My name is Danielle and I moved to London in 2000 from Boston. In December 2006 I was out for holiday drinks in the West End with co-workers and after being turned away from the Cro-Bar for being too drunk I found myself alone at 1 am and drunkenly tried to find my way home. I was spotted by an opportunist who took me for a few drinks, spiked it and then raped me. When I got home just before dawn I was confused and uncertain and told my husband as soon as I got in that I may have had sex with someone though not sure with whom or why I would have had sex (we had just celebrated our 7 year wedding anniversary and were happily married). I had him examine me for bruises or signs of a struggle before getting into the shower.
The next morning I went to the GP to get examined and see if sexual intercourse had actually taken place and if so would they be able to determine if any protection had been used. If some stranger had unprotected sex with me I wanted to be able take any precautions against possible exposure to HIV/AIDS or hepatitis. After explaining what little I could recall my GP looked alarmed and said that it sounded like I had been drugged and raped. He urged me to go to the police at once. I told him that I couldn’t possibly be a rape victim since I was notorious for countering advances at bars by punching men in the face (knocking one to the floor on one occasion). I also recall seeing so many stories of false accusation in the paper and would not want to put someone through that. I assured my doctor that if more of the details came to me and I had been raped I would call the police. I returned home and lay in bed shaking uncontrollably and feeling freezing cold. I put 3 layers of clothes and blankets on and called the GUM clinics with no answer. I found out later that this was a classic symptom of coming down from GHB or liquid ecstasy which was the only drug the forensic team hadn’t tested me for. Around 3 in the afternoon a detail came to me confirming my worst fears- that I had been raped. I wept uncontrollably and began what has been the hardest, most traumatic journey of my life.
Having known friends, family, colleagues who have been raped or fallen prey to some form of sex assault I had always vowed that if it ever happened to me I would come forward and pursue the matter. After all, I didn’t rape anyone so what did I have to be ashamed of? I should point out that I am not a big drinker, and probably on average get drunk about 3 or 4 times a year. I dress conservatively and try hard not to draw attention to myself. I am married, have a teen aged daughter a professional job and am a home owner. I am also now further proof that anyone is vulnerable to rape or sexual assault.
I was examined by the forensic doctor after 11 that evening. I was not thrilled about being examined by a man considering the circumstances but was already aware at how much time had passed and how important this exam was to find my attacker. He took my blood and while doing so informed me that drug rape was an urban myth and that no case had ever been linked with rohypnol when I asked about the possibility of it still showing up in my system. I have since learned that it is very hard for rohypnol to be found since it leaves the system very quickly which is why it is commonly used for rape. GHB, or liquid ecstasy is similar. Later in the exam he told me to stop crying and tried to joke with me that it was like having a manicure while he swabbed under my fingernails for traces of my attacker. I cried even harder. He was also growing increasingly frustrated that I was unable to relax while I was being swabbed and that by that point I was sobbing uncontrollably.
If being raped in itself was a dreadful experience, my dealings with the Islington Police Sapphire Unit were in some ways more harrowing and traumatic. The Sapphire Unit was a special unt specifically trained to handle rape cases. If this unit was trained to deal with rape, I hated to think what the other departments were like. I had a detective constable (or DC as they are called in the UK) who treated me with doubt and suspicion from the outset and who almost seemed to find sadistic pleasure in ringing me up at work and leaving me in a tearful state. Afraid they wouldn’t do their jobs properly I was afraid to make trouble so had my husband contact the police liaison to see if she could deal with me exclusively since the DC had a tendency to upset me. The police liaison agreed with my husband that some people found the DC’s manner a bit brusque and intimidating and assured him that she would look into.
We never heard a word from the police liaison again and from then on dealt exclusively with the DC. Against all odds they actually managed to find a DNA match in the criminal database using the semen sample they were able to swab from my cervix. They couldn’t give me his name or details of his previous conviction although I was just relieved they found him and could prevent him from putting any other woman through what I had gone through.
