At 19 Sarah went to her boyfriend’s to break up with him. That isn’t what happened.

Sarah was 19 when she decided to end things with the man she was dating.

He had started to make her feel ‘anxious’, and when she broke it off, he didn’t take it well.

“He continued to call me and harass me,” Sarah told ABC National’s Background Briefing“He was calling me at home, he was calling me at my university campus… I asked him to leave me alone… I said I didn’t want to see him anymore.”

But her ex-boyfriend would not take no for an answer. He told Sarah unless she came and saw him face to face, he would never leave her alone.

Sarah reluctantly agreed, and as she climbed the stairs to his apartment one otherwise nondescript morning, she promised herself this would be simple. She would tell him this was over, Sarah recounted to the ABC, and finally, he would stop contacting her.

But that isn’t what happened.

That morning, Sarah says her ex-boyfriend raped her.

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“There was a violent attack against my will,” she said.

“I said ‘no’ and I screamed and I hit him, and he restrained me. I kicked him, I hit him, I did everything to fight him off, I just wasn’t strong enough. When I left I yelled at him, ‘You raped me!’ And he laughed at me and called me stupid,” Sarah told the ABC. 

She went back to a friend’s place following the alleged rape, who told her mum. The friend’s mother then called the police, and Sarah’s mum was told what had happened.

“She absolutely insisted I make a statement,” Sarah told Mamamia. 

So that’s exactly what she did. The police took her to the hospital, and then she made an official statement. The police also advised she apply for an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) given she felt threatened, and he continued to pursue her.

Only hours after the order was served, Sarah’s ex-boyfriend called her. He was charged by police over the breach and later appeared in court for the offence.

But Sarah’s alleged rapist was never convicted.

The complainant witness, her best friend at the time, was interrogated by police. “It’s really obvious from her statement they led her into talking about my sexual past,” Sarah told Mamamia. “Did she think I was truthful or not?” She believes the conclusions police drew from these questions influenced the decision not to charge her alleged rapist.

Sarah was devastated. She underwent a great deal of counselling following the ordeal, but eventually fell in love and had a baby.

It wasn’t long after she had her first child that Sarah received an unexpected phone call.

She was in the city meeting friends for lunch, when she ducked into the parents’ room to quickly feed her son. That’s when the phone rang, and a detective asked if she remembered making a complaint in 1997 – no less than 16 years ago.

She did.

He told her there had been DNA matches linking Sarah’s ex-boyfriend to the assaults of three other women.

The detective wanted to know if she would testify and back her original statement in order to mount a case against him.

“At the time I said absolutely, whatever you need me to do to bring this man to justice,” Sarah told the ABC. 

“He has to go to jail. It’s awful that there are four victims now. It’s terrible. But we now have an opportunity to all get together and there’s no way that they wouldn’t believe us. They had to believe us. He would go to jail.”

That call took place in early 2013 – and Sarah had no idea what she was getting herself into.

Sarah. Image supplied.

Firstly, the three cases (one case didn't make it to trial) were trialled separately, meaning the relevant jury had no knowledge of the other potential victims.

The legal process went on for three years. The AVO Sarah had been granted - a key piece of evidence when it came to proving she was truly terrified of him - had, according to police, been destroyed. They told her AVOs were destroyed after seven years, but Sarah could not find any record of that taking place. She was advised by her lawyer not to mention the AVO at all.

The police investigating the case could not find key documents, and Sarah says she felt compelled to find contact details for the complainant witness and the original statement. Sarah told Mamamia her case was postponed more than once, at one point because they "forgot to put [Sarah's] case on the court list." Sarah testified twice, both times reliving one of the worst moments of her life.

Sarah told Mamamia of one instance when she sat opposite a lawyer who referred to her case as "just a mild rape". He went on to explain to Sarah that he, "manages to get guys like this off all the time, and how [Sarah] had less than a 20 per cent chance of conviction".

"It didn't feel very mild at the time," Sarah reflected. "And it hasn't since."

It wasn't until November 2016 that Sarah received a verdict for her nearly 20-year-old case. The man who she says raped her, was found not guilty. Not just in her case, but all of them.

"You are a victim, but they don't treat you as one," Sarah told the ABC. "There's little respect or compassion … I'm sitting there and describing this horrific tale, and it's so personal and intimate and gory and embarrassing, quite frankly."

POST CONTINUES BELOW. We discuss the acquittal of Luke Lazarus on Mamamia Out Loud.

She felt as though her case had been stifled, with lost files and detective errors, so Sarah decided to put in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Her request was successful, and she was emailed a number of documents. One of them, was the AVO that had, according to police, been destroyed.

"The justice system isn't going to serve any purpose unfortunately," Sarah said.

"Nothing's going to change until there's a massive culture shift in terms of victim blaming and the police and the way they deal with things. You can't really call it a fair trial when the jury don't really get to hear everything. They don't get to hear about all the other victims..."

She truly believes, that often when rape victims come forward, "the police just don't believe us."

We asked NSW Police for comment on Sarah's case, and Sex Crimes Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett said, "police treat all matters of sexual violence seriously and any report will be thoroughly investigated."

"Sex without consent is a crime - no matter the circumstances. Unfortunately, we know that sexually-based offences are under-reported for various reasons, but we want to change that. The justice system can seem intimidating - particularly for victims of such a personal crime - but there have been vast improvements over the years and a range of support services available at any time.

"We will investigate each and every report of sexual violence and provide support and assistance to victims; the welfare of the victim is always our number one priority. My advice is always report an incident as soon as possible and seek medical treatment so we can gather as much evidence as possible at the time.

"That said, it's never too late to make a report to police - we will investigate it whether it happened yesterday, last year, or 30 years ago."

Today, Sarah has not given up. She's lodged a formal complaint, and urges all women to report because jurors and court rooms desperately need to hear these stories.

The court found the man Sarah says raped her to be not guilty.

But Sarah's story is just one of many where women feel their experience of rape or sexual assault is not properly investigated or taken seriously by police.

A recent report released from the Crime Statistics Agency found that of the 3,500 reported rapes in Victoria between 2009 and 2010, only three per cent resulted in a conviction.

And of these 3500 reported rapes 41 police reports were made against an alleged perpetrator who had a record of six or more prior sexual offences. Almost half of those reports in Victoria ended not only with no conviction - but without even a court appearance.

Our conviction rate in this country for sexual crimes are startlingly low.

Detective Superintendent Howlett told us that the police want to give "the power back to victims".

"By reporting it to police, we join them in the fight for justice," Howlett said, "Those who commit sexual violence need to be brought to account for their actions."

For the victims who are left traumatised, or with their sense of safety forever lost, surely justice is not too much to ask for.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

 

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