Debate: Do Victims Of Sex Crimes Need Better Legal Rights?

Sexual violence has been a key topic in the news of late. With Operation Yewtree showing few signs of coming to an end, the emerging narratives of abuse of girls in care by groups of men in Rotherham, Oxford, and elsewhere, the currency of the issue means that those who experience sexual violence are increasingly likely to report it.

Nor is sexual violence a historical horror to be narrated as a thing of the past: estimates suggest that one in four women in the UK will experience sexual attack during their lifetime.

Britain quite rightly has a reputation as a country in which those accused of crime, any crime, will get a fair trial. It is proper that this continues; nobody wants to see the innocent wrongly imprisoned as this is of no benefit to victims. At the same time, those who cling to the status quo often express an opinion that women routinely make false allegations – and this is entirely untrue, and bolsters a fear of reporting which means that attacks often go unreported and therefore unpunished.

At the Feminism in London conference this October, we have a panel of legal experts looking at the apparent tug-of-war between the rights of a defendant in court and the rights of victims.

Last year the inquest into the tragic death of Frances Andrade, who died a week after giving evidence against a man who had abused her as a teenager, highlighted the current problems within the adversarial court system. Likewise, the apparent indifference to the Rotherham teenagers, who had reported that they were being trafficked for prostitution by their ‘boyfriends’ but had found indifference rather than support, suggests that there is huge scope for a sea change in the way in which victims of sexual violence are treated in the legal system. These are high profile cases but it is no exaggeration to say that every family in the UK will have at least one member affected by this – whether that is in a decision to, or not to, report an attack, or someone who has had to give evidence.

How can we ensure that victims’ rights are as carefully respected as those of defendants, without prejudicing the right to a fair trial?

Is it simply a matter of better witness care, allowing prosecutors to have regular contact? A defendant will meet their legal team on regular occasions, preparing their defence and being advised of how the procedure will work. Should a victim, likewise, be entitled to an advocate who will help them navigate the system? Would this be enough?

One suggestion has been to dispense with jury trials for certain types of case, a suggestion which has met with disapprobation from those who regard this as a slippery slope towards dispensing with jury trials altogether.

Another has been to look at increased use of “Achieving Best Evidence” interviews which are done on video rather than in person, and an increased use of special measures such as screens in court, as well as increased training of barristers and judges in dealing with sensitive issues and vulnerable witnesses.

Others have argued that all of this is window dressing and that there needs to be baseline legislative change.

The panel at Feminism in London will look at the “right to a fair trial” but from the victims’ perspective. The expert speakers will be Felicity Gerry QC, author of the Sexual Offences Handbook, Angela Rafferty QC, the lead prosecutor in the Peterborough child exploitation ring case heard at Old Bailey, and Debaleena Dasgupta, the solicitor who acted for a number of the women failed by Operation Sapphire.

It promises to be a fascinating discussion and audience members will be encouraged to participate.

The conference is 24-25 October 2015 and tickets as well as details of all of the panels are available at www.feminisminlondon.co.uk.

Image credit: Flickr / Eric The Fish

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Dear Yahoo: Please Let Revenge Porn Victims Make Link Deletion Requests

Yahoo is the only major search engine that doesn’t allow victims to report revenge porn.

We want to change that.

Last week, we tweeted Yahoo asking them let victims of revenge porn make link deletion requests.

What is revenge porn?

Revenge porn is the practice of posting intimate photos or videos of someone online without their consent.

It is usually done by an ex-partner, usually as “revenge” for the victim breaking up with them.

Pure and simple, it is bullying. It is vicious – designed to humiliate and degrade the victim. It can ruin lives.

These photos and videos were only ever intended to be seen by one person, the recipient. For the recipient to then spread this content online is a massive breach of trust.

What can a victim of revenge porn to do get the images or videos taken down?

If a person has been a victim of revenge porn, they can ask the website hosting the material to take it down.

However, if the website refuses or simply doesn’t respond, there is another way to reduce the accessibility of the images: asking search engines to remove links to the material from their search results.

This doesn’t get delete the content from the internet, but it does get rid of the links through which the majority of people will find the content. In short, it makes the content invisible.

Once a search engine has removed links to the material, a person will only be able to access it if they know the exact URL of the webpage the material is on.

Earlier this year, Google released a form allowing victims to report links containing revenge porn. Once the victim had filled out the form, Google would receive it and remove these links from their search results.

