Dr Christine Ford was forced to take up centre stage last week at the hearing of Superior Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The eyes of the World honing in as they passed judgement on if she was indeed telling the truth, or not. The claim in question was that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Ford when they were at a high school party in 1982, drunkenly forcing himself on her and trying to remove her clothes: “I believed he was going to rape me,” she said. This week, despite calls for an FBI investigation, an extravagant and emotional testimony and several other sexual assault claims, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.
The last two years has seen a movement where multiple women, and men, have bravely stepped forward and shared their #metoo stories, all to be accosted with doubts and scrutiny from the public and senior figures.
“They were asking for it”, “They didn’t say no”, “They should have reported it sooner”, “They’re lying”.
Ignorant individuals have pushed these stereotypes onto victims, refusing to believe- or choosing not to acknowledge- that their favourite celebrity, friend or politician could be capable of carrying out these heinous acts. Research for the home office suggests that only 4% of cases of sexual violence reported in the UK are found or suspected to be false. Whilst studies carried out in the US show rates of between 2% and 6%. These figures are no different to the rates attached to other crimes, yet the authenticity of sexual assault reports are often immediately met with counter accusations that they’re not true.
Sexual assault happens. And it happens a lot. There’s an average of 293,066 victims aged 12 and older of rape and sexual assault each year in the US. In simple terms, that is 1 sexual assault every 107 seconds. Many seem to not want to accept that, whilst others seem to simply not care. You make a choice the day you decide to turn a blind eye to the suffering of thousands of women and men, or worse, when you actively mock and encourage the taunting of those who have bravely spoken out. Instead of attacking the accuser, we need public figures to acknowledge and accept that this is happening. It is happening right now, and it was happening 36 years ago. The reaction and responses I have read online, in the papers and to my own social media posts have led me to raise the question: Why is it so hard to believe that sexual assault victims are telling the truth?
I ask this question, because I have been on the receiving end of this hostility. 14 months ago I was a victim of sexual assault. This is my story.
I had been on a night out for a friends birthday. We’d been drinking, we’d been dancing, we’d had a fun night. It was gone 5am when we decided to leave the club, get some food, and head home. We headed down a street nicknamed Chippy lane and darted into the closest open kebab shop. In turns our food was ready and a couple of the girls wandered off to find a taxi. My food was last to come out. “I’ll meet you there”. I knew this street like the back of my hand. It was light outside, and the last of the girls had only headed off 30 seconds before me. As I stepped outside and started walking down the street, two men appeared either side of me. They’d been hanging around the kebab shop, they might have even been inside. I couldn’t remember. They weren’t anyone I had had to pay attention to, until now. They were talking over me, making comments which were gestured at myself. I instantly felt awkward enough to have to hold my food over my chest, hugging myself to try and stop them from taking anymore unwanted notice of me. I was wearing a jumpsuit. Not like it matters, but I know some people will be wondering. Then they started talking directly at me and I laughed along, desperately trying to diffuse any situation. Both of them were on either side of me, invading my personal space from all angles. My food was burning my chest through the wrapping. I couldn’t walk fast enough in my heels. When will this fucking street end. I knew the taxi rank was just on the other side of this street. Then, as we approached the corner, one of them grabbed my arm and aggressively tried to pull it away from my chest. They were in front of me now. As I tried to push them away, one of them grabbed my breast. Half in and half out of my clothing. It was a hard squeeze. It hurt. I called out in pain, in shock, in trying to get them to just fuck off. I pushed them off me and continued scuffling with them. By now I was crying, and trying to walk around them. They called me a slut, a whore, they laughed at my expense. We’d turned onto the next street and I heard someone shout my name, “JESS!” The two guys stepped away and it was like the sea had parted in front of me. I could see my friend hanging out the taxi door, gesturing for me to come in. I shuffled as fast as I could over to the car and jumped in, slamming the door behind me. By now I was hysterical. They followed and were both at the taxi window, knocking on the glass and trying to get in. They were laughing. “DRIVE!” My friend was shouting, and the car sped off. Thank fuck, I was safe.
