This article contains sensitive and graphic content that may be disturbing for some readers.
Bloodied and sprawled on the cold pavement, Olivia opened her eyes as her attacker walked away into the night, laughing.
A year later, every face turned to look at her as she walked into the court room. People had asked her why she wanted to go, why she wanted to face the man who had attacked her. She wanted him to look into her eyes, she told them, and know the suffering he had inflicted on her, silently asking him the question that had plagued her mind for the last year, ‘Why?’.
In the early hours of 2 June 2017, Olivia (fake name), 19, began her walk back to campus after a night out with friends at The Cuban. ‘We were meant to get a taxi, but I didn’t want to pay’, it was a warm night after all and she had her headphones with her. Her usual route home took her underneath a dimly lit bridge, so she decided to take a longer way home, a ‘safe route’, along the main road.
As she approached University Road, a car came up alongside her. A man rolled down the window and shouted something incomprehensible before driving away. Olivia pulled her headphones from her ears and watched the car leaving, increasing her pace. ‘Nearly home’ she thought, looking behind her. She couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was following her, even though the road was silent and empty aside from her quickened footfalls. As she turned on to University Road, she felt momentary relief before she heard a second pair of footsteps, ‘I knew someone was running up behind me’.
She turned to look moments before she was violently thrown to the ground. She was strangled and then he began to beat her. ‘I was punched in the face over and over again, there was so much blood. I remember pulling my hand away from my face, staring at my blood covered fingers. I was trying to hold him back, kicking him. It was terrifying, I was so scared.’ ‘The last thing I heard him say was “this is going to happen”, and then I blacked out’.
Olivia finally regained consciousness and saw her attacker laughing as he walked away, leaving her bloodied and stunned on the ground. In a daze, she collected her things and instinctively ‘just started sprinting’.
As she stumbled home Olivia’s only thought was, ‘I don’t want anyone to see me’. Disorientated, fearful, and in pain, she still felt somehow ashamed of what had just taken place. But as she passed The Venue two girls noticed her and ran over to help. ‘All I remember thinking is: I want to go home’ but she knew that if those girls hadn’t been there she ‘probably would’ve gone back, showered, and tried to forget it ever happened’. They led her back to her flat, phoned the ambulance, the police, and her mum.
The police and the ambulance came immediately. They asked her questions, the women in the ambulance was nice, Olivia said, ‘she added me on Facebook, we’re still friends’; but the poking and prodding for evidence samples felt ‘invasive’, especially only minutes after her attack. After being driven to hospital she spent three hours waiting to be seen by a doctor, and was then questioned by the Major Crimes Unit investigators, having to go over and over the attack just hours after it had occurred. The woman who led the investigation was kind, she said, and they all took care of her; but it was still exhausting. ‘They were all telling me “do this” and “do that” and I was put in the back of a car, driving to place after place’. She wasn’t allowed to shower, hadn’t slept, and was only able to return home nearly twelve hours later. This began her long and tiresome journey into what became a nine-month investigation to find the person who had done this to her.
As the investigation stretched on, she began to lose hope. The police were no closer to finding her attacker and no matter how much information she provided it was never enough. She never felt ‘believed’ or ‘supported’ by the police, they told her ‘well you were drunk, you don’t remember that’. She couldn’t help but question herself, but she knew what happened that night. ‘You believe it, you stay strong’, she would tell herself.
In the days and weeks that followed Olivia felt lost, ‘I remember just sleeping for hours. Not doing anything. I didn’t even want to train, and I love training’. Her determination to push the memory as far out of her mind as possible made it difficult for her to finally admit, ‘I’m not okay’. When first attempting to seek help she came across agencies with two year waiting lists. She finally found a professional therapist who helped her come back out of her shell. ‘She listened, she offered support, gave me different ways I could cope with things. Because I wasn’t coping in the right ways. I was isolating myself.’
At the time of the attack, Olivia was in her first year at the University of Kent. She’d ‘always been outgoing’ but the events of that night were enough to make her never want to leave the house again; but ‘I knew that if I didn’t go out then, I would probably never go out again. Putting myself back out there was the only way that I was going to start moving forward’. Two weeks after the attack she returned to The Cuban and began her journey of overcoming the trauma that haunted her.
After a long summer with no leads on her attacker, she made the decision to start fresh. The therapy she had been attending taught her how to understand and communicate her emotions, something she had struggled with her whole life. Olivia decided to start university again with a different course so she could follow her new dream of joining the Major Crimes Unit. ‘I’ve been through it, I know what it was like, and if it happens to anyone else, I really want to help’. The thought of going through first year again terrified her, heavy drinking and many nights out were now things she feared—Olivia, however, was determined not to let her new fears hold her back.
By February, seven months after the attack, Olivia had given up on the possibility of finding the man that had assaulted her; but, one night, whilst hosting an event, she got a call from the police. They needed her to come in and try to identify him from a selection of pictures, immediately. Filled with relief, she rushed down to the police station the following morning. They showed her the pictures and her heart sank. ‘I couldn’t identify him. I had tried so much to forget, that when I was looking at the images, I just wasn’t connecting to anything’. Again, Olivia was faced with the possibility that her attacker would go free, but this time, she felt like it was her fault.
Luckily for Olivia, through DNA evidence they found him. A 30-year-old, with one wife and two kids. He was arrested, and the trial date was set. On the morning of the trial, he pled guilty in order to avoid a longer sentence. It wasn’t over, she had one last challenge to overcome: the sentencing. A room filled with reporters, investigators, prosecutors, her attacker, and his family. His wife, consumed in sadness, sobbing at the scene of her husband being sent away—'They really thought he hadn’t done anything’. Although attending the sentencing was optional, Olivia felt sure she needed to be there. She wanted him to look at her and know what he had done, know of the suffering he had inflicted. He was charged with committing assault with the intention of committing sexual assault, and sentenced to 8 years, only three of which he will need to spend in jail.
She had hoped it would’ve been longer, but at least he was behind bars. ‘He might never have been found, so I am glad he was sentenced. Do I agree with his sentence? No. But I’m glad that there was justice’.
Olivia spoke out about what happened to her that night, she called the police, and used different tools to move forward. To any girls who have gone, or are going, through a similar experience, ‘speak out. You need justice for your own peace of mind. There’s so much help the police and different agencies can offer you. By speaking out you can get help’. Olivia has gone on to excel in her education and social environment, proving that no matter what you’re going through, you can still live a full, happy, and successful life. ‘It’s not going to stop me from going on. It is not going to stop me from doing what I want to do’.
If you have just been assaulted, are on campus, and you or others are at risk, please immediately call:
Campus Security: 3333 or 01227 823333
For support, contact the Wellbeing Team:
Crisis drop-in sessions are available with a Wellbeing advisor. Monday-Friday 2pm- 3:30pm