Speaking up about Sexual Assault…
I’ve been thinking about writing about this for a very long time but it just hasn’t happened. Finally I’ve been ready to push the ‘publish’ button albeit extremely nervously… In light of everything in the press at the moment I thought I would share my story.
In my early twenties I was happily living life to the full. I’d returned to London leaving university behind to pursue my dreams of wanting to get into Fashion. After a number of interviews I landed my first Buying Job at Austin Reed as a Buyers Admin Assistant. I’d done it! I’d dropped out of uni, left my friends back in Bristol, followed my heart and got my size 4’s firmly into the Fashion industry. The dream however was always to work for Topshop- My favourite high street store. Everything about it was appealing and I knew that’s where I was going. After a couple of years here and two successful interviews for both Topshop and Urban Outfitters, I jumped straight onto the Shoe team in Topshop’s Buying office to pursue my dreams. Life was GREAT. I had a great job, lived off Portobello market, was excitable and thrilled with where I had come and what I had so far accomplished.
One weekend I had been invited along to a wedding with my then boyfriend and his family. Neither of us knew them too well, but it was going to be different as it was a very traditional Indian ceremony. The day started off well, I love everything about a wedding; the people, the sights, sounds, happiness in the air. We had lots of yummy food ad met some very nice people. The day soon turned into night and the drinks started to flow.
I got talking with a man who I’d never met before, about my job and my journey into the Industry so far. I’d talked about my passion for fashion and how much I was enjoying it. He also had a fashion background, so we had a lot to chat about, despite him being older than me. I was interested to hear his views, what he had to say and of any advice he could give me…you could call it intrigue. I remember drinking a lot (as everyone was) and the conversation moving outside to where I was smoking. My then boyfriend was also around, but was similarly mingling with guests. It was from this point that things become a bit of a blur.
Having ‘walked and talked’ engrossed in conversation, I found myself a street away from the wedding party, down an alleyway by some car garages. It was dark, no street lights and I had no idea where I was. The word NO had very little affect. My hands pushing his strength away didn’t seem to help either. I remember wondering where my boyfriend was. I kept thinking about the wedding party and asking myself how I got here. No one was around. This strangers hands were on me and the sound of NO was falling on deaf ears. Eventually and god knows how, I managed to get away from this situation and began walking the streets to try and find the place I had come from. The man had disappeared. Dishevelled and confused, I somehow found my way back and was greeted by a ton of guests who proceeded to shout and scream ‘where is he?’. It was at this point that I broke down in tears and realised what had just happened.
The following hours and days consisted of police interviews and examinations. Then I got the phonecall from the detective on my case ‘we’re taking it to Crown Court’. While this was exactly what needed to happen, it was also so big a deal that it scared the hell out of me. For weeks I was questioning everything. Replaying the events from what I could remember. Repeating things over and over to officials, to family, to myself. How did this happen? What did I do? How could I have changed things? My emotions were scarred. I felt vulnerable and lonely even though I had such a huge support network around. Speaking to police every time was highlighting the reality that I had been violated. Taken advantage of because I was young and vulnerable.
I was given the option to have a ‘screen’ in court, so that I didn’t have to face the man. The last thing I wanted was to see this person, so having a screen in place was my protection. The whole process was daunting… walking into the courtroom, seeing the members of the jury- regular people ready and waiting to hear what you have to say. Thankfully I had a couple of great detectives who had prepped me and put me at ease before he hearing. Despite this however, no one can ever prepare you for being cross-examined. I did my very best and managed to maintain as composed as I could albeit very teary and emotional. I had the biggest support of my family and best friends throughout it all and without that I fear it would have all got too much.
It was around this time that I fell into a depression and seeked help from my GP who offered me counselling and medication. This ordeal had triggered a depression that I honestly think had been lingering for a while. Sometimes it just takes that one thing doesn’t it? The therapy gave me an opportunity to talk openly and a safe place to express my emotions.
Years later and now I’m a wife and mother. As a parent, it’s important that the message NO is very clearly understood. No means No. I tell Harry who is my oldest that if someone at school says ‘no’ whether it be in a game or messing around, equally if his baby brother says ‘no’, then he must listen and pay attention. When children are excitable or hyper, it’s not uncommon for this word to be lost among the noise HOWEVER It’s these very words that mean so much but sadly in some circumstances, so little.
Raising boys, it’s paramount that we teach them respect. Respect for others and ultimately respect for themselves. My husband and I have a very loving relationship with our boys and do our utmost to instil healthy values and as they get older, encourage them to be honest and open. I hope that by always being here to listen to them, that they grow up feeling comfortable to talk to us about anything and ask questions freely, with no judgement or anguish. I want my boys to grow into lovely men who have he utmost respect for women and consequently build on friendships and relationships in a healthy way.
Sadly I know of a few people who have fallen victim to sexual assault. It’s a very private matter, so isn’t something you talk about openly. I’m hoping that by sharing my story I can enforce the message that being touched or violated in some way is not acceptable/ not ok/ not allowed. Speak up, have yourself heard. If I can do it, you can too.
Unfortunately for me and due to lack of hard evidence, the man who Sexually Assaulted me was acquitted. I don’t regret going through the court process one bit despite him not being prosecuted and do wholeheartedly encourage to report things to police as soon as they happen. This man remains on the sex offenders list for the rest of his life, which for me, is good enough.
By laura x