Em Hoggett is an artist who had all the tools and talent set up to kickstart a music career whenever she wanted, but experienced a brutal event which reimagined her life & career forever. A survivor of rape, the London-born resident of LA chose to react to her experience in a way that shows off an immense amount of bravery. Her debut EP What I Want to Say to You expanded from an outlet of self-expression into one that advocates therapy and support for all survivors, and Em has done a commendable job at tackling the subject through various media appearances.
Easily the most powerful story we’ve heard, we’re honoured to provide a platform for Em in the form of an interview. An interview in which we discuss the main aims of What I Want to Say to You, the emergence of the #MeToo movement and if it’s breaking barriers in talking about topics such as rape and sexual harassment, how we as a society can improve upon our own knowledge and mind-set in respect of supporting survivors.
Hey Em, how’s it going?
Hi! Great thank you! Currently on my way to LA from London after a lovely visit home!
What can you tell us about your EP, What I Want to Say to You?
What I Want to Say to You is a 4 track EP, purely about my experience with rape. Each song deals with a different emotion or feeling I experienced after my assault. The songs helped me to process my experience, to express my emotions and to heal, and releasing them gave me an opportunity to help and inspire others.
The EP was released with 3 main aims that I’d like to highlight.
1) To help survivors to feel less alone.
Sexual assault is not talked about enough. With the #metoo movement and TimesUp, things are changing, but there is still so much work to be done. Survivors are often made to feel that they can’t speak out; a huge reason for this is the lack of conversation about the subject itself. It is very hard to speak out about something that no one wants to talk about.
If I had heard a song about rape on the radio after my experience, I would’ve felt much more comfortable to speak out sooner and ask for help. If I knew it was an accepted topic in society, I wouldn’t have felt so alone, confused and silenced.
Rape is common, and the amount we talk about it is so sparse in comparison. The fact it goes undiscussed makes it easy for survivors to feel as if they have done something wrong. That it is a shameful or dirty subject. I have felt in my past that it is inappropriate or even rude; that it makes others uncomfortable. Well, we (survivors) can also feel incredibly uncomfortable. Does that mean we shouldn’t discuss it? No.
The EP hopes to show survivors that they are not alone, that their feelings are understood, that there is help out there, and that it is safe to speak out. And, that it is safe to feel. Safe to feel the feelings which we are told are unacceptable or undesirable, such as anger.
2) To encourage survivors to speak out.
Speaking about my experience was the most pivotal point in my healing. It was essential for me. Many survivors, including myself, suffer with denial. Sharing my experience with family and friends meant I could no longer hide from it, and I had no choice but to begin to accept and to heal. Speaking out is liberating, it is the beginning of acceptance, the beginning of asking for help, the beginning of healing, and also a huge weight off your shoulders.
3) To help others to understand what sexual assault survivors feel.
Reading rape statistics in the newspaper often has no lasting impact. People read a statistic, and then 2 minutes later have moved on to something new.
Music has an incredible power to make people feel something. At a recent show in California, a woman approached me and told me her sister had been through the same experience years ago, and that only now after hearing my music, did she feel like she understood what her sister had been going through. Helping those who have not experienced sexual assault to understand the detrimental effects, inspires people to take action as well as helping them to be more equipped to support survivors.
Do you recall the moment that the EP shifted from self-expression into advocacy?
I didn’t write any of the songs with the intention to release them. It began purely as an outlet for me to express the emotions that were trapped inside me. Over time, I thought about releasing them and thought that they would have the power to help people. It wasn’t until I met Bruce (Witkin), that this became a reality. He encouraged me to record and release the EP and that’s when I realised how much power the songs had. I realised that I had a voice and I felt obliged to use it. I wanted to give a voice those who felt voiceless.
With the recent events of the Me Too movement and people of varying levels of celebrity opening up about their experiences with sexual assaults in the past, do you feel that there’s a shift happening in the way society treats the acts and behaviours behind sexual assaults and rapes?
I think that people are slowly becoming less afraid to speak out when something isn’t right. I think that survivors themselves are speaking out more about their experiences. But we have a long way to go. Inappropriate behaviours which normalise assault and harassment happen constantly and are still overlooked.
The way that the justice system works is also terrifying. The statistics for those convicted for rape are incredibly low. In some ways, I understand why. It is hard to prove. But I think we’ve come from a society that assumes the survivor is lying. Court cases and police reports need to be addressed as if the survivor is equally as likely as the accused to be telling the truth. Some would argue we are now leaning the other way. It’s a very difficult subject.
What could we do to further improve the communication and the support of survivors? Even referring to individuals as survivors rather than victims is a change that puts a totally different perspective to it, but what else could we do collectively to remove its taboo nature?
Be available to talk. Be someone who is not afraid to have the conversation. If someone brings up the subject of sexual assault, try to engage in it, instead of wanting to change the subject to something more cheery. You never know which people around you may have been affected by assault. The more that these people see others turning away from the subject, laughing at it, dismissing it in general, the harder it becomes to speak out and to feel safe.
