When I first met Anna (not her real name), she did not strike me as unusual. She was quiet, friendly, articulate and kind. She seemed completely normal and there was certainly nothing about her to suggest that she had been through any kind of trauma. She was just like any other young woman, and fittingly so; horrific things can happen to anybody. Anna was not normal, I later found out; she was remarkable, not because she was a rape victim, but because she had gone through hell and come out of it fighting, very much a rape survivor.
Her past reads grimly. Groomed online at the age of 12, Anna was then sexually abused and raped between the ages of 12 and 17. Now, although free from the physical grips of her abuser, she suffers from flashbacks, anxiety and depression. It is very much a nightmare, but one that she refuses to be broken by.
What Anna wants vehemently is a debate, a voice, a chance to tell her side of the story. The importance of speaking out, and speaking frankly, about rape is something that many rape victims long for.
In this exclusive interview with The Bubble, Anna finally, and bravely, speaks out as a rape survivor; one of the many human lives buried beneath the shocking statistic that 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 20 men, will be the victim of rape or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime.
Sexual abuse is an evil act, but it is far from simple. What were your feelings then? What are your feelings now?
At the time, I wasn’t aware that I was being sexually abused. I knew it wasn’t normal, and he always told me to keep it a secret and to never tell anyone. But I didn’t realise it was abuse. I felt a whole mixture of things: love (I thought he loved me and I loved him), confusion… I was 12 when the abuse started, and it has had a massive impact on how I view relationships. I feel angry, I find it difficult to trust, I felt ashamed – like it was my fault somehow.
It took you, as it takes many rape victims, quite some time before you were able to tell anyone what had happened to you. What made you decide to tell someone? What advice would you give to a victim of sexual abuse who has not told anyone?
The abuse stopped when I was 17, and I went off the rails a bit. At 22, my family sent me to see a psychologist. It was only after seeing my psychologist for a few years that I felt comfortable enough to tell her about the abuse, then I was able to tell another rape survivor about it and finally, with the support of my psychologist, I was able to tell my parents. Before that, I thought that: a) no one would believe me, b) it would devastate my family and c) people would tell me to just forget about it. That wasn’t the case at all. As for advice, I would say that there’s no schedule that you have to stick to – tell people in your own time. I know that saying those words ‘I was raped’ or ‘I was sexually abused’ out loud for the first time can be extremely daunting and/or traumatic, so tell someone you trust. Or if it’s too much to tell someone you know, try calling a helpline like the Samaritans (08457 90 90 90).
You have received counselling following the abuse. What happens in these counselling sessions and how frequent are they? Are they helpful? Would you recommend counselling to other victims of sexual abuse?
The sessions are as often as you want them to be. To start with, I saw my psychologist once or twice a week. I now see her every month or so. For me personally, my psychologist has been amazing and has helped me so much. However, it took a long time for me to trust her enough to tell her what I was really thinking and feeling. She also wasn’t the first psychologist I’d seen – I’d been to others but we hadn’t ‘clicked’. Talking definitely helped me and I would recommend finding a psychologist to talk to, but don’t be afraid to look around until you meet one that you click with.
You took your rapist to court, and won; he was found guilty and imprisoned. How did you feel throughout the legal proceedings? Was it worth it?
The whole process was extremely difficult, and there were times that I wondered if it was worth it. Especially since he was never charged with raping me, as the CPS thought there wasn’t enough evidence. Instead, he was charged with over 40 counts of sexual assault. My emotions were all over the place throughout the trial – I realised a part of me still wanted to protect my abuser; I felt angry, I felt ashamed and I was terrified that the jury wouldn’t believe me. But as soon as I had finished giving evidence, I realised it was worth it. It was an awful experience, but I’m glad I went through with it. I remember someone telling me once – no rape victim that has been to trial has ever [to my knowledge] said that they regretted it, but plenty say they regret not going to trial. And I don’t regret it. I was emotionally drained and exhausted for weeks afterwards, but it was definitely worth it.
Do you think that Britain has a “rape culture”? What does this mean? How can it be changed?
Yes, Britain definitely has a ‘rape culture’. Rape culture is extremely complex, but the bottom line is, sexism is so deep rooted in our society, that in a lot of situations, sexual violence is deemed acceptable. Society blames the rape victim, and not the rapist. ‘What did she expect wearing that outfit?’ ‘He bought her a drink, so she owed him sex.’ ‘She accepted the drink, so she wanted it.’ We live in a society that is bombarded by sexual images on the TV, the internet, music, advertising etc., so that it seems that all women (and men) want sex all the time. And if she doesn’t want to have sex, then it’s up to the man to ‘persuade’ her otherwise. It’s almost as if men think that they deserve to have sex, that it’s theirs for the taking. And if a woman expresses opposing viewpoints, she is often ‘jokingly’ told to get back in to the kitchen, or she’s accused of being a man-hating feminist. This is not the case. She just believes that it is unacceptable to be scared to walk home alone for fear of being attacked, and then to be told that she deserved – or even wanted – to be attacked. [Note – I am not saying that all men are like this, but that this is the viewpoint of society as a whole, not individual men].
The statistic that 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 20 men, will be victims of rape or attempted rape at some point during their lifetime is often quoted. Do you believe it? Does it shock you?
I do believe it, and it doesn’t shock me at all. It infuriates me. I also believe that the statistic is probably a lot higher than 1 in 4 women and 1 in 20 men. But there is still a huge shame aspect to being raped, so many people don’t report it.
Finally, do you have any general advice or words for other victims of sexual abuse?
No matter what happened, you are not to blame. It wasn’t your fault. You have survived what happened to you; you are incredibly strong. You are not alone. Take your time, and when you’re ready, know that there is help out there. You are no longer a victim – you are a survivor.