Few things are more frightening than rape. But for many survivors of sexual assault, the prospect of reporting the crime to police brings with it a fresh wave of fear – at a time when they most deserve to feel safe and supported.
Going through the criminal justice system is a complex and lengthy process with no guarantee of a conviction, and the information available can often seem intimidating and overwhelming. This, according to the organisation Rape Crisis, can sometimes contribute to rape survivors dropping their claim entirely.
In a powerful new video campaign, titled #BreakTheSilence, Rape Crisis South London are aiming to demystify what happens after a rape is reported – in the hope of empowering survivors to come forward.
Featuring Georgina Campbell, the BAFTA-winning star of the BBC series Murdered by My Boyfriend, the short films tell the story of teenager Leila, who visits her local Rape Crisis centre after being raped at a party. Over the course of four videos, we see what happens after Leila decides to report the case to the police, from making a formal statement to arriving in court.
A prominent character in the films is Leila’s independent sexual violence advisor (ISVA), Rebecca, who is by her side throughout the entire process. In the last year, Rape Crisis’s team of ISVAs has seen a significant rise in the number of teenage girls being referred to them with cases of sexual violence – a trend confirmed by ONS statistics, which put the number of young survivors at around 25,500.
But while the videos depict the experience of a teenager, they provide a key resource for older women, too.
“Our ongoing aim is to help survivors of all ages feel less isolated and unsure about the help available to them from specialists like our charity,” says Yvonne Traynor, CEO of Rape Crisis South London.
“Rape Crisis South London are aware of how daunting reporting sexual violence to the police can be,” she says. “We felt that survivors needed more information about the system and the support available to make it easier for them to make a more informed decision about what they wanted to do.”
In the first film, Leila is shown on her laptop, watching a Rape Crisis video.
“If you’ve been raped, what do you do? Well, there are options open for you,” says a Rape Crisis spokeswoman, played by Georgina Campbell. “The most important thing for you to know is that it’s never your fault and you’re not to blame. The person who raped you is.
“It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, how much you drank, if you’d taken drugs, or if you’d slept with them before. If you didn’t want it, or couldn’t say if you didn’t want it because you were asleep or out of it.
“If you’re a victim of rape and have lived through it, then you have survived. You’re a survivor.”
The next clip sees Leila visiting her local Rape Crisis centre. There, she speaks to an independent sexual violence advocate (ISVA), Rebecca, whose role it is to support survivors through the criminal justice system.
Rebecca reassures Leila that it doesn’t matter that she didn’t come forward about the rape immediately, and explains that Rape Crisis is a confidential, survivor-led organisation – so the police won’t be involved unless Leila decides that she wants them to be.
But Leila decides that she does want to report her rapist to the police. In the third video, she meets her sexual offences investigative technique (SOIT) officer, the single point of contact for rape survivors throughout a police investigation.
Crucially, this clip provides a realistic depiction of what happens once an official report of rape is made to police. Leila's SOIT officer explains to her that cases of rape can take a long time to go to court – and if the Crown Prosecution Service decides that there's not enough evidence, the case might not make it to court at all.
"We had to think long and hard about whether we would depict Leila at court as we didn’t want to raise the expectation that cases go to trial automatically," Rebecca Hitchen, operations coordinator at Rape Crisis South London, tells Stylist.co.uk. "This is one of the myths we wanted to challenge."
However, a closed case can be reopened if further evidence comes to light – or if other survivors from the same perpetrator come forward.
The final video picks up on the first day of the trial, 14 months later. Leila’s independent sexual violence advocate, Rebecca, shows her around the courtroom while it’s empty, and explains how the court process will work.
“It’s natural to feel anxious and overwhelmed, but what you’re doing is speaking out, and you’re putting the blame and shame on him, where it belongs,” Rebecca tells her. “You’re telling the truth, and the truth is powerful. You are powerful."
Help is out there
If you or someone you know has experienced any form of sexual violence and don’t know what to do, here are the charities that can help.
A network of centres and support groups throughout the UK. Their website carries clear information about current rape laws, and they can refer you to a local support centre for counselling or independent advice.
0808 802 9999; rapecrisis.org.uk
Women Against Rape
Providing emotional and legal support, legal information, advocacy and self-help information for victims of sexual assault. They are particularly good at offering support to women who are unsure of their rights after an attack has been reported to the police.
020 7482 2496; womenagainstrape.net
The Survivors Trust
An umbrella agency partnered with more than 135 support groups and organisations throughout the UK. Their website provides information on the long-term effects that victims can suffer, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as online resources for abuse survivors.
01788 550554; thesurvivorstrust.org
As well as running a number of refuges throughout the UK and centres for gender-based violence, this organisation operates a 24-hour domestic violence helpline which offers support and advice. Their Independent Domestic Violence Advocates provide expert guidance for women going through civil and criminal courts.
0808 2000 24; refuge.org.uk