Attempts to encourage women to go for a potentially life-saving smear don’t always fall on deaf ears, but if you are a woman who has suffered sexual assault then an insensitive “get over it” or “just get it done” remark can be enough to put you off for years.
A survey for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found many women don’t go for regular smear tests because of embarrassment and you’d be hard-pushed to find any woman who says they look forward to it.
However, for women who’ve survived sexual assault the experience, or even the thought of it, can be almost as traumatic as the original offence.
Jo, 49, who was raped when she was young, said she has only summoned the courage twice since her 20s to go for a smear test and said that even making the call to book an appointment “can leave me in bits”.
While Donna, who was sexually assaulted both as a child and an adult, said “the very thought of a smear test leaves me feeling terrified”.
Both women find the distress they experience overrides any potential benefits that a smear test might bring.
Here, in their own words, they explain how they have attempted but failed to overcome their fears.
‘Vulnerable and violated’
Donna, 37, who’s from the Midlands, said candidly: “I know I might be putting my health at risk as a result.
“Last year I had just reached the point where I knew I had to swallow my fears and go. I had been looking at the support that might be available given my past.
“Around this time I attended a doctor’s appointment for a cold virus and mid-appointment was tackled by my male GP in a verbally aggressive manner about the fact I had not been for a smear test.
“His manner and attitude did nothing to take into account any genuine reasons or fears I may have had, and left me feeling vulnerable and violated all over again.
“Subsequently I am back to square one, and the very thought of a smear test leaves me feeling terrified.
“I have looked at attending a clinic for survivors of sexual assault but the only one is in London and this would involve a long journey and time off work.”
‘Barely able to speak’
“I’m not being precious,” said Jo, who’s from London. “I’m not being a silly girl.
“I know I’m putting my health at risk because of something that someone chose to do to me but I can’t do it.
“I became very anxious in the lead-up to the appointments, and, somewhat inevitably, become tearful as soon as I walked into the room.
“By the time I got on the bed, I was openly crying and barely able to speak.
“On both occasions, I’ve tried to pre-empt things and explained to an untrained receptionist why I needed to have the last appointment of the day and the most patient of nurses.
“And although the nurses were lovely, I was so tense on both occasions I had to be asked to come back and try again as they had not been able to collect enough cells.
“Of course, I have not gone back.”