I wrote on this site before about the experience of reporting my rape to the police and my doubts about the system and the form of justice that awaited me and my rapist. The trial took place in December- going to court to give evidence against my rapist, was, is, will probably forever, remain the most painful, the most traumatic, the most gut wrenchingly terrifying thing I ever had to face. And though my rapist was found guilty and convicted, I feel like I am still waiting for justice.
My hand is shaking so much I can barley lift the plastic cup from the bench to my mouth. It makes what seems to me like the loudest sound in the world as it crunches beneath my unsteady hand. I glance across the room, a room much smaller than I ever expected. To my left I know he stands, but he is blocked by screens that remind me of high school art display boards. Across sit the 12 people in whose hands lie my and my rapist’s lives. Not a single one of them looks me in the eye. Some stare at the floor, some at the ceiling, some intently scribble on their pads of paper. A few of them look in my direction. But none of them look me in the eye.
Nothing could have ever prepared me for this. Not the 15 months of waiting since the day I went to the police to get here. Not the two days of waiting in the witness services room, while unexpected details were settled in court, watching old school movies on VHS and struggling to keep down even half a sandwich. Not the five minutes chat with my barrister where she tells me they often get funny results in December because “Well no one likes to put someone in prison over Christmas.” Not the last minute cigarettes outside the back of the court, the sun sitting low in the winter sky, so beautiful I want to stay there, outside all of this, forever.
Nothing could have prepared me for their version of events attacking me, blaming me, making me doubt myself
Nothing could have prepared me for the frustration of the strange and seemingly meaningless details I am made to go over and over again for nearly two days. Or for the nice guy routine of the defense barrister, commenting on my choice of clothing on the night in question to raise a laugh from those in the room. Or for the unexpected surprises coming from both sides in court: photos to look at of places I had only been in my darkest hour, details of the story, long blanked through trauma from my mind, being filled with details I will never be sure were true.
Nothing could have prepared me for their version of events being presented in such a way, attacking me, blaming me, making me doubt myself, making me physically quake at the knees. Nothing could have prepared me for that last little bit of myself that I had managed to hold on to through all of this, that bit that knew why I was fighting, that bit that believed in myself, being broken into such tiny pieces I’m still not sure it will, if it can, ever be repaired.
The pain was at times almost overwhelming. And yet through it all I always knew I was a lucky one.
I was a lucky one because I came out of court and fell destroyed into the arms of my boyfriend, who had responded to this whole process, to what it had done to me, above and beyond anything you could ever expect. Because I was engulfed by friends who had not only been there at every step, but who had even taken the stand to support me. As they all supported me, as I talked to my family and let them in a little, as I went over things with my SOIT officer, I realised how I had stayed so strong. I had stayed strong because I was a lucky one, it was only ever the defense who had questioned what I said. Not once outside of that court room had I faced questioning, accusations or judgment from my friends and family. I was supported by people who believed, trusted and loved me, unquestionably, unconditionally. Without that I can honestly say I’m not sure I would be here. But it is without this that many women have to fight through this ordeal.
I am white, middle class and articulate – everything they wanted their victim to be. But not all women ‘fit the bill’
I was a lucky one because I listened to the police give feedback to me and my friends tell us how well we had come across, how eloquent we had sounded. I knew what they were really saying was that I was white, middle class, seemingly straight (though the defense are not allowed to ask, the prosecution still brought up sexuality and sexual history in the context of rebuking a line of his defense), and spoke English well (though I think they would have preferred it hadn’t been with a Northern accent since they brought it up twice in court). But even with my accent I was clearly educated and articulate. I was everything they wanted their victim to be. But not all women ‘fit the bill’ – many women have to fight multiple societal oppressions at every stage of this process, I can’t even begin to imagine what that must feel like on top of everything else.
I was a lucky one because after the trauma of giving evidence, after a court case that went on a week longer than expected, after 3 of the most tortuous days I have ever sat through waiting, jumping every time my phone went off – after all of this, when the phone finally rang, my SOIT officer, who, after frosty early months, I had actually come to like and rely on, delivered me from the torture with one small word in a delighted voice. Guilty.
I went into our justice system expecting a place where I could begin to understand – I couldn’t have been more wrong
I feel so bad because despite getting a guilty verdict I still don’t understand anything, not what happened that night or what happened in court. In fact I seem to have less resolution now than I did before I started this.
I went into our justice system hoping for a place where I could begin to understand. I wanted court to be a place where we both laid down our versions of events, where he could begin to understand what had gone so catastrophically wrong and where I could begin to understand why. Perhaps, again, this was me being naïve, but I honestly thought court might give us a chance to do that.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The court process was basically just a chance for two barristers who had only been handed the facts the morning of the court case to wade through them with a highlighter and decide what points to fight on. It was a process about process, about who had dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s, rather than about truth. The police were so happy to have won, not for me, but because for once they weren’t the ones to have fucked up. They actually said as much. I learnt nothing, and understood even less.
And it has left me even more unsure about whether I have done the right thing. Undoubtedly we need our justice system to work to fight against the rape culture we live in. But with the doubts I personally have about the current justice system and about what happens within our prison system, I can never be sure if I agree that this was the right course of action for me.
People don’t like to talk about rape, they visibly flinch when you say the word
Without an understanding of what really happened in that courtroom and what he was really thinking, I am left with less than what I started with. I am left not only with the trauma of what actually happened, but also with the trauma I encountered throughout the court case. And perhaps worse than the trauma, I am left with the guilt of my insecurity over what the right thing to do was. My brain will just not turn off as it goes over it all again and again, questioning, wondering. I am also left feeling more scared than ever. Because one day he will get out of prison, so now I have to deal with the perpetual fear that he will come looking for me, and he will hurt me, or even worse, he will hurt someone I love. And so I’m still not quite sure this whole thing was worth it.
Perhaps with time I will feel different. I really do hope so, and I certainly don’t want to put people off doing what they think is right. Because for each person this happens to, this is a personal journey where different choices give different results and different ways of healing. But I can’t lie, I can’t sugar coat what it was like for me. Personally I think there are much better ways to heal and much better ways to fight than in our current justice system. That’s why now I know I have to start to fight for a better justice system, one that truly changes and transforms not just the survivor but also the perpetrator and the society we live in.
If we don’t start talking about rape, we are hiding from the truth of our society
We live in a culture that is scared of the word rape. People don’t like to talk about it, they visibly flinch when you say it. But we live in a world where women are raped every minute of every day. Not just in India, but right here in the UK too. Not just by strangers, mostly by people they know. And until we can talk about that, how can we ever hope to make it better?
So that’s why I had to write this. If there’s one thing this whole process has done, it has been to take me from the scared young woman who was afraid to tell people what had happened for fear of judgment, to someone who wants to write about it, to talk about it, to shout about it. Because why shouldn’t I talk about it? I was raped, part of the reason I was raped is because we live in a rape culture. The judgment should be of my rapist and of society. It should not be a judgment on me.