(Image: Publicity Picture)
With the launch of her debut album, ‘Rockferry‘, which was the best-selling album in the UK in 2018, Welsh singer, Duffy went on to win 3 Brit Awards and a Grammy for ‘Best Pop Vocal’ album, before disappearing from the spotlight after her sophomore record 11 years ago.
In a heartbreaking open letter published on her website, Duffy reveals the truth about her absence and the lengthly sexual assault and kidnapping that altered the course of her life forever.
Read an excerpt of Duffy’s letter below.
If you are reading this, I must warn you it contains information some may find upsetting. This story is not going anywhere, it will remain online, if you are not able to take on someone else’s suffering or the recounting of such, I recommend you do not read on.
For me, in these hours, I recall the words of Maya Angelou who once said “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”, and I share mine with you today.
I posted the words I wrote because I was tired of hiding. Never feeling free or burden free. I had become enmeshed with my story like a dark secret. It made me alone and feel alone.
What is also hard to explain is that, in hiding, in not talking, I was allowing the rape to become a companion. Me and it living in my being, I no longer wanted to feel that intimacy with it, a decade of that intimacy has been destructive. I had to set myself free. I have been hurt and it would have been dangerous to talk from that hurt place in the past, prior to feeling ready.
Unable to do what I am doing today, previously, I also considered and explored human rights laws to change my name off public record and disappear to another country and maybe become a florist or something, so that I could put the past behind with a new life.
Because, although I was almost unfindable, I daydreamed of having a different haircut, a new name, a boyfriend, and become completely forever forgotten. As time went on it then became about realising, I can’t keep hiding, as thrilling as coffee in Paris seems.
Since the incident I experienced happened, it was upsetting to think of talking openly, frightening. Seasons would pass and come and go and I would be further removed from where I once was, every year. The longer I left it, the less I could see an image in my mind, of something I recognised that I could reach back to. That’s why I, at times, would admit defeat and think I can’t ever talk and face it. So, I should just keep disappearing, turning the lights off in my life.
Having not yet established a thriving personal life, or had my own family, I would be anguished thinking if I reveal my story publicly, openly to the world, it would hinder my future romantic life. This is not exactly the advert I wanted before meeting the love of my life.
I would also worry about coming back to music and the risk of constantly facing the question of “what happened”, “where did you disappear to”, “why did you vanish”, “what have you been up to for so many years”.
I could not imagine fabricating some story, that I had been rowing across the world’s seas, I would have had to lie, and I couldn’t lie. So, between fears of not being able to emotionally withstand speaking, not being able to lie, and concerns of inheriting a stigma that could affect my future personal life, I would decide to not speak at all, remain vanished, or to daydream of reinventing myself forever.
I thought the public disclosure of my story would utterly destroy my life, emotionally, while hiding my story was destroying my life so much more. So, I just have to be strong and disclose it, and face all my fears head on. I’ve come to realise I can’t erase myself, I live in my being, so I have to be completely honest and have faith in the outcome.
I never knew if I would get to the place of being able to do this, I am grateful to get here. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to talk, such as I am doing today, stories much more heinous and sorrowful, more inhumane than mine, go untold every day.
All of our lives have immense meaning and value, and when we come to really realise nothing matters but humanity, we begin to really see each other, by the tragedies and joys we all share. Our smiles and our tears are what make us all the same.
And while we are observing a great amount of suffering and loss in our world, in what seems like a battle that cannot be won, it compels us to truly appreciate the gift of life, and the gift of love, and the values that matter the most.
I have been very warned by some I know not to tell you what I am about to tell you. Some alluded that I would pretty much be finished in whatever chances I have to make music publicly again, some have said I would be scorned by the public, another said I would be called selfish that the rapist is still at large.
It has served to delay my talking by weeks, and me just lying in bed looking at the ceiling trying to find meaning. I take my personal freedom over any amount of stones that can be thrown at me. If I destroy my future, I do it to honour my past.
Rape stripped me of my human rights, to experience a life with autonomy from fear. It has already stolen one third my of life. Deep down I do know it would have been a shame and done such an immense disservice, to my existence, to just delete myself and forget what I had experienced in music publicly.
It was also not just my burden, so many others lived with the big question too of “what happened”. The record label, live agents, promoters, publicists, musicians, stylists, hairdressers, make-up, lighting, production, crew, people I would meet, people I once knew. No one, utterly no one, knew what happened. It kept me removed from those I could actually trust. Mostly I did not want to trouble anyone else with what I had experienced.
The final catalyst of wanting to talk was unusual I think, what really finally made me go “I just can’t bear the weight of this anymore”. It was so simple but so profound, what would be the catalyst to make me un-trap myself.
