I was raped and chose not to report it. “Why didn’t I go to the police?” is the question that gets thrown most at me. After recent high-profile rape trials, my response is: “Why would I go to the police?”
It’s been a hard few weeks to be a survivor, and a woman.
Ireland and Spain have recently seen high-profile sexual assault and rape trials. I’ve been sucked into every headline, hoping that one of the links will take me to some better world. When I read the outcome in Ireland [two rugby players were acquitted of raping a 19-year-old student] I felt sick to my stomach. I still do.
In Spain, an 18-year-old woman was attacked by five men during the bull-running festival in Pamplona in 2016. Despite filming nonconsensual sex with the teenager and bragging about the incident on a WhatsApp messaging group where they called themselves “la manada” or “the wolf pack”, last Thursday they were acquitted of gang rape, and convicted instead of the lesser “non-violent or intimidating” crime of “sexual abuse”.
Protests at the verdict in Spain are ongoing, as thousands of people share my disgust at the way this young woman was treated.
The victim was found visibly distraught on a bench by passersby. She didn’t hesitate when they suggested she contact the police. As the victim of sexual assault, she did everything “right”.
While legally we must respect the verdict, we still need to talk about the way in which the woman at the centre of the trial was treated by the accused, lawyers and the system. The case’s focus was never on what happened that night, but whether she was lying or not.
This trial, unfortunately, fits the same depressing narrative as many rape cases. It’s not the men on trial; it’s the women.
When it comes to rape, what a woman wears and how she looks at someone affects the likelihood of consent. Her sexual history determines if she “wanted it”, while intimate garments from her sex life are hung out for the world to shame her with. Despite her academic, career and personal achievements, she is all too often considered a “silly little girl” who doesn’t know her own mind or what happened. She is presented as intoxicated. She must be “crying rape”.
I wonder how many mugging victims are instantly assumed to be lying. Or how many muggers don’t get convicted because the victim was wearing an expensive watch, or had been drinking?
Not being found guilty beyond reasonable doubt does not equate to innocence. And yet, if rape comes up at the dinner table, it isn’t long before the conversation moves on to the devastating effects on the lives of the falsely accused. The perception that these “life-ruining” events happen all the time overshadows the deplorable prevalence of sexual violence in our schools, workplaces and streets.
What is also frequently omitted is the real rate of false rape allegations. At just 3%, the numbers are no higher than for any other crime. Research even suggests that most false claims do not name an alleged perpetrator, and therefore have no reputational or life-altering consequences for the accused. In 2016/17, Rape Crisis received 202,666 phone calls. So where is the uproar for the ruined lives of all those victims, whose rights were stripped away when they were violated?
Everyone has an opinion on what they would do if someone attempted to rape them. When a woman is attacked in the movies, we often see her shout, run or fight. But when it happened to me, that’s not what happened. My instincts kicked in and told my body to freeze – a reaction that is often used in court to confirm “consent”.
Victim blaming has become weaponised to cast a shadow over the victim; they are a liar out to ruin a man’s life. And just like that, the victim becomes the suspect.
I’m not convinced that my account of being raped would hold up against days of intimate and humiliating attacks – not beyond a reasonable doubt anyway.
Years later, I am finally able to speak out about what happened to me, because I want to raise awareness of the issue and fight for support for other young women in my position. But even now if I am asked why I didn’t report it, I still reply: “Why would I report it?”
Since I set up Revolt Sexual Assault and began campaigning, I’ve been accused of jumping on the bandwagon. I’ve been called a slut who just woke up with regrets about sleeping with someone. I’ve been called an attention-seeker, out for fame and monetary gain (no sign of it yet). I get called a liar because I didn’t report being raped to the police. But if I had reported it, I’d have ended up being called a liar too. And we wonder why survivors don’t always report rape straightaway, or ever.
Some days, telling my story is empowering; other days, I cry myself to sleep. Helping survivors is the only “gain” I’ve found from campaigning, and even that comes with a cost. Reliving what happened to me, and others like me, is not easy – it has the power to drain me of energy for days, sometimes weeks.
The idea that rape survivors lead a glamorous existence after speaking out is so far from the truth. Those that do have the courage to go to trial spend years with the investigation and court date hanging over them. They have to repeatedly relive the trauma, knowing that when they get to court they will be humiliated on the stand in front of family, friends and their country.
Not being believed is every woman’s worst nightmare; I think that’s why it fuelled such a fierce reaction, and the trending of #IBelieveHer in Ireland and #Cuéntalo (“Tell your story”) in Spain.
The severity of the current climate for women reporting sexual violence was made all the more real by a message that I recently received, through Revolt Sexual Assault.
Georgia* was raped in her student house by her housemate’s boyfriend. After dropping out of university and trying to end her own life, the hospital persuaded her to report the rape to the police. As she told me the details of what she endured in court, the gruesome reality of how traumatising the current trial process can be for survivors was shockingly evident.
Georgia’s chilling account of her stomach turning behind the screen in the courtroom, hearing the sound of every movement her perpetrator made, left me with the most disgusting feeling. She recalls how she was questioned on the stand:
“I was so scared I almost wet myself. The defence barrister kept repeating questions, no matter how psychologically harmful they were. I ended up sat on the floor in the corridor begging for my mum and begging them to stop. After five hours of questioning over two days, I said I couldn’t take the torment any more. I was screaming and crying and I didn’t eat for three days.”
As a result, the trial collapsed. And so did her belief in the system.
We wonder why rape is the only crime where the victim is on trial too, but while sexism and sexual violence are normalised, this is unlikely to change. Rape victims won’t come forward and juries will acquit more than they convict.
Let’s put rapists on trial, not women.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.
*Name has been changed