First of all, and most importantly, I would like to prefix this piece by making it clear, I am only sharing this to provide a personal perspective and support for anyone that may want it.
I do not speak for all survivors, and I am not, nor will I ever, tell any survivor what it is they should or shouldn’t be doing.
The experience is inexplicably personal, and there is no right way to handle it.
This day last year, December 20th 2019, I walked into my local police station and reported my rape.
For me, going to the police was the most painful yet empowering experience of my life. I can recall every single moment of it like it was yesterday. Bigger then a memory and more then a dream, the feelings of that day live within me always. Despite my case being dismissed early on, I am and will always be proud for trying.
My first decision in the literal reporting process, was whether or not to call the police, or to go to a station. For me in order to summon the strength I needed, I needed a physical outlet. I also didn’t want the environment that it happened in to be my home. The down sides, I had to wait a while to be spoken too, and as kind as they were to me, my local station was not prepared to handle what I had to say.
Once you have reported you are referred to the station that is closest to where the crime happened, a painful experience in itself, as I had not gone remotely near that area since my rape, and in my case it also happened to be the home ground of the people I was trying to overcome.
I was lucky enough to have had an incredible sexual violence specialist police officer assigned to my case. She guided me with as much respect and fair support as she possibly could. Whilst also acknowledging and putting me through a process that is systematically unfair, and excruciatingly disrespectful. Looking back, I am not sure how I would have got through it without her.
I had to relay my rape to multiple police officers, many times, throughout the process. Luckily I was able to have my mum by my side for most of it. However, the main and most graphic account had to be done on my own, recorded by multiple cameras, in a small bare room, yes, just like the one you saw in the latest crime drama you watched. There are no other words to explain it, other than as the said ‘victim’ of a crime, you are criminally interrogated. No matter how kind and respectful your officer is, their job in that moment is to catch you out of your own narrative. A narrative that is expected to be so unimaginably detailed, I sometimes believe in the irony that only a person who had made it up would ever be able to recount something so traumatic at such a clear and detailed level.
Despite coming ready and willing with everything and anything I could find for the police’s use for evidence, handing over all old and new electronics, that included finding an incriminating text message. The fact is, due to the circumstances that surrounded my case, (i.e acquaintance perpetrator), apparently, no matter what evidence I had come in with, including sperm DNA if I had had it, I was told it would not have made a difference to the outcome.
Let it be known that I questioned the detective and his reasoning in every possible way I could. I was told that in order to get my case to the CPS, I would have, at the time, had to have been drunk enough to pass a toxicology report, that could state I was not of sound mind to consent, whilst being not so drunk that I could have immediately got myself to a police station, or called 999 on a friend, at a friends, and stayed at said perfect level of drunk-ness until all examinations had taken place, including the invasive physical. All after having just been raped. Even so, that would probably not have been enough for a conviction in court, as all that evidence could, and would, be used against me.
Yet that was not the part of the process that shocked me. I had done my research, spoken to lawyers, all before reporting, I knew this was the deal. What I wasn’t prepared for was hearing about my perpetrators process.
He was contacted and asked to attend a single questioning, organised at a time and date that suited him, of which he was allowed to bring his lawyer, refuse to respond to all questions, and instead provide a pre written, lawyer advised and checked statement, that also stood as an answer to any and all evidence they put in front of him on the day. That’s it.
Along with 3 witnesses, 1 who’s home it happened in, was the first person I told, and who had remained my friend for the following 3 years, and I had the evidence in letters, messages, and much more to prove her belief in me, refusing, and allowed, to not give comment.
I will pose the same question here that I did to my detective:
“If you had a friend, best friend, who was being accused of rape, one below murder on the scale of crimes, you continue to remind me, and you knew for certain that he/she hadn’t done it, or was even incapable of doing such a thing, why would you not tell the police that? Why would you not just be honest, stand up and try to protect your friend? Surely silence only speaks volumes for people that have something to hide?”
“Absolutely” says the detective... “but there’s nothing we can do right now”.
What has shocked me more then anything about my case was the universal feeling of exasperation. I felt it, not just from my police officer, but the detective, and sergeant, who made the ultimate decision not to take my case forward to the CPS. No matter how honest they knew I was, as stated on numerous occasions, no matter what clear evidence we had, or how hard they worked to package the case together for the CPS, their own system defied them from being able to act on it in any way possible. Despite my raging frustration I knew they could feel my pain, and I too felt theres. This in itself is a sad yet reassuring truth for me to live with moving forward.
You can end up waiting a very long time for a decision to be made on a case, add a trial into the timeline and you’re looking at a process of extreme challenges and emotional damage that can last years. So the fact I have all these answers within 1 year should seem like a good thing. It is on one hand, on the other, I can’t help but wonder if my case, like many others, held even less of a chance due to Covid. My case was dismissed 1 week before the national lockdown in March, in a year that saw a record low number of charges (and this is already a crime where despite the numbers of cases rising, the statistical chances, wether it be to report, charge, or convict, are notoriously minuscule).
I realise that this all seems rather dark, infuriating and seemingly pointless at every turn. But here’s the thing, for me, the moment I walked into that police station, I broke free.
I broke free of the narrative that other people had for me.
I broke free of the feeling that it was my fault.
I broke free of the thought that I had deserved it.
I finally stood up for myself, my worth, and my future.
I know lots of us like to say that our rapes and traumas don’t define us, but for me mine did. The more I pretended that it didn’t, the more I felt it gave others the the chance to define me instead. This was my way of reclaiming it, I took the power back, and allowed myself the chance to define me the way I wanted to. Even with the disappointing outcome, I could finally begin a life that was no longer defined by my rape, but by my triumph over it.
I learnt the meaning and being of true friendship and feminism, and was able to truly extinguish those that did not from my life.
I learnt that there are police officers out there who have survivors backs, they want to see change to their own systems, they want the truth and they want justice. But, they can not do this without people coming forward. Fighting, sharing, and adding to the sheer force of numbers. Logging perpetrators names and numbers firmly in a system that keeps them on tab, that just might protect someone else. No matter what the report outcome, it means something.
Unfortunately this experience should not be happening at the cost of survivors mental and physical health’s. Especially after experiencing something that has inevitably already damaged them. We are not just numbers, we are people. People who deserve better and deserve justice. It shouldn’t be our job to teach others how to do that as well, and this is coming from a survivor who has a privileged support system, which is not always the case for most.
The government, the CPS, the police and any organisations hoping to evoke change need to be working with and talking to survivors, whether their cases have been reported, gone to court or not. We deserve a system that delivers: Education
Especially when it comes down to acquaintance rape. ‘The 90%’ of all rape cases.
It’s time for real change.
Surely 2020 has at least taught us that?
To end this piece I would like to reiterate something I wrote in my very first article:
‘While it is good to share our stories, public discussion can be a trigger. So for all survivors, whatever your circumstances, no matter how you choose to deal with them, this process is something you can’t force. We come to it and deal with it when we are ready.
But you are seen, you are believed and you are supported.’
I may not have won a case, but I did win my life back, and I think that’s worth celebrating.