Shortly afterwards, Microsoft released their own form, also allowing victims to report links containing revenge porn. Once the victim had filled out the form, Microsoft would receive it and remove the links from Bing, OneDrive and Xbox Live.

However, Yahoo does not currently have a method of allowing victims to report links containing revenge porn.

Why isn’t Yahoo helping victims of revenge porn?

Yahoo is the only major search engine that doesn’t allow victims to report revenge porn.

It’s not clear why they haven’t followed Google and Microsoft in creating a form for victims to report links to revenge porn, but we can only assume it currently isn’t a priority for the company. Maybe they will introduce a form or other method of reporting links at some point in the future, but for now they have not given any indication it will happen any time soon.

But for victims, time is of the essence. The longer intimate photos and videos are available online, the more people will see and share them, and the greater psychological damage the victim will suffer.

It is imperative for victims that they are able to report links quickly and easily.

That is why we have launched this campaign to ask Yahoo to introduce a method of reporting for revenge porn victims, like Google and Bing have done. To empower victims and provide them with an easy way to report images and videos that have been put online without their consent.

We need your help

Victims2Survivors UK can only make so much noise. In order to get Yahoo’s attention, we need you to join us in our campaign.

We need you to re-tweet our plea to Yahoo.

We need you to inform your contacts in the media/news industry, if you have any, about this campaign.

If you know someone who actually works for Yahoo, we need you let them know that victims need a way to tell them about links to revenge porn.

Please help us to empower victims and let them take back their dignity.

Video: Explaining Consent – It’s As Simple As Making A Cup Of Tea

Blue Seat Studios have created a nifty short video explaining consent.

The twist? It’s done by comparing sex to making a cup of tea.

It sounds odd, but it works!

This video contains no swear words and is suitable to be watched by children for sex and consent education purposes.

Transcript

If you’re still struggling with consent, just imagine that instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea.

You say, “Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” And they go, “Oh my God, I would love a cup of tea, thank you!” Then you know they want a cup of tea.

If you say, “Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” And they’re like, “Hmm, I’m not really sure…” Then you could make them a cup of tea, or not, but be aware they might not drink it. And if they don’t drink it, then (and this is the important part) don’t make them drink it. Just because you made it, doesn’t mean that you are entitled to watch them drink it.

And if they say, “No, thank you,” then don’t make them tea. At all. Just don’t make them tea. Don’t make them drink tea. Don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea. They just don’t want tea, OK?

They might say, “Yes, please, that’s kind of you.” And then when the tea arrives, they actually don’t want the tea at all. Sure, that’s kind of annoying as you’ve gone to all the effort of making the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea. They did want tea, now they don’t. Some people change their mind in the time it takes to boil the kettle, brew the tea and add the milk, and it’s OK for people to change their mind. And you are still not entitled to watch them drink it.

And if they’re unconscious, don’t make them tea. Unconscious people don’t want tea. And they can’t answer the question: “Do you want tea?” because they’re unconscious.

OK, so maybe they were conscious when you asked them if they wanted tea, and they said, “Yes!”, but in the time it took you to boil the kettle, brew the tea and add the milk, they’re now unconscious. You should just put the tea down, make sure the unconscious person is safe, and this is the important part again don’t make them drink the tea. They said “yes” then, sure, but unconscious people don’t want tea.

If someone said “yes” to tea, started drinking it, and then passed out before they’d finished it, don’t keep on pouring it down their throat. Take the tea away, make sure they’re safe, because unconscious people don’t want tea, trust me on this.

If someone said “yes” to tea around your house last Saturday, that doesn’t mean they want you to make them tea all the time. They don’t want you to come around to their place unexpectedly and make them tea and force them to drink it saying, “But you wanted tea last week!” Or to wake up to find you pouring tea down their throat saying, “But you wanted tea last night!”

If you can understand how completely ludicrous it is to force people to have tea when they don’t want tea, and you’re able to understand when people don’t want tea, then how hard is it to understand it when it comes to sex?

Whether it’s tea or sex, consent is everything.

12 Brave Rape Victims Reveal Their Coping Strategies

12-brave-rape-victim-coping-strategies

We recently asked on our Facebook page for survivors of rape and sexual assault to share their coping strategies.

We had 12 amazing responses.

Being the victim of a sex crime is something that no one should ever have to go through. Unfortunately, many do.

