Saturday, April 13, 2013

Part 4: On being a victim of rape culture

Warning: This post could be triggering for people who have themselves been victims of sexual assault.

On being a victim of rape culture

Part 1: The day before
Part 2: Where am I?
Part 3: The day after

Reporting the crime

As Monday morning dawned and the familiar smell of freshly baked croissants filled the air, the butter seeming to permeate my pores, I became conscious one again of the constant hum of the air conditioning units below. There was a split second before I was completely awake that I forgot what had happened. Just a few tiny moments where I was free from the horror that was my life until - BANG - it all came flooding back. This was going to be a very difficult day.

I dressed for work wondering what I was going to do about sitting down at my desk all day. My coccyx continued to throb in excruciating pain and even sitting forward, putting my weight towards the edge of the seat, was insanely painful.

The walk to work was uncomfortable. Had the person who had assaulted me found me walking home along these streets on Friday night? Is that what happened? Was I not able to get a cab out the front of the office so decided to walk home after all? Maybe I'd fallen over and that was why my coccyx screamed in agony every time I shifted my weight? The questions were never ending.

The first thing I did when I got to the office was stop by the kitchen to get a coffee. One of the young guys who'd been at work drinks Friday night was there making his breakfast. I don't remember his name now. I spoke to him while I waited for the coffee machine to do its thing. I can't remember word for word what I said. To quote myself now would be complete conjecture. I think I made a comment about the night, that I didn't remember much. He seemed embarrassed. I was embarrassed. I didn't know this bloke enough to question further. Now, in retrospect, I wish I'd ignored my fears and made him go over with me every frigging detail that he recalled. Someone must have seen something!

In my team's room everyone was busy either looking at Excel spreadsheets or speaking to clients on the phone. I attempted to sit at my desk wincing as I lowered myself onto my chair. The first thing I did was email the female manager I remembered talking to just before I lost all awareness of was going on. I asked her what she remembered of the night. What did I say to her out the front of our building?

While waiting for a reply I told my boss, who had become a friend over the years, that I'd hurt myself falling over and needed an alternative seating arrangement. I ordered one of those funny backless ergo chairs that you kind of kneel on.

I couldn't concentrate on work. I wanted answers! Surely someone would know something! But who to ask? I desperately wanted that manager to email me back and say that I'd said I was going to another bar. It would explain why I ended up where I was. Kind of. Maybe that would have meant that I met this person the normal way. That I wasn't stalked and attacked. That it wasn't premeditated.

Finally the email came through. She wrote that I had said to her that I was going to catch a Black Cab home and that she caught the Northern Line home. She said she was really drunk too and fell asleep on the train, waking up at the end of the line.

My heart sank. To me these words confirmed my worst fears: I had been attacked and raped. I retrospect, either way you look at it, whether I went there willingly or by force, I was raped. An unconscious woman can not consent to sex. An unconscious person cannot consent to anything! It has taken a long time for me to accept that.

Blood rushed through my ears, my vision blurred, I thought I was going to vomit all over my keyboard. I had to get the fuck out of there before I exploded. I had to tell my boss, my friend. I couldn't speak to him even though he was only sitting on the other side of the petition. I knew the only thing that would come out of my mouth if I opened it would be a scream or a sob. I didn't want anyone else in the room to know what was going on. So I emailed him: "I need to speak to you privately. Now."

He looked through the glass dividing us and could see my upset face. "Let's go for a coffee", he suggested. I got as far as through our office door. To the left was a door that led to the fire stairs and goods lift. I lurched left, quickly yanked that door open and went inside, my boss following me, and collapsed in a heap as I wailed "I've been raped".

I lost it then, fell apart in my boss's arms as what little hope I had of things getting back to normal finally disintegrated. He held me and I knew he was crying too. Pulling himself together he stood back and said I had to go to the police. I argued that they would just say it was my fault. I was drunk! What sympathy would they have for me?

My boss said no matter what happened I had to do it for me. By going to the police I would be acknowledging to myself that something had happened to me. That I was not to blame. That a crime had been committed against me.

Next my boss told me to go downstairs to one of the cafes on the ground floor. He would call the manager who I'd emailed and ask her to come and talk to us about what she remembered. It felt so good that someone was on my side! Someone was taking me seriously.

The manager sat down with us for a coffee and repeated what she remembered of those last moments of the Friday night before everyone headed home: I had categorically said to her that I was catching a cab home. She had no reason to believe I would have gone back into another bar. By that time, all the venues but the nightclub were closed anyway. I thanked them both and walked to the police station.

Not understanding that the City of London had it's own police force I went along to the only cop shop I knew. It was the Liverpool Street Police Station. I used to catch my bus home to Battersea when I lived there from the bus stop just along the way.


The entry to the police station was unassuming and quite small. There was a police officer behind a counter and a couple of people waiting to be seen to. I had no idea what to do. I just walked up to he counter which was in earshot of the people waiting and told the office that I needed to report a crime. He asked me what crime would I like to report. "Um, I ah, yeah, I was raped", I stuttered out.

