Work in progress

Content note: this post contains a personal testimony of rape and sexual assault

I was raped after a night out, in my own bed, in university accommodation. The university took legal advice and did nothing about it, so a week later I went to the police. The case went to trial and he was found not guilty by majority verdict. This is my story.

“It’s not your fault.” I have heard these words over and over, from the people who have been everything to me to those who didn’t really know what else to say; the cliched response. The truth is I will never stop believing that it somehow was. A friend once told me she thought women had to take some responsibility in these situations, and maybe I do. I’ve told myself that if I wasn’t such a slut it wouldn’t have happened, that my casual attitude to sex was always going to lead to this. However, I am starting to accept that I didn’t deserve it. I’m trying to accept that there was no way I could have predicted what would happen and that, although I can find fault after fault with my own actions, the entirety of the blame lies with him, the one who raped me.

There are still those who have tried to tell me otherwise. “I suggest that if you had been raped you would have …” These are the words I hear over and again in my head; the words of his expensive QC barrister, as if there’s a rulebook for being raped. I should have screamed. I should have told my friend immediately. I should have locked him out. I should have, I should have …

Unless you’ve had a traumatic experience it’s impossible to understand the behaviour of someone in that kind of shock. Even I don’t fully understand my thought process, let alone my actions that night, but still I was expected to be able to justify them, as if they had been rational. The truth is that there are hundreds of things I could have done to stop him raping me, but how could I have known that was what was going to happen? How could anyone have known?

Everything he said was lies but no one seemed to care. The story he spun didn’t make sense or piece together; they didn’t care that his lies were ridiculous. Make some shit up and you’ll get away with rape. I am sure he told people that we had sex, but he told the police no sex occurred: it seems as though the people he told conveniently forgot or refused to say it. Some of the lies he told were so unbelievable they were almost laughable, but they were still enough to convince a jury.

Throughout the whole investigation I would ask for information and be told I “didn’t need to know” this or that, an answer I was not satisfied by

One such lie was that I had I made it all up because I didn’t want people to “gossip” about me. Two years down the line people are still gossiping, so that defence makes no sense. The barrister tried to argue that I should have known what was going to happen because it was clear he [the perpetrator] was attracted to me – as if that was somehow my responsibility. Unfortunately, in a rape trial without any witnesses, which is so often the case, it boils down to one person’s word against another. However, the job of the jury is not to decide who they believe. The victim must fully prove to the jury that what they are saying is the truth; the defence only need place doubt in whatever form they can. The mere suggestion that I could have made it all up was enough.

More than anything, I am angry with how the case was handled. I am a firm believer that everyone has the right to a fair trial but I think that should apply to the victim too. I have heard the opinion that a rape accusation should always be suspected to be false, until the victim can prove otherwise. I cannot see anything but hypocrisy in this point of view, as if the victim should be assumed guilty of a lie until they can prove otherwise. The way I was treated was anything but fair, from beginning to end. A few weeks after I reported it to the police, I was driven to a small village police office to give a statement and told to recount as much as I could. I was then interrogated on each and every little detail. The whole thing was recorded. It went on for hours with little to no real explanation on what the resulting video would be used for. I was asked to explain how drunk I was every step of the way. I was asked why I didn’t do a certain thing or why I acted a certain way. I was asked to explain what I said, what he said and what I thought he was thinking. Whenever I said, “I don’t know,” the question was repeated and I felt pressured to answer. It was as though they thought my memory loss or confusion equated to lies, that for me to be truly believed I had to remember every detail.

Despite having spent the entire year going to and from the police station with no real sign of progression, they told me a week before my exams that the case was now going to trial. My understanding is that he was told after his own exams; he was given that consideration where I wasn’t.

They gave me the option to end the case there but I agreed to progress to trial. I was even questioned on this: why had I changed my mind since I first reported it? Truthfully, I genuinely, naively, believed then that he hadn’t realised what he had done. I told them I didn’t want to ruin his life. I just wanted him to understand. I wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t do it to someone else. Six months later, I was no longer so forgiving. Six months later, he had taunted me, laughed at me and intimidated me when I was with my friends. It took me those six months to realise that he knew what he had done and he didn’t care.

The newspaper articles obsessed over how intelligent he was, as if this bore any relevance. They wished him luck in his life

When I met my barrister for the first time he told me he wanted me to give my testimony in person. I wasn’t able to. The defence blocked me from taking the stand, except for cross-examination, insisting that the video from my interview be played instead. To add some context, when you give evidence in court you are normally advised to only answer the question asked, to give short answers where possible and to be willing to say “I don’t know” if necessary. This was the exact opposite of how my interview with the police was approached yet, nonetheless, that video was given as my testimony.

Throughout the whole investigation I would ask for information and be told I “didn’t need to know” this or that, an answer I was not satisfied by. In comparison, I believe that he was kept informed on every little detail. It felt like I was inconsequential in my own rape case. Often, I would receive an ominous text, without explanation, from the police officer handling my case who would then wait days until seeing me. I would spend those days in a state of anxiety, afraid of what she might tell me or ask me. This lack of communication continued to court: my friends and witnesses were told information before me because the court contacted them directly while I had to be kept informed via the police, who would often delay contacting me. The DC on the case gave me the verdict, as I had asked, via text as soon as it came out. It wasn’t until hours later that I was rung by my assigned officer. She was shocked I already knew – but my best friend had been told by the court hours before and it was already in the papers. If it had been left to her I could have been the last to know.

The trial was delayed. In the court, they kept adding smaller cases in before mine. And, because a witness was booked in for a certain time, it resulted in the testimonies being given in the wrong order. I should have been the first witness but I wasn’t. I was told I would testify on the Monday and spent the entire day in court, but was not called. Then I was told to come in Tuesday, and then on Tuesday I was told Wednesday. The police officer seemed shocked when I told her it wasn’t OK. I was expected to just go along with it, without complaint, but it wasn’t OK at all.