If you’re struggling to cope, remember that support is available. And remember that these 12 people once felt exactly like you – and managed to survive. They are super-heroes. And you can be too.

Here are their coping strategies.

Carol: Running and trying new experiences

“I started running. I dove headfirst into new experiences and meeting new people. I spent time carefully tailoring myself, my appearance, my outward image. I delved deep within myself and pursued the things that allowed me to be and embrace and celebrate who I wanted to be, who I knew I still was – despite my fears that my identity had been eroded by trauma. I kept myself so busy that I didn’t have time to fixate on the damage done. And I grew. Each new experience, each celebration of self helped me pick up more and more pieces, until I had gathered more substance than there had been initially and I was overflowing with life. All those joyous pieces gathered to me help me when the darkness looms.”

Suze: Walking and meditation

“After trying to deny what had happened to me and using alcohol to numb me, I realised I would have to tackle the fact that I was raped head-on. I walked out my anger and spent as much time as I could in nature. I meditated and came to realise that being raped was something that happened to me. It was not a mark on my soul. It was not an indelible marker on my head. It was not who I am. Understanding this allowed me to release myself from the burden of shame and guilt that I had been carrying as I felt inexplicably responsible. I am still healing, but I am healing.”

Fiona: Talking and therapy

“I contacted my local Rape Crisis centre. Just having someone to talk to, who understands what you’re going through, without being judged, let it all out to start the healing process. I also asked my doctor to refer me to a psychologist. This can take a few months depending on where you live. You have to be ready to do this or it won’t help. Psychological therapies offer several coping strategies. Your psychologist will help you explore ways to find what suits you best. Be honest with yourself and your psychologist. If you ever get the opportunity to attend psychodrama, grab it with both hands! You also need a support network to help get you through each day at a time. Opening up to psychology sessions makes it all so raw. Be prepared for flash backs, panic attacks etc. It’s not easy but bear with it because you are worth it. I wouldn’t be here today without the love and support from my family and both my counsellors. Not forgetting all the hard work I put into putting one foot in front of the other. Empower yourself to start the journey to become a survivor.”

Woodstock: Learning self-awareness

“I learned to listen to my body. This was the best coping mechanism I have discovered. I developed PTSD after my experience, and when I started listening to my body… well, it hasn’t been an easy road to recover, of course, but it has been a lot easier than if I had fought against what was inside of me. Instead, I now consistently check in with my body – “What am I feeling?” and “What do I need/want here?” I gave it a voice when it was crying out to be heard. I also let the people in my life know about what was going on, and made no apologies for however I would work to recover. The ones who love you are the ones who stand by you through it all. Keep them, let go of the rest. You need to support yourself and also have a positive support team.”

Francesca: Understanding my feelings, seeing beauty in everything, living a simple life

“I learned to communicate about what I was feeling. I learned to put names and definitions to my emotions. I learned to read beneath the reaction (e.g. Anger is a secondary emotion. Why am I angry? What else am I feeling? Am I afraid? Hurt? ) and react accordingly. And I learned to see peace and beauty in everything – from the light shining through the trees to two people interacting – and focus on how beautiful life can be. Most importantly, I acknowledged that it was more important for me to live a simple lifestyle that makes me happy, mostly engaging only with people that I trust and respect, and taking my time to finish school and find a part for myself. I am 22 now, 11 years have passed on this journey. At the time, I had no way to cope or comprehend. Now, I can wake up and say that I like my life and want to live it.”

Vicky: Having a goal and avoiding bitterness

“I tried a lot of different things, some adaptive, some hurtful to myself. But what I found was that no matter what, you need a goal to keep your recovery and rebuilding what was taken from you on track. Mine was to never become hard. I had been taken advantage of and used, and I could have used that to become bitter and hateful and distrusting, but that isn’t a coping strategy that is good for you deep down. I always kept in mind “Being both soft and strong is a skill very few have mastered”, and that I wanted to be one of those people. Stay strong, but stay soft. What happened was nothing to do with you, and as long as you remember that you are more, and you can do more, than what happened in your past, then you’ll get there in the end.”

Christi: Raising awareness of sexual/domestic violence

“I did everything and anything I could to fight back, and still do to this day. Any chance I am given, I talk about what happened to me so that other people know the signs of an abuser, and how to stop domestic violence that is happening in front of their eyes.”

