After leaving an abusive relationship, Emma was abducted and raped by her former partner. Here, she talks about how restorative justice helped her to regain control and rebuild her life after the attack.
“I met Steve when I was 22 - he was a regular in the pub where I worked. He kept pestering me to go on a date with him, and I finally agreed. We started living together soon afterwards, and we were happy at first, but he quickly became very controlling. He would tell me what to wear, and check my phone – he was very jealous, and he didn’t like me seeing my friends.
“I realised I needed to get out of the relationship, and I was about to leave him when I found out I was pregnant. We decided to stay together to have the baby, but Steve’s drinking got heavier and his controlling behaviour got worse. I left him three or four times during the pregnancy, but he would always beg me to come back – he said he couldn’t live without me, and he didn’t want to be a part-time dad.
“I was young, and I had no idea I was in an abusive relationship.”
“When our little boy was born, things didn’t get any better, and by then, Steve was also using drugs. I suffered with Post-Natal Depression, and I’d lost contact with most of my friends. I didn’t recognise what was happening – I was young, and I had no idea I was in an abusive relationship.
“When Harry, our son, was nine months old, the police came and raided our flat at 5am, looking for Steve. I’d never had any contact with the police, and I couldn’t believe what was happening. I packed my bags and left with Harry that night and moved back in with my parents.
“That was when the stalking started. Steve would ring the house constantly, and if he couldn’t get through, he’d call my mobile. He’d turn up and accuse me of seeing different men. He swore that he loved me and couldn’t cope without me, but I told him very clearly that it was over – there was no going back. He turned up at the pub where I was seeing friends one night, staring through the windows. His behaviour was starting to get really menacing. He even made suicide attempts, phoning me each time to tell me what he’d done.
“Once I was in the car, he locked all the doors and drove to a local beauty spot.”
“Two weeks after Harry’s first birthday, Steve rang and said he wanted to talk to me. I was on my way to the shops, so I told him we could talk in the car if he gave me a lift. Once I was in the car, he locked all the doors and drove to a local beauty spot. I became scared and tried to text Steve’s mum, but when he realised what I’d done he grabbed my phone and smashed it.
“Steve raped me in the back of the car. I tried to get out, or get someone’s attention, but I couldn’t. He drove off and pulled in somewhere else and raped me again. This time, I managed to get out of the car, and ran towards the road, but Steve caught me and pulled me back before raping me a third time.
“Finally, Steve decided to take me home. He was crying, saying over and over again: ‘I’m a rapist’. I was terrified, and all I could think of was getting home to Harry, but Steve was in such a state that he was driving like a maniac. That was the scariest part for me – I couldn’t deal with the fact that he might kill us both by driving into a wall, and Harry would be left with no parents.
“Steve was picked up by the police straight away, but he denied everything."
“When I finally got home, I ran straight up to my room. My mum came up after me – I had twigs in my hair and was covered in scratches, and she immediately said: ‘What’s he done?’ I told her what had happened and she called the police.
“The police took me straight back to the crime scenes and tried to find people who might have seen something. I was in shock, but I was strangely calm. I was also covered in bruises where he’d held me down and prised my legs apart, and I had a split lip and a black eye. Steve was picked up by the police straight away, but he denied everything – he said I’d agreed to have sex with him.
“It was a whole year before the case went to court. I was very up and down – it was a tough time. I still had to look after Harry, and I was only 24. Steve was out on bail, and his behaviour got worse. At one point, he set fire to my neighbour’s car using the wrapping paper from Harry’s Christmas present to light it.
“Steve ended up serving four and a half years. Just after he was released, Karen – my victim liaison officer – told me about restorative justice.”
“Sometimes, when I was out, people – Steve’s friends – would shout at me, calling me a slag or a liar. Luckily, I met my current partner, and he was amazingly supportive, as were my mum and dad. The police were great, too – they used to pop round to the house just to check up on me from time to time.
“I thought I could cope with the trial because I was confident that I was telling the truth. But when it finally came round and I gave evidence, I had to re-live what had happened, and that was really hard - it felt like it was happening all over again. The jury reached a unanimous guilty verdict, and Steve was sentenced to nine years for the rapes and two counts of arson. I felt validated by the verdict, as if finally I was believed.
“Steve ended up serving four and a half years. Just after he was released, Karen – my victim liaison officer – told me about restorative justice. I’d heard of it, as it was in the media a lot, but I could never really understand why anyone would want to do it. It was only when I realised what it could do for me that I started to change my mind. I didn’t want any contact with Steve, but we had a child together, so there were things that needed to be discussed.
“I wanted him to realise the impact of his actions by hearing from me first hand.”
“I hadn’t seen Steve since the day of the attack – even in court, I didn’t look at him at all – so the thought of meeting him face to face was a bit daunting. Karen said we could exchange letters, but that didn’t feel right – there were things I needed to say in person. I wanted to tell Steve that he had no power over me, and that what he’d done was wrong. I wanted him to realise the impact of his actions by hearing from me first hand.
“Karen already knew me very well, so she was confident that I was ready to meet Steve. She also talked to Steve to make sure that he was in the right frame of mind, and that seeing him wasn’t going to put me at risk. We both wrote down questions that we wanted to talk about, and when Steve admitted that he was nervous about seeing me, it made me feel much stronger.
“Karen talked to me about where the meeting would take place, and exactly what would happen on the day. I decided that Steve should arrive first and wait in the room for me to arrive – that felt more powerful. Karen was going to be there and she had a co-facilitator working with her. I could have had a supporter with me, but I decided not to.
“That word - ‘rape’ - had made him a lot scarier to me than he ever should have been."
“On the morning of the conference I felt sick with nerves. My sister drove me there, and that helped. It was also nice to see Karen – she was very reassuring. I was shaking as we walked down the corridor to the room where Steve was waiting. I didn’t know how I was going to react to him, and I didn’t want to show too much emotion. I also thought I might just want to hit him. Luckily, neither of those things happened. I sat down and looked at him, and my first thought was that I couldn’t believe I’d been so worried about facing him. That word - ‘rape’ - had made him a lot scarier to me than he ever should have been.
“Steve looked ashamed - he was upset, definitely, as he should have been. I felt that he needed to know, face to face, what he’d put me and my family through, and that’s what I told him. He said: ‘I had no idea. What you’ve described sounds a million times worse than I thought it was for you.’ I told him our situation was like dropping a pebble in a pond – the ripples had been so far reaching, and so many people had been affected, including Harry, our son.
“Steve said sorry, but I didn’t need to hear that. It wasn’t about needing answers from him, either, and I already knew that what he’d done was wrong. What I needed was to get things off my chest. Steve already felt a degree of remorse, but it was only by me telling him exactly what had happened to me during and after the rape that it really started to hit home.
“In the days and weeks afterwards, it was as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders… I felt completely empowered.”
“When I walked out of that meeting, I felt as if I could knock out Mike Tyson – I could have taken on anything or anyone. In the days and weeks afterwards, it was as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I’d been carrying it for so long that I didn’t even notice it any more, so when it disappeared, it was amazing. I felt completely empowered.
“Me and Harry are both doing well now. He still sees his dad every three weeks, but Steve’s not allowed any contact with me. Harry knows that his dad was in prison, and he knows it’s because he hurt me, but I want to protect him from the details until he’s a bit older – I need to tell him at the right time. I hope my story can be shared with other rape survivors in case restorative justice could help them the way it’s helped me. For now, though, I need to keep my anonymity for Harry’s sake.”
The Restorative Justice Council would like to thank Emma for sharing her story.
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