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Rape victim on how her ordeal continued when reporting the attack to cops. Here, she tells Poppy Watson her story
WHEN Willow* was raped by her estranged husband, she reported it to the police, believing they would help and protect her.
It never occurred to her that the outdated attitudes of police officers on her case would prove to be as traumatic as the horrific attack itself. Now one of Scotland’s most senior judges, Lady Dorian, has proposed a shake up of the justice system that would help women like Willow.
Her proposals, including setting up specialist sex crime courts and allowing the use of pre-recorded evidence, have been welcomed by Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid. But the proposals are too late for Willow. Two-and-a-half years after her ordeal, she asks: “Why did I even bother?”
It was a Saturday night in 2018 and Willow, now 29, remembers curling upon the sofa with her kids to watch the X Factor. Her husband – who she had left after 12 years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse – was there too. Despite her resistance, he had insisted on coming in after dropping their four children off earlier.
At some point she dozed off. When she woke up, her husband was raping her. Willow called her best friend in floods of tears. It was this friend who accompanied her to the police station in Lanarkshire the next morning to report the rape and undergo a forensic medical examination.
This would be Willow’s first encounter with harmful rape myths that can make reporting an attack as bad as the assault itself.
A recent survey shows that these are on the way out but too many survivors are still suffering because of them.
One police officer asked Willow: “Are you sure you’re telling the truth?”
They claimed that text messages between Willow and her now ex-husband didn’t correspond with her story. The morning after the attack, she talked with him as normal because he was coming over to collect the kids.
“They didn’t realise how dangerous this man is. He had my kids. I couldn’t act any differently because then potentially I was putting them in danger,” she said.
Willow, who has suffered from PTSD and psychological trauma since she was sexually abused as a child, had a complete breakdown and self-harmed in front of the police officers. But this only strengthened their belief she was a liar. They went on to suggest she couldn’t remember giving consent because of her mental health problems.
This is a common misconception. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2019 found that eight per cent of Scots agreed “women often lie about rape”, down from 23 per cent in 2014.
Though a step in the right direction, these findings highlight that damaging attitudes towards violence against women still exist. The police investigation continued. Willow’s husband was arrested on suspicion of rape, her phone and clothes were taken away as evidence, and her home become an active crime scene. She and the children moved in with a friend.
Days later, the senior police officer on Willow’s case told her the investigation would go nowhere without a video recording of the attack or witnesses.
Then he uttered the words that Willow still remembers so clearly: “At the end of the day, you put yourself in the position to be raped.”
She said: “Nobody sets out to get raped or sexually assaulted or abused.”
But many consider this to be the case. The Social Attitudes Survey showed that three in 10 Scots believed a woman was “at least partly to blame” for being raped if she was wearing revealing clothing or very drunk. This is compared to four in 10 in 2014.
Six months after Willow was raped, she got a one-line email to say the case had been dropped due to lack of evidence. Her mental health plummeted and social care stepped in to ensure her well-being.
But once again, Willow was accused of fabricating her story.
Willow’s experience has left her determined to campaign for justice and prevent other survivors suffering because of misconceptions around sexual violence. She is a member of the Survivor Reference Group (SRG) – a Rape Crisis Scotland initiative that brings together rape survivors from across the country who have been let down by the justice system.
By sharing their experiences, they help shape and inform government policies alongside campaign groups such as Zero Tolerance.
Their spokeswoman said: “In recent years we’ve seen the rise of international movements such as #MeToo and more edutainment covering this issue on popular streaming platforms.
“We have also witnessed a number of high-profile rape trials which were widely covered in the media, all of which could have contributed to how people attribute blame for sexual violence.
“There is a lot more to be done for people to understand how this violence is caused by women’s inequality as well as its harmful impact both on women and on society as a whole.”
In the meantime, groups like Rape Crisis Scotland have been a lifeline for Willow. She said: “That’s the only place I can honestly say that I went and shared my story and felt believed.”
SARAH* was raped aged 19 at university by an acquaintance.
When she was finally ready to tell her flatmates about it several months later, she was accused of lying.
Sarah said: “I remember one of them saying, ‘No you weren’t, stop lying.’ I froze. It was around that fortnight I tried to commit suicide for the first time.”
JUNIPER* was raped at a house party two years ago. She was left suicidal when her family and friends blamed her for what had happened.
The 24-year-old recalled: “Someone close to me said this clearly wouldn’t have happened if I’d limited my drinks, as if it was my punishment for being drunk. This destroyed my recovery.”
*Names have been changed to protect identity.
IF you have been raped or sexually assaulted and need support, please call the Rape Crisis Scotland helpline, open between 6pm and midnight every day, on 08088 01 03 02.
If you are concerned you are being stalked, call The National Stalking Helpline on: 0808 802 0300
This article was originally published in the Daily Record and is a part of the Write to End Violence Against Women campaign and awards organised by Zero Tolerance, which celebrate high-quality writing around the subject of violence against women. Poppy Watson was awarded a bursary by Zero Tolerance to write a series of articles to raise awareness on violence against women and promote gender equality. For more information and Media Guidelines visit http://zerotolerance.org.uk Read more of Poppy’s bursary articles here: https://www.zerotolerance.org.uk/write-to-end-bursary-20192020/