HLN meets… Dee Hunter, Solo Studios
Dee has turned her traumatic experiences of surviving rape into a passion for teaching martial arts to women to help protect themselves.
‘Together we can stop being victim.’ – That’s the inspirational message that rape survivor Dee Hunter spreads to women and girls in Newcastle.
Dee is determined not to let her past prevent her from living her life to the full. Her traumatic experiences have inspired her to teach martial arts at her Solo Studios to help others protect themselves against sexual abuse and attacks.
When she was just 18 years old, Dee’s life was turned upside down at a house party – a night that would change her life forever.
‘I don’t remember a lot of what happened, just waking up in a cold bath with nothing on,’ Dee explains. ‘But later, it came back to me. I remember fighting back, getting pushed against the wall, smashed on the floor and my heart was pounding – I felt helpless. I locked myself in the bathroom and I was in such a desperate state I jumped out of the three-storey flat window to escape.’
Dee reported this to the police, but – like so many other cases of sexual assault – it wasn’t taken to court due to a lack of evidence. She was left to try to move on without any form of closure, but depression set in and she turned to alcohol and comfort eating. It was Dee’s brother, Darren, who helped her pull through and encouraged her to learn martial arts to protect herself, with the hope that it would stop such an attack ever happening again. After gaining more confidence, Dee started to get her life back on track and joined Northumbria University.
She was even starting to return to a fairly normal social life. But it was on a night out in town with her new friends that her nightmare came back to haunt her again. On her way home, unknown to her, she was being followed by three men. ‘A guy came up asking for the time and where he could get a taxi from,’ Dee remembers. I showed him where the taxi rank was and when we got around the corner, he suddenly grabbed me, pushed me up against the wall and raped me. There was no CCTV there; instead of walking away, I went straight to the police and reported it.’
Following an investigation by the police where CCTV footage was pieced together, her attacker was successfully identified and was prosecuted at Newcastle Crown Court. Dee found herself again becoming depressed, turning to drink and putting on weight. Looking in the mirror, she didn’t like what she saw – and again, mustered up the strength to do something about it.
Now a black belt in a range of different martial arts, and unfortunately, following the tragic murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, there has never been a more important time for women to learn how to protect themselves. Dee is passionate about teaching others self-defence to prevent them from becoming victims, too.
‘I tell others not to forget about their bad experiences but to use them to become a better person. People look at me and say, how have you been raped? They say, how can I talk about it, as I seem too cool and calm, I’m not crying and upset about it like they’d expect me to be. If I could be the inspirational story that others can look up to, as a community together, we can stop being victims,’ Dee says.
‘It’s disgusting that you can’t walk home without things happening. I’ve been through it, and it’s not a nice experience – you’re left suffering from paranoia. Unfortunately, I don’t think things will change. I know more murders and sexual assaults will happen again.
‘Men are stronger than women; that’s just the way it is. When you get attacked and you’re not trained, your body goes into fight or flight, making you freeze, and you can’t do basic things like strike. I believe the policing structure needs to change. There needs to be more police officers on the streets to protect women, not just in cities but in local communities where there are fewer people around.
‘More people need to be aware of self-defence, not just fighting but your surroundings. I wouldn’t recommend walking alone, always walk with someone, in well-lit areas with people around – this is the sad world that we live in now. So these things matter, however much they shouldn’t!’
Want to know how to protect yourself on the streets? Here are Dee’s top self-defence tips: https://youtu.be/i0xdNxbBKws
If you would like to get involved with the martial arts classes, visit Solo Martial Arts’ website.
If you have been affected by the matters discussed in this story contact Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland team for support.