India Ysabel Miles is a full-time antiracist activist and intersectional feminist who balances her university studies with comanaging The Speak Up Space — a safe virtual platform that offers support to survivors of sexual violence. In the wake of the kidnapping and killing of Sarah Everard, Miles explained to POPSUGAR how tolerating public sexual harassment actively encourages violence towards women and why true-crime junkies should consider making an “If I Go Missing” folder.
“When you accept these jokes, comments, and stares, it makes men comfortable. It makes them comfortable with doing that. If we don’t fight that stuff, things only get worse and things escalate.”
While scrolling through Miles’s Instagram page of nearly 10K followers, there’s an educational post about an “If I Go Missing” folder that instantly fills you with shock and sadness before realising its practicality. “I’m personally really interested in true crime,” Miles told POPSUGAR. “There’s this podcast I listened to called Crime Junkie, and they are the people that made this folder. There’s no one else I’ve spoken to that’s ever heard of it, and so I was like, ‘Right. I need people to know about this.’ Because when you go missing, it’s quite famously known that it’s really important to try and find someone within the first 48 hours. But there’s a whole lot of information that is so difficult to get hold of within those first 48 hours. Having an ‘If I Go Missing’ folder can really just speed up the process. You can pop your passwords on that, your various social media accounts, phone provider, making sure that all of your details are there so that the police or whoever’s investigating it can call up the phone provider and be like, ‘Her password’s this. Tell me this information that I need to know.’ It’s just so key, and it’s awful that we even have to think about this, but it might save someone’s life.”
Miles and cofounder Pheebs Jameson launched The Speak Up Space because they realised there is a huge gap between surviving sexual violence or harassment and seeking the right support. “There are so many people that wish they could seek support, but they just don’t know where to go,” Miles said. “It’s such a daunting process, and you’re already feeling so much. Doing it on your own just shouldn’t be a thing.” The Speak Up Space is a listening and signposting space supported by a compassionate, peer-led community who you can write to, have a chat with, or get help with finding the right services.
Although The Speak Up Space offers support after an experience of harassment has occurred, Miles explained that the perception of public sexual harassment as a minor offence normalises violence towards women. “Sexual harassment can be so damaging. It can completely warp your perception of yourself, of the world, your perception of how safe you are,” Miles said. “And not only is the acceptance of leering, catcalls, and all of that stuff just awful in itself, but it creates this safe space for things that are even worse to happen, right? Because when you accept these jokes, comments, and stares, it makes men comfortable. It makes them comfortable with doing that. If we don’t fight that stuff, things only get worse and things escalate. So we have to take public sexual harassment so seriously.”
“Gender-based violence does overwhelmingly affect women and girls, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to men. And that doesn’t mean that we can’t include them in conversations.”
If we truly want to make society safer for women, Miles believes the conversation around gender-based violence needs to be intersectional and inclusive of the experiences of all genders. “Nonbinary people are affected in this, too,” Miles said. “Whenever I talk about people, and I use the word ‘women’ or ‘men’, that always includes transwomen and transmen, but I know not everyone would always include them in that. So it’s like being inclusive of everyone, particularly marginalised genders, and understanding that these things, sexual assault, sexual violence, can happen to anyone, and that does include cisgender men as well. It’s generally not as common, and gender-based violence does overwhelmingly affect women and girls, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to men. And that doesn’t mean that we can’t include them in conversations.”
Miles wants to remind us that while this is a feminist issue, we must “make sure that it’s also an intersectional feminist issue and that we are not just looking to support white women, white cisgender women throughout this, because ultimately Black women, Black trans women are so often forgotten. It’s important that we are included in this conversation, because it’s so often that it’s the Black women and femmes that don’t get justice, and the outrage is never there for them. So keep up this energy for when things do happen to Black women and femmes.”
The conversations around gender-based violence need to be more inclusive, and justice cannot be achieved until feminism is truly intersectional. There is a lot of change that feels uncertain, but if there’s anything that Miles hopes survivors can be sure about, it’s that “what happened to you wasn’t your fault. Every single time that I’ve been sexually harassed, I always think to myself, ‘God, it was what I was wearing, wasn’t it?’ I remember one time I was wearing this skirt, and I literally haven’t worn a skirt at night since because in my head, I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, that will happen again, so let me not wear a skirt.’ But it’s also happened to me while wearing trousers, so the thought is completely unfounded. People really need to understand that it’s not your fault and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. And if you know who’s done that to you and you want to say who’s done it to you, you’re not ruining their reputation. You’re making it more accurate. It’s OK to say.”
Image Source: The Speak Up Space