UK rape prosecution statistics make depressing reading, especially for the victims. News such as rape charges, prosecutions and convictions in England and Wales falling to their lowest levels in more than a decade, for example. Or the report showing that only 3% of rape claims in London result in convictions. Recently, even, prosecutors have been urged to adopt a more risk-averse approach to rape cases by taking a proportion of “weak cases” out of the system.
These are just a few examples of the kind of news that still gives me a full-body adrenaline surge, that drains the blood from my face and leaves me feeling ill. Of course, I am all for an increased media focus on the failure of our justice system to prosecute those who commit acts of sexual violence, but on a personal level, I find the constant reminder disturbing – if that’s the right word.
Last summer I made the decision to report a friend of over 10 years to the police after he raped me. There had been no witnesses; it had been at a party. A mutual friend who had been at the same party, and who I spoke with about my experience, told me not to go through with it, saying, “You’ll ruin his life.” After all, my rapist had (and still has) a good career.
The steps that followed were degrading and sad. I am incredibly fortunate that I was living with my mother at the time, who ferried me from doctor to swab to statement. She took me on long walks through the countryside with our dog, who didn’t understand why we were both crying.
The police were supportive and, I think, pleased that I was reporting the crime. The woman who took my statement said that I was remarkably calm. And the women who took samples of him from me and recorded the bruising to my skin were angry. I still didn’t know if I was doing the right thing, though.
I handed over my phone to the police without a second thought and settled back to wait for the year it would take for my case to be investigated and reviewed – and for the decision to be made as to whether it would make it to the courts. I began counselling. My counsellor told me that the reason I’d been raped was because I was a good girl, so I stopped seeing her. I broke up with my boyfriend. I spent long periods on the sofa.
I went back to life. I told no one. I gradually told people. I didn’t want to burden them with the knowledge of what had happened to me. I didn’t want people to see me as a victim. I still don’t really understand how the experience has affected me.
After a year of no contact save for the odd text saying nothing, the police got in touch – via text – to say that my case was being reviewed. Then I heard nothing, again. After yet another long wait, I contacted them to ask what was happening. When the woman who’d taken on my case eventually called me back, she told me what I already knew: that my case wouldn’t go to court because it was his word against mine – and he said he didn’t do it.
Regardless of my guilt at reporting an “old friend” for sexually assaulting me, what he did to me was illegal. There is no perfect rape victim and, as I lay on the sofa once again, blindsided by the brevity of the policewoman who had just dismissed a year of waiting in the dark, what really galled was how unfair it was. It was his life people were worried about being ruined by the prosecution – and his word that they took over mine.
The belief that a rape prosecution is more damaging to the perpetrator than the crime itself to the victim is one that we can’t seem to shake. Not even I had believed I truly had the right to report my attacker to the police, so when I heard the verdict, it felt inevitable.