Warning: This article contains descriptions of traumatic events, including rape, which some readers might find upsetting
Last year I went on a date with a guy who I had met a few times before. It nearly didn't happen as I was on my period and feeling unwell with cramps. But he reassured me by text that he wasn't interested in sex and just wanted to take me out, so I went.
Up until that point, he was funny and charming. I trusted him. Sadly, that night turned into the worst of my entire life. In my own bedroom, he pulled out my tampon and raped me. Hours later, my body was still in pain from shock. I couldn’t talk without bursting into tears, so I reported what had happened to the police.
I, like so many women, knew reporting immediately gave me the best chance of getting any justice, because that’s what we’re told. We know that we shouldn’t wash ourselves or even go to the toilet and that we should report an assault as soon as possible.
That day could not have been harder. I sat in a room with male police officers for hours on end while they took every bit of DNA evidence you can imagine. It was 13 hours before I was allowed to see any family or friends. I remember at the end of the evening, when everything was done, a police officer asked if there was anything they could get for me, I replied with tears falling down my face, "I just need a hug". As up until that point no one was allowed to touch me. It was so isolating.
When everything was done, a police officer asked if there was anything they could get for me, I replied with tears falling down my face, 'I just need a hug'.
In the months to follow, things got worse. I was really struggling with my mental health. Once you report a sexual assault, your local Rape Crisis centre gets in touch and you are put on a waiting list for therapy. I remember ringing and trying to chase up. I was told that because my case was still ongoing, the therapy I was entitled to was what’s known as "pretrial therapy". I had heard this phrase before but I hadn't really stopped to think about what it meant.
Pretrial therapy is literally described as "limited counselling". You are not allowed to talk about the incident or anything in your police notes. The reason for this is that if your case goes to court, the defence can request your counselling notes and they can be used against you.
I was so confused when I found this out. Why was I being told I couldn't have therapy? Why, after I had been assaulted, was I only being offered pretrial counselling by rape crisis centres who were supposed to be there to help and support me?
I started looking into the issue and found this was in the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) guidance notes. The rape crisis centres who work so hard were just trying to protect me. To stop me getting help that, in the end, could harm me further.
This all felt so wrong to me. Because I had reported what had happened to me, I was not allowed proper mental health support. I have always been someone who speaks up about injustice, this time it was happening to me. So I decided to take action.
I want to change the law so anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault or rape can get the proper therapy they deserve. That’s why I’m calling on parliament to act.
I have started the petition 'Stop Counselling Notes Of Rape Survivors Being Used In Court'. As soon as I shared it online it became bigger than me. Within hours, I realised how many people this affected. I have received so many messages from others with similar stories. I have been saddened to hear from women who managed to get therapy, only to have their notes requested for court. I have also been heartbroken to hear from those who stopped having therapy to avoid that exact situation.
Just last week the CPS released data showing rape conviction rates are now at the lowest in a decade. This is even more heartbreaking, yet at the same time I am not surprised. I was constantly told by police my case was 'positive', meaning there was a good chance it would go to court. But then the CPS dropped my case.
No one disputed my version of events about what happened that night in my rented room. But despite doing everything right, reporting the incident and then handing my phone over for months, having texts that said I didn’t want to have sex and him agreeing analysed, I knew it was my character that would be criticised and scrutinised.
Since then, I have spent what feels like way too long lying in the bath. I have cried, felt devastated and tried to reconcile myself with the fact that the person who did this to me and derailed my life has got away with it.
I have to do something. That’s why I’ve started the petition. Other survivors have tried before me but, unfortunately, they didn’t gain enough signatures. I need 10,000 signatures to get a response from the government. Twenty percent of women in this country have experienced some form of sexual assault since the age of 16. This affects way more people than you realise.