Anonymous: Running and keeping busy

“I run a lot, because I find that it allows me a lot of blank head space. I also have found that work is a powerful tool. I find that I simply don’t have time to get upset because I always have something else to do.”

Lily: Writing

“I started writing an anonymous blog about how I was feeling. It hurt sometimes, but ultimately it helped a huge amount to write everything down and get it out of my system. It also helped me to make sense of my thoughts. I am healed now, and I know I couldn’t have done it without the therapeutic act of pouring out my soul onto the page.”

Michaela: Exercise

“I took up the gym. Exercise helps me manage my depression, my insomnia and my intense emotions. It helps me feel strong and helps me realise even though my back is damaged due to abuse I’m still fit, strong and able. I have lost weight which has improved my self-esteem. I slowly started to trust people and having a few understanding friends has broken the isolation. I also find walking my dogs a pleasure and they offer me the unconditional love I lost out on as a child. Pets, I find, are very healing.”

Rebecca: Talking and group therapy

“A regular therapist and going to groups is really important for me. When we share experiences it feels like I’m not facing everything alone, that it isn’t just me.”

Jonathan: Painting

“Painting allowed me to express myself and pour out my grief, anger, confusion and hurt. With each brush-stroke, I feel calmer. Every time I mark that canvas, I am less broken inside – like I am becoming whole, like I am evolving from a victim to a survivor.”

Do you have your own coping strategies you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below.

Inspirational Rape Survivors Give Advice To Other Victims

“Rape and sexual assault can be truly devastating and life-changing events.

But, many victims do find ways to heal from the trauma and become survivors.

If you’re a survivor, we want you to help us help victims by telling us how you made the transition from victim to survivor. It may be useful to think about it this way: What advice would you give to your younger self, if you could back in time? What do you wish had been said to you?”

Towards the end of January, we posted the above message on our Facebook page, asking survivors of sexual violence what advice they would like to give to other victims.

We had some truly remarkable and inspirational replies.

If you’re a victim of sexual violence, we hope you find their advice useful.

However isolated you may feel, please remember that you are not alone, and that things can get better – the brave rape and sexual assault survivors who answered us are proof of that.

They healed, they went from being victims to being survivors – and you can too.

Tamsyn’s advice:There is no right or wrong way to deal with this. Lots of people never want to talk about it, and lots of people find talking helps. Don’t ever listen to anyone who says you’re handling it wrong, or that your choice to talk or not to talk about it somehow minimises your experience.

Your feelings are valid and can fuel you to do amazing things, but remember to take care of yourself. Try to eat and sleep. It’s easy to overlook these things when dealing with trauma.

Find what works for you. For some people, carrying on as normal is enough. Others might need some sort of outlet, maybe writing or another hobby.

I personally found that I had a lot of problems (especially immediately after my attack) with really bad muscle tension all the time, to the point where I was constantly in pain with cramps, etc, and I couldn’t sleep and had to be prescribed sleeping pills. Try to find a way to help yourself relax. Hot baths are good. Also, I have a friend who has a box full of things that make her feel better. In it, she has pictures of pretty landscapes, fabrics that she likes the feel of, etc. Some people also get a lot from meditation. Find what works for you, and do it as much as you need to. If it feels like nothing is working, try not to get frustrated and blame yourself. It’s okay to be tense and anxious and on-guard. It’s okay to not be able to relax.

Finally, remember that you’re not defined by your trauma. You’re not broken, not unloveable, not damaged goods. You are whole. You are just a human being that a really awful thing happened to, and it sucks, and it might affect you for a really long time. But it’s not going to break you, because you’re not made of glass or crystal. You’re not going to shatter. Eventually you’ll heal and flourish, and you’ll start to feel like yourself again.

In the meantime, don’t give up hope.

Kirstein’s advice: Don’t be afraid to admit that you hurt and ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you stronger. And when you have recovered enough to tell your story (NOT before), don’t be ashamed to tell it. You have no idea how many victims you will help, and how many potential rapes you might prevent just by making someone think and understand and learn from what you have been through. You are amazing to have survived. Tell yourself that every day. And remember that at least 1 in 10 of us have experienced it, probably more. So if you DO speak up, you will never, ever be alone. And, if you can accept them, *hugs*.

