Ciara Charteris Story - "It’s time to take the power back, and this is just my beginning"

Today is almost 5 years since I was raped.

His name is Niall, he was a close friend, slightly older than me, but I had known him since I was 16 after meeting at a youth theatre group. The rape happened after a night out to celebrate my best friend Harriet’s birthday in 2015. Harriet and I had been inseparable since secondary school. Although I have struggled to say the word rape out loud for a long time, I knew that’s what had happened. Despite saying no numerous times, begging him to get off me, trying to physically pull him off, my flight mode was not attuned to protect me from a rapist that had the face of my best friend. So I just shut my eyes and passed out in terrified defeat. Only waking later to clean myself up and try and find my bottoms.

For numerous (and common) reasons at the time, I chose not to report Niall. I told Harriet immediately the next morning, it happened in her home, and she was also dating his best friend. She supported me unwaveringly, and after much deliberation, we decided to deal with it by never seeing or speaking to him again. The immediate disconnection Niall took too easily. This reassured me that he must know what he’d done and was choosing to stay away out of fear of consequence.

However, 3 years later, in 2018, I caught Harriet and Niall hanging out on social media. It took me a while to process the initial shock, as I tried to make sense of it; questioning every explanation possible. Harriet and I had been living together only a month prior. Why? When? How? And although I am no perfect friend, what could I have possibly done to deserve this? As most survivors of Acquaintance Rape understand; we take the blame and live with the shame, as society tells us to.

Eventually I decided to give Harriet the benefit of the doubt and calmly challenged her on it. She blamed me for having put her in an ‘incredibly difficult position for years’ and that I had recently caused her ‘irreparable damage’ getting into a new relationship (one she had instigated) and she felt that she ‘subconsciously wanted to get back at me’. I was so stunned by this, that all I found myself doing in that moment was apologising, and we decided to put it all behind us and move on. I was totally unaware of the narcissistic abuse I was enduring. Regardless, a few months later Harriet abruptly chose to publicly befriend Niall and this time completely disappeared from my life to do so.

It was one thing to deal with the post-traumatic stress of being physically violated by someone I trusted, but quite another when the person who had stood by me through it all, whom I trusted the most, suddenly decided to turn a blind eye to it. This broke me. Finally, I was forced to face what had happened and the trauma I had tried to bury away for years. Added to this was the immense grief of losing the closest thing I’d ever had to a sister, completely out of the blue and with no clear explanation. Niall - my worst nightmare - who until now had stayed relatively far away, was suddenly constantly at my best friends side and hanging out with everyone I knew. This was heightened by the fact that we no longer just moved in the same social circle, but the same professional one.

I decided to retire from acting, with everything that was going on, I realised that despite my love for it and the incredible experiences I had been lucky enough to have, it would never fulfil me. It wasn’t the side of the business I wanted to be a part of anymore. I moved to New York in 2019 to begin the next chapter of my life, whilst getting some distance from the one I had just closed. It was the best experience of my life. I came back to London stronger than ever, ready to move on and start my new job on the business side of the entertainment industry.

Within a few months of being back, it was clear that Harriet and Niall’s relationship had only become stronger while I was away. I found myself back working and living in a world where they were everywhere and everything was a trigger. I knew the business I was in was small, but not this small. I found myself trapped by their web of deception at every turn, their arrogant deceit bled into every area of my life, flaunted on social media and draped across the arms of my unbeknownst colleagues. I was afraid he would do to someone else what he had done to me, but ultimately, it felt as though there was no space for me. I could not imagine the lies that were inevitably being told in order to explain their story and discredit my truth. A truth I had worked hard to own.

I cannot fully explain the complexities and incestuous nature of the situation, it would sound unbelievable, yet it was so potent that it paralysed not just me, but my family and my friends. I started having regular panic and anxiety attacks, thinking I had seen them would make me physically sick, frequently triggering flashbacks to the assault, and resulted in me having to leave my new job. Then the suicidal thoughts started creeping in. In desperation, I took myself to therapy, certain that there was no hope for me and how much easier everyone’s lives would be if me and my truth were to simply disappear.

It was only then that I realised he was exploiting a freedom I had given him. I had spent four years focused on making sure that his life was unaffected and protected from the consequences of his actions, but I was about to throw away my own in doing so. So, in December 2019, I made the difficult decision to walk into my local police station and report my rape.

