Shared Stories

Leigh’s #NotGuilty Story

Leigh Dixon

I read your story in the Evening Post recently. It hit a nerve with me as I too experienced a similar incident after a night out with university friends. Unfortunately there is nothing unique about being a victim of a violent crime – what I would share and hope those who have a similar story could take solace, comfort or learnings from is around the feelings of guilt and sense of blame for which I continue to experience ten years later.

I am now coming to realise these feelings. Apart from minor scars I have no lasting effects – but the feelings of shame, embarrassment and a sense of harbouring a dirty secret continues to affect my ability to truly forget.

As a typical university student bonfire night was spent with friends, some drinks and a lot of laughs. After saying good-bye at their street end I continued walking towards home. I sensed someone following me only two minutes later, feeling uncomfortable I crossed the street – I heard the footsteps follow me and in that moment I knew that what happened in the next few minutes would be life changing. It sounds odd – but the sense of knowing was overwhelming. Instantaneously I blamed myself for leaving my friends, being too independent and forgetting that I didn’t have the right to walk home safely!

My attack was over within fifteen minutes and I was lucky enough to have managed to scream and raise the alarm. Thanks to a couple of strangers I avoided rape. The men who helped me that night also managed to identify my assailant.

My attacker was charged with assault and kidnap and six months later I found myself in the witness box. I felt my civil duty that day was to give evidence against him so that this could not happen to anyone else. I quickly realised that I was there to defend and justify my own behaviour – or certainly that was how I felt. Where had I been? How much had I drunk? Did I encourage his behaviour? Your timings of events don’t match your statement? You said he hit you on the right hand side how do you remember accurately if you had been drinking? I was forced to answer these questions in front of my attacker and his family. There were many occasions whilst recuperating where I felt exposed and vulnerable – lying alone in the x-ray scanner at A&E, getting undressed in front of a complete stranger so they could take pictures of my injuries or at 21 having to be bathed by my mum. This was worse than being on the x-ray scanner, that was physical, this was emotional – after everything, I was now beating myself up.

I found it tough writing this. What have I learnt? What would I impart to my younger self or others? I don’t think I have the full answer yet – I’m still getting there. What I do have so far is, share your story with others who have experienced something similar – I didn’t and wish I had. There is strength in numbers. The feelings of what you went through will be too raw for you to rationally tell yourself that you didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t deserve what happened, that ‘what if’s’ are not an excuse and that you are #NotGuilty.

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