It takes a lot of bravery to speak out to an official body about a sexual assault – even if you’ve told your friends and your family. It means entering into a process of continual reminders of what happened, going over it in excruciating detail, reminding your attacker that you exist.
During my experience, however, I learned that this bravery is blind. You hear frequently about the criminal justice system failing assault victims – implying children consented to their abuse, victim-blaming, continually failing to find accused people guilty. I looked past all of these things, and after nine years of silence, I reported.
I contacted the Metropolitan Police, and they came to take my statement the same day. They were nice, non-judgemental, supportive, empathetic. They informed me of the next step – I was to be contacted by a specialist member of a sexual violence team, who would organise a time for me to take part in a video-recorded interview, where I would recount my rape in detail.
When you report a crime, there are standards that the criminal justice system must keep to, such as giving updates every 28 days (even if there are none); referring the person to the appropriate support groups; and taking due care during the investigation. Two months after I made my initial report, I was invited to record my interview. It ended up being an hour-long account, where I was asked the most excruciatingly detailed questions, including the famous: “What were you wearing?”
But it was done, and I was assured I wouldn’t have to do this again. That was the whole point of the video, after all: it was a permanent point of reference. I returned home, drained, and was in bed for days in emotional and physical pain. I was told that I would be referred to Rape Crisis, where I would get proper help and support.
But I never got a call from Rape Crisis, and I never got another call or email from the police for about three months. I heard back from them in November, after I chased them up myself, when they informed me that my video evidence had been lost.
Because I was raped in a different part of the UK, the tape needed to be forwarded to the appropriate force. But it wasn’t. Instead the tape was left “in an unmarked envelope”, in an office, where it was lost in a move, over the time span of three months. My permanent recording, my words, my emotions, my only evidence, the first time I had ever said those things in such graphic detail, had gone. I had to record a second interview, I was told, or drop the case. I immediately submitted a complaint to the IPCC: practicality first, emotions later.
I re-recorded my interview. The officer showed up late. I showed no emotion. I was tired. After my re-recording, the officer told me she had failed to refer me to Rape Crisis. I was catatonic for days after.
I took time off work, spaced out for hours staring at nothing. I was barely functioning. I began self-harming again, and had to go back on antidepressants. Then I heard back from my case officer.
She told me it was “a pain” my evidence had been lost. “It’s more than a pain,” I insisted. She laughed, and then she told me that my case “wasn’t a priority” as it was an historical case. She was a designated officer for sexual violence.
After this, I didn’t receive contact every 28 days. The IPCC made no record of my original complaint, so I appealed, and made another complaint. I was assured by officers that this was “unacceptable”, and I persisted. My rapist was invited for an interview with officers – on his terms. I eventually got support with Rape Crisis, the only redeeming factor of this whole process.
In May, I got a letter from the IPCC, stating that the police had made mistakes, and not kept up with their duties, but would not receive any formal punishment – no retraining nor a slap on the wrist. That night I took an overdose.
Since then, I have graduated, taken a new job, started volunteering in my local community, but every lazy email from the police just dragged me two steps back. I felt as though I was being dragged along with something I had no control over, something humiliating and degrading.
It turned out that for me, real justice was not letting myself be treated like that by the police, because I have grown to respect and love myself enough not to play into a system which treats rapists better than the children they abused. For me, this meant withdrawing from the criminal justice process, as it is clear that after all this time, sadly enough, police are still not able to support women who have been abused.
This article was amended on 12 October 2021 to remove the name of the author. They waived their right to anonymity at the time of publication, but subsequently reconsidered.