Last summer I was raped.
Afterwards, I was numb, confused and scared. But somehow, I plucked up the courage to report it to the police two days later. I was taken in a police van from one police station to another in a different city, then spent eight hours straight being questioned, and what felt like having my whole life analysed and judged. I was told by police I would be automatically referred to the Rape Crisis Scotland helpline, and sent on my way whilst they gathered evidence.
A few days later, the helpline called me and explained they provide initial over the phone support but could refer me to a local rape crisis centre. I was passed from agency to agency, whilst repeating what had happened over and over, but I agreed. At this point, I didn’t really understand what was happening. I was still numb, but knew I needed help to comprehend it all. As a social work student, I understood the true value of support services in recovery, and just wanted someone to support me through both the emotional and legal sides of reporting a sexual assault.
A support worker from my local rape crisis centre invited me to come in for an initial assessment, which involved a long list of tick box questions. She added me to their waiting lists for counselling and an advocacy worker. I later contacted the support worker to enquire about a calm group, as this was the nearest thing to support I could find, but she never replied to my text or email. More positively, an advocacy worker became available to me a few months later, in October. I met with her, updated her on where the police were at, and for the first time I felt empowered and in control. Over a few months, I slowly got news from the police that there was lack of evidence and my case was almost a lost cause. At this point, my advocacy worker lost touch, and even forgot to turn up to meet me for an appointment, and then made no further contact. I was more reluctant to reach out to my local rape crisis centre after this and continued to navigate through a legal process alone, whilst attempting to deal with what had happened to me. It felt like as the police gave up on my case, my advocacy worker was as well. But it wasn’t just legal support I needed. I was still in shock at what had happened to me, and didn’t want it to take over my life.
In December, I felt lower and lonelier than ever, so referred myself to my universities counselling service. This involved, yet again, telling a stranger what happened and being put on a waiting list. I felt disappointed, lost and unable to rely on support services, so approached my GP for help, who quickly sent me on my way with some anti-anxiety meds in hand and no support. I just wanted someone, anyone, to help me. I was tired of asking for help that no one was willing to give and felt hopeless.
Now, one year on, I found out my case was being closed with no explanation, only a letter telling me to collect the physical evidence I gave to the police as soon as possible. I am still on the counselling waiting list for both the rape crisis centre and my university, with no sign of support happening anytime soon. I still regularly check my local rape crisis centres website for any other support, but information is out of date, with the last newsletter posted outlining support dated August 2017. If support had been provided from the start, or even a month or so in, maybe my mental health would be in a better place than it is now. Instead, I have never spoken to a professional about how I feel after being raped, and the side effects it has caused on my everyday life. Rape survivors don’t want to rely on drugs, alcohol or other unhealthy coping mechanisms, but with lack of services available, these options are commonly explored by survivors. More worryingly, the situation will only continue to get worse as funding drops and need for support increases.
Following the rise of the Me Too movement, more survivors have felt comfortable and confident enough to speak up and reach out for help. Although I am thankful to the Me Too campaign for encouraging women to speak up about their experience of sexual assault, and I feel a major societal change has happened towards this, services and funding do not reflect a change and cannot handle the demand. With only one NHS rape centre in Scotland, most rely on funding and fundraising. Without a rise in funds to match the rise in demand, more and more rape crisis centres close their doors to new referrals, to try and tackle their current long waiting lists. Women are being encouraged to speak up without any support being available and suffering because of it. As a consequence, many women, including myself, are lost in a system struggling to survive.
Ceilidh is a social work student and rape survivor, writing under a pseudonym