Victim-blaming: the betrayal of trust and erosion of justice

Tuesday 26th of October 2010; that was the night Emma’s life changed forever. She had recently turned eighteen, and was going to a concert with her friend. They were excited as they got ready together, and had been drinking since the late afternoon and throughout the night. By the time the concert ended, Emma was extremely drunk, fading in and out of consciousness. By coincidence, she met two people she knew waiting for her bus; a girl she knew from school and a 22 year-old-man, an old friend of her sister’s. After the girl pleaded with the man to make sure Emma got home safe, he waited until the girl had left. He walked Emma into the woods, pushed her onto the ground and raped her.

“I kept blacking out and I didn’t know what was really happening to me… I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t move under his weight, and I was too scared to scream incase he killed me. I remember him saying horrible things like ‘I’ve wanted this for so long’ and then afterwards, as he stood up to leave: ‘you’re the best I’ve ever had’.

“He was meant to get me home safe that night; instead, he left me lying in the mud, covered in cuts and bruises, and just told me to go get the ‘morning after’ pill. As I slowly came to terms with the fact that I had been raped, I burst into tears, gathered up my things and ran home.”

When Emma told her horrified parents, they phoned her sister and gave her a description of the rapist. She went cold over the line as she gave his name, confirming the identity of a man she never thought was capable of such an act. Numb with shock, she told them that he had just sent her a friend request on Facebook less than an hour after the incident.

Emma said: “To this day, I don’t know whether he was doing it to appear normal to her and get her on his side if I told her, whether he was taunting me, or whether he genuinely believed that what happened was consensual sex and that nothing was wrong. Either way, I felt sick to my stomach on top of everything. I was screaming ‘Why me? Why me?’ as my mum cried.”

The police arrived soon after and she was whisked away to the station. In an exhausted daze, she was taken through a blurred series of procedures. She was given a cocktail of emergency pills, her clothes were taken away for forensic examination and her cuts and bruises were photographed. Early that morning, she was finally allowed to have a bath before being interviewed by the police. Only hours later she would have to relive the harrowing incident by telling her story to two strangers; and worst of all was that they never believed her.

“My statement matched the female witness’s statement; that I sat in the seat in front of the rapist on the bus, that I didn’t speak much to him and that he made me wait at the bus stop for her to leave before walking me into the woods. Instead, they chose to believe his lies; that we had been kissing and cuddling on the bus journey home, that I had consented to having sex with him that night. The policewoman asked me, time and time again, “Are you sure you didn’t consent when you were drunk, but just regret it now because you want to get back with your ex-boyfriend?” My mum sat beside me, frozen with horror. Everything I said they just viewed with suspicion. I couldn’t believe it. ”

She stated firmly: “I know I was very drunk that night, but I would never consent to having sex in the woods, let alone with him. The guy always gave me the creeps, even when I saw him about in school. He was tall and thin, and wore a long, black trench coat. He always gave off a sinister vibe. I didn’t like him at all.”

Emma never heard from the police again after that day, and they had dropped all charges against the man. Worse still, when she phoned the police station months later to collect her friend’s jacket that she wore the night she was raped, she was sickened to find that her case was never even logged on the system.

“My rapist came from a well-off family. He was at university, and was expected to have a really successful career. My dad still thinks to this day that his dad might have paid the police off to make the problem go away. Either way, the police probably thought that I was a stupid, drunk, easy girl and that it would take up too much time, money and effort to pursue justice for me. To them, I was another statistic. I wasn’t worth it.”

After a short, unsuccessful stint in counselling, Emma was determined not to see herself as a victim; instead, she tried to act like it never happened.

She said: “A lot of girls who have been raped never want to go near men again; I was the opposite. I did not want that man to be the last person who had ‘had’ me. I bleached my dark hair blonde, started wearing fake tan and going out to get drunk ever weekend. I would have a lot of one-night stands with guys I met because I wanted to just wash myself of him. I thought I was coping really well, having fun and ‘moving on’. I didn’t realise how damaged I was.”

I asked Emma how being raped still affects her, four years on. She looked down at her cup of coffee.

“I still can’t look at the spot where he raped me. Before I learnt to drive, I had to walk past the woods everyday to go to the bus stop. It was agonising.

“It sometimes comes flooding back if any boyfriends ask me to something sexually that I’m not comfortable with. There was one time when my boyfriend at the time just said the words “go on” and I ran to the bathroom crying. They try and be understanding, but they don’t realise that I think about what happened every single day.”

She continued, her voice wavering: “I’ve seen my rapist a few times since, on the bus and in the street. One time he walked past my work with his dad, looking me dead in the eye the whole time, with such hate. As though I had ruined his lifeI actually suspect that he thinks it was a consensual act and acceptable because I was drunk, that I was fair game.. as though any man would take the same opportunity. He got away with what he did. He and thousands of other rapists will think what they did was okay because they weren’t charged.”

Emma then looked me defiantly in the eye, with a faint smile.

“It haunts me to this day, but I won’t let this define me. I know I am a stronger person now because of what happened to me, what I went through, the level of betrayal and injustice that I suffered. The police let me down so badly that day, and I had to listen to my dad saying that, even though he would kill my rapist, that I shouldn’t have got so drunk in the first place.

“I will say this now: It doesn’t matter if I were paralytic drunk, running through the streets naked at night. No man has a right to rape me, ever. No men have the right to any women’s bodies, anywhere, anytime, without their consent. We are human beings, not objects. Justice will never be done and humanity will never progress until victim-blaming is a thing of the past.”

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