Emily’s advice: It’s really difficult to come to terms with what’s happened to you, it feels impossible. I felt like I just wanted to go back to the person before, who was innocent and happier. It took me a long time to realise that I couldn’t do that. You are no longer that person, it takes time to grieve that. I know that I am still angry, furious with myself, him and everything else. But it does get easier, it does become the past, it does get better. It takes time and a lot of work you should never have to do. You will discover your worth is more than what happened to you. You are incredible. You can survive this.

Rachel’s advice:Tell someone. However scary it is, that’s nothing compared to how scary it can be to go through something like this alone. Tell someone, because to have someone look you in the eyes and tell you that what happened to you was cruel and that nobody deserves that; that can be worth more than you think.

Mandy’s advice:Believe in yourself and your own strength. You will have good days and bad ones and that is OK, but the important thing to remember is this: if you give in to the fear, give in to all the voices telling you that it was your fault, that you didn’t fight hard enough – if you give in to those voices, then the rapist wins… The biggest way to make him fail, to let him know that he did not accomplish what he set out to do, is to not let him win. If you don’t break, if this doesn’t break you, then you come out of the other side a better, stronger person than before and he is left an impotent loser.

Charlotte’s advice:Don’t go over and over it, because eventually you may doubt it was rape. The doubt wasn’t put there by you. Think about what you would say if it was somebody else, and they told you they didn’t give consent.

Chrissy’s advice:Don’t blame yourself. Don’t let guilt eat away at you. You don’t deserve to punish yourself. Don’t replace the emotional pain for physical pain. Be kind to yourself. Remember that not everyone is out to hurt you. It’s a grieving process, and with time and support, you can move forward.”

Kate’s advice:Never blame yourself. No matter what people say when they find out what happened, remember that without consent what happened to you was rape/sexual assault.

Michaela’s advice:Whether you were a man or woman, boy or girl, when you were raped it was never your fault. The only person who is responsible for the rape is the rapist and this rapist can be a man or a woman. So if you were raped by a woman and you are left confused, forget the legal definition of rape* which is too restrictive and know that forced sex is rape and is wrong. You deserve to name your experience. You will recover. You will move on. Things will get easier and you are strong, brave and courageous when you speak out and receive support, and just as strong, brave and courageous if you don’t speak out. You don’t need to be alone as there are people out there who will understand you and walk the path of recovery with you.

*Note: Rape is legally defined as the non-consensual insertion of the defendant’s penis into the victim’s vagina, anus or mouth. Therefore, only men can commit the legal crime of rape. For more information on the law on rape, click here.

Stephanie’s advice: “Know that your rape doesn’t define who you are as a person. You aren’t less whole, you don’t have anything missing. It’s a trauma that you experienced; it doesn’t have to become your identity.”

Tracy’s advice:Always remember you are a SURVIVOR. You are no longer a victim. Replace the word “victim” with “survivor”. It was not your fault. The strongest thing you did was survive. Always a survivor.”

For information about the help and support available to victims of rape and sexual assault, please visit our Resources For Victims page.

Image credit: Flickr / jenosaur

Survivors’ Stories: How My Daughter’s Rape Made Me Realise Victims Need Better Legal Protection

Well, I am sitting here by my Christmas tree as it is that time of year again – the lights are twinkling, the baubles are glittering and I feel hopeful.

It was very different last year. Last year, I looked at my tree and only had feelings of dread.

Christmas signified a countdown. It was the last holiday we would get to spend together as a family before the trial. We had nothing to look forward to apart from that hell being over.

My daughter was suffering, she was broken. As a mum, all you want to do is make your child happy. She was 14 years old at that point but had already been through far too much…

In May 2013, a police officer knocked on my door and asked to talk to me about my daughter.

My daughter was a bright, happy, clever child with excellent school reports and had never been in any sort of trouble, but for the last few weeks she had been withdrawn, grumpy and emotional. I had asked her on several occasions what was wrong but got snapped at and dismissed. I knew something was wrong. It’s hard to be a 13-year-old, you can easily put things down to teenage angst – but I felt it was more than that, I just didn’t know what.

But nothing could prepare me for what the police officer told me. She started off by asking a few questions: How is your daughter? Do you know your daughter’s friend Child B? Is Child B honest and trustworthy?

I replied that I had always found both of them to be honest and trustworthy.

The officer then asked me: Do you know if your daughter has a boyfriend? Then she named him. “No,” I replied – I had no idea. All sorts of things were running through my head at this point, it was just spinning. What on earth did this police officer want?