I took advice from a couple of lawyers and the charity Rape Crisis, accumulating as much information as possible. All the advice only reiterated exactly why I hadn’t reported him in the first place. Nevertheless, I felt strong again, completely prepared for the battle ahead, so much so that I took a job interview just hours before going into the police station. I knew the chances of a conviction were next to none, I only had to look at the statistics, but I wanted to add to them, and put his name firmly on the system. Above all, I wanted to make it crystal clear to Niall and Harriet that I wasn’t going anywhere, and what he had done to me would no longer go unacknowledged. I was finally ready to make a noise and fight for my life.

The silence I received in response to my case from those most involved was deafening. Whilst publicly supporting #MeToo and the imprisonment of Harvey Weinstein on social media, Harriet was refusing to give a statement to the police on my case. I will never understand why she continues to protect Niall at all costs. She knows the truth, she sort therapy for it, and even used my rape for a self-written performance piece at Drama School. I have letters, texts and WhatsApp messages of support from her all handed in to the police as evidence. Yet when I needed her the most - simply to tell the truth - silence. I am not afraid to say that her betrayal was the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced, my rape included.

I have so much I want to share about the specifics of my case: the incident itself, the police, the process, the evidence we found, the evidence we didn’t have, the reopening of the case, the re-closing of the case, but that is for a separate article. I hope the details will be a guide and help those who are considering going to the police.

In March 2020, just as Covid-19 lock-down came with a new set of rules I was already used to, I got the call to say that he would not be charged. This was not surprising, and to quote the police: ‘it does not make him innocent.’ For any Rape Apologists out there - more on how the system is unequivocally built to protect men like him and how blatantly those working in it know it - next time. I had achieved what I set out to do and his name will forever be listed with the police. Nevertheless, the decision not to charge him still hit hard.

We live in a time of incredible women’s movements which I wholeheartedly support and I hope that all this work makes survivors feel more comfortable about coming forward with their stories. Whether the aim is to prosecute or not, rapists and rape culture must be called out. But as I watched women who chose not to stand by me, rise up in support of the big public stories; hiding their truths behind a hashtag to save face, protecting those they know are guilty, I can not help but burst with rage at the dishonest hypocrisy which completely undermines these movements, causing excruciating pain, not just for me but for all survivors, and I believe this too is something that must be called out.

I have been warned by a number of people I respect what sharing my story could do, or not do. For those whose good advice I am going against, please know I do not do it lightly. The truth is, I know the consequence of silence, and I refuse to stay silent any longer.

In order to function and achieve what I hope to with my life, in a world that allows Niall to walk free, with Harriet shamelessly beside him, I must stand in my truth and share it. This is my strength and the ground on which I hope to build my work, in very close quarters. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a difficult, daily challenge but I truly feel that what I have to offer is bigger than my fear.

It no longer matters to me what people think, or if my voice is loud enough or important enough. I have an experience, I have a voice, and I want to use it for the better of my community. Although this particular work is just one part of my life and my future, it is a huge part of who I am now and my journey to healing. It is important to me that I use my experience in any way I can to help others, and join the fight for much-needed change. I am willing to take the risk and accept the consequences that may come.

We are all facing an astonishingly difficult year, but the strength of humanity has been inspiring. If 2020, a year in which everyone is being asked to reflect and step up in some way, shape, or form is not a good time for me to speak out, then I don’t know when is.

I am lucky enough to be extremely privileged in many ways that allows me to do this. I would not be here without the incredible support of my family, friends and boyfriend, who have had the courage to stand by me. They share their immense strength with me and for that, I will be eternally grateful. I would not be here without them.

While it is good to share our stories, public discussions 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 want to add my voice and support to the work and movements such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, charities such as Rape Crisis, RAINN and communities like #WhyiDidnt Report and now, most importantly, I Am Arla, who’s platform and incredible work I feel so grateful to be becoming a part of.

When it comes to sexual assault and rape, I am not the worst case, I am not the first case, and sadly I will not be the last. But I am done letting the weakness of others define me.

No matter what difficulties life chucks at us, I believe with honesty and kindness at the heart we are all undefeatable.

It’s time to take the power back, and this is just my beginning.

Ciara Charteris


‘Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have’ - Oprah Winfrey

*Names have been changed for legal reasons*

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