Poppy was sexually assaulted by a family friend in her own home. She endured a considerable wait of 666 days for her case to go to trial, only for her perpetrator to be acquitted on day two, due to lack of evidence. Her experience of the justice process is one marred by delays, lack of communication and mismanaged expectations. The ordeal of both the assault and seeking justice through criminal proceedings has had a considerable impact on not only her own health and wellbeing, but that of her family, especially her husband.

I was assaulted in April 2017, in my own home. I reported it to the police four days later. By the time my case went to court, it was 666 days from the assault. How are you meant to go to court and remember every single bit of detail 666 days later? On the second day of the trial, day 667 from the assault, the man who assaulted me was acquitted. I got a phone call to say that they couldn’t proceed because there was a lack of evidence. COPFS knew what the evidence was before they took it to court. They suggested in a meeting afterwards that the evidence had been precarious. No one had ever told us that before. And they blamed my husband, said that it was the evidence he gave when he was on the stand that couldn’t corroborate.

The impacts of this crime and the length of time it took to go through the system have been enormous. 

We are just ordinary, working class people who live a very simple life. Through no fault of our own we found ourselves in an extraordinary system that we just didn’t understand at the time. You shouldn’t have to fight, you know? You shouldn’t have to fight. But they don’t make it easy. 

I think there’s this sense that it’s just the way it is, everyone knows what it’s like. But if you’re not working in that old-fashioned, hierarchical criminal justice system, how could you possibly know? And the system needs to change. There is far too little understanding of what it’s like to be caught up in something like this. 

At the start of the process, when I first reported, the police did their job, they were great. But then there was nothing for months and months. I was under the impression that someone would phone me every month to update me on the case, to tell me if there was any new information. It’s in all the VIA literature, in all their books: someone will contact you every month. If we’ve got an update or no update, we’ll tell you. They never did that. Never. They just left me, just left us hanging.

That first wee while was terrible. I was in shock for the first few weeks, and then denial for a long time after. I tried to put it to the back of my mind: I’ve done my bit, I’ll let the authorities do what they have to do, they’ll contact me when they have something. I kept going to work, it was the one thing that was keeping me going. But it’s not that easy, the not knowing. Your life’s on hold. You are in limbo. Dazed and shocked. A complete lack of communication. Not knowing what is happening. Left wondering: has he been arrested? Is it going to go to court? Is there enough evidence?

In October 2017 I found out that my case had been sitting on somebody’s desk for five months and it hadn’t even been looked at.  Seven months after the assault, it hit me like a brick. I felt dirty, I felt embarrassed, I didn’t want to live anymore. I felt so much pressure on me and I took time off work. When work went, I felt like a failure; that it had impacted on every aspect of my life.

In my house where the assault had happened there was a snug. No windows in it, just a snug. Sofa, television, low ceilings and dim lighting. I spent two months in there in 2018, never left it. I shut everybody out of my life, wouldn’t answer text messages, wouldn’t answer the door. I didn’t need to answer the door, if I was in my snug, they couldn’t see if I was in or not. I was terrified of having sex with my husband, embarrassed having to tell members of my family and then I just felt humiliated. How could somebody come to your own home and do that to you? Were there signs before? Was I too gullible? Was I too naïve? And I kept saying to my husband, ‘I want to move, I want to move, I want to move; I don’t feel safe here anymore, what if they come?’. And so, we moved. Into a completely different area. 

I never went back to work until the May of 2018. I remember thinking to myself, surely by the time I’m back at work all of this will be over. It’ll be done. But it wasn’t. It was another nine months before it got to court. On the day, I gave my evidence via video link. The first time I saw who was advocating on my behalf was when the link went live. She asked me a range of questions. Some of the questions she asked me, I could have given her more detailed answers, but it just felt as if she just couldn’t be bothered. It was as if the quicker she could get through it, the better. 

One of the first things the Advocate Depute asked when I took the stand was to confirm my address. She didn’t need to ask that. She could’ve said, ‘I’m aware that the incident happened at your old address’. There was no recognition that we’d moved in order to start anew, that I’d moved in order to feel safe.

