This series of videos brings to life what victim-survivors told us. We feel incredibly grateful to all of those who shared their experiences with us – thank you. Thank you also to the fantastic director, Sheila Nortley, and to all of the talented cast and crew who made this happen.
“The process was messy and not at all worthwhile. I’m still traumatised by how invasive the entire process was. I didn’t feel like there was any productive outcome. He got away with it whilst I ended up having to move cities to get away from him. The system needs to improve.”
“At first I felt cared for and listened to, but as the process went on I felt more like a number. I had to give consent for my medical records to be accessed and they also tried to access my counselling records, but my counsellor declined. I attempted to withdraw my statement and leave the case, but I was told I would be summoned to court anyway. It felt like the perpetrator was seen as innocent until proven guilty, but that I was seen as a liar until proven truthful.”
“I could not have asked for better officers. They were wonderful and I felt safe, believed and valued. The system failed them and their hard word as much as it failed me and his future victims.
It was a very tough process and hard to go through. It felt like my behaviour up to the trial was continually assessed and judged, whereas his was not. I was also not prepared for just how horrendous court would be. Being cross examined was as traumatic as the rape, except with the added humiliation of a jury and a public gallery. Even though I had messages from him admitting what he had done, and even though he had admitted it to other people, he walked free. This system fails. It has to change. Time and time again we let them free – all they learn is that they are more powerful, and that we are worthless. The justice system tells us to report, but then it fails us.
I lost friends and family by reporting. During the process I attempted suicide, and following the trial I relapsed to self-harm and anorexia. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have focused on my recovery, rather than reporting.”
“The police were kind on the day I went to report it to them, but that changed later. The way I was misquoted and not listened to, the invasive line of homophobic questioning with no relevance to the case. It was a deeply humiliating experience in an already scary and lonely investigation. It was almost as traumatic as the assaults. If I ever experienced a violent crime again I would have to think very hard about whether it would be worth going to the police. I might have had a happier life if I did not report.”
“I knew what to expect in terms of the traumatising process ahead because I’d talked to my ISVA and a friend about it before I reported. But I wasn’t ready to feel like I was being treated like a criminal throughout, to be treated without dignity, or sensitivity, or that they would take extremely personal things from me such as all my messages and my diary. I had to constantly relive the trauma throughout the process. It was extremely intimidating and so deeply traumatising. They’d often ask me to dig through all my texts between me and my rapist and provide them to the police – I was doing THEIR job. I wasn’t treated sensitively at all. They often referred to my rape as a ‘job’. They talked about whether this horrific experience would ‘meet the criteria’, as if I needed to make sure that I was raped worse so they could verify it was a ‘bad rape’. I have a real resentment and mistrust of the police now. The whole process traumatised me further, and I didn’t get justice.”
“From making the initial report, the whole process leading up to court felt very impersonal and cold, like I wasn’t really the victim. I felt like I was ‘just another case’. I wish I’d had someone on my side. There needs to be more support for victims. My court experience was as bad as the actual sexual assault. I’m living with complex PTSD as a result of the double trauma – the sexual assault and the trial.”
“I knew the statistics around reporting, my parents would have been very dissuading of going to the police because of the kind of emotional impact, but I wanted to do it. I had to leave NHS counselling when I reported to the police because I was scared of how my notes could be used in court. I just worried about how the defence team might take that and make me into somebody who’s not believable. When people ask you for your statement over and over about something that traumatic, you start to detach from it and it starts to not feel as real – that’s very hard to explain to people who haven’t been through it. So when people hear those statements like, ‘sometimes I feel like it didn’t even happen’, that’ll be a point against me when in reality it’s just part of the lived experience of trauma. It just felt like another way for my perpetrator to violate me. I didn’t want him and his defence team to see my therapy notes about what this did to me, I want to pretend I’m okay. I offered the police my phone to download messages between me and my perpetrator, but they weren’t interested. Then the case was dropped for a lack of evidence.”
“I didn’t report. I had seen my mum’s negative and upsetting experience with police, family and friends after she had been raped. It messed her life up and left her ill and broke with no access to professional help. If I reported it would have affected my life and my work. I see no point in putting myself though it when most victims get no satisfaction and no justice, all whilst being treated like they’re the one in the wrong.”
“I’ve had two experiences of sexual violence. I haven’t reported either of them, for different reasons. This time, it was more to do with mental health reasons and not feeling able to go through that process. I did go to the SARC, and everybody there was incredibly supportive, helpful, and kinda said the things that I’d needed to hear. One of the big things that I was quite nervous about in terms of that reporting was having to go through everything again, to have to relive it, to have to describe it in detail. I know that there are female police officers and they try to give you a choice, but the thought of having to describe that to a man was literally terrifying. The thought of having no choice where I was, not knowing who I was speaking to and potentially having to divulge information again and again. I really didn’t want to do that.”
