I can’t use the word “injustice” to describe what happened to me. I’m forced to obscure the details, change the storyline and hide behind pseudonyms – not for my protection, but for his. Because, by law, my rapist is an innocent man. And, by innocent, I mean he did not face cross-examination in front of a jury, because the Crown Prosecution Service wasn’t 100 per cent sure they would win a conviction. Winning, it seems, is everything, regardless of the price we, as survivors, pay to avoid them losing.
What I can do, however, is tell you how waiting two years for this decision to be reached made me feel. At best, violent nightmares kept me awake at night. At worst, crippling anxiety would knock me out cold. A limp, heavy depression hung over my every move, like a dead sheep on a wire, as I staggered from place to place, barely remembering how I got there, dragging a form I felt was no longer my own. This, I now realise, was the first stage of my trauma. The second would get darker than I could have imagined.
Rape forces your mind in a constant circle, looping from shame and utter confusion to unrequited guilt. Again and again, you replay the moment. Was it your fault? Why didn’t you fight back? Did you invite it? Why you? Desperately, you search for answers. Longingly, you wish for empathy. Someone who, just for one moment, could understand what you were going through and help you face the pain. But, like many other survivors of sexual and domestic violence, I found myself in limbo.
Because, to maintain your status as a “good witness”, you have to remain “untampered with”. Psychological therapy, it is considered, could cloud your memory and make you less reliable on the stand. So, if you do report your rape to the police and your accused is charged, the only treatment recommended to you is pre-trial therapy. During these 10 sessions, for which most wait months for referral because of endless waiting lists, you can discuss how you feel, but not what has happened to you. For me, though, this was better than nothing, but it didn’t stop me from reaching a suicidal breaking point. What I needed was proper long-term support, but the legal framework meant to protect me instead prevented me from seeking the care I needed to keep myself alive. Little did I know that a readymade, better system already existed in the UK but, like many other women’s rights issues, had been swept under the government’s carpet.
Together, we have the chance to build a better criminal justice system to protect the most vulnerable women and children in our society. This is a life-or-death situation
The Istanbul Convention (IC) is a sophisticated piece of legislation that outlines a survivor-focused approach to prosecution, ensures the adequate funding of women’s services and the strategic implementation of prevention of violence against women from happening in the first place. Romania, Poland, Spain, France and many other countries have already voted the IC into power. The UK is embarrassingly still dragging its heels, despite David Cameron signing a pledge to see the Convention passed into law back in 2012.
Now, in 2016, the need for the IC is increasingly critical. One in five women between the ages of 16 and 59 in this country experiences some form of gender-based violence in their lives. Survivors of rape are 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who have not been the victims of rape. Conviction rates for the 15 per cent that do report their rape stand, according to Rape Crisis, at a barely plausible 5.7 per cent. And most women in this country will not have a service, like the Solace Women’s Aid centre I had limited access to, available to them at all.
Last week, 60 Parliamentarians across all major parties signed an open letter to Theresa May, demanding that she fast-track the ratification. While we are truly grateful for their words, it is clear that words are not – and will never be – enough to enact real change. That’s why I, alongside the many other survivors and service workers that make up the volunteer-led pressure group IC Change, am campaigning for MPs to turn up to Parliament on Friday 16 December and vote on a Private Members’ Bill outlining a detailed timetable for the government to pass the IC into law. We need 100 votes to advance to the next stage and we need your help to get them.
Write to your MPs, tweet at them, share this piece and cause a stir. Ensure they represent you and every woman and girl in your lives. Together, we have the chance to build a better criminal justice system to protect the most vulnerable women and children in our society. This is a life-or-death situation. Urge your MPs to back the Istanbul Convention on 16 December and choose life.