Content warning: this blog contains description of sexual assault
I was in an air-conditioned, windowless meeting room within the bowels BBC’s Broadcasting House. I was sitting across a table with a producer who wanted to help me tell my story in a documentary he was planning. I walked him through what happened, the attacks, life afterwards and how I came about to founding a charity to help others.
To prepare me for the documentary he was planning to make, he asked me questions, which would help me think about what happened to me remember the important feelings I felt when I was raped.
It’s then when he asked a question that no one else had asked: “If you had the chance, what would you say to the person who attacked you?”
I’ve been doing this for a while and I was comfortable with talking about it. For well over a year Stay Brave has been helping others like me, I’ve spoken at colleges and universities and spoken numerously to press asking questions. I’ve never been asked that. I didn’t know how to answer.
The calm and professional person this producer was asking questions to disappeared and a chink in the armour had been exposed. I didn’t know how to answer. A few seconds had passed but it felt like hours. I tried to think about what should be the answer.
In August in 2010 I was waiting for friends to finish a West End show in a well-known bar in Soho. It was around 9pm and I was about three drinks down. I was sitting at the bar and chatting to the server who was keeping me company. I needed to go to the toilet and didn’t notice I was followed in. While at the urinal I couldn’t see the man come up behind me, grab my head and push towards the cubicle close by. To this day I don’t remember much just pockets of flashing details; how cold the wall was when my head was pushed against it, his voice telling me to be quiet, and being so scared to move.
I left the bar unsure how long I had been in the bathroom. I never went on to report the incident for years and suppressed it. Years went on as a sinking feeling of numbness and shame grew inside me, anyone who got close to me noticed an emotional wall they couldn’t penetrate. It affected my education and leads to me dropping out of university, fabricating lie after lie to prevent others knowing the truth.
My brain still couldn’t unfreeze from this moment. If my attacker were in front of me – what would I say, if I could say anything at all? Would I scream at them? Would I be calm? I tried to think of other survivors and their stories.
In an article that I took part in with another survivor, Fionnlagh, about our stories and how we came to help others. In the article the reporter asked him about a time that he saw his attacker again. “He kept making eye contact. And I just sat frozen,” he says. “I just remember being absolutely devastated and sitting with my eyes shut... I eventually got off and broke down. That was the beginning of the end.”
I was thinking when I read how bravely Fionnlagh recalled his experience, would this be how I’d react? Would I even have the capability to say anything and be as frozen as he was? I started to think about how much he must have been caught off guard and how frightened he must have been. The scenario the producer wanted an answer for is as if I was in control of the situation.
After I left the interview with no way of answering him I started thinking what I would do in that situation. I wrote endless notes and researched what others have said when confronted with their attacker. One, the story of Laura Coel, which was told in a BBC News post, where she was able to confront her during a restorative justice programme with the unanswered questions she had.
She was able to organise a supervised meeting. The attacker was sent the questions in advance and an ‘escape route’ was planned if she felt she needed to use it. She said to the BBC: “When I left I felt euphoric and lighter, rather than drained. I think it was more emotionally draining leading up to it, but then after it just felt like I’d been cleared of everything.”
I tried to imagine what I’d want to ask if I was in that instance. In a safe environment, they have somehow identified and brought into custody my attacker and I was allowed to confront him.
Some might say that I would be fully within my rights to be angry to this person who had negatively impacted my life so much. No one would judge me if I wanted to scream at them, bringing together ever swear and insult fathomable in some kind of recompense for what they did.
But I don’t think that’s what I’d want to do. I don’t know my attacker, in my mind they are just 6ft tall and of larger build. But, if by someway they were found and brought before me I would want to say one thing: I hope you’re well now. I forgive you.
I can’t begin to fathom what that person has gone through in their life to not be phased when attacking me. In their mind they thought its right to do what they did and it must be an awful life to lead. It’s my hope that, by now, they’ve overcome whatever demons they had and they are sorry for what they did and acknowledge the damage it has caused.
I say this because I believe, for me to move on from what happened, I can’t be held back by hate or anger I felt. It may not be for everyone who has been through what I have, but for me to come to terms with what happened I feel I need to forgive and move on.
Alexander Morgan is CEO of Stay Brave, a charity who’s mission is to make sure victims and survivors of abuse have the help they need and respect they deserve. You can find help on their website: www.staybrave.org.uk/help