Emma was repeatedly raped as a child by a family member, between the ages of 10 and 14. She made the difficult decision to report to the police when she was 43 years old. Her case failed to progress due to corroboration requirements. She is now one of the co-founders of Speak Out Survivors, a campaign group determined to raise awareness of the specificities of justice, and to press for the removal of outdated legal requirements of corroboration.
When I was a child I was repeatedly abused and raped by my mother’s cousin. It started when I was 10 and he used to visit us, and then when I was 13 we moved in with him and we lived there for a few months. When I told another adult family member what was happening her advice was not be alone with him and not to put myself in that position, so it always felt like my fault. When someone else later reported being abused by the same man Social Services were called, my school became involved and I eventually reported it to the police, but nobody ever did anything about it. I should have been protected but I wasn’t.
A photograph of Emma, age 13, taken by her abuser at the height of the abuse. When Emma again re-reported the abuse to the police as an adult she took this photograph with her and held onto it as she made her statement to the police.
A policewoman came to take a statement from me, but it was really difficult to explain the details of what had been done to me. I didn’t have the right words and I ended up shouting at her and crying. Later I was told that the police couldn’t do anything because I had left it too long for there to be any physical evidence, and it felt as though that was my fault too.
When you grow up with sexual abuse it becomes a part of who you are. I told my husband very early on in our relationship, and he knew that Christmastime was particularly difficult for me as the first time I was raped was on Christmas Eve. By our third Christmas together, on a day I was really struggling, he suggested that if I wanted to, I could try to do something about it. It was the first time as an adult I thought, actually, maybe I can. I didn’t do anything immediately, but the time came when I felt ready to face it and I went back to the police in March 2016.
I was 43 years old by now and I had all the words I needed. Knowing I had the support of my husband no matter what happened, I contacted the police and arranged to give a statement. I steeled myself for that, gathered all my resources to make myself as strong as I could. It felt like a really difficult job interview on which my whole future hung, and I knew that if I was going to put myself through that, I had to be strong enough. On the day I walked into the police station I felt like I was made of stone, I was so determined that I was not going to be emotional and I succeeded, for the first time ever, in telling the whole story calmly and coherently, from start to finish.
Afterwards I felt numb, but I knew I had done the right thing. I had given the police as much information as possible, as many witnesses as I could think of, and I had done my best to equip them to do the investigation to the best of their ability. And then there wasn’t anything I could do after that, I just had to wait. And that was harder, actually. I woke up every day full of hope that something might be done. Every morning I would get up and walk my dog, all the while thinking ‘please God, please God, please God, let today be the day. Please God. Let them do something. Can I have that phone call today, please God’. I had such faith, and I had such hope.
At the same time I was trying to manage my expectations because I knew it might not come to anything, and trying to get through every day doing all the normal things with my family and my work and my friends was really hard. I only told a few people about it, so it still felt like a secret, and I had never told my daughters because I didn’t want to burden them. I did eventually, but at the time the thought of telling them was too difficult because I’d spent all my life concealing it out of shame. So, in that space between giving the statement and then waiting for the outcome, I was in limbo.
In June 2017 I was told by the Crown Office that there was insufficient evidence for corroboration. Not that there wasn’t corroborative evidence, but that that the box-ticking exercise of proving very specific facts had not been met. It was devastating. It felt like a betrayal because I had truly put my faith in the justice system. I sat on the floor in my office at home that day and I howled, I actually howled. And then I didn’t know what else to do so I put my trainers on and went running and I ran for miles, until I had absolutely knocked myself out. I would have run forever if I could, to not have to face the defeat of it, and the rage and disbelief that I had gone through all of that for nothing.
If I could go back and change one thing, it would be for someone to have explained the legal requirements for corroboration to me at the start. I didn’t understand it at all, and it would have really helped me to manage my expectations.
I still find it very difficult to accept; so many people knew about what happened to me while it was happening; there were Social Work records, medical files, and people were prepared to come forward and say, ‘yes, we knew that’s what happened’.
He’s still out there, and I was not the only child he abused, but the law did not help me; it protected him. When I look back now the whole legal process felt like walking blindly into a maze, imagining that I had a rough idea of where I was going but really I was just stumbling around in the dark hoping that every turn was going to be the right turn, and would lead to the right outcome. But it didn’t for me.
In some ways I’m still stumbling around in that maze because I’ve never been able to accept it. After going through all that it was never going to be possible to just swallow it all back down and carry on as normal.
In the aftermath I started thinking, somebody, somewhere, has the power to change this law, so I learned everything I possibly could about corroboration and then I wrote an article about my experience for a journalist.. They put it on the front page of the newspaper, and I had nothing to lose after that; no more secrets, and no shame. I’ve been campaigning ever since.
I’ve had to accept that I will never get justice. I wanted my voice to be heard in court, but I have had to be content with making myself heard through campaigning, through challenging MSPs, raising awareness through the media and connecting with other survivors.
What happened to me will always be the thing that happened to me. It cost me my childhood and has affected my whole life. It still lives with me, in all my fears and most of my nightmares. Equally, failing to get justice for what happened will also always be the thing that happened to me. I can’t change that either. But within those experiences I have found a way to move on; there is a different sense of justice in the fact that I’m not living in silence any longer but standing up for myself, and for other survivors too.
On the day I gave my statement to the police I had a photo with me, of my 13-year-old self. It was taken by my abuser during height of the abuse, and I took it with me to remind myself that I was not that girl. She had been lonely and frightened and helpless, and I was none of those things.
I honestly do not know how I ever got from being that girl to becoming this woman, but during the statement I kept looking at that photo. I had spent my whole life trying to put as much distance between me and her as humanly possible. I didn’t want to be her. I didn’t want to remember her. I wished that she had never existed. I hated her, because I grew up thinking she was weak, that she was culpable, that she was stupid. But when I laid it all out on the table for the police, I finally began to see that she was just a vulnerable child. I realised that all of this wasn’t about 43-year-old me, it was about the ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen year old me, and from that point I consciously reached back for her and I held onto her. I didn’t know what might happen with the police, but I understood that I was doing it for her, because nobody had ever helped her. She just got left there. Even I walked away from her, even I didn’t want anything to do with her. It took me a long time to recognise that.
I’d grown up believing that all the bad things were her fault; she had made them happen, she’d been responsible, she did everything wrong. But in hindsight I realise that what she did, really effectively, was simply to survive. She coped as best she could, and she just kept going, no matter how hard that was. And I wanted justice for her more than anything because she deserved that much, and then the law failed her. But she was a survivor, and she taught me how to be one too. I coped as best I could, and I still keep going, no matter how hard that has been. Within those experiences I have found a way to move on; there is a different sense of justice in the fact that I’m not living in silence any longer but standing up for myself, and for other survivors too.
Within those experiences I have found a way to move on; there is a different sense of justice in the fact that I’m not living in silence any longer but standing up for myself, and for other survivors too.
Emma campaigning at a Speak Out Survivors rally at the Scottish Parliament in 2019.