She then told me that Child B had reported a sexual relationship between my 13-year-old daughter and the accused.

That’s when my stomach fell through the floor.

The police officer carried on and told me that the man involved was 23 years old, but that it wasn’t as bad as it sounds as he only had a mental age of 12. Not as bad as it sounds?! This is an adult man! How an earth did he get contact with my child in the first place? I am a fussy mum. I don’t just let my child go anywhere. I have always said that if she wants to go out and socialise with her friends then it had to be a constructive activity such as swimming or skating – not just wondering around the streets. She always had to be in by 7pm but was allowed to have her friends round at our house or be round at there’s. I just couldn’t understand how this could have happened.

The police officer explained to me that she met him at a local charity centre. She used to go and help out  and play a game called yugioh on a Saturday. The centre advertised itself under a very well-known and well-respected charity’s name, a name that you wouldn’t associate with child abuse. You would naturally assume your child would be safe there as its main goal is to help vulnerable people.

My daughter was very trusting, kind and caring; a really beautiful soul. Charity work was something she had always taken part in. To her, it was just a natural thing to do, to help people less fortunate than herself.

But this man had struck up a friendship with her. He was a member of staff at the centre. She was told that he had some difficulties but was very clever in some areas. Therefore, she perceived him to be someone she could trust and someone she should be nice to.

He added her as a friend on a social networking site and began talking to her, paying her lots of compliments and making her feel special. He also started buying her gifts.

He told her not to tell me about it as I would say he was a paedophile and stop him from seeing her.

At the first opportunity he had to be alone with her, my daughter says he raped her.

I won’t go into details about the actual incident.

The police officer explained that my child would have to do a video witness statement and left.

At this point, it felt like time had stopped. What are you supposed to do next? They leave and you’re left with nothing. I gave my little girl a massive hug and told her she wasn’t in any trouble, that none of it was her fault, to just tell the truth. I told her that she would always have my support, no matter what.

The relief was written all over her tear-stained face. It wasn’t simply relief over my reaction but relief that this was out in the open. She told me that she didn’t want to see this man anymore but didn’t know how to tell him. She was scared. She couldn’t cope with the secret anymore, it was eating her up inside, but he had put so much pressure on her not to tell. This man had been telling her how beautiful she was and how much he loved her in a barrage of messages, and had then told her to delete the messages, to keep their secret. She had obeyed.

Things kept getting worse. We had no victim support, just one police officer dealing with everything. My daughter was struggling with what had happened. I asked for counselling for her. The investigation didn’t seem to be progressing – a lot of evidence wasn’t being collected, including witness statements, and the police were putting pressure on me to drop the case.

I was then told a story by the police officer about a young underage girl who had made allegations about a taxi driver. In the policewoman’s opinion, the girl entrapped the taxi driver into having sex with her and the taxi driver was a victim of the young girl’s. The officer felt that it was all the girl’s fault. According to the police officer, the poor taxi driver ended up being convicted and spending years in prison and the young girl was free to move on to her next victim.

The policewoman then asked me how I would feel if that was my son? My reaction was very quick: “That is not my daughter” and I asked her what she was trying to imply. She said: “Oh, I know that, but how would you feel if you were the accused’s mum? I know how I would feel if that was my son”.

That wasn’t the only thing she said which I viewed as inappropriate. She told my now-suicidal daughter: “You weren’t groomed, you weren’t raped, you consented and I think [the accused] really loved you.”

I felt we had been abandoned into the arms of a biased police officer and that we had no-one helping us or looking at what my daughter really needed. One of those needs was counselling, she was in desperate need of it. It was like walking through a minefield, never knowing when the next one would go off.

18 months later and still the only counselling she has received has been with the school counsellor. No disrespect to her but my daughter needs a professional rape counsellor.

Thankfully, we then met a good local team called Make A Change. They have helped us a lot but we had no access to them until my daughter was in a state of crisis.

It is hard to explain exactly how I felt during this time because you feel everything. Every day was a roller coaster of emotions, but as a mum you don’t have the privilege of considering your own emotions. You have to find that inner strength and resilience because you are your child’s foundation, you have to be their centre, their strength, their advocate.

To anyone reading this, if you’re going through something similar, I would say that things do eventually get better. You learn to cope, become strong and, with baby steps, start to heal.

We didn’t get the result we wanted in court – the man walked free. But I am so glad we saw it through and never dropped the case.