I shouldn’t have read the newspaper articles and I most definitely shouldn’t have read the comments section. The articles obsessed over how intelligent he was, as if this bore any relevance. Commentators criticised my anonymity. They wished him luck in his life and seemed to have honest faith in our justice system. The odd comment shone through, the ones explaining that a ‘not guilty’ verdict is not equivalent to innocence, simply a lack of perceived proof. I still struggle to understand how he got away with it. People I knew who were involved in the case told me they had been convinced he would be found guilty. I was told that when a friend gave evidence, he looked livid with anger. I do believe the jury took the easy way out, and I don’t blame them, but it sucks.

“When you tell a woman to change her behaviour to avoid being raped, you’re really saying ‘I hope he rapes the other girl’”

Some days I break down into tears for no apparent reason, as though I’ve been transported back two years. I still find it hard to feel safe in my own bed. Many seemingly innocuous things cause me to fright. I’ve had countless panic attacks and nightmares, nightmares that have left my sheets wet many times. I was so ashamed the first time – a 21-year-old shouldn’t be wetting the bed – but I have never known fear like I feel in those dreams. I am thankful that this hasn’t happened for a while; the nightmares come less frequently and I usually wake now instead. I worry that I will never be able to have a healthy relationship. I worry that I’m not worthy and the days where I convince myself I am, I worry that I’m too “broken” and it wouldn’t be fair to put another person through that.

I am glad that rape and especially “campus rape” is increasingly discussed in the media, but much of what I see and read gives the impression that the victim knows that they are not at fault. The situations they describe seem clear. But they don’t fit with what happened to me. I’ve read these articles – I can’t help myself – and so many times I’ve said to myself, “See, she couldn’t do anything to stop it, but you could have.” I want to be a different voice, the voice that says to myself and to anyone listening: “Maybe you made flawed choices, but that doesn’t make you flawed.” That whatever the situation, if you said no, if you were crying, if you asked them to stop and they didn’t, if you simply did nothing and it was clear you didn’t want to have sex, that’s still rape. Stop telling yourself that maybe you did something wrong; that you should have been more forceful in your refusal because you shouldn’t have had to be. You may think awful things about yourself, like I have so many times, but that doesn’t make what he did any less wrong.

I kissed him back at first. He kept pushing and pushing and I didn’t have the energy to turn him down anymore. If you’re a girl who goes clubbing, it’s likely you have been in this situation. I asked my friends and so many told me that, yes, they had “got with” guys simply because the guy wouldn’t stop harassing them. It was easier. I’m obviously not suggesting that any of those guys is a rapist but it’s a relatively common issue and to try and explain that to a jury is pretty impossible. Especially when the youngest of your jury of “peers” looks about 35 and seems to agree with the barrister when he tells you that kissing a stranger is “very intimate” with the inference being that you shouldn’t be doing it. The same barrister that effectively said that by kissing him I was telling him I wanted to have sex with him; despite clearly having said the words “I don’t want to have sex with you.”

For now, I am a work in progress

I allowed him to manipulate me. I allowed him to follow me into my accommodation after I’d told him to go home because it was easier than fighting. By this point I had realised he would just do what he wanted anyway. Not a day goes by where I don’t regret this, but in that moment I still trusted him. He was friends with people I knew and respected. I never would have believed he would do what he did.

I did things he told me to do and I let him do things to me. I tried to stop him when it hurt and he ignored me. I told the police that everything leading up to the rape itself was consensual, but it wasn’t. I was coerced and that isn’t consent – although it has taken me a long time to realise this. Up until now, I saw the rape as something clear-cut. It was more black and white than what came before it – because I said “no,” and “stop”, because I had tears running down my face – but regardless of which point he started to break the law, his actions were unacceptable the entire night.

It’s very difficult to get a rape case to court and it’s even harder to get a conviction. I no longer know this just from the statistics quoted on the internet but from personal experience. No matter how many times people complain about the questions asked, it happens repeatedly. “How much were you drinking?” “If you kissed him, how did he know you didn’t want to have sex?” Always spoken with a slightly accusatory tone, as if there was more you should have done, as if you somehow brought it on yourself.

I read this simple sentence the other day and it really hit home: “When you tell a woman to change her behaviour to avoid being raped, you’re really saying ‘I hope he rapes the other girl’”. This concept keeps me going. It makes the anxiety and hurt the court case brought with it seem worth it. Because, if it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else. When I think of everything objectively, it becomes clear to me that he had decided what was going to happen at the start of the night and that what I wanted simply didn’t matter. I can only hope now that by “doing something,” even if he did not get the verdict he deserved, I helped make sure it won’t be another woman someday.

At the same time, I want people to appreciate that reporting a rape isn’t an easy process. I don’t know if I would advise a fellow victim to report to the police. I have so much empathy for those that don’t report their rape. It makes their assault no less traumatic and their pain no less valid, and no one should ever suggest otherwise.

For now, I am a work in progress: I am not OK – I still don’t see a future right now where I ever will be – but I am better than I was six months ago and I am better than I was a year and a half ago, and I know that this will become a smaller and smaller part of me. My story isn’t over yet.

For more information and support about sexual assault, click here for Rape Crisis

Feature image shows a statue of justice: blindfolded and carrying a sword and scales. The picture was taken by Hans Splinter and was shared under a Creative Commons licence.

The image at the top of the page shows a wooden signpost against a blue sky with the words ‘hope’ written next to a yellow arrow pointing east. The picture was taken by Pol Sifter and was shared under a Creative Commons licence.