given cultural and structural misconceptions about its causes and effects.
We hosted a panel discussion after the performance with CEO of Solace Mary Mason, Rape Crisis ISVA Gabriella Bogdan, Writer Abi Zakarian and lead actress Nancy Sullivan. They discussed this very issue, looking at the symbolism of clothing in the play, the pervasive victim blaming that transfers from culture through to the criminal justice system. Our CEO Mary Mason commented that she has seen cases been thrown out of court because of lace underwear, indicating the victim was preparing herself for sex.
There clearly needs to be more educational work around consent but more importantly on disclosure. Evidence of abuse can be difficult to secure, but doubt is never an appropriate substitute. When survivors disclose it is vital that support systems are in place to help them rebuild and move forward, providing options and care for those who desperately need it. We have seen employers and bystanders make a world of a difference, just by better understanding how to help.
This is why storytelling is part of the solution. We need powerful stories like Zakarian’s Fabric to drive a deeper understanding into the public’s hearts and minds, showing through one story what is happening in one in four women’s stories.
Fabric has ended its run at Soho theatre but is starting a tour of community centres around London to include Camden, Hammersmith, Southwark and Islington. If you would like to attend visit Damsel Productions or tweet us @solacewomensaid . If you are interested in learning more about how to support disclosures of sexual assault, check out our training programmes here.