The problem with Eve Appeal — why I hate this organization as a survivor of sexual assault

The Wrong Side Of The Speculum
7 min readJan 20, 2021

On Monday, January 18th, the start of cervical cancer prevention week the UK-based charity Eve Appeal posted the following tweet.

At first glance, one could easily mistake the crass and sexual image of a woman’s outline with her legs spread wide open for a cheaply made ad you’d see in the men’s room of a seedy back alley bar advertising the services of a sex worker. But, nope, it’s so much worse. This is the way a charity chooses to promote the importance of cervical screening.

And I have a lot of questions staring with why? and what in the actual hell on earth was Eve Appeal thinking?

The “artwork” quickly started receiving backlash for sexualizing smear tests, being unnecessarily crass, triggering to survivors of sexual violence, and just downright gross and distasteful.

Not only is the image disturbingly tone-deaf and insensitive… it’s also cheap and poorly designed, but that could be the graphic designer in me being a snob. All I’m saying is if I provided this to a client I likely wouldn’t have that client anymore.

The post was removed from their Twitter account on Tuesday following backlash and criticism from the sexual violence and medical trauma survivor community on Twitter, including DM’s sent by me, several other users, and another organization that advocates for survivors.

While they may have deleted the post from Twitter and their responses to people in their DMs were admittedly more compassionate than I was expecting, the post is still up on their official Instagram account which doesn’t exactly support their claim that they are sorry and want to do better.

If they were actually sorry they would have deleted the post immediately from all their platforms, not removed it from the one platform they faced backlash on but left it on others where the response was better.

I wanted to believe Eve Appeal was improving, I really did.

But if this post taught me anything it’s that this organization is not trying to improve or educate themselves or be more trauma-informed at all, they are trying to shut up their critics by throwing us a bone here and there to keep us appeased and quite.

Leaving it on Instagram told me all I needed to know about their true stance on this issue. They must think we are pretty stupid if they didn’t figure we’d think to check their other social media to see if they were actually following through on their promises of growth and improvement?

The truth is I have not ever liked this organization, they have a long history of being problematic to the sexual violence survivor community, and ignoring criticism of the tactics they often use to “raise awareness” about reproductive cancers. I started to suspect they were deeply problematic when I reached out to them asking them to speak out about the ridiculous petition going around online to lower the age in which cervical screening is offered to 16, they refused and ignored my follow up message about the issue. Similar charity Jo’s cervical cancer trust did address it pretty quickly.

Their CEO Athena Lamnisos even went as far as to defend a nurse who was actively shaming sexual violence survivors and mocking the barriers we face and attacked me when I called her out for it.

Needless to say, they haven’t been exactly mindful of the struggles and barriers faced by members of my community, and it really shows here.

I asked one fellow survivor on Twitter how she felt when she saw Eve’s post on her timeline and this is what she had to say.

“When I saw that picture of those legs spreadeagled, a woman in an intensely vulnerable position, the breath caught in my throat as I was taken back to the time of my assault. Adding insult to injury was the caption “no fear”. Smear tests ARE a source of fear and anxiety for many people, not only sexual violence survivors. It is vital to acknowledge that properly and sensitively, not just with a glib caption suggesting that people just get over themselves, and to be mindful of how imagery and messaging can impact those who face barriers”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

It’s posts like this that make many survivors of sexual violence go offline during cervical cancer awareness campaigns because we all know what we’re going to see.

As a survivor, you never really get used to having over-sexualized and potentially triggering images thrown at you, but you come to expect it from some sources… a cancer charity is not one of them though, which is what made this so shocking and triggering, to see an organization that to claims support survivors of sexual violence in accessing screening sharing an image as over-sexualized and crass as this artwork, depicting a woman in such a vulnerable position in such a tasteless way. It’s so tone-deaf, and once again ignores serious barriers faced by survivors in favor of pandering to an audience of people who don’t even know those barriers exist.

It’s easy to post cutesy pink graphics and pictures of smeared lipstick on Instagram, its a fun little trend that people want to jump on, its a lot harder to talk about serious stuff like surviving sexual violence and how that trauma can follow you into the exam room, how writhe exams like smear tests are with triggers and potential for retraumatization for survivors, how deeply emotional and psychological the experience can be for us, you never see those things talked about by these big organizations.

Those very real, very raw, dark subjects can’t be repackaged in bright happy pink and sold as a cute trend that raises awareness so nobody (pardon my french) gives a shit about them. Either it’s fit for social media marketing or they’re not going to talk about it.

It’s the sad reality of being a survivor who is online, you are going to see stuff that triggers you, or upsets you, and you’re going to see stuff that mocks and belittles your experience, and sometimes it’s going to come from your friends, family, and random strangers. Half the time you won’t have the heart to tell them how much it hurts, after all, they were trying to do a good thing when they posted that smeared lipstick selfie with a caption about how silly and embarrassing it is to skip your smear test, or how the doctor doesn’t care about your body. They didn’t know that they were basically shoving the message of “I’m ignorant to the struggles of those around me” down the throats of every survivor, every disabled person, reading their posts.

It’s also a sad reality that you’re going to see organizations like Jo’s cervical cancer trust, and Eve Appeal post stuff like that too, at first it’ll just make you sad, but eventually, you get really, really mad. Shouldn’t an organization that does this professionally know about barriers? shouldn’t they understand why sexualizing smear tests is bad? shouldn’t they be open to feedback?

That’s kind of how the Wrong Side of the Speculum started, I got really mad one day at a Jo’s trust post and I decided if they weren’t going to talk about barriers and offer balanced information and talk about risks I would. It still never gets any less frustrating to witness the absolute ignorance… borderline stupidity of organizations like Eve Appeal though.

The real kicker here is that their ignorance is 100% willful, they know about barriers, they know what they’re doing wrong, I’ve personally reached out to them and told them what they’re doing wrong, and offered resources to improve.

I know for a fact others have as well, and our efforts go ignored.

It never does any good.

They claim they understand and they’re listening, yet they do the same thing year after year, day after day, awareness week after awareness week.

They just don’t care and I am so SICK of it.

I am so sick of reaching out to these people and trying to educate them only to be met with the same stupid platitudes, the same “we’re sorry you feel that way” and “we here at (insert pink charity name here) aim to support all women” and never seeing any results.

I am sick of false promises and the empty hope that *this* cervical cancer awareness campaign will be different, I am sick of being swept under the rug.

I am sick of hearing an organization apologize for an inappropriate post and then leave the damn thing up on their other social media platforms like they don’t know the harm it’s causing.

It’s all bullshit and I am sick to death of it.

It is not hard to not be an asshole to survivors of sexual violence, it is not hard to acknowledge barriers, it’s not hard to not post gross over-sexualized trash about an invasive medical exam. Yet for some reason, Eve Appeal seems incapable of doing any of that.

Kindness and education are free, it costs you nothing to be kind and informed. So why aren’t you being kind and informed Eve Appeal?

If you want to encourage Eve Appeal to take accountability and take meaningful steps to being better please consider signing this petition asking for just that.

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The Wrong Side Of The Speculum

a survivor, a fighter, a lover of coffee, a patient advocate, asexual and proud, has been known to go on rants that can get a little angry.