I tried to tell my friends what had happened through broken cries and catching my breath. In that moment I was a child again, vulnerable and scared. “That wasn’t ok. That wasn’t ok” I kept saying. I was so confused. I knew I was one of the lucky ones. That this was a minor assault. That it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t know how to feel. I had an overwhelming feeling that this encounter was something I had never experienced before. Aggressive, intimidating, being mocked and laughed at. This wasn’t just “banter” or someone playing around. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how I was allowed to feel. Do I call the police? For a boob grab? I couldn’t even remember all the details. But I just kept telling myself that this did not feel right, it wasn’t something I could just ignore. When I got home I reported the incident to 101, the non-emergency helpline.
When I woke, everything was a bit of a blur. I still didn’t know how to feel, how to act. It had happened now, that was that. I didn’t really want to tell my mum, so I dragged it out all day until the evening to call her. When I eventually told her, it was in a passive comment. “It’s nothing, it’s fine.” And I was fine. The incident was fucked up, but thankfully, I was okay. However, what left a lasting feeling of anger inside is how I was treated after the assault.
Soon after I had told my mum, a family member who was in the Police themselves called me, asking what my local force were doing about it. I hadn’t heard anything all day, and I had no reference or number to call. I was prepared to forget about the whole thing and brush it off, but they convinced me to follow it up and told me to make sure I was taken seriously. After calling 101 and asking for an update I was told an officer would be in touch. I woke up to a voicemail left at 2am and after a couple back and fourth’s of missing each other, I finally managed to speak to an officer. I relayed the story and all the information onto them again, the time, the street, anything I could remember. They told me not to wash my jumpsuit as they might be able to lift fingerprints off of it. We arranged a time for an officer to come round my house the next day to take my statement. I offered to go into the station but I was told it wasn’t necessary. They’ll come to me.
The next day came and as 10 am hit, I was waiting for a buzz to let them into the building. I waited, and waited, but nothing. I know how stretched our police force are and appreciate the huge work load they have to do. This wasn’t a priority case, I knew that, so I waited to follow up with a call until it was around 3pm. As I spoke to the officer on the other end, they informed me that it had been noted down that someone had tried to get in contact with me and take my statement but I wasn’t available. That’s impossible, I told her, I’ve been in the house and stuck to my phone all day. She looked over the records again, and as she was relaying the information onto me she noticed that the officer marked down as attempting to contact me wasn’t on shift that day, so it really was impossible. For some reason unbeknownst to the both of us, someone had either lied on my record, or there had been a mishap. She would get the Sergeant to give me a call. I waited and waited, but heard nothing. Then, my phone rang, it was my friend who had been with me on the night of the incident. “Have you heard anything from the Police babe?” I continued to relay the happenings of my day onto her, and explained how I was waiting to hear back.
“They’ve just phoned me, asking for more details about the night” she said. What? Why have they phoned my friend, before talking to me? “They asked me what street it was on, as you’ve said one street and they think it’s another.”; “They said you could’ve just been drunk and couldn’t remember”; “They said that as your story matched my story, it seemed believable”; “They said that you’ve been trying to call them all day, so it seems like you could be telling the truth, that most people don’t bother calling and following it up”; “They said that it’s the lowest level of crime, so they probably won’t waste the money on getting the DNA taken off your clothes”; They told me to tell you that they will probably just call you tomorrow now”.
