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Groundhog Day

As we mark the second of the 16 Days of Action for 2018, we are honoured to Splashshare this searing account from the mother of a young woman who was raped, of the impact she and the rest of the family experienced in the days immediately following the assault.

This devastating diary communicates powerfully the terrible dislocation wrought by sexual violence on not only the young woman herself, but on everyone in her family. [Photo by Kai Dahms on Unsplash]

Rape Crisis Scotland’s national helpline supports anyone affected by sexual violence at any time in their lives. Call 08088 01 03 02 any evening between 6pm and midnight, or email us on support@rapecrisisscotland.org.uk

5th September 2017. 4am.

The drive to write over the last few days has been huge, but it’s not something I’ve ever done and I’ve not had the time this last few days. I have all sorts of images going on in my head, and flashbacks of sorts. I need to get them out. She needs to get them out. It doesn’t matter where we start - there’s no right or wrong way. I’ve got to begin. It’s got to be honest.

I hugged the doctor yesterday, I’d never met her before. I hugged the hairdresser, I’d never met her before.

I would have hugged the fishman, he was nice and for a minute he/they made me feel better. Lucky for him there was a counter in the way or my arms would have been round him…. We’d watched the TV last night. A cooking programme. Charlotte wanted to make the Jamie Oliver fishcakes. Lemongrass, coriander, salmon, chilli jam. A list successfully accomplished. Goods bought, but when it comes to it, none of us has the heart to make it. Maybe tomorrow? Maybe not. We are not hungry but we wish someone would make us dinner. We can’t make decisions. We cannot complete sentences. We cannot finish tasks. We go off on tangents. We support each other. We cry, we talk, we hug, we are in pain. We wish we could make tea, it would be normal, it would mean everything was fine. It would mean it hadn’t happened.

These people were nice. The doctor showed me compassion, the hairdresser agreed to fit Charlotte in to have her hair cut. To be sensitive. To do her hair and camouflage the bald bit. She understood.

This morning I could not stop crying. They were kind, the Doctor and the hairdresser. They restore my faith in human nature. A bit. They help me get out of the strange bubble I am in. They are reality. This is not.

It’s like living in the Big Brother House at the moment. We have a superking size bed, Phil and I, and sometimes there has been 5 people on it these last few days. Changing bed partners. It’s been moving beds and bedfellows. My husband Phil was relegated upstairs so Charlotte could sleep with me. It’s the only way she feels a little bit less tense. He has a sore back. He gets up at 4.45 to go to work. He is a taxi driver. Life goes on. He needs to go to work. It is an escape. It is a necessity. His back is sore. He needs his own bed but hey Charlotte needs her Mum.

It’s 4am in the Big Brother House. I want to make soup. She likes soup. She wanted lentil, tomato, pepper and carrot soup. Something comforting. It’s red. It makes me think of her bleeding. Of the bedding the police have seized with her blood … I can’t make it.

Hugs should be comforting. Do you give them or receive them? Are they always good? Can they be bad?

She wanted to cry last night but needed privacy. In the Big Brother House there is no space. We went to my bed together. We need to be together in our parallel universe, but we need to be alone too, to have space from this chokingly sad situation.

Charlotte and I go through to the bed. She is exhausted. Her eyes are red. That colour. She starts to cry. She turns her back but wants a hug. She relaxes, I feel I am comforting her. Spooning together I think she is safe. She freezes, she catches her breath. “He was spooning with me, it’s your breath.” She pulls away.
Not all hugs are comforting. Some remind you of being raped by a stranger…of his breath, of him holding you, of feeling trapped. Of feeling scared.

It is almost 4.30. My other daughter is up. She is the big sister. She has a sore stomach. She was distraught yesterday. She has been there for her sister. Like a rock. Now she is crumbling. She fell over yesterday, missing her footing on a pebble. Something so small. She was preoccupied. She came home from a walk out the Big Brother House, distraught, bleeding and bruised. I was on the phone to a friend - what’s that programme called? ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’? All the money in the world would not make this better. Frozen Peas for the knees, diced turnip for the ankle, elevate, cushions. They are all on the big bed where we take comfort together.

Rosie is calmer, she has cried at last. We have hugged. She needs ice for her elbow, it is sore too. She is vegetarian. I have run out of vegetables to put on her sore bits. Should I use frozen mango chunks? No: a cold compress. I use a tea towel. It has a poem about friends being special. It is soft but cold, but it hugs the elbow. Not like the medical glove Charlotte had stretched round her arm ...