It was being told by a male, I had come to know and really like as a friend, that “most men would run a mile if they knew you were raped”. I crumbled. I felt very hurt for a few days and reflected a lot and I thought, one night, like an epiphany, that the knowledge of my truth ‘makes me no less lovable’. The dream of love did die, I finally realised it didn’t need to. And just like a light came on I realised ‘I know what it is to hurt, therefore I know what it is to be human’.
Duffy recounts her ordeal
Please skip the next twenty lines if you do not want to read the exact account of the kidnapping.
It was my birthday, I was drugged at a restaurant, I was drugged then for four weeks and travelled to a foreign country. I can’t remember getting on the plane and came round in the back of a travelling vehicle. I was put into a hotel room and the perpetrator returned and raped me. I remember the pain and trying to stay conscious in the room after it happened. I was stuck with him for another day, he didn’t look at me, I was to walk behind him, I was somewhat conscious and withdrawn. I could have been disposed of by him. I contemplated running away to the neighbouring city or town, as he slept, but had no cash and I was afraid he would call the police on me, for running away, and maybe they would track me down as a missing person. I do not know how I had the strength to endure those days, I did feel the presence of something that helped me stay alive. I flew back with him, I stayed calm and as normal as someone could in a situation like that, and when I got home, I sat, dazed, like a zombie. I knew my life was in immediate danger, he made veiled confessions of wanting to kill me. With what little strength I had, my instinct was to then run, to run and find somewhere to live that he could not find.
The perpetrator drugged me in my own home in the four weeks, I do not know if he raped me there during that time, I only remember coming round in the car in the foreign country and the escape that would happen by me fleeing in the days following that. I do not know why I was not drugged overseas; it leads me to think I was given a class A drug and he could not travel with it.
After it happened, someone I knew came to my house and saw me on my balcony staring into space, wrapped in a blanket. I cannot remember getting home. The person said I was yellow in colour and I was like a dead person. They were obviously frightened but did not want to interfere, they had never seen anything like it.
Thereafter, it didn’t feel safe to go to the police. I felt if anything went wrong, I would be dead, and he would have killed me. I could not risk being mishandled or it being all over the news during my danger. I really had to follow what instincts I had. I have told two female police officers, during different threatening incidents in the past decade, it is on record.
And as I grieved what ‘I must have done to invite this into my life’, I read something that said, “in the end, it’s never between them and you, it’s always between them and God”. That helped me a lot in the absence of justice.
Once someone threatened to ‘out’ my story and I had to tell a female police officer what information the person held about me, and why the blackmail was so frightening. The second incident was when three men tried to enter my house as intruders, I told the second female officer about the rape then also. The identity of the rapist should be only handled by the police, and that is between me and them.
The first person I ever told was a psychologist, months later, a leading expert in the UK in complex trauma and sexual violence. I have no idea how I was so lucky to find her all those years ago, her beautiful blue eyes, pink sofa, huge library, amazing brain and skill. Without her I may not have made it through. I was high risk of suicide in the aftermath. She got to know me, saw me as a person, learned about me and navigated me. She did it very gently. I could not look her in the eyes for the first eight or so sessions, eye contact was something I struggled with. The thought of recovering was almost impossible.
In the aftermath I would not see someone, a physical soul, for sometimes weeks and weeks and weeks at a time, remaining alone. I would take off my pyjamas and throw them in the fire and put on another set. My hair would get so knotted from not brushing it, as I grieved, I cut it all off.
I am sharing this because we are living in a hurting world and I am no longer ashamed that something deeply hurt me, anymore. I believe that if you speak from the heart within you, the heart within others will answer. As dark as my story is, I do speak from my heart, for my life, and for the life of others, whom have suffered the same.
I have no shame in telling you either I had spent almost ten years completely alone, and it still burns my heart to write it. I owe it to myself to say it, I feel obliged to explain how challenging recovering truly was, and to finally disclose it. I hope it comforts you to feel less ashamed, if you feel alone.
After the rape and kidnaping I had a handful of romantic experiences and each one would “love bomb” me and want the person on the album cover, while I was just a person hurt. It was futile.
You may wonder where was my family? Those who wanted to help – were just too far away. The toll of me hiding, this last decade, also meant I was estranged from all. What happened was not only a betrayal to me, to my life, a violence that nearly killed me, it stole a lot from other people too. I was just not the same person for so long. Rape is like living murder, you are alive, but dead. All I can say is it took an extremely long time, sometimes feeling never ending, to reclaim the shattered pieces of me.
This may hit a nerve with you reading this because I know you are all isolated at this time. I should probably elaborate on how I survived that seclusion, further down this piece.
I promise you, I know a pain, to the guts of all my being and I cannot let it cloud my life anymore. I now stand in all of me. But I do not want your pity. I’m telling you all this to put my wounds to the light where the dark can no longer keep me. I would not be telling you the account of my experiences if I did not now know true healing.
I’m not proud of my story, I mourned wishing I had been dealt another hand, but it happened, and I have come to terms with it.
It took so long for me to speak because after I was raped and held captive, I fled. I moved five times in the immediate three years after, never feeling safe from the rapist, I was on the run for so long. I found somewhere to live, the 5th house, it was not as confined as the other houses, where I grieved silently, in townhouses or apartments. This place I would spend solitary years to find the stability to recover, I had stopped running and relocating. I felt he could not find me in the 5th house, I felt safe. I feel safe now.
When the ordeal happened, it destabilised me so severely, it took years and years, around 90,000 hours. I sometimes didn’t know how I could make it through, it was hard and almost impossible. But I got here, as will you. Hallelujah.
I came back to Wales recently, I stood and looked at the sea and felt a part of me breathe again, I had distanced myself from it all. Then the catalyst I mentioned, being told “most men would run a mile”, made me face the fear of it not hindering my romantic life. Ironically rape is not only a sexual assault, it’s a brain injury … and although I may sometimes get frightened still, it has nothing to do with love.
Finally, the realisation that very thing that hurt me, will become the very thing that heals me. I faced a deeply inhumane experience; only humanity can heal that.
Ostracization and isolation is known to be a form of torture. If anyone would have told me I would share my times of isolation, with a nation isolated, I would never have believed them.
What I can share though, at this time, during this shared experience is the science. The brain’s ‘dorsal anterior cingulate cortex’, which registers physical pain, is activated when we are isolated.
Knowing the mind’s science enables you to manage it. And isolation is a small price to pay for saving lives, therefore we must be strong in the face of it. This demands us all, as one, to act for each other; never has mindfulness been so vital as it is now.
If you are reading this and are sad my encouragement to you is that … to know pain, you must first know how to love. Only the absence of love causes pain. So, go find it. Seek love in everything, even in a teacup.
There is also a real science to being grateful. Research shows that gratitude can heal your body, mind, and those you are grateful to. So, by being thankful, for what you do have, and the selfless acts of others during this time, lifts you and them.
And of talking of community and human thoughtfulness, some of you really helped me in real time when you wrote comments beneath the original statement I wrote. You put “do not be afraid to run for cover”, another said “breathe, just breathe” as I was worried about what I had done, when it went so quickly to the news, as I could not sleep some nights.
One of you wrote “I feel you will always be protected from here” I agreed, I knew what you meant. I faced my greatest life lesson to speak.
Before our current crisis people offered me their homes, to come and have food with them, their telephone numbers and personal stories. It’s been very intimate to be with those comments, that people wrote, and read them. And this is what defines the power of people, of kindness, and humanity. I did not expect any kind of reaction similar to the volume of what was seen. Thank you. I did not speak to seek friends, but the kindness was an emotional experience for me.
I also received messages, from others whom were sexually abused and raped, of all ages and races and places and genders. I want you to know I saw and read them. I read every word, and your story lives on in me.
If you saw the messages I have received, on Instagram, from young males whom have been raped, women whose cases were adjourned, lives that have been stolen in violence. One young man said, “I will never be able to be liberated like you” (from rape). He cannot walk the streets of his home, afraid. This is a weapon of war. I hope they too can find a way to be liberated in their own way, as I am finding mine.
Anyone cynical about what I am doing- please don’t be. I have no control where my words travelled or will travel. I speak as a human being, from a remote town, overlooking the sea, in the middle of nowhere. This is not fireworks and champagne for me. Nobody who reveals such a wound feels elated, only peace.
And so, what about music from here maybe you ask? When I sing, I feel like a bird. But it’s not what this is directly about. I’m doing this to be freed, for all of me to be freed. What follows remains to be seen.
I know this much though, I owe it to myself to release a body of work someday, though I very much doubt I will ever be the person people once knew. My music will be measured on the merit of its quality and this story will be something I experienced and not something that describes me.
And as for you … They do say nothing worthwhile came without sacrifice, your personal actions, decisiveness and commitment, is making the difference now. As we come together, we see results, and there is just so much hope to take from that.
And I really don’t know what’s next for me. I would like to experience me being who I really am, for the first time, privately. To feel a peace that I have been, until now, only half feeling.
I ask myself now, as I write this … what makes me feel more beautiful, more hopeful and more at peace? So, if I do indeed press SEND and put this online, I hope it brings me the smile in my eyes, the light in my life, that has been absent for just so long.
I can now leave this decade behind. Where the past belongs. Hopefully no more “what happened to Duffy” questions, now you know… and I am free. – Duffy
GET HELP: Rape Crisis Help Centres in South Africa
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