When I left the Special Unit it was early evening. I had no idea how that much time had passed. By this time I just felt exhausted, I wasn’t crying or angry or feeling anything really, I was even able to make little jokes with my mum, sister and boyfriend. I want to make this clear because I have read and heard so much rubbish about being able to look at a woman and see whether she was raped or not. In more reliable sources however it is consistently agreed that women can behave very differently depending on their experiences. Many raped women suffer from shock. Shock has many suprising behaviours associated with it. It’s very easy to sit back and claim “If I was raped I would…”, I’m sure I have thought those things in the past. The reality is that such horrendous trauma creates all kinds of unexpected emotions and therefore behaviour varies massively between individuals and over time.
In the weeks following my attack I was sleeping between 12 and 18 hours a day. This was due to the fact that I was suffering from shock but, at the time, both myself and my family worried that I was very depressed. I felt I couldn’t move and when I did I was only able to move very slowly, dragging my feet and I never felt hungry.
I was so fortunate to have my family and a few friends around me in the first few days. They didn’t expect anything of me that I wasn’t capable of. I wasn’t expected to laugh when I couldn’t or to eat when I wasn’t able to and there were no expectations of me to either pour my heart out or pull myself together. I would advise anyone who is supporting a woman who has recently been raped to act in this way. I had had my autonomy taken away from me. If anyone had placed pressure on me to do or be certain things I would have felt I was being held back from reattaining my self-posession.
After several days I decided I was ready to find a counsellor. I contacted all the telephone numbers on the list that the police had provided me with (I felt I had to do this myself, although my mother offered to do it on my behlaf). Rape Crisis had no counselling available for me. They were able to offer me a crisis session which would be for one hour the next week and I would then be placed on a waiting list of several months. I tried the next number. This was (My home town’s) rape and sexual abuse counselling service. They could also offer me a one hour counselling session and told me the waiting list was 4 months long. I tried the third number, which did not even ring. I tried that several times. I tried the fourth number on the list and was answered with “Good Afternoon, Suicide Survivors Helpline”. I could barely speak but told them how I had got their number. They apologised and couldn’t believe the police had given me that number. I felt as though my death had been pre-empted and gave up making calls for that day.
Later I received a call from Victim Support, which is a support service for all victims of crime. They receive their information from the police. They are volunteers who contact victims of crime shortly after it is reported. I called them on several occasions to ask questions, mostly about the court date and practical issues. I wanted to speak to a qualified and experienced sexual assault counsellor about the rape itself though.
I couldn’t find counselling anywhere and started to feel desperate. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to cope when the reality of what had happened came crashing down. I was aware of feeling numb and felt that this could not last for long. I turned to my parents for help to find a counsellor as they both work in the public sector and my mum was given the number of a psycho-therapist who one of her colleagues used. I was able to arrange a session with her the next week but it was at a cost of £50 per hour. I was told by the police that I could claim money back for the counselling from Criminal Injuries Compensation.
I felt angry that I had been forced into a situation where I had to borrow money from my parents to get the care I needed and that this meant I would probably need to claim compensation for the attack to pay them back. I felt that I was cheating, paying for help when most women could not afford such a luxury. But I also felt that I couldn’t cope without help and couldn’t imagine how any raped woman could cope without it. It’s hard enough to ask for help without facing such an unfair dilemma of survival vs principles.
The government consistently fails to support rape victims adequately. For years funding of rape crisis centres has been cut so that there are now very few areas that benefit from their services and, where they do exist, resources are so tight that waiting lists mean they are rendered almost redundant to women who need help fast. I will shortly be listing links of organisations you can contact to find out more about the UK failure to support raped women and ways you can help as well as a list of some of the support services available in the UK.