I often struggle to look at myself in the mirror; I have eczema and chapped lips, white lumps around my eyes, a flaky scalp, I’m overweight, I’m often short on sleep and have bags under my eyes. I am my own biggest critic but I can feel the rest of the world scowling at me, too.
I was bullied at school for being fat and feminine. I distinctly remember one time during Sports Week, when all of your years were in the changing rooms together, two boys from a couple of years above took my clothes and pinched different parts of my body and held me so I couldn’t move and made the rest of the room laugh at me. I suppose you could say I didn’t have the best time in school. I didn’t really have proper friends, just people that I co-existed on the playground with. I wouldn’t go out after school and I kept myself to myself.
We would go to a family friends’ house every Friday and the parents would stay downstairs and catch up and the kids would go upstairs and play. After a while, my brother, who is four years older than me, didn’t have to come with us anymore because he was old enough to stay home. That’s when things changed. Their son, who was about the same age as my brother, started being weird with me. He would talk to me a lot about sexual stuff and make me do sexual things. This went on for a while and then he started telling me I was fat and ugly, why I didn’t have a girlfriend, how nobody would ever love me—not even my mum. I didn’t understand where it came from or why he was doing it. Eventually, on Christmas Eve, he raped me. I remember being in so much pain that I felt physically sick and when he loosened his grip I ran to the bathroom and heaved over the toilet. My hands were shaking and I felt dizzy. My trousers were still around my ankles. He quietly entered the room with a bottle of water and handed it to me before laughing about what had just happened and telling me not to tell anyone or else my mum would kick me out. So I didn’t. I woke up at 5am on Christmas morning and sat on the edge of the bath, in pain, and cried because I wanted to tell my mum, but I was scared to lose her. So I didn’t tell her—and it happened again and again and again. I became numb to it, kind of.
Four years later, on a Sunday evening, I rang a friend and told them everything. I don’t know where it came from but I blurted it out. They told me that I needed to tell someone at school. I dismissed it; there was no way, after all this time, that I was going to tell somebody at school about this. I didn’t need to. After Monday morning assembly, I walked out and headed to my first class but heard the footsteps of one of my favourite teachers behind me and in a split second moment I turned and asked to speak to her. That was the moment my life changed forever and there was no going back. By the second period I was walking to the Assistant Headteacher’s office with a friend and teacher. The moment I sat down I burst into tears and curled in the arms of my friend, sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe. I was so scared and I felt like I was losing control over my life. Everything was just spilling out.
And so began a process of police interviews and sexual health meetings. Two months later, the Assistant Headteacher brought my mum into school to tell her and I waited anxiously in the library to be brought into the room once she’d been told. The Assistant Headteacher looked tearful as she came to collect me and said that my mum was very upset. I walked in and she squeezed me so hard in a cuddle and told me how much she loved me. I was so relieved. I had gone from an unbearable and irrational fear, forced into my head by a manipulator, to feeling like I could actually go through this process and I wasn’t so afraid anymore. I really do have the best mum in the whole world.
Two years later, we took our case to court, where his defence barrister spent hours breaking me down. After a week of giving evidence, it was a mistrial. Four months later, I had to do it all over again and this time it was even worse. I had a panic attack looking at the court building. I had been prescribed fluoxetine and diazepam to cope with my anxiety and depression being caused by the whole thing, and then I had to spend another day giving evidence in court. After you give evidence, you’re not allowed to talk to anybody else who is a witness, so I wasn’t allowed to see my family and was put in a separate room on my own. One by one, my family went in and each one of them came out crying and telling me they were sorry. On Friday, 21 March, after only a couple of hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a not guilty verdict. The whole room looked at me and the weight of ten people’s emotions fell on my shoulders. I saw the tears fill up in my mum’s eyes, the rage across my brother’s face, even the Officer in Charge was stood staring blankly at the wall, trying to hold back tears. My mum’s Independent Sexual Violence Advocate (ISVA) was trying to comfort my mum, even Victim Support sat there trying not to cry, my brother’s girlfriend held my brother, tears in her eyes, my stepdad looked away defeated, and my friend sat next to me waiting for however I was going to react. As I looked at the room, all I could say was, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay”. I shook the hand of my barrister and thanked him for presenting our case both times (something he didn’t have to do). As we left the court grounds, my stepdad, brother, and his girlfriend went to get the cars, the Officer in Charge walked one way, Victim Support another, and my mum’s ISVA another. It was in that moment that it all hit me and I collapsed in a ball of tears and everyone came running back to comfort me. I know it sounds stupid but these people had become like a family to me. They believed me, and I had this support network around me, and I was about to lose that and never see these people ever again, and that is the part that broke me.
There are just two people in the world that know what happened and that is him and me. ‘Not guilty’ does not mean that the person is innocent. The court system states that you must only give a guilty verdict if you are 100% certain that the person on trial committed that crime. From believing that person is innocent to being 99% sure they did it, you must give a not guilty verdict.
My trial broke me. During the whole process, I was not offered support because I was a man. My mum was entitled to more support than I was. I reached out to Survivors UK, the men’s rape support charity, who told me they could only support people over 18. When I was eventually offered counselling, I was asked what I wanted and all I asked for was a female counsellor—I was then given four male counsellors. I gave up.
My mental health at university was not good, I wasn’t okay. But in second year, with a push from the best friends I’ve ever had, I tried one last time and reached out to Cornwall Rape & Sexual Assault Centre who, when I asked, gave me a female counsellor and we clicked. I was ready to move past all of that anger and hate and start giving time to Harry. I forgive him for what he did to me because being filled with all that hate only hurts me, and in that space inside of me I have built somebody who I am truly proud of. I have pushed myself and spend every waking moment trying to overcome my inner saboteur. I created a drag persona and, for the first time in years, stepped back onto a stage. I became a volunteer at Truro Crown Court because I wanted to give back (stepping back into a courtroom had become a fear). I started getting good grades at university because I was actually engaging with my course. I surrounded myself with some of the best people I’ve ever met and I ran to be the next President Community & Welfare.
People often ask me whether, if I could go back and change what happened to me, would I? And, of course, if I could go back and not get raped, of course I’d choose not to. But the reality is I can’t. So what happened to me, happened to me. But it has shaped who I am today and it has given me a drive and energy to campaign on this issue—to give a voice to other survivors. Not everybody gets to have the happy ending I’m living right now and we who have overcome these battles must use our collective strength to help others out of that black hole—together we can fight back against this. I’m proud of the person looking back at me in the mirror.