12:04, April 29 61 0 theguardian.com

2019-04-29 12:04:04
My sexual assault case was dropped when I refused to give police my phone

A few years ago I was violently sexually assaulted by a “friend” on a night out. It was a sustained and sadistic attack that in no way began with consent. I made the incredibly difficult decision to report it to the police because I needed to take power back. I wanted to look him in the eyes in court and watch him feel a fraction of the helplessness and humiliation that I felt that night. I wanted to tell him I had the power now, with the full weight of the law behind me. Unfortunately it didn’t work out as I expected.

Even though some time had elapsed between the assault and my reporting of it, there was evidence that the police acknowledged as compelling. Despite this, my case was dropped not because of an unlikely prospect of conviction, but because I refused to hand over my mobile phone to be downloaded in its entirety.

I consider that request to be a gross violation of my human rights. What is on my phone is private and irrelevant to the crime that was committed. But I know that it has the potential to be used to humiliate and discredit me on the stand. It will be the digital version of the “short skirt”. This is why I have started a legal case against the government with a team from the Centre for Women’s Justice, including Harriet Wistrich. This has the potential to change how victims of sexual assault are treated when they report incidents to the police and will encourage more to do so in the knowledge they are protected.

The way I have been treated by the Crown Prosecution Service has affected me deeply. In the years of dealing with intrusive requests from the police, such as asking for my counselling or medical records, I have been a shadow of my former self. They would tell me I had to supply this information or they wouldn’t pursue my case. I was diagnosed with PTSD, not from the assault but from how I was treated by the authorities after reporting it. Over the course of the investigation, when a new request for deeply personal information would come in, I had panic attacks that resulted in 999 calls.

Unable to think properly or function for months at a time, I felt betrayed by the people who should have been there to help. I was legitimately concerned that my data could be handed over, as part of disclosure, to the man who violated me. Imagine your most private thoughts and feelings from counselling held in your phone being seen by anyone, let alone your rapist. And imagine those thoughts and feelings then being used to humiliate and discredit you in front of a courtroom of people judging you. And then imagine having no guarantee about how in the future this data may be used or stored. The decision to have my case dropped was a no-brainer for self-preservation, but I now feel that the requirement to surrender one’s data is the same as being raped with impunity.

The optimism I had at the beginning of this process of “taking power back” has been replaced with a feeling of absolute helplessness. Why would other victims of rape or sexual assault come forward to make complaints knowing all their past emails, messages and photographs, however irrelevant to the case, would be subjected to similar scrutiny under this policy?

The outpouring of support from the public has given me some grounds for hope. I will not stop fighting until this policy is changed to ensure no victim ever has to choose between privacy and justice as I did.

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