The DC interviewed him and had apparently informed her that I wasn’t very drunk at all (despite the CCTV footage of me reeling uncontrollably and stumbling about in front of the Cro-bar) and that it was my idea to go out. I also allegedly told this man that my husband wouldn’t mind my sleeping with him and that I did that sort of thing all the time. This struck me as unusual since I have never in my life done anything of the sort and this incident had a profoundly traumatising effect on my husband, daughter and family. The DC then began to cross examine me over the phone as I sobbed about details that had at that point taken place 6 months ago. I had a hard time piecing details together for that night since I had blacked out for most of it.
That night I was inconsolable. After about 4 hours of sobbing tears anger, frustration and defeat I resolved to call the DC and get another officer on the case. The next day I stayed home from work and I rang the DC to confront her about her about her interview/questioning manner and explain that I find her manner towards me hostile. She responded that this exactly the sort of questioning I would get in court and is unapologetic about her manner. I ask if there is anyone else I can liaise with and she says no, that I have no choice but to deal with her. She then said that personally she doesn’t think that I was raped but that I just got drunk and had sex with this stranger and then hangs up. Horrified, I immediately ring back and request to speak to the DC’s boss, the police Sergeant. After several attempts the Police Sgt rings me back and I explain what his DC said and how she hung up and that I do not want her on my case since she clearly does not believe I was raped and that her presenting to Crown Prosecution Service on my behalf would prejudice the case being brought to court. The sergeant assures me that I can liaise directly through him but that the DC has to present to CPS and that her opinion will have no bearing on my case. He also tells me that she is a very senior officer who has worked very hard on my case. I don’t doubt this and tell him so but it still doesn’t change what she said to me, how she treated me or that she hung up on me. I tell him I want to file a complaint against his detective constable.
The following week the Islington Police Sergeant comes to my office to tell me that the CPS have decided not to pursue my case as it was unlikely to result in a successful prosecution. They cited my testimony as unreliable with the blackouts and suggested I had gone along with the attack rather than fought him off. The sergeant then went on to refer to the attacker as “this gentleman”. I was horrified at his choice of words considering this man had raped me. This man had a pre-existing criminal record and was now being called a gentleman. This gentleman was at best an opportunist, at worst a rapist but never a gentleman. I told the sergeant I would also like to file an official complaint against the DC. He asked if I was sure I wanted to do that as she was a very senior officer and had worked very hard on my case. I said that I wanted to ensure she never treated another victim in the manner I had been treated again. I wanted it on her record should anyone else make a complaint.
I felt utterly hopeless and depressed at the loss but took consolation knowing that I did what I had to do. A friend of mine in the US sent me the details of Women Against Rape in London and suggested I get in touch. I rang them and told them my story and about the police treatment and was both comforted and horrified to learn that the treatment I had received was not uncommon. They ensured my attacker’s details were circulated to the various Police stations throughout London in the (likely) event he should strike again and his next victim decides to come forward. They also petitioned the CPS to review my case a second time which though unsuccessful still made me heard. They gave me the details of a wonderful solicitor who specialised in cases such as mine and helped me file a complaint against the Islington police for both the treatment I had received for the DC and the sergeant’s referral to my attacker as a gentleman. I paid £500 to file this to ensure it was done properly since I could have done it myself for free but had no faith in the police or the justice system whatsoever. A year later I was told that after an internal investigation they found no wrongdoing on behalf of the DC though ironically the Police Sergeant would be officially warned in his treatment of me. The solicitor also told me that I could make an application with the CICA (Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority). It usually took over year to process but would probably result in a small settlement that I could use towards therapy or a much needed break.
Since my attack I have been candid and open with colleagues, friends, family and even the media (appearing on BBC as well as in the Washington Post) about my experiences. The reaction I seem to receive most often from people is that they or someone they know (friend, family member, partner, etc) has had a similar experience. I found that nearly every time I shared my experience with someone I realised with increasing horror that sex attacks on both women and men alike occur a lot more frequently than anyone would think. One evening a dear friend of mine suggested we compile stories of people all over the world to illustrate just how widespread and far-reaching sexual abuse/ assault really is. It can happen to anyone anywhere. I think that by speaking out candidly about my experience I have grown stronger and stronger and have hopefully shown others that there is no shame whatsoever in being the victim of a sexual assault or abuse. If anything I have felt empowered by coming forward and standing up to my attacker who will hopefully now think twice before accosting another drunken woman in London as well as the detective constable who will hopefully treat her cases with more humanity.