Sexual assault is an all too common part of our society and one which sadly thrives in our nightlife culture. As bars and clubs begin to re-open following over a year of lockdown more must be done to protect those on the receiving end of sexual violence.
Someone who has experienced the pain of such an attack opened up to Ungagged in a courageous and honest attempt to address the reasons why so little has changed and how much more needs to be done to end this cultural blight.
Alan Ferguson of Paisley was convicted on the 16th of January, 2018, of a sexual assault the previous year under the Sex Offences Act 2009. The perpetrator of the assault received no concrete punishment from the courts, (though the assault will appear on his criminal record).
Describing the assault, his victim said: “Basically, I went for a quiet night out in Paisley. I’d only had a couple of drinks by that point – completely compos mentis. I was standing near the pool table and we were chatting to a couple of guys that were standing next to us. I was a bit more androgenous back then and I’d bumped into him by accident then he’s went and tried to ‘push me back’ apparently by violently grabbing my vagina and my breast, and he said to his mate he ‘just wanted to see what was there’.
“My partner turned round and went “what the f*** did you just do?” and he gestured – it was on camera – and went “Oh I just kinda grabbed her”. My other friend also witnessed it. It was all on CCTV.
“I had the choice to deal with it myself in a not entirely legal way or go straight outside and phone the police. I went out and the police happened to be walking along that street at the time, so I went straight to them.
“My first mistake was when the police officer asked if I wanted to speak to a female police officer. I said: “No that doesn’t matter”, and that kind of set the tone for the rest.”
What took place in the days, weeks and months that followed was a litany of stress inducing, emotionally taxing events that was exacerbated by those involved in the prosecution of the charges.
“After that the police said they would need my clothes so they took me in the car with my partner back up to my house and I had to stand in my own bathroom with a police officer, (a female police officer), looking at me the full time taking my own clothes off, which was humiliating. I was also asked for a swab of my DNA, but I thought they could differentiate between male and female DNA, so I don’t know why they asked for my DNA to exclude it. That was never explained to me.
“I stupidly did because nobody was there to advocate for me. I was never offered any kind of support. You see in court and then the perpetrator’s got a lawyer and stuff like that. I didn’t have anything like that, I was on my own, which I didn’t understand.”
“The male sergeant involved asked, when he came for a follow up statement, if I was aware that he, (the attacker), had just recently gotten married and had a kid, and I asked him how that was relevant and I could see the female police officer standing next to him kinda doing a shifty eye as if to say ‘why on earth you asking the victim that’. I hate describing myself as ‘the victim’ but it’s unfortunately the only appropriate word – it pisses me off to hear myself describe it as that.
“That was just the first out of many horrible things. He showed up at my house at half 10 at night, which I also said wasn’t appropriate. He replied: “Well we can either do it over the buzzer or you can let us into the house”. He was with a female officer but that’s not the point. I didn’t say it was ok to show up at my house at that time. It was for a follow up statement cause they didn’t take my partner’s statement that night and there was just stuff that I was too flustered at the time to remember so I was giving the extra details, which might have looked dodgy to them but I don’t care. Everything was factual.”
Women have been attempting to use social media to call out incidences of sexual assault for well over a decade now because the courts have so consistently failed them. The ‘Me Too’ movement is thought to have stretched back as far as the MySpace days of 2006.
“Moving on to court then,” She said: “I wasn’t given anyone there apart from my partner and my Dad to support me, I wasn’t giving any sort of legal representation. Legal support, moral support, anything. There was some woman that was supposed to be talking on my behalf but I met her on the morning when I got to court and I hadn’t even spoken to her so I couldn’t tell her anything.
“In court his attorney asked if I was aware that he was out with his police officer friend that night and I actually turned round and said: “Well if you’re trying to make me look bad or make me look like a liar it’s not possible, because if anything that would have deterred him from sexually assaulting someone in public in front of his police officer friend.”
“I was asked by him how much I had, had to drink. He basically just analysed me all over again on the stand in front of people and no-one jumped in to help me.”
The victim was also heavily critical of the way the court case was handled, describing the advocate assigned to her on the day as ‘useless’ and saying nothing on her behalf, and also of the fact that the perpetrator’s wife, (who was also there on the night in question), was able to approach her in the corridors as they waited to go into court without any enforced distancing or recourse.
The Paisley resident’s life was altered following the attack by Mr Ferguson.
She said: “Talking about the roll-on effect, I’ve never been back to that bar since. That bar I used to go to once a week, all my friends went to it. I didn’t actually go down that street – one of the main streets with bars on it in Paisley – I didn’t go down it. I had to watch which specific bars I went in. When I did go out, almost two years after it happened, I was constantly looking over my shoulder. Any guy that was tall with brown hair in a bar that I saw I would be like, ‘Is that him? Is that him?’
“No-one should have to feel scared to walk around their own town. I was born and bred here and nothing like this had ever happened before. I know it only takes one time but in a crowded bar, in the middle of the bar, on CCTV, and he wasn’t punished? It’s just difficult to move on without some sort of justice.”
It is thought that the vast majority of women in particular will, at some point, suffer from a sexual assault. So why do more victims not come forward?
We have become more and more accustomed to high-profile assault cases running through our news cycles. Every week now it seems that a new celebrity ‘hero’ is accused or tried for a charge of sexual assault. While some have questioned the continued need for the ‘Me Too’ movement the statistics paint a picture which should more than answer this.
Only 6.25% of sexual assault cases end in any kind of conviction and, shockingly, only 1.7% of rape cases in the U.K last year resulted in a guilty verdict. These are only the cases which make it to court and are just part of the reason that many victims feel unable or unwilling to report attacks.
In this case the perpetrator was found guilty, but the lack of punishment and the victim’s harrowing experience of the criminal justice system, added to rather than alleviated the peace which such a conviction should have achieved.
She said: “There was no fine or anything. There was also the fact that the special conditions that were in place before the court case were lifted after, so that means that if he sees me in the street, he is allowed to talk to me. He is allowed to approach me, which means that also put me at risk of harm.
“Basically just because I was told by the judge why he was kind of let go and victim support said he has a habit of doing that with sex offenders.
“I want to know why I was harassed by the sergeant in charge of the investigation and I want to know why a sex offender literally got no punishment whatsoever.
“I don’t know if he was a first-time offender or not but either way they let a predator back out on the street.”
This brave lady’s story is tragically all too common, and attempts to shift the global narrative have not quite had the impact for most people that many hoped that it would.
Opining on the task ahead for us all as a society, the lady in question said: “I think we need more education in schools. I think teenagers leaving school need more education in college, whether it be outside courses, basically not to sexually assault women or men.
“There needs to be harsher punishments. Judges need to be held accountable. Police officers need to realise that they are not bigger than the law. Taxpayers pay their wages. There’s so many things that need to change I don’t even know where to start.
“People need to be held accountable and victims need justice. If we keep letting people away with it then they think it’s ok.”
(The names of the victim and law officers concerned have been omitted to protect the innocent)