A solicitor has called on the government to promote greater public awareness around the exemptions for masks.
Georgina Fallows has had difficulty with face coverings since she was raped in 2018 when she was walking home late at night.
"My rapist used his hand to stop me from screaming and I now find it incredibly difficult to wear any kind of face covering because, unsurprisingly, I cannot bear to have my mouth covered", Fallows told RollOnFriday.
If she does, she experiences flashbacks akin to hallucinations. "They are so real as to effectively plunge me back into the worst of the experience. I am not here, I am there and he is raping me and I am dying", she said.
The flashbacks can be so severe that police officers and paramedics have had to hold her down, sedate her and take her to hospital.
But widespread ignorance of how 'invisible disabilities' make wearing a mask an "insurmountable challenge" for some people has meant that Fallows has experienced abuse.
"I was screamed at in a hairdressers by a customer who accused me of killing her father for not wearing a mask", said Fallows, who had rung ahead to confirm she could visit without a face covering. It occurred a few days after measures were announced, "so came as a rather brutal shock".
Now she is wary of entering places where face coverings are required, and has not been in a shop or on the Tube since late July.
"I don’t walk around with a sign which signals mental illness, so some members of the public feel it is acceptable to press the issue. This constant reminder of my circumstances, i.e. my rape, I find a daily torment".
While a note can be printed off the government website, Fallows said the pass was not widely-recognised or always accepted as genuine, and could be taken advantage of by those without a genuine need.
In her letter, which was co-signed by MP Bambos Charalambous and by charities including Mind, Mencap, Sense and Disability Rights UK, Fallows asked the government to promote the Hidden Disabilities charity's Face Covering Exemption Card, and to launch an awareness campaign to publicise the exemptions.
Mouth + Sunflower = OK
Asked why she waived her anonymity, Fallows, who lives and works in London, told RollOnFriday it had been a "slow burn". She became increasingly anxious over the summer as masks became mandatory in more and more places, particularly as she was a non-driver who relied on public transport. Then her local councillor, her MP and Sadiq Khan all ignored her letters, so she decided she had to go public.
It was "not easy", said Fallows, partly because she started working in January at a new firm, Rosenblatt, where colleagues were unaware she had been raped, as were many of her friends and family.
She said she was "very lucky" that Rosenblatt had been "incredibly supportive of my condition and desire to speak publicly on this issue".
"But it was not an easy decision - once it is on the internet it follows you the rest of your life and that is something that’s needs to be weighed up - I want to be known for my achievements, not because of the actions of a monster", she said.
Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind, said, “We are so grateful to Georgina for bravely and honestly talking about her own, extremely traumatic, experience of being raped in order to raise awareness of the many different reasons some people might not be able to wear face coverings”.
”Georgina’s support has been vital in helping us call on the UK Government to promote a Face Covering Exemption Card", said Nash, "as well as urging them to raise awareness among the public about the many different reasons people can be exempt from wearing a face covering, including being disabled.”