I reported my rape to the police before I started therapy – though neither was immediate. As is common for victims of sexual assault, I spent the first few days in a state of shock. Time flat-lined. I didn’t understand what had happened to me, I even started a new job.
I navigated these days with numbness and surrealism, operating on an outer-body level as I watched myself go through the motions, until something (I don’t remember what) triggered me into having a breakdown of sorts in my new office’s bathroom. I ran home and emailed my boss, explaining everything – as best I could. I suppose you could say that was the beginning of it all.
In the following weeks, I decided to report. I did so through The Haven, one of three NHS-funded centres in London for rape and sexual assault victims. Looking back, reporting through them was one of the best decisions I made. I was given tea, introduced to two friendly young women in normal clothes, who turned out to be the police officers. My boyfriend was allowed to be in the room with me. The experience was nothing if not validating of everything I’d been through, and I’m grateful not to be able to relate to the terrible experiences some rape victims have had with the police.
So, it was with sadness and anger that I read this week’s reports that police are encouraging those who report their assault not to seek therapy until after the case has been resolved. The reasons given – “it may harm your case if the assault is discussed prior to the courtroom” – tell the usual story of authorities treating sexual assault victims with suspicion.
There are so many layers of wrong here. Cases can take months, even years. For legal reasons, I can’t disclose any details of mine, but it’s enough to know that the process is slow. Incredibly slow. ‘Thorough’ might be a synonym for ‘slow’ in this context, and I don’t resent the police for taking their time to give my case the best shot. But I can’t imagine having to wait until it was over to get therapy.
I started seeing my therapist four months after my rape. It took about this amount of time to process what I would later understand as biggest event of my life so far. The trauma I’d been suppressing came to a head one weekend, when I vomited everything I consumed and eventually self-referred to The Priory. Here, the psychiatrist confirmed I was suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He referred me to a therapist who specialised in trauma. He is a large part of the reason I’m still alive.
I don’t say this lightly. I’ve had mental health struggles in the past – like many of us – but such is the scale of the aftermath of sexual assault that I can barely remember how I felt before I was raped. Life was divided into a stark before and after. I can remember, though, that in the ‘after’ part, I had moments where I just didn’t want to live anymore.
It’s hard to overstate the intensity of shame and isolation that assault brings with it. There are no hero narratives for people who are raped. There’s no one to look up to, there are no medals and there is no lauding. More often than not, there’s just silence. Nobody wants to talk about rape. It’s grotesque. It’s dirty. It’s uncomfortable. There was a good chunk of time where I could barely think of anything to say that wasn’t to do with trauma or sexual assault. I would zone out of ‘normal’ conversations, and wonder when and how I could bring up rape as a topic. I’ve lost friends in the aftermath of assault, and I suppose this might be part of the reason why.
My therapist gave me a lifeline. He grounded me. He was, and remains, a totally safe person to talk to. We embarked on specialist treatment for trauma – EMDR, through which I was able to purge much of the shame and uncleanliness that lay latent within me. Our conversations retain threads of levity, and its helped me to navigate conversations with friends and acquaintances when I feel as though I might explode. He’s my rock, to be quite frank, and he probably knows me better than anyone. The idea that authorities are actively discouraging people who have experienced one of the worst things a person can ever go through against seeking professional help, is mind-boggling.
I am not a psychologist, and I don’t know exactly why or how therapy has helped me. But I am sure of this: it has saved my life. It is an absolute travesty that rape victims are being told not to go.