Torn to pieces by the system

AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 08/12/2013
Rape victim 'Lisa'
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

VIOLATED: Lisa is one of many women who choose not to lay a rape complaint because the system makes it so hard.

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It has been eight months since Lisa* knocked back a drink. That was the night she was raped. It scared her sober.

Better system, better justice

The former party girl went to a friend's house party in Auckland with two of her girlfriends earlier this this year. It could have been a birthday, she can't remember. Most of the 30 or so people there were her friends, including her attacker.

"I guess the best way to describe the relationship was that we were friends on Facebook, but I didn't have his cellphone number or anything," she said.

The 24-year-old got into the spirit of things. There was heavy drinking and drugs. Everyone got a bit rowdy and she was drunk.

Her two girlfriends left the party and someone who was supposed to give her a ride home left her there. That's when things get blurry.

"I don't know exactly what went down. I don't know why I went into the room. I have severe memory loss," she said.

What she does remember is walking into a bedroom. The alleged rape is unclear and she was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. But she does remember it dawning on her - a man had sex with her and she did not say yes.

She got up and left the house straight away.

"I guess the feeling was indescribable," she said. She had had sex before while drunk, "but this was something completely different. I knew I had been violated. I was just distraught," she said.

Lisa said she was not thinking clearly when she left. She was on the phone to her best friend when a police patrol car sidled up to her about 1am.

"I told them straight away that I had been raped," she said. "I think I was in shock, obviously drunk as well. I was just crying, like you know the kind of crying you do when someone dies, that hysteria."

The officers, who were both male, called another patrol unit with a female constable who took her back to the station. She was questioned there before being taken to Pohutukawa Clinic in Greenlane, a sexual abuse clinic for adults, where she was met by a Rape Crisis counsellor who explained what would happen next.

She was taken into an examination room with a female doctor and a female nurse who asked her to remove all her clothes, including her underwear, and hand them over before she was examined.

"I wasn't even thinking at that stage. I was just doing what I was told to do really. I was also thinking, ‘this is what I need to do, this is the right process'. It felt private, which was good," she said.

About 7am that morning, she was asked to point out the house where it happened. Officers did a scene examination and took the accused to the station for questioning. Yes, he said, he did have sex with Lisa but it was consensual.

"From there it was in my hands whether I wanted to take it further. I hadn't laid a formal complaint or anything," she said.

Lisa asked her parents, counsellors and a detective for advice before deciding not to lay a formal complaint against her alleged attacker.

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"The chances of them even being able to take it any further were very slim. It was ‘he said, she said'. He admitted to having sex with me, but it was the issue of consent," she said.

"So [police] were basically saying in most of these cases they usually won't make it to trial and if it does, the court case wouldn't be until a year later. Then I'd be put on the stand and torn to pieces really. It felt like it was the right thing to do."

Lisa said her father had once served on a jury for a rape trial which resulted in a hung verdict.

"He had that insight into how the jury reacts to it. With society, I guess there's a view that with a drunk girl it's not seen as rape. It wasn't like I was not really sexually experienced or whatever, but I knew I did not give consent."

She also blamed herself - something which would last for a very long time.

"The blame factor is huge. In terms of the non-consensual thing, that's exactly what it is, non-consensual sex. You can't give consent when you're drunk. But then there's this huge grey area, society's perception . . . I mean, I grew up thinking that you have sex and you're drunk and I think this guy wouldn't even have thought twice that what he was doing was wrong."

After the rape, Lisa shut herself off from the world and became depressed.

"I didn't have any strength left to prove my point," she said.

She was just starting to feel normal again, but a betrayal by a friend devastated her. She tried to kill herself. Her parents were put on 24-hour suicide watch to prevent her from being committed to a mental health facility.

"I had depression in the past but this was completely different, I just couldn't snap out of it," she said.

It was months before Lisa said the dark haze started to lift and she was finally able to go out in public again. She even been avoiding the supermarket as she didn't want to run into her attacker, or his friends.

And while Lisa still sees a psychologist to help her deal with the trauma, she's still terrified of running into the man who helped himself to her body.

"I've decided that I'm probably going to leave town . . . I don't want to be here anymore."

*Lisa's name and some identifying details have been changed

- © Fairfax NZ News

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