When I was 23 and travelling through Malaysia, I was repeatedly raped by a stranger. I was unconscious when the man first assaulted me, and when I was conscious I said no countless times. But he kept on telling me how much he could hurt me, and raped me throughout the night. As soon as I was safe I reported the crime, but my attacker has never been caught.
This happened in July 2016. The following August I returned to the UK and sought counselling to help me deal with my growing sense of trauma. I’d expected there might be a waiting list for help. If only it had been that easy.
My first port of call was a rape crisis centre in East London. I wasn’t prepared for their response: they were so overwhelmed by demand for their services, they had actually had to close the waiting list. Over the next eight months I contacted a string of other rape crisis centres across London, all of which told me their waiting lists were closed because all were so oversubscribed.
“Try again in a few months,” my local rape crisis centre in south London, where I was living by this point, kept telling me. Each time they were equally apologetic. And each time I tried them again, the story was exactly the same. They were full, and no-one could help me.
This is why I decided to waive the anonymity to which victims of sexual violence are entitled, and speak out. All around the country, other victims of sexual assault will be faced with situations like mine: spiralling deeper into mental crisis and unable to access support. In fact, I’ve been one of the lucky ones.
The last time I contacted a rape crisis centre was exactly this time last year. My mental condition was plummeting and I wasn’t coping very well at all. I’d increasingly been suffering from migraines, and their severity was growing so much that I had to call in sick to the private sector firm where I work. When I once again called my local rape crisis centre, they told me they still couldn’t help me. And that was when I crashed completely. I felt there was nowhere to turn and no way for me to access the help I so desperately needed. I was sleeping very badly and experiencing nightmares, as well as frightening visions while awake. I felt I was losing control of myself. Meanwhile, those who I thought should be helping me were telling me they just were not able to.
With no options left, I told the head of my team at work what I was going through. I had to say something because I couldn’t come in, too afraid by this point to leave the house. So over email I disclosed everything, about the rape and my struggle to get help ever since. I didn’t know what else to do.
It was just a cry for help and I never once thought she’d be able to do anything about it. But she instantly sorted things out. She put me in touch with a private trauma specialist and arranged for my employer to pay.
This doesn’t happen for most rape survivors. The only reason it happened for me was because I’d been forced into such a position that I had to reveal what had happened.
So today I am launching a petition, calling on the Government to take responsibility for its failure to ensure rape counselling services are there when survivors need them. I’m calling on others to help me tell Theresa May, the Prime Minister, that every one of us has the right to access independent specialist support services in the community when they seek it, and receive long-term counselling that will help them recover. In the cases of some, this could genuinely be life-saving.
In 2019 it is just unacceptable that waiting lists for such help remain closed. Actions speak louder than words, and May must do something to prove that she cares. Warm words alone won’t help anyone.
As things stand, the state is failing survivors in their thousands. Rape Crisis England and Wales reported that in March 2018 there were 6,355 victims of sexual violence on waiting lists. The wait can be as long as 14 months for those who are able to access the services. But often, as I experienced myself, when waiting lists are longer than a year, centres make the tough decision to close them to new clients.
Too many will be struggling in silence. I hope future generations will not be let down like I was.
As told to Rosa Silverman
To sign Fern Champion’s petition, visit https://www.change.org/p/ theresa-may-mp-survivors-of- sexual-violence-are-being- denied-support-tell-theresa- may-this-must-end-now- d74e3124-6b81-4a54-82f5- 601975331de4