I don’t know if this will ever end…This stream of consciousness, this horror, this confusion. Big Brother House, parallel universe…

It is 4.47 am. Time passes so slowly. Should I take Rosie to A&E to have her elbow X-rayed? But we can’t leave Charlotte. Rosie’s pain is physical. It will get better. Charlotte had to be forensically examined. The proper rape suite is smoke-damaged and not fit to be used. They have to take her to another town. Two uniformed police officers have been at the house and interviewed us both. Coppers with their clobber. Fluorescent vests, stab vests, violence in my living room. Truncheons, big boots, handcuffs and the outside world of the street is in our house.

They did not want me to accompany her. They need evidence you see. They need to interview her independently. She needs to be examined. She has done nothing wrong. Why are they taking my daughter back to the scene of the rape? So she can find the flat where it happened, so they can get him. I want to be with her. I’m her Mum. They tell us to go to bed and try to get some sleep so we can look after her when she gets back. She will need it. We go to bed. I text her. I text her again. She tells me what is happening. I am with her from afar. She tells me he is in the room too - he has been contacting her whilst she is giving her statement, in between my calls …

It is 8.30 am in the Big Brother house. We are all up. Someone else brought Charlotte home. A lady. She has a first name. She is not in uniform. She is keen to hand Charlotte over to our care. They have conducted a forensic medical examination and taken down her statement. It is 3 days since it happened. She has not slept. She IS FOLDING IN ON HERSELF, YET WILL SHE SLEEP? I WANT HER TO SLEEP, BUT WHAT IF SHE REMEMBERS? I CAN’T GET INSIDE HER HEAD. I NEED TO. SHE CAN TELL ME ANYTHING. WE REPORTED THE RAPE AT 6.30 ON FRIDAY.

I am writing this on a keyboard and have not been looking at what I am writing, just concentrating on getting it down. Caps lock has been on. That means shouting doesn’t it? I want to shout, but I need to cry, but I can’t. I need to be strong.

Do you know you pay for 101 calls? Have you Googled how to report a rape? Have you thought about who is on the other end of the line?

Do they even call it a rape suite? Charlotte has been given a card with the name of her SOLO. What is a SOLO? We do feel we are on our own. Google. Sexual offences liaison officer. What a mouthful. No wonder they don’t call them that but maybe they should tell you what it stands for. You should not have to go solo to find out what SOLO means! Boom boom, it is not funny, and yet we laugh hysterically at the daftest things. We feel guilty. We shouldn’t laugh. Something awful has happened. How can we laugh?

But we need to laugh, as much as we need to cry. It is a distraction..

The suite in the other town does not sound like it has been used much. Recently at least. It sounds like it has been left dormant.. She tells me it is in a big council building. Roundabouts. Concrete. Coldness.

This place is not fit for purpose either. She tells me it was cold in there. She wanted a blanket but there wasn’t one. She likes to drink water. I’d given her my water bottle to take with her. She drank the water. It was night time. The fridge was locked. The SOLO was embarrassed. Her name is Ash. Is that symbolic? For that is what it feels we have been reduced to. There was no tea or coffee. No milk. No snacks. There should have been snacks, Ash says they usually have stocks. They put on an electric fire. There are no tissues. She thinks that is bad, but she didn’t cry. Does that mean they won’t believe her?

The doctor who examined her is male. He is a GP, apparently. Must do this sort of thing in his spare time. Really! I have to be sarcastic, I have to be obtuse, it helps to mock things. It distances the pain.

My daughter has been violated. I want to say once, but it was more than once. It was her first time. She bled. The doctor is nice she says, but what he does to her is not. Will she ever be able to feel ok in an intimate situation?

They need to take blood. The medical suite is not well stocked. The only speculum is the wrong size. It is big. It hurts. A lot. Dry swabs. Wet swabs. No tourniquet to assist with blood taking. They have to use a plastic glove to tie round her arm. A tight hand. Gripping, hurting. It is demeaning. She has been demeaned. She does her best. She tries to remember exactly what happened but it is hard, she doesn’t want to and she was drugged and not always conscious.

She cries when she is delivered home by the SOLO. They have cut her hair from the roots. She has beautiful curly hair, They asked her for permission. They told her it would be a pencilworth of hair. What does that even mean? Four days on she thinks it meant that they grab some hair they twist it into the shape and thickness of a pencil and then they cut from the roots. It leaves a stubbly patch several inches square.

