Councillor: Here goes… I’m a rape survivor and I know how badly we need more help

After last week's VAWG meeting, a Camden councillor contacted us to say she herself had been raped – and told how more support is needed as the trauma goes on

Tuesday, 30th November 2021

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LAST Monday’s themed full council debate was an incredibly important one, and I am proud that there is genuine cross-party commitment in Camden to take action to tackle violence against women and girls.

For me though, the debate was also harrowing, triggering, and very painful.

I spent the weekend questioning whether I should – or could – share my experiences in the chamber publicly, even at one point lining up another trusted councillor to read a speech out on my behalf.

It was important to me that a user’s perspective on our services was heard, as I suspected this might be missing from the debate. I don’t want to reveal whether I did or did not contribute to the debate on Monday evening, but I realised I wasn’t ready to waive my anonymity and speak out about what happened to me.

However, ultimately I have decided that I do need to tell my own story, but in my own way.

So here goes: I am a rape survivor.

It happened in May this year, just after lockdown restrictions were lifted.
I was at a friend’s house with a small group of men I had met before and trusted, and I didn’t think it odd that I was the only woman there.

One man took an interest in me and ended up trapping me in a room, at which point I started recording our interaction on my phone. He then raped me on a pool table.

I still listen to that recording sometimes to prove to myself that it happened as I remembered.

Society has a funny way of gaslighting women into believing that we are the problem, an inconvenience, that our experiences don’t matter, and I honestly believe that if I didn’t have that evidence I would have convinced myself it didn’t happen, that I exaggerated, that I was asking for it.

The rape itself was over quickly, probably only a matter of minutes, and after that I ran out of the room and out of the house.

I didn’t stop to find my shoes so I grabbed the nearest pair of (rather large, men’s) trainers by the door and just ran and ran.

Once I felt I was sufficiently far away from the house and knew I had not been chased, I dialled 999.

The operator was reassuring, and stayed on the phone until two police officers arrived in a car, probably only around 10 minutes later.

These officers were also reassuringly nice – one man driving and one woman already sat in the back, ready to ask me questions, take my statement, and give me tissues.

They drove me home and when I got there put my knickers into a sealed plastic bag, telling me that they would be kept by the police for the next seven years, whatever I decided to do.

The next morning I received a call from another officer asking me to go to somewhere called the Haven in Tottenham for a full body medical examination, which I was told would take five to six hours.

This was to collect evidence for a potential case. At that point it hadn’t even been 12 hours since the assault and I wasn’t ready to talk, let alone strip down naked in front of strangers and let them prod, poke, and photograph me.

Instead I spent the weekend in bed crying.

I was called several more times by the police over the next few days, asking me to visit the Haven for the examination.
I felt pressured and suffocated, and I never did go.

I still haven’t pressed charges either, though I do have another few years left to do this if I ever feel brave enough.

Please don’t think that I’m not overwhelmed by guilt that he might do this to someone else – because I really am.

The reality is I wasn’t mentally ready to tell my family what had happened – they still don’t know – nor to go through a court case that I believe would be stacked against me and would publicly question me about my previous sexual experiences, what I was wearing, whether I’d been drinking etc.

And besides which, this man is much more powerful and better connected in politics than I am, so I was – and am – scared to take action.

A week or so later the police referred me through to the London Survivors Gateway, and I had a couple of helpful phone calls with them to discuss the support that’s available to me. At that point, though, counselling services were full and not open for referrals.

In October, five months after the rape, I was contacted again to say that the North London Rape Crisis Centre, run by Solace, was open for referrals.

I’ve now had my initial assessment phone call but it may take another three to six months to receive the specialist counselling I need.

This means it could take up to a year from the rape for me to have my first counselling session.
I’m a strong and resilient woman and I’ll be okay to wait.

I wasn’t able to talk about it to anyone for the first few months anyway.

But others, especially those in relationships with their abusers, might not have the luxury of waiting.

I was struck during the debate that certain cabinet members made a joke about the “f word”; funding.

This is really not a laughing matter. If we want to protect women and girls from violence we need to ensure that the right support is properly in place to help them.
And the reality is that this, sadly, costs money.

Much of the debate was also spent praising the work of the Camden Safety Net, which sounds like a really beneficial service.
However, I wasn’t aware until Monday evening that it was something that could help me.

I’d therefore please urge the council to ensure that the police offer routes through to this service and not just GPs; if I don’t know how to access Camden’s specific help, I’m pretty sure most of our residents don’t either.


WHERE TO FIND HELP AND ADVICE

• If you or someone you know has been affected by issues raised in this story you can access support and advice from Camden Safety Net on 020 7974 2526, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm
or via email at Camdensafetynet@camden.gov.uk

• The North London Rape Crisis service can provide counselling and support to women and girls aged 14 years and over who have experienced any form of sexual violence. They can be contacted on 0808 802 5565, Monday to Friday, from 10am to 4pm, as well as an additional period on Tuesdays, from 6pm to 8pm, or by email at advice@solacewomensaid.org

• The Havens are specialist centres in London for people who have been raped or sexually assaulted. You can contact them 24 hours a day on 020 3299 6900.

As I reflect back on my decision to speak out, albeit anony­mous­ly, I think partly I want some sort of closure on the ordeal, and partly I want to share my story in case it can help someone else deal with their own experience. I know that what happened to me, devastatingly, is not unique.

So I want to say to all women and girls who have experienced sexual violence: you are brave, you are brilliant, you are not alone.

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