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Amberleigh

I guess I think of my story is more about what I went through when I decided to take my attacker to court. The process lasted about about five years from initially making a complaint to actually getting to court.

Emotionally, in terms of the first assault, the court processes were what really left me feeling broken. I had two different situations, the first one was someone who was not a family member but a much older man who was definitely in a position of trust and power in the community. I was a child. He never raped me. I believe the legal term was indecent assault.

I didn't say anything at the time. He was being very good at manipulating and guilt tripping and I guess did what you’d do if you’re an old man in the process of manipulating a young girl. I didn't say anything until I was 15. I have very little memory of actually telling my mum, except that I came home from school that day and it was pouring with rain and I just remember sitting in the rain getting absolutely saturated for I don't know how long. Mum came home and saw me sitting there and just knew something was up and it came out.

By then I was well out of the situation and neither me or mum even considered the option of pressing charges. At the time, I was already seeing a therapist as I had developed a pretty bad eating disorder. The idea was pretty much to attempt to move on and forget about it.

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It would have been a few months later another woman decided to press charges against the same man. I think it was for rape when she was a fair bit older than I had been. But in her statement she mentioned me by name and said she was concerned about me.

So, the police turned up to my mum's work and basically said "Look, your daughter was mentioned in a statement and do you think there is any cause for her concern?" Mum and I talked about it and spoke to the detective who said "come and have a chat, no pressure.We've got this woman who is pressing charges and if you could be a witness in her case, it would be stronger." All of the initial stages of charging him were surreal. It was almost like watching someone that wasn’t me going through the process.

I remember the day that the detective told me he’d be charged, and reassured me he’d be warned not to contact me. And I remember feeling absolutely terrified. I remember one day going into the police station and the detective getting one of the guys to give me a ride back to school and it felt so ridiculous. One minute giving statements about sexual assault, next minute being dropped into maths class. It just felt really weird and surreal.

But, the detective was amazing and another girl had also come forward; so now there were three girls. I think there were a lot more but a lot of them got thrown out because they didn't have enough evidence.

The initial plan by the prosecution was that the three of us would go to court and basically the two of us would back up the first woman's story. He managed to find himself a really good lawyer who got everything separated and so we each had our own trial and none of the jurors were allowed to know that there were other women involved.

Because the process was so slow and long, by the time everything went to trial I had left school and was in university. So I was in a weird situation of desperately wanting to try to move on with my life but not being allowed to. I was trying to get through University but I was constantly getting calls from lawyers and detectives and rather than trying to forget, I simply had to remember every detail. And those I couldn’t I had to try harder to.

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We even had friends going through old journals trying to find dates and details that may have mentioned my being particularly upset. When we finally went to the court they had all the witnesses separated into trials. The detective basically decided to let the first girl go first because she had initially laid charges and the decision was if she got a guilty verdict, we wouldn’t bother with the other trials.

I was set to go next because they seemed to think I was more able to deal with it than the third woman. The first girl went first and she had a hung jury initially so she went back a few months later and it was a 'not guilty' decision. I went a few months after that. Even though the lawyer had gone over the process with me a dozen times it's not the kind of thing you can be prepared for until you are there, in a room full of strangers, with the man you’ve accused in front of you and his lawyer strategically placing himself.

You have no choice but to look at him continuously throughout the day. Because trials involving sexual crimes are closed, the only friendly face allowed in was the detective. I remember him urging me to simply look at him no matter what. He also managed to sneak cigarettes into the witness room for me during court breaks and made a makeshift ashtray out of the carton top.

I’ll never forget either him or the prosecution lawyer. Both did everything they could do make everything easier on me. I was on the stand for a day and a half, with his lawyer cross examining me. If anything traumatised me the most, that had the biggest effect on me. Sitting in a room with a whole load of people you don't know, trying to decide if you are a liar or not. All while being continuously and aggressively yelled at by this defence lawyer.

I remember at one point the question was simply, "How old were you in 92?" and it took me a second trying to work it out and before I could answer he just attacked me "You don't even know how old you were in 92? If you don't know how old you are, how are we expected to believe you on anything else?” I don't' know why that question out of all the ones he asked me stuck out at me.