Her hair is thick. It will grow back but it feels she says, like she has been branded. Her curly dark brown hair hangs over the bald patch like a cloak. It hides it. We should not hide. We should not cloak this crime in secrecy and try to cover it up. We need to be open, we need to empty our heads of the horror, we need to talk about it, for hiding it adds an extra burden to bear/bare. It is late and I cannot spell.

The seagulls are screeching outside. Loud caws. Are they in pain? They are shouting from the rooftops.

We don’t want to do that but we need to communicate and connect back to the real world.

It is quiet in the Big Brother house - my husband has gone off to work. He has tried to be cheery. No, not cheery, I don’t know how to describe how he has been. Small talk about what we watched on TV last night after he went to bed. He sees me typing. He knows I need to write. He asks if I am getting my thoughts down. He says he does not want to know the details. He cannot bear it. Not yet, maybe never. He does not want to feel any more angry than he already does.

Rosie has gone back to bed. Our bed. The big bed. Dad goes out, daughter number 1 slips into bed. The one with the physical injuries and the sore stomach. We will have to take her to get an Xray - she is sore but trying to cover it up. We were supposed to go for a swim today. Charlotte felt it might help her unwind. She feels so tense. My fingers are sore from rubbing her shoulders. She went for a bath last night. I bought her a bubble bar from Lush the other day. She could not cope with washing her hair. Too much effort. She would need to feel the bald bit. I have tried to comb the tangled loose hair out, it was matted, I offer to wash her hair, but she says she wants to dip her head under the bath water. She remembers the sound when she is little. If she taps on the bath when her head is underwater, she tells me it sounds like the radar of a submarine. Otherworldly. Safe, quiet, oh so quiet. We want to be there, all of us, under the water in another world... She has a bath and I wait nearby.

We planned to go for a swim today, maybe even to the Turkish. We checked when it was females only. Then we realised we needed to get her glasses sorted. They are scratched. They were scratched somehow in the assault but she does not remember how. Will we need to explain to the optician what happened so they are sensitive? Is that over-disclosing? Where is the manual to deal with this? The scratches are right in the centre of the lens. They remind her of what happened. If she shuts her eyes she sees it. She tries to keep one eye open at all times. It doesn’t work the flashbacks happen still. From the rape (that is what it was and that is the word we will use). He took her glasses. She needs to get the scratches out but if they take her glasses away will she feel more vulnerable, back in that place? He took her glasses. He took her clothes. He washed them. She washed them. She bathed and bathed again. Will there be any evidence?

Should we just get new glasses - these ones will always remind her of what happened, even if they get a buff and shine. Our vision of things is tainted now, but we don’t want it to be. The Police took 9 bags of her clothes from the house. Huge brown paper evidence bags. They were beside her in the back of the police van as she was taken to try to identify the scene of the crime and to the rape suite. She has worked over the holidays and bought herself a new jacket and trainers. Gone. They have been taken. She has only had them a short time, but hey ho, she gives them up like she gave her hair, to help catch this man who did this to her and to stop him doing it again, to anyone, ever.

So, the seagulls are screeching. They sound possessed. I feel possessed. So, optician? We will work out how to go about it. A&E for Xrays? Turkish? Then get dressed up in work clothes, drive to my Mums pretend I have been at work and that things are normal. We agree we cannot tell her what happened.

It would kill her. She is 87. She would be devastated. We are devastated. She does not know I am off work and I must not slip up. I must keep up the pretence. I don’t want her to be devastated and heartbroken at this time in her life. But we need to be open with other people. Charlotte has nothing to be ashamed of. There should not be a stigma and taboo around rape, but are we right to keep this from her grandmother, to try to protect her from this horror? Can we even do that?

I am up, facing the day. I am not sure I can face it. I want to join the seagulls and fly away. They are quieter now. They are silent. No, they are distant. I want to be distant, I want to fly away.

I will go back to bed with daughter number 1, before daughter number 2 wakes up. She is on sleeping tablets. She was scared she would have sleep paralysis and be trapped in a nightmare and not be able to escape. She slept with me that night, and the next 2, just in case. Last night she dreamt she was a fairy.

She was a fairy amongst fairies, all spinning, not able to stop, but she was in a cage she says, not able to escape. “Charlotte is a fairy” - that was always her password for getting through gates when we were out on walks when they were wee. Not fish and chips. God I feel sad.

I am rambling.

Images, words, all flying around amongst the seagulls and the fairies. I am exhausted. I can’t sleep.

My feet are cold and my heart is broken

Will they catch the man today?

My daughter has cried and said that she felt weak and should have done something.