I showed my child that I believed in her, that I was steadfast in my support, that none of it was her fault. It so easy for people to sweep these things under the carpet, to not talk about them, and to think that if you don’t talk then maybe they will all go away.

But talking about it helps. I have found this reservoir of strength that I never knew I had. Why should I keep quiet? My daughter has done nothing wrong and the best way to show her that is to speak out and show her that she has nothing to be ashamed of. As a 13-year-old, you don’t have the skills to deal with adult situations. That is why the legal age of consent is 16 – it is there to protect children.

The work that the Make A Change team have done has helped make my child less vulnerable. They have taught her how to deal with adult situations, how to understand sexual body language and how to spot manipulative behaviour.

A lot of people would say that this is the job of a parent. But I would say to them: me and my daughter had a good relationship, we could and did talk openly about sex.

Teenage children are naïve, they are just discovering sexual feelings, their bodies are being bombarded with hormones – being showered with attention and gifts must seem exciting, it gives them a rush. That rush hides the reality and the dangers around them. That is how these predators work: using flattery, along with threats and intimidation, they exert control over their victim.

I am no expert. I’m just a mum trying my best to prevent future victims from being treated the way we were. Some may say we should be working to prevent victims being created in the first place but there’s an epidemic of sexual predators which so far no one has come up with a vaccine for; further victims are unfortunately inevitable. To join me in my fight, please sign my petition for a law to protect the rights of victims: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/victims-law

 

The Emotional Impact of Sexual Assault and Rape

When a victim is raped or sexually assaulted, there is one particularly personal topic that their friends and family will want to understand, and that the victim may well be confused about themselves: their emotional and psychological reactions.

Rape and sexual assault can trigger a rollercoaster of emotions.

At the time of the violation itself, victims may feel immense fear, horror and shock. They may not be able to believe what is happening to them – especially if the perpetrator is someone they trusted, as is usually the case. If they had trusted the person, they are likely to feel utterly betrayed. Whether they knew the perpetrator or not, they are likely to feel devastated – or conversely they may feel totally numb.

These are all common initial reactions.

But it is important for victims’ loved ones to understand that even once the assault is over and the immediate physical danger passed, the victim is likely to continue suffering. They will still need your support, and the first step to giving that support is to try to understand what the victim may be feeling – this article will hopefully help with that.

If you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, please know that there is no right or wrong way to feel – everyone’s experiences and reactions are unique. Whether you feel completely overwhelmed with emotion or totally numb, whether you can relate to the emotions I’m going to describe or not – everything you feel, whatever that may be, is totally justified and completely normal. Sexual violence is a terrible thing, and everyone reacts in their own way. Please believe that although what you feel is unique to you, you are not alone.

Fear

Fear is often one of the dominant emotions following an ordeal or rape or sexual assault. At the time of the event itself victims often feel extremely frightened by what is happening, and may fear “how far” the perpetrator will go. Afterwards, when they think back to the assault and remember it, they are likely to feel the same sense of fear – as if they are reliving it.

This leads onto my next point – victims’ fear of the court process. If a victim bravely decides to report the crime to the police, they will do so in the knowledge that they are likely to be ruthlessly cross-examined by the defence and forced to relive the assault all over again. It is common knowledge that defence barristers are merciless and try every trick in the book to try to break victims, to discredit them, to try to trick juries into thinking that the victim is lying – it’s nothing personal; it’s their job. There has been a recent high-profile case of a sexual abuse victim being so horrifically cross-examined that they committed suicide. Victims may very validly fear that the trial itself will be as traumatic, if not more so, than the initial attack.

Another massive fear that victims have is of not being believed, whether that’s by the police, the jury, or their friends – particularly if they share any friends with their abuser. The thought of not only being sexually assaulted, but of also losing friends if they choose to believe the perpetrator over them, is absolutely devastating and mortifying for victims.

Another, much darker fear that victims may have is a fear that the perpetrator will do it again – whether to them or someone else.

A final fear that any victim reporting the crime to the police will have is that the perpetrator will somehow get away with it – that they will be found not guilty or given a mere slap on the wrist for their actions. Such a miscarriage of justice is something that many victims cannot even bear to think about.

Shock

Victims will typically be completely shocked and horrified by what has happened to them. Most perpetrators of sexual violence are known to and trusted by the victim – they are people such as partners, friends and family members. They are “nice” people who we do not expect to do such a terrible thing.