Allow it to be a subject matter that can be discussed over dinner, drinks, on a walk. It doesn’t have to be something which makes the rest of your day daunting. We are able to discuss difficult topics, and minutes later talk about our new clothes. People do this frequently with other subjects. If we can get to a point where it just becomes a ‘normal’ subject to discuss, it will become less and less taboo, and in turn, those affected by it will feel more able to speak out.
I want to be clear that I appreciate some people do not speak about it with fear of being insensitive or disrespectful, and some may turn away from the subject because they are a survivor themselves.
However, I feel that the more we can normalise this subject, the less taboo it will become. As much as I hate to say this, sexual assault has been ‘normal’ in our society for many years.
How did you find the reaction upon the release of the EP, especially from those closest to you?
It was incredible. I have received so many messages from survivors telling me how much the songs helped them. Multiple people said the songs gave them the courage to take their attackers to the police. One woman saw the music video for What I Want To Say To You, and said she was looking for a sign not to commit suicide, and that the video had been that for her.
I am overwhelmed at the amount of messages I still receive from people. I am so honoured to have been able to have been a positive influence for those who are struggling. They in turn, help me. Hearing from survivors also helps me to feel seen and less alone. It is nice to be reassured that I have managed to do something positive with my experience.
Those closest to me were incredibly supportive. I had released a demo of the title track years before, when I first came to terms with my experience, so most people around me already knew about my experience. They had already processed the shock years before, so the release of the EP was met with reactions of support, amazement and love.
What was it like having to relive various experiences in the recording sessions? How did you feel opening up that vulnerability for a sustained period of time, with producer Bruce Witkin there too?
It was difficult at times, but in general I felt incredibly safe, seen and heard. Bruce was wonderful to work with. He really encourages vulnerability and emotion in performance so I never felt uncomfortable to really ‘go there’.
I think the more you express and the more you open up, the easier it becomes to heal. Expression is such an important tool of healing. The more I sang, spoke and released, the more I was able to get the experience and negative emotions further away from me. I believe that any form of expression after trauma, whether it be writing, singing, painting, even just screaming, is so beneficial. Opening up for the sustained period of time we were recording just meant that I had multiple opportunities to release, express and let go. I am grateful for that.
How did Burning Man Festival change your life?
It was an incredible and wonderful experience. It is a society based on love. With no currency, no discrimination and no judgement, it allows you to be fully free in who you are, and to accept others fully for who they are.
Performing there was wonderful because people were so open to listen. To help. To talk. Everyone there wanted to help you to heal, to learn, to grow. It taught me that it is possible to have a world based on love and kindness, and the lessons I learnt there are something I strive to bring back to my daily life as often as I can.
We mentioned the Me Too Movement earlier. What are your thoughts on it? Is it projecting the right messages or is there anything it’s not highlighting enough?
I think it’s done a fantastic job of proving that SO many people are affected by sexual assault and harassment. Survivors have been silenced for so long, and I think the fact that it enabled and encouraged so many people to speak out is wonderful. I think it definitely highlighted that we clearly DO have a problem. Rape and assault are taboo subjects, and the irony is that rape and assault are incredibly (and again, I pause as I decide whether to say this) ‘normal’. They are. They are happening every day in every country across the entire world. For something so common, so normal, so prevalent, it is surprising how little we talk about it.
I salute #metoo for making society aware of the problem that we have. Now we need to continue to take action and strive for a society where rape, assault and harassment are no longer happening. Imagine if one day, we could become a world where ‘me too’ no longer existed.
The proceeds garnered from the EP will be going to It’sOnUs and Rape Crisis England and Wales respectively. What can you tell us about those two charities?
ItsOnUs is a wonderful US charity founded by Vice President Joe Biden. It focuses on education and prevention of assault, specifically on college campuses. College campuses have an unbelievably high rate of rape and assault, and ItsOnUs have been amazing in education, prevention, bystander intervention and inspiring college students to make a difference.
Rape Crisis England and Wales offer 24 hour support to victims of rape and sexual assault. They are the largest national rape charity in the UK. Though I live in LA, London is my home and my assault occurred in London, so donating to a UK charity was very important to me.
If you could close out this interview with one final comment, what would it be?
To those who have experienced rape or sexual assault, take time to heal. It has been over five years since my experience; I’ve been in therapy, coaching, body healing, I wrote an album, performed, expressed, talked, cried, screamed, and I am still healing now. Today. In this moment.
I am not saying this to sound daunting, but to encourage healing instead of suppressing. Truth instead of denial. Self-care instead of self-destruction.
It is OKAY to take time to heal, it is OKAY to spend days in darkness, it is OKAY to get angry. It is okay to take time for you. You have undergone trauma, and trauma takes time to heal.
I have grown so much in my journey of healing and it has reaped more awards than I could have ever imagined. It has taught me how to love, how to trust, how to use my pain to fuel me instead of allowing it to destroy me.
Heal. Take your time. You are worth it. You have a voice that deserves to be heard and a life that deserves to be lived.