I felt about sixteen again. Scared and alone in a foreign country. I wanted my mum - anyone familiar to me - to be there with me to hold my hand.  The officer looked embarrassed, as if he didn't know what to do. Finally he ushered me in through a door on the left and along a hallway to an internal waiting area. I wasn't there long before a WPC (woman police constable) led me through what turned out to be a massive complex of rooms and offices.

It was about 10.30am by this time I think. I remember the hallway was wide and long. On the left I noticed an open door that led through to what looked like a classic London pub. Off duty police offices who must have just finished the nightshift were drinking beer. At least that's what I thought I saw. People have doubted me when I've told them that part of the story. I swear it is true. Later in the day, walking down that same corridor, I remember seeing bar snacks on the counter. Like pickled onions and cubes of cheese. Maybe I imagined it.

I was escorted up to a room that was especially designated for victims and witnesses. It was comfortable yet clinical. There was a sofa, a TV and some toys. Posters advertising crisis centres and other such services were up on the walls. I was left there while they figured out what to do with me. You see I'd come to the wrong place. The crime had been committed in Shoreditch which is in the Greater London area only a couple of kilometres away. That area came under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police. As I waited in that beige room for victims and witnesses I felt a loneliness and despair that is beyond description.

Fear returned to me then as I thought over my life and how by being there, at the police station, it could be put under scrutiny. I've watched a lot of Law & Order and countless other crime shows and I realised that my life was turning into an episode of Special Victims Unit or The Bill. If the cops ever got this guy and it went to court all my secrets would be exposed. All the lies I'd told to my family and my employer would be dragged out in court. Everyone would know about my addictions, my financial debt, my promiscuity. I had visions of my friends and work colleagues being questioned in the witness box as to my character: "Yes Your Honour, Vanessa loves to party. Oh yes, she's known to have slept with a few blokes from the office...".

The wait dragged on as I frantically searched my own handbag and wallet for remnants of cocaine. It would be just my luck for the cops to find an old wrap of lotto paper with scratchings left behind. When I came up empty I scanned my mobile phone for dealer contacts and deleted every single one. Of course I was being irrational. The police weren't going to search me. Or were they?

Finally two Met WPCs came and sat with me. They had come from a large police station in the area where the assault had taken place. They asked me to tell them exactly what I remembered. I think they left again. I just remember waiting. A lot. Next thing I recall the two WPCs, who would be my escorts for the entire day, drove me to my flat. We were to collect the clothing I wore on the Friday night. I text my flatmate to warn him that I'd be home soon with a policewoman in tow.

My jeans, top, underwear and socks were all on the floor of my bedroom where I'd stripped them off just two mornings earlier. I half expected the WPC to crouch down by my dirty knickers and pick them up with the end of a pen from her pocket like I'd seen done so many times on Law & Order. Instead she donned latex gloves and bagged each item in separate brown paper bags. I wondered why on the telly the cops used plastic evidence bags. Why didn't the shows' producers ever get that detail right?

Back in the police car the three of us were to do a drive by of where I thought the assault had occurred. I can't tell you how horrific it was to return to the scene of the crime. I was so scared I'd see him on the street! That he'd see me in the back of the police vehicle cruising past the flats where he lived. I slouched down in the back not wanting to be seen. That rush of adrenalin, as the urge to run overtook me, whooshed through my senses and I couldn't focus any more. I had to get out of there. I think I pointed at the building and we left.

(Out of morbid curiosity and/or to challenge myself I looked up the place on Google Maps just two days ago. I really didn't think I'd find it but I did. The building is just how I remember it. Those streets I walked along they are still there just as I recalled.)

Back at Liverpool Street I was returned to the room for victims and witnesses. I waited some more. In that time a friend called. She didn't know what had happened and when I explained the story to her she said she'd come to me immediately. It was around three or four in the afternoon by then. This friend of mine, who I'll be forever grateful for, left work early to come and be with me.

I've just done the numbers in my head again. If I arrived at the police station at around 10am by the time my friend turned up at 4pm I'd been with the police for six hours. We didn't make it back to my flat until three the next morning so there is 11 more hours of this story to tell you. For both our sakes I'll save it for the next post in this series.

Thank you once again for reading and for your supportive comments.


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Claudia littlecottagebiglife said...

Vanessa, I'm so riveted and saddened all at the same time by this series of posts. Your writing is so vivid, I am amazed by the detail you can remember after all this time. Then I thought it is most likely burned into your memory bank, like the night I was drugged is forever burned into mine. I just want to give you a huge hug! said...

It is very vivid. Writing these posts have made me realise just how vivid the memories are. I can almost smell them.

I'll take that virtual hug! Thank you Claudia. :>)

Lizzy Allan said...

Vanessa, it's so hard to put into words what I want to say here ... you are so so brave. You write so well. One section that you wrote resounded with me completely: 'I retrospect, either way you look at it, whether I went there willingly or by force, I was raped. An unconscious woman can not consent to sex. An unconscious person cannot consent to anything! It has taken a long time for me to accept that.' It took me a long time to accept that too. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. You are helping many other women in doing so. xx

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