Anger

Anger is an emotion that victims often encounter after they have recovered from the initial fear and shock of what happened to them. It is normal for victims to feel incredibly angry about what their abuser did to them. Victims of sexual violence were, by definition, not consenting – the perpetrator had no right to touch them so intimately, so completely against their will. It is only natural that victims are often furious with their abuser for disregarding their lack of consent; for taking away their dignity and their fundamental right to control what happens to their body.

Perpetrators often try to justify why they committed the rape or sexual assault. This is infuriating – there is no justification for rape or sexual assault. Nothing ever makes it OK. Perpetrators of single instances of sexual violence may simply brush it off as a one-off mistake that shouldn’t count against them. Such arrogance and self-delusion with regards to their own virtuousness will obviously make victims angrier still.

Furthermore, victims may feel angry with themselves if they have not yet reported the incident to the police. They may feel that they are letting their abuser “get away with it” – it is often when this anger grows stronger than their fear that they will finally manage to report the incident.

And finally, for those victims who have not felt able to report the crime to the police, or whose abusers have been found “not guilty” by a jury, there is of course the anger that their abuser gets to live a normal, free life, while in contrast the victim must live every day with the emotional and psychological consequences of what happened to them.

Guilt

This ties in with the haunting fear that the perpetrator may go on to abuse someone else. If this were to happen, the victim may feel intense guilt for not reporting their abuser to the police and “preventing” the later attack. Such guilt is, however, misplaced – the perpetrator alone is responsible for their actions.

Victims may also feel guilty if they have not told certain people what they are going through. Every time they pretend that everything is OK, they may feel like they are lying by omission.

Sadness

Usually, the abuser is someone close to the victim. They may be a spouse, partner, friend, or family member. The victim may have had a lot of good memories with the perpetrator, but these will now be forever tarnished and overshadowed by what the perpetrator did to the victim. It can be a very sad experience to lose someone who was once so close, once such a good friend. In such cases, although the victim may want to pursue justice through the courts, this will likely bring them closure and relief only, not happiness.

Humiliation and embarrassment

Rape and sexual assault are sexual crimes, so by their very nature they are humiliating and embarrassing to discuss with others. It may seem petty to worry about this, but many victims will feel uncomfortable about having to describe the intimate details of what happened to them to the police and in the courtroom.

Shame

Unfortunately there is a huge shame aspect to being a victim of sexual assault or rape. Even though it is never the victim’s fault, there is still this cloud of shame that hangs collectively over their heads – like embarrassment mixed with self-loathing. It is a result of rape culture, and it is a dreadful feeling to have to feel on top of everything else. Victims must remind themselves that they have nothing to be ashamed of. However, although it can be easy to believe this on a cognitive level, on an emotional level it can still occasionally creep in, insidious.

If you’ve been the victim of sexual assault or rape and you feel ashamed, please know that none of this is your fault – you are absolutely not to blame. Your attacker alone is responsible for their actions.

Cowardice

Victims may sometimes feel like they are a coward if they have not yet having had the confidence to report the crime to the police. It’s an awful feeling and is deeply mixed in with the shame mentioned above. Victims may hate themselves sometimes for this feeling of perceived weakness. It is important to remember that reporting a crime and taking it through the criminal justice system is a legitimately frightening prospect. If you’re a victim who has not yet plucked up the courage to report the incident to the police, you are not weak.

Worthlessness

If the victim clearly communicated their lack of consent, for example if they verbally said “no” multiple times, or turned away, or tried to escape, but the perpetrator continued regardless, this can lead to feelings of severe worthlessness in the victim.

Why? Because if the victim made it so abundantly clear that they weren’t consenting, then the perpetrator must have truly thought nothing of the victim to completely ignore them.

Bitterness

It is natural to feel incredibly bitter about this whole situation. The feeling of “Why did it have to happen to me?” is a powerful one. It is never the victim’s fault. No one ever deserves it. It is not fair.

Panic

Victims can sometimes be gripped with a strong sense of panic when they remember what happened to them, or if certain memories are triggered. Triggers can include someone unexpectedly mentioning the abuser’s name or saying something that reminds the victim of them.

Nightmares

Nightmares featuring the assault itself, or the abuser, or friends’ disbelieving reactions, or the court process, are all common. Persistent nightmares may be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or another disorder. If you’re worried, you should see your GP.