I just remember being desperate to get out of there. The judge ended up having to force him to stop cross-examining me, basically saying it had been too much and too long. They could all see I was distressed. But by the end of the first day it was only half over and I remember the judge saying, "Remember you are still under oath so you can't say anything to anyone outside of this court”. I don't think I've ever felt quite so alone as in that moment.

That first trial took about a week. I didn't want to be there for the verdict so I went home and the detective phoned later. The jury had been out for five or six hours and it was a hung jury. The detective said "We can force you to go through another trial but I'm not going to. It's completely up to you, if you want to call it a day we won't take it further."

If it had just been me involved I think I would have quit, but all I could think was that this first woman had a not guilty verdict and I felt that I needed to do it for her as well as myself. I knew that if I managed to get a guilty verdict, this other woman wouldn't have to go through a trial either. I remember just feeling an overwhelming responsibility to make all this okay for everyone involved. Like, the decision of whether thing would be okay or not for my family, the legal team, the other women, potential victims later, basically everyone, was on my shoulders. So we set up another date.

I went back a few months later and felt much more prepared. I knew what to expect. It was awful and horrible and not something that I ever want to go through again. But it was bearable. That night the newspaper printed a story saying that this man was back in court and no one was allowed to know so after being locked out of court while legal arguments went on, they called a mistrial.

Again, the lawyer said, ”Again we can make you come back again but we are not going to, so what do you want to do?" Again, I felt the weight of everyone on my shoulders. We went bak again. By then I was just over it and I think I pretty much spent my entire time on the stand in tears. I just didn't want to deal with it anymore. That trial went for a week and it was a not guilty verdict.The last girl went to court and she had a not guilty verdict as well so that was that. He got off all three charges.

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While going through the court processes, we had an apartment in the city and one night we had a few friends over for drinks. I got drunk, went to bed and I woke up a few hours later to my work supervisor in bed on top of me, raping me. That affected me far more than the original assault. Maybe because he was my boss - someone I had to see, and work for in the days and weeks and months ahead. I think largely because this one felt I’d brought it on myself. I got drunk. I was flirty. I went to bed and left him to crash in the lounge.

I didn’t scream loudly or fight him off hard enough when he wouldn’t listen to “no”. I felt like I ticked all the boxes of, “asked for it.” I guess the whole court ordeal has me believing that if nobody believes it happened the first time, surely, certainly no one is going to believe it happened that second time. It was much easier to tell myself that I was just a drunk whore who shagged her boss and tried to put out of my mind. Even though I had tried to fight him off, It was easier to tell myself he didn’t realise I wasn’t up for it, I guess. It’s amazing what the mind is capable of convincing yourself.

A lot of the negative parts of my personality now, I’m pretty sure are because of what I went through in court. I hate being in a position where I think people might judge me. I tend to panic when I feel like don't know what I'm doing, or I’m trying something new that I don’t think I’ll be great at. I tend to get massive anxiety when asked even simply questions that I’m not entirely sure I know the answer too. It's awful to think that if I knew anyone who had been assaulted and was thinking about pressing charges, I would say definitely don't.

It sucks that is the case, It’s really hard to convict anyone, and I don't see things changing anytime soon. I regret trying. I look at it now and I think, he got nothing and his family hate me. I put his kids through year of stuff no kid should have to go through. I think that’s the thing I feel saddest about of all of this. That entire families got ripped apart. That a huge number of people were heavily affected by this. And in the end the process was something really traumatic that will be with me, and probably affect me, forever. And it was for nothing.

And my own situation was probably very minor compared to what many face. The fact that standing up against sexual violence is potentially as, if not more, traumatic than the act itself, and that you can walk out feeling broken - like a shell of a person almost - is a good sign that there’s something really flawed with the way the system treats sexual violence cases. Unfortunately it’s something I can’t see changing too dramatically.

To be honest, I’m not sure how it could be. It’s one of those unique situations where there aren’t witnesses, there isn’t CCTV or a murder weapon or any other bits that could be used in other situations. When it’s a matter of consent, it’s truly a case of one word against another. I don’t know - but knowing that if I knew someone considering pressing charges, I would beg them not too. That fact is probably the saddest of all for me.

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