May 18, 2024

The Benjamin Mendy Trial Has Reminded Me Why I Never Reported My Rape

When I eventually came around, my body initiated an escape plan before the word ‘rape’ even crossed my mind. I grabbed his jumper, pulled it over my dishevelled party dress as I slid into grotty ballet pumps and fled the scene. When I press the button for the lift, I realise I have no idea which floor I’m on; how far off the ground I am.

The panic makes its way from my frantic bones to my numbed-out brain. Somehow I end up in the hotel’s underground car park rather than the hotel lobby. Time slows down for a while until one of the hotel employees finds me, asking if I’m OK and do I need help? I say no – thank you – and get myself the hell out of there. I’ve never felt so ashamed.

In the 48 hours between leaving that hotel and sitting down in front of my GP, I’ve already given myself the cross-examination of my life. Multiple witnesses saw you snogging that man’s face off, Lucy. Isn’t it right that you were vying for his and his friend’s attention? Look at this CCTV… does this look like the kind of woman who isn’t intending to get laid by any means necessary? The snide cross-examiner takes a permanent residence in my brain, reminding me that I stole that man’s jumper.

There’s a scientific word for this phenomenon. It’s called shame, and it lives within us all – especially, as in my case, survivors of sexual violence. A study of 25 women who had been sexually assaulted found that up to 75% reported “feeling ashamed about themselves following sexual assault”, which another researcher suggested may have impacted the likelihood of the victims disclosing the assault.

In the six years that have passed since that hard-fought-for STI test, I’ve made progress with my internal cross-examiner. I’ve learned to advocate for myself. Engaging in feminist activism and investing in weekly therapy sessions has enabled me to identify and dismantle the shame that settled inside me.

A feeling of peace comes with accepting that yes, I was raped, and no, it wasn’t my fault (even if I was flirting with all the grace and decorum of a reversing dump truck). The minute I take my story to the police and eventually – if I’m one of the lucky ones – to court, I threaten that hard-earned peace. I hand my power back to the snide cross-examiner, but this time they’re not just an unwelcome voice in my head; they’re an actual person, a barrister, whose job it is to expose the holes in my story.

Thanks, in large part, to the efforts of women’s rights organisations, special measures are being introduced across courts in England and Wales to enable potential victims to submit pre-recorded evidence of their cross-examination. While this is a step in the right direction, the measure is subject to an individual application to the court rather than an option universally offered to complainants.

I desperately want to live in a world where survivors of sexual violence report their experiences without thinking twice, where the thought of cross-examination doesn’t immediately invoke feelings of dread. If the ongoing slew of high-profile cases involving allegations of sexual assault has taught me anything, it’s that the world has never seemed so distant.

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