My husband gave his evidence the following day. I was classed as a vulnerable witness and so wasn’t able to attend court. Twenty minutes into his evidence the Procurator Fiscal asked for an adjournment. Our friends were in the gallery and knew what was happening long before either of us. Nobody came to tell my husband that my attacker had been acquitted.

For Poppy, the abuse, and her interactions with the criminal justice process, have had a cascading effect on every aspect of her, and her family’s, lives. Never-ending, all consuming, pervasive – she describes it as “a dripping tap that drips the whole way through your life”.

In the days following I got a letter from VIA to confirm that the case was closed. They’d have no further contact with me, it said. I had to request a meeting to find out what had happened. Twice I asked for the Procurator Fiscal who had ran the case to be present. She needed to be there. She was the only person who could answer the questions we needed closure on. Then the email came that the meeting would be with two seniors. The decision was taken that we would not be allowed to meet the woman who ran the case. Everything I challenged them on, and asked them questions about, they couldn’t answer because they weren’t there that day. So, the limbo continues as we now try to work out the next steps and make a formal complaint. 

The impact of all of this has been huge. There’s been a financial hit from moving house. We’ve had to re-establish our lives and that’s been a huge hurdle for us. It has taken a lot of work, a lot of effort. There’s been time off work. All of that has made me a very different person. I used to be so happy-go-lucky. Having friends round, out for afternoon teas, getting together with the girls. I don’t do that anymore, not like I used to. There are some days where I don’t think I’ll completely recover from this. 

It’s like a dripping tap that drips the whole way through your life. It’s now more than two years to the day, and that tap’s still dripping, still at the back of my mind, it’s still there. Things like safety, I’m always thinking of an exit plan. That’s going to be with me for the rest of my life.

I’ve not added anybody onto my Facebook page since this happened, in fact I take people off. It’s completely changed my outlook on life, and it’s made me a different person. It’s like a broken vase where the pieces don’t quite fit together. Parts of me will never be the same.

Poppy describes that her experience of her abuse, and her subsequent interactions with the justice, have profoundly changed her as a person: “like a broken vase where the pieces don’t quite fit together. Parts of me will never be the same”.

Friends have been understanding to a point. At the start everyone wants to protect you and they rally round. As time goes on, they think that you’re okay, that you just get on with it, and you get the silly comments like, ‘och well that’s it all finished now, you can get on with your life’. It doesn’t work like that. I don’t think people mean to be cutting with their comments, I just think they don’t actually see the long-lasting or far-reaching effects. This is going to be with me for the rest of my life. And it ripples right out to other members of the family. It’s the same feelings, the same struggles. It doesn’t just hit one person. It has been enormous. People don’t see that side of it. My family have experienced secondary trauma because of the experiences I’ve had, because they’ve had to listen to me and see me in such a state that I’ve never been in before. So, the effect of that assault has had a massive impact on my family and friends.

And my husband, I’d say one of the biggest impacts has been on him. He felt he couldn’t protect me, and he felt that he let me down again at the court that day. He blames himself. I keep saying to him, ‘it’s not your fault, this wasn’t your fault that this happened. It’s his actions and his behaviours, and it’s nothing that we did’. But he still feels like that. That’s been one of the hardest things, to see your husband break down every now and again. And all the while I’ve been needing the emotional support from him, he has also needing the emotional support from me.

We are just ordinary, working class people who live a very simple life. Through no fault of our own we found ourselves in an extraordinary system that we just didn’t understand at the time. You shouldn’t have to fight, you know? You shouldn’t have to fight. But they don’t make it easy.

Just as the ‘dripping tap’ and the ‘broken vase’ have come to symbolise Poppy’s experience of abuse and the criminal justice system, and their impacts on her; the ‘poppy’ has come to have great meaning for her too. For Poppy, not only is it her birth flower, it has taken on new meaning as a symbol of hope, strength and perseverance.