I was lost for words. As soon as I put the phone down I burst into tears. I was angry. I was embarrassed. The passiveness of his words, the throw away comments. I had been counter-accused of lying and told my assault wasn’t serious enough for a full investigation- all via my friend, without even having my statement taken. The officer hadn’t even provided my friend with a name. I called my family member up crying, who immediately insisted on calling the Police force in question themselves to demand answers. The sergeant was in a meeting when they called, and stated he would call back in half an hour. He never did. The next day I spoke with a PCSO (Police community support officer) and arranged to go into the police station to finally give my statement. I remember feeling intimidated. Humiliated. I had to now go and tell my story knowing that it’s authenticity was already in question, that I had already been prejudged. I turned up ten minutes early and the Sergeant came out to meet me. “It was me who spoke to your friend” he stated. Awkward silence. “I understand there’s been some accusations, I never said any of that and I did not accuse you of lying.” I let out a small laugh in a combust of disbelief that both my friend, and myself, have now been accused of dishonesty. Are we the bad guys in all of this? I knew my friend was telling the truth, and every signal he was giving off was of insincerity in a shit attempt to cover his own ass, now that he had been caught. “But the department might not put the funding behind it to try find any DNA, it’s up to them” he added. Ahh, so she was telling the truth about that though, hey. *eyeroll*
The Sergeant had to go, he’ll have to get an officer from another station to come and take my statement as none of his were free. “That’s fine, I can wait.” He picks up the phone and makes a call. I’m told that there’s no cars available, so can I drive myself. “No problem, I can go to them.” He passed the phone onto me and I was asked if I could return to the other station later on that evening instead. “No problem, I’ll see you later.” I was exhausted. Everything and everyone was pushing me in the direction of giving up, and I’m certain that if it wasn’t for my confidence and trust in the Police from growing up around them, then I probably would have. I couldn’t help but think how the situation would’ve been different if the victim in question wasn’t privileged enough to know someone who could phone up and highlight their failures.
We were four days in from the original attack, and I was not going to quit now. I was determined to have my statement taken. To have my story heard. I returned that night to a different station, one that is not open to the public, and knocked on the back door, standing in the torrential rain hoping someone would answer my call. A lady opened the door, I understand she was the Sergeant on duty and she told me if she couldn’t find anyone to take my statement, then she would take it herself. Five minutes later she returned with a young female officer who would finally after 132 hours and 3 different Police stations, listen to my story. I relayed the events of the attack to her, and she listed intensely, noting down as much information as possible. “Those bastards” she quipped. I opened up to the officer about how I was initially embarrassed to ring the report through, that I felt like it wasn’t a big deal, that I thought because I had been drinking and couldn’t remember much that I didn’t have a chance. But I also told her what I did remember. How I remembered it hurting, how scared and intimidated I felt, the what if’s of what could have happened if my friends hadn’t been there, how it had stolen my sense of security, and how I was determined to report it incase a similar incident happened, something worse, so they would have previous reports to back any future claims up. Thankfully I was reassured that I did the right thing.
My clothing was accepted for DNA testing and sent off for examination, but unfortunately there were no matches found. I was told via text message a couple days later that my case was closed. And that was that.
Much like Kavanaugh, if you asked my attackers if they did this, if they were guilty, they would most likely say no. And they would not be lying, in their eyes. Because I doubt that they will even remember. To them, this will be something so small, so insignificant. Nothing bad happened. They weren’t made to feel a certain way. They weren’t punished. No one has ever told them that they were in the wrong. Their brain probably did not process it. But it is engraved in mine forever.
This is not intended to be an exposé of the Police. This is just my story. I understand that mistakes happen, especially in high pressure environments, and I like to think that I was just unfortunate enough this time around to be on the receiving end of them. Although, I hope that my highlighting of how I was dealt with may make someone reconsider the way they react next time they’re faced with a similar situation. I am also willing, in this current climate, to stand up and speak out on how passively I was treated as a victim of sexual assault. And perhaps more worryingly, how willing I was to pass it up myself. I questioned how I was allowed to feel, and sought to seek society’s permission to my emotions and reaction.
The public are too quick to label victims as liars. They use the victims own timeline to attack them; the longer it takes for them to come to terms with their assault and report it, the less likely they are to be believed. They draw on the ‘money grabbing’ or ‘attention seeking’ label, subsequently rendering a get-out-of jail-free card to the rich and famous to use against their victims. But what many fail to grasp is that most individuals do not want the attention, that attention was put upon them when they were attacked. Supporters hang their every word off of the fact that the accused still walk amongst us, smugly declaring that this pleads their innocence, but not giving scope to recent statistics that show out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 of perpetrators will walk free. This does not mean sexual assault does not happen.
When our attempts as victims to speak up are met with such hostility, please don’t ask us why we did not report it straight away. When the pre-judgement and accusations of lying feel like another attack, please don’t ask us why we haven’t spoke out sooner. When our fight-or flight mode kicks in and we decide to save ourselves instead of every detail of the assault, please don’t ask us why we can’t remember everything. When you’re deciding if you care enough to believe, Please don’t ask us If we’re sure.