Content warning: Sexual violence
In England and Wales every year approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour of every day. When you look at the number of adults sexually assaulted each year in England and Wales that number jumps to nearly half a million. Economically the cost of sexual offences in a year is estimated to be £8.46bn.
1 in 5 adult women will or has experienced some form of sexual violence. The numbers of people affected by sexual violence are so large that it is doubtful that there is a single person in Britain unaffected in some way – whether they realise or not is a different matter.
Along with societal taboos and much needed anonymity, issues surrounding sexual violence crimes remain very shrouded in mystery. It is this that helped me decide to share some of what it feels like and how the tentacles of power keep inflicting pain long after the initial crime.
On June 6th, 2015, I become one of the nearly 8,000 people each year violently sexually assaulted by a stranger. I had pulled over the car on a relatively busy village road at just gone 7pm to sort out a flat tyre. A stranger approached initially asking if I needed assistance. He is now serving an 8-year sentence. Later the actions and quick thinking of two other strangers stopping to help and making the 999-call possibly saved me.
The ripple effects of what happened that evening didn’t just change my life. It affected many others including; my 3 children, my husband, people living locally, those that helped me as well as my attacker and those connected to him.
The attack itself is just the start of the journey.
When your body is a crime scene evidence comes before treatment.
Unlike other injuries you are mainly reliant on charities like Rape Crisis rather than the NHS to provide your care. At present there is no single best practice plan. Instead you are reliant on a disjointed system that relies on multiple agencies and ever decreasing funding.
This year the NHS released a plan to address some of these care inequalities by 2023. The personal financial cost is crippling. As well as trying repair your battered body you are trying to hold together your sanity as well as travelling back and forth to police stations, medical appointments as well as getting your crime scene photographed (yes ready for court to show extent of injuries), and this is without the loss of income due to taking time off. There is the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme but for many this is yet another knock-back due to restrictions on who can apply. Fortunately for me I was able to claim, but even so I would have received more compensation for fracturing a few toes.
Just getting through court was nearly a year before sentencing, and I was fortunate. For some it can take many years. Going through court the whole lack of understanding as well as peoples biases was laid bare; from my GP failing to provide evidence to the police, my clothing being held up in court – to show I was dressed conservatively (some people hold views that it is down to the way the victim is dressed), the defence barrister preventing me giving my evidence from the stand believing my lack of size would unfairly prejudice the jury.
Three years on the ordeal isn’t over yet. Like many victims I have been left on medication and with PTSD. My family, like thousands of others will have a safe zone set up around our house to stop my attacker seeing me once he is released. Each time the boundary is breached we will be notified, giving the attacker power to re-victimise us for as long as he wishes.
This is a tiny fraction of what victims go through each year. Ours is a broken system that is failing people at their most vulnerable and at the very least contributing to the high rates of sexual violence and the low conviction rates. As a country we haven’t yet ratified the Istanbul Convention which would bring about a system with far better protection. In 2007 a cross government action plan set necessary steps to reduce what was then seen as some of the ‘most serious and damaging crimes in our society.’ Many of the action points are still to be implemented.
Please keep talking about sexual violence and campaigning for an end to it.
* Suzanna Austin is PPC for Wellingborough and administrator for Lib Dem Women.