He gave her chocolates and talked of his homeland, showing her pictures on YouTube. She is confused.

He did not use a knife. He did not strangle her. If you need any evidence of what he has done, my daughter gives it in abundance. Words frighten her. Words remind her. Smells remind her. My breathing when I hugged her reminded her. She has had to get new clothes, haircut, different glasses. She cannot bear to be reminded of what she was like before. She wants to look different. She doesn’t know what to wear, she can’t make decisions.

We all feel we are drowning. There is not room in the bath for all of us to put our heads under the water and hear the reverberation as we tap the side.

It is day 6 since it happened. Early days. It is day 4 since she reported it and life truly began to unravel.

It is 6.15am in the Big Brother House. Almost time to be getting up, but instead I will go back to bed and hug my other daughter the one who doesn’t get scared of hugs. The one who has taken the place of my husband who has gone to work and is trying to be normal. I hope to sleep but my feet are cold. I am numb.

I hope my younger daughter, the one who feels almost guilty for reporting her rapist, does not wake scared and upset, SOLO in the bedroom with the twin rooms upstairs where she is now on her own since Rosie has come down stairs, feeling sick and with the sore elbow. I hope for all our sakes that Charlotte sleeps a bit longer and is spared a bit more of the day and all that it brings.

Time to get up almost, but I am going to bed. It is light now. She remembers the first assault was in the dark. It is light now. I was not there when it happened but I have seen out the dark now. We hope the light will come back into our lives and that the joy has not gone forever.

There are nice people still in the world. I hugged 2 strangers who were nice to me yesterday, and would have hugged more if I’d had the opportunity. People offering support. People being kind overwhelms me.

Right, write, right, write, write, right, right. I am writing but this is not right. “Charlotte is a fairy”. I woke up with this image in my head, of a picture when Charlotte was little. Sitting in a ballerina outfit with angel wings, a wand and a tiara. She looked so happy, she looked so innocent. I hope she will be happy again.

She is still innocent inside, but she has seen and had things done to her that are wicked. I had to get up as that image was in my head. So too are the horrible images, the ones she has described to me.

Computer says no. We had a holiday booked to Morocco, the country we have visited before and loved.

Its people, its beauty and its vitality. We were going for Christmas, something special. We have cancelled it. We cannot go. Morocco is spoiled for us. Lots of things are spoiled for us. The company we booked with can’t refund our deposit. We don’t care, it doesn’t matter. It’s not their policy. Computer says no. They know the circumstances. We did not tell them that we had to get rid of the wrappers on the felafels in the fridge cos they said Moroccan felafels. That’s how bad this is. We can’t bear to see the word ‘Morocco’ . We know we need to remove the wrapper. Will we, will she, ever be able to eat felafels again? She is vegetarian. She needs felafels. She likes felafels. She was treated like a piece of meat by this man, moved around and manhandled, not able to resist or react. I have shocking images in my head. What is it like for her? She felt like a piece of meat in the medical. Probed and prodded, bits hacked off. I will need to think about becoming a vegetarian. I need to do all I can to support her and I cannot bear to think of meat.

I never could start writing, now I can’t stop. I have so much to say, most of it inane, but it is all spinning round, weird, bizarre, surreal, new and fast, very very fast. NO wonder Charlotte felt she was spinning in her dream. But trapped in it?

Associations. Associations, associations. Associations to what happened are all around. Triggers which can set things off. The man in the leather jacket in Lidl. The bedding aisle in the shop she had to avoid because of the memories. The words ‘strange’ and ‘stranger’. Both were used repeatedly when giving her statement. YOU woke up in a strange house with a stranger in a strange bed. WE cannot use those words again. How can we avoid them? How do we know what to do, what to say, what not to do, what not to say.

How can we with no experience and no preparation navigate a way out of this?

Big Brother house, I have 2 big brothers but they are both on holiday. They won’t know what to say, I won’t know how to tell them. The Big Brother House is a series which comes to an end.

Will this have an end? It is a bit of fun. This is not.

Phew, have made it through another night. I’m getting up an hour earlier every day. Can’t sleep. Will Soon be meeting bedtime! On a loop. Groundhog day.

Tags: family

Comments: 2 (Add)

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Lindsay on December 10 2018

I second Margaret's comments. Beautifully written and deeply moving. Very brave of the author and thank you to her for sharing.

Margaret on November 28 2018

This piece is extremely powerful and really conveys the devastation and confusion felt by everyone. The investigation process is shockingly described, no wonder people don’t report 😔