Hannah Overton, superhero extraordinaire, shares this touching story about overcoming one of the most egregious things that could ever happen to a woman…
It was our second date. Already head over heels for each other, we were in bed and he began to touch me. “Stop”, I said playfully. He didn’t. My playfulness turned to panic. “I said stop, it’s not fucking funny!”, my voice trembling with dread. Now it was his turn to panic. He apologised, desperate to atone. “It’s nothing, I didn’t mean it, I’m fine, just go to sleep” I implored. Then, to my horror, I started to cry. So I told him everything…
Two years ago, I was raped. My rapist was a second year medical student at UCL, a RUMS (the medical school union) football boy. A future doctor. While in the manic phase of my bipolar disorder he took advantage of me in the worst possible way. A year later, when I was suicidally depressed (such are the joys of manic depression), he sexually assaulted me again. I told two friends. Both were his “medic children”. One laughed it off and remains friends with him to this day. The other, concerned, asked if I was ok. “Yeah I guess” I replied. After all, he didn’t hit me. He didn’t hold me down. I just told him no and he just…didn’t listen. I should’ve fought him. I shouldn’t have come out of the bathroom I’d locked myself in just because I was afraid he’d “cause a scene” and that my flatmates would think I was a slut for bringing a boy round. I shouldn’t have listened when he said he’d stop if I just came back to bed. I was a classic victim. Blaming myself and burying my true feelings so that they’d gnaw away at me slowly but surely. But hey! At least I wasn’t making a big deal out of it! At least I could still be the cool girl that’s fine with boy’s treating her like shit! At least I wasn’t drawing attention to the rape culture that pervades RUMS! What a “victory”!
This rape culture was made clear to me at a subsequent Sports Night. I was chatting to a friend when my rapist came over and, as he frequently did, inserted himself into the conversation. He didn’t talk to me, just to my friend. I don’t know what his intent was when he used to do this but the experience always chilled me to the bone. I stayed where I was, determined to stand my ground. After he left I advised my friend to stay away from him, that I’d “heard he hurt a girl.” “Oh yeah” she said, “I’ve heard he’s done that to a few girls but whatever I’ll be careful.” I was heartbroken. Had my silence lead to more girls being hurt? I can’t ever describe the guilt I carry with me to this day.
For a long time I wondered whether he knew what he’d done was wrong. Until one horrendous sports night that I will never get out of my mind. I was having a good time (for once), when the football boys started a chant. I didn’t pick up on it until a few members of the netball circle I was in started to stare at me. “Hannah, Hannah Hannah, Hannah Hannah, Hannah Hannah Overton” they chanted over and over. But some of the boys were drinking, why were they drinking? I went cold. All the boys I’d slept with that year were drinking to the chant. Slowly, terrified, I let my eyes fall on my rapist. He wasn’t drinking. I don’t know if I read too much into it, but, I took his lack of action to mean that he knew that what had happened between us wasn’t sex. I became hysterical, crying and having to be calmed down by one of the older years (who I later found out is one of his close friends. Go figure.) I didn’t tell her why I was really upset, instead blaming it on being ill. But it stuck with me. He knew what he did was wrong. I felt validated but angry. Both at him and at the football boys for trying to shame me. But still, I remained silent.
A week later, I went home for the holidays. I intimated to my Mum what had happened but took it no further. I let it eat me alive. The symptoms of my as-yet-undiagnosed bipