Becky Hill and Self Esteem on reclaiming their power after sexual assault – and refusing to be silenced

Becky Hill and Self Esteem on reclaiming their power after sexual assault – and refusing to be silenced

And as their fierce shoot shows, neither is willing to let what happened define them or hold them back. Together, they project strength and solidarity. There’s no victimhood here, just a reclaiming of their power.

‘We’re aligned in wanting to talk about this subject matter, but not seem sad and deflated,’ says Self Esteem, the more softly-spoken of the two, but every bit as impassioned. ‘It’s anger, and then healing, and you don’t hear that story much. So many people I know have been through it in one form or another, and to paint it as a really sad thing that ruins your life, and that’s the end… It can’t be that. It can’t be the end of the story.’

Although they’re musically different – Becky’s the queen of dance anthems; Self Esteem of subversive art pop – the pair have a lot in common. It’s taken both of them time to achieve success on their own terms, and they’re now at the peak of their powers.

Becky, 30, grew up in the picturesque village of Bewdley, Worcestershire, and first found fame at just 17 years old as a contestant on The Voice in 2012. She swiftly became the go-to ‘featured artist’ for records by producers such as MK and Sigala. Now, with six Top 10 hits including Disconnect, Wish You Well and Remember, plus two Brit awards, her name is finally as widely-known as the songs which showcase her incredible voice.

Self Esteem, 37, is from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, and plugged away throughout her twenties in Sheffield-based indie band Slow Club before releasing her solo debut album, Compliments Please, in 2019. Its critically-adored follow-up, Prioritise Pleasure, came in 2021. Her whip-smart observations about modern relationships (good, bad and toxic) paired with heart-soaring choruses have made her a feminist heroine for our times.

It makes sense, then, that now feels like the right time to use their voices to highlight the subject of sexual assault which, according to ONS data, has happened to 1 in 4 UK women.

Understandably, neither wants to delve into the specific details of their individual assaults today, but their candour about how the experiences made them feel is remarkable.

When she wrote True Colours, Becky’s assault had been ‘eating away’ at her for eight years. ‘I’ve always classed myself as a strong bitch,’ she says. ‘I like to think I can take a lot of shit, but with that, it felt like something had left me that will never come back. I’ll never get that bit back of me. That moment will stay with me for the rest of my life.’

After the incident, she had initially tried to ‘push it under the carpet’ but suffered flashbacks. Prior to meeting her fiancé, Charlie Gardner, who works in events, she says, ‘I was terrified of men, terrified of going there.’

Following EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), a form of intense, movement-based trauma therapy, last year she bravely went to the police, which she credits with helping her draw a line under what was done to her.

‘That sense of justice is really strong in me,’ she says. ‘I am always one of those people that if I feel like something bad’s happened, I try and speak up about it as much as possible. It was my [current] partner who for years was like, “I don’t know why you are not reporting this.” And it was my mother who told me not to, because I think she thought it was going to be more painful for me to report it. And actually, it was so liberating. Becky clarifies that her mother’s response was typical of an older generation of women who would rather stay quiet than speak out for fear the repercussions would be worse.

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