Notes from a Survivor: III

In Westminster, there is a huge social price that is paid by those who come forward to report that they have been bullied, harassed or sexually abused by someone ‘in the bubble’. That the atmosphere is toxic, has been known for years. A fear of social ostracisation was one of the many interconnected factors that contributed to the tragic 2015 suicide, of Elliott Johnson, a Tory activist I knew and socialised with during my time at the University of Nottingham. There is no doubt that Elliott paid the ultimate, tragic price. The Westminster bubble with its moral laxity, is filled with egocentric and amoral individuals unable to see the devastating impact that their behaviour has upon other human beings. This environment clearly consumed Elliott; yet, behind his story there are countless other accounts of tremendous human suffering, primarily involving young people. Mine is one of them.

The news of my attacker’s arrest came out incredibly quickly. I still have no idea how it managed to circulate as swiftly as it did, but I was receiving messages from people I knew, telling me about it, only a few days after the arrest was made. Unfortunately, the gossip started circulating almost immediately in the circles I’d once inhabited. Phone calls from journalists I knew then started coming in. I was so distressed by the idea that people would discuss or use something so awful, as if it was a form of entertainment, that I begged the journalists who were contacting me not to publish the story. They did anyway.

I was told later, by my SOIT (Sexual Offences Officer) that it is standard practice for the Metropolitan Police, in sexual offence cases, not to inform the victim that an arrest has been made, particularly in cases where the perpetrator and the victim have had some sort of relationship. This is so that the victim can provide the best quality evidence and does not become distressed at the news of the arrest. I only heard of his arrest – which occurred in the evening of the day I reported – after I had given my ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) interview, the day after my attack.

I can understand this, because upon hearing the news, I became hysterical and inconsolable. I began screaming my rapist’s name, asking the same questions over and over: ‘How could he do that to me? Why did he hurt me?’. It was a visceral reaction of pure pain and as if, until that point I hadn’t truly registered the seriousness of what had occurred. From the time of the report, right through the forensic examination and ABE interview, I remember feeling like I was completely detached from myself. It was like I was watching myself from afar. More importantly, until I heard that that he’d been arrested and questioned, I hadn’t taken on board that it was someone I cared deeply about that had subjected me to unspeakably awful acts. I remember this part, unlike the actual interview, quite distinctly because it was the moment that the pain hit me for the first time.

I cannot adequately describe what it is like, to realise that you have been raped by someone you cared about, even loved in a screwed up sort of way. The good memories you have of them start flashing right before your eyes, on repeat:

Cuddling and kissing on late night trains.

The time he lifted me, An Officer and Gentleman style – obviously, without the hat and with both parties being more than a bit drunk- through the ticket barrier and along a platform at Waterloo station when I wasn’t able to run to catch a soon-departing late night train in my high heels.

The sweet things he’d say to me, when slightly tipsy and no one else was around or listening.

Spooning.

When things like this come to the forefront of your mind, you begin to second guess yourself. You grasp around for reasons that might explain why, or how, they could change to such an extent that they hit, strangle and rape you. All whilst watching the tears fall down your face. How can someone change like that?

I stayed in this state of mind, where I was looking for explanations that I could use to associate my own behaviour with what he had done, for a very long time. It was only really, when another woman came forward to say she’d had a similar experience with him, that I really took on board that being raped wasn’t my fault. In hindsight, I realise I should have been referred for psychiatric support immediately after reporting. Instead, that referral did not come for another 14 months; by which time, I was suicidal and suffering with severe depression and PTSD.

As I was suffering so acutely in the days afterwards, I was alone but the consequences within my social circle became clear almost immediately. It started with people taking me off their social networks, and built up. Some of the mutual friends that my rapist and I had shared sent abusive messages. These, thankfully, were an extreme minority. For the most part, people ignored me. Whether this was out of disbelief or lack of willingness to confront the elephant in the room, I still don’t know. The friends who I’d gone out for drinks with in Westminster bars, and some I’d known since my time at University, stopped speaking to me. If I reached out to them, they wouldn’t reply and the invitations to social events dried up completely. There was a nasty supply of subtweets – a tweet that refers to a particular user without directly mentioning them and is usually critical – floating around, intended for me to see. I was given very strong signals that not only was I not welcome at the places and events I used to frequent, but that my safety may be in jeopardy if I tried to go back. I took the hint and stayed away. I lost almost my entire social circle for no other reason than reporting a rapist to the police.

Initially – by which I mean, for the first six months or so after the attack – I tried to pretend that I was fine and acted like nothing had happened. I told only a very few people; even my parents didn’t know for almost a year afterwards. In the end, it caught up with me. I started to get tonsillitis, after never having it before, and twice ended up being admitted hospital with sepsis and eventually underwent a tonsillectomy. My mental health was on a continual downwards slope, which I didn’t acknowledge until far too late. For all intents and purposes except work,  I withdrew from the world. Incredible loneliness and isolation followed. Eventually, I became suicidal. At my lowest, before the charge decision was announced, my then-flatmate found me semi-conscious with a bottle of wine in hand, on the floor of our shared bathroom surrounded by packets of painkillers, a cocktail of high-dose antidepressants and tranquilisers. She had to force me to be sick, and then watched over me all night. After this, it became clear to almost everyone I came into contact with that I was incredibly depressed and very unwell indeed. My welfare – thankfully – was watched closely. Some of my closest colleagues made a habit of checking on me outside working hours.

It still hurts to think about how badly I was treated by the people I thought were my friends, who rushed to a judgement based on ill-advised gossip and without knowing the facts. As I’ve said in my other posts, it is this that drives me to write.

It is time then, to publish the transcript of my full police interview. This is the most comprehensive and accurate account of what happened to me on 15th April 2016. In my own bedroom. At the hands of someone I liked very much.

As before, I have redacted my rapist’s name.