“I’ve experienced multiple different incidents of sexual violence. I’m still processing it, but I’m definitely at a point where I’ve really thought about it and it’s just too much. It’s already brought so much trauma into my life. Going through reporting will evoke even more trauma not just for me, but also for my family as well. The whole process of going through trials and going through questioning, that is traumatic in itself. You hear a lot of stories about rape injustices, like when people report and want to get to court but nothing happens. There are so few people who actually get recognition and who actually get justice.”
What independent legal advocacy can achieve for victim-survivors
“I had an SVCA. I could tell that she genuinely cared and genuinely listened to me and my sad story. She was dealing with the legal side of things and was able to actually speak to the CPS in the language that they understand. I appreciated having someone there who understands the legal system and was able to explain it to me. Having her responding to the CPS for me helped save me from going under during an extremely devastating time. Having the SVCA there to help guide me through the information, along with knowing the law, helped me stay strong mentally during this period. Dealing with PTSD since the incident meant every time I had to go back over details, again and again with the CPS, I ended up ill for the week to follow. The stress would’ve been unbearable if it wasn’t for the SCVA responding to the CPS for me.
As I understand it, without that lady involved I don’t have any sort of actual legal representation. So she was my voice, to the CPS. I don’t think that will be where I am now without her. 100% in all of this the saving grace has been my SVCA, without a doubt, without a doubt my saving grace.”
“The SVCA was described to me as a legal representative who would ensure my rights were protected. She was helpful and I found it comforting to have someone looking out to make sure everything was being followed correctly. I’d recommend an SVCA to others, because they help make sure all procedures are followed correctly during a time when you’re feeling very vulnerable to start with.”
Hafsa reported being raped and sexually assaulted by her former employer. At the end of her ABE interview, the investigating officer asked Hafsa to sign a Stafford statement giving access to all third-party records. Her SVCA challenged the request on the basis that much of the information, e.g. Local Authority and education records, would not be relevant to the case. The officer agreed and amended the form so that only medical notes from a specific GP visit were included. Without the SVCA’s intervention, it is likely that Hafsa would have signed the ‘blanket’ request for her private data. The SVCA was also able to explain to Hafsa why it had been necessary for the officer to download data from her mobile phone.
Isabel reported a rape by her ex-partner. She was supported by an SVCA during her ABE interview. The officer in this case did not ask Isabel to sign a ‘Stafford statement’, but the police later sought to obtain her counselling records. Isabel’s SVCA supported her consenting to give access only if all unrelated information was redacted prior to the police receiving the records.
Kelsey reported to police about years of abuse, including rape, from her ex-partner. Immediately after the ABE interview, Kelsey was asked to sign a ‘blanket’ Stafford statement. Her SVCA was present and challenged the request, explaining to the investigating officer why it was important to ask for specific information to ensure it was proportionate and relevant. The consent form was amended accordingly to allow only specific requests to be made in relation to medical and social services records. She was also supported to consent to counselling records being accessed, with the condition that irrelevant information would be redacted before being sent to the CPS. Both Kelsey and the accused (her ex-partner) provided their digital devices for download.
Ziva reported oral rape by an acquaintance. Ziva was worried about her medical records and mobile digital data being accessed. The SVCA was able to reassure Ziva that the investigating officer was only seeking relevant information, namely messages exchanged between her and the accused, and that a full mobile download would not occur. With SVCA support, Ziva also consented to the police accessing specific limited medical and counselling records.
The police sent the file to the CPS for a charging decision and charge was refused. The police felt it was a strong case and requested a review, which still resulted in a refusal to charge. Ziva exercised her Victims Right to Review, but again the CPS upheld their decision not to charge. With the support of her SVCA, Ziva requested an independent review which resulted in the CPS decisions being overturned and a charge has been brought.
Anika made a report of rape by someone she met during a night out. The investigating officer made an SVCA referral because Anika was concerned about her privacy in relation to her medical records and phone data. The SVCA successfully challenged the CPS request for counselling records that pre-dated the allegations and supported Anika in consenting to limited disclosure of her medical records. Anika’s messages from a dating app to other men had also been obtained and reviewed by the CPS, who felt they met the test for disclosure to the defence. Anika did not consent to the messages being disclosed as she felt strongly that they were not relevant. For this reason, the CPS discontinued the case. Anika’s SVCA ultimately supported her to join a judicial review by the EVAW Coalition and Centre for Women’s Justice, which Anika felt gave her a chance to be heard, as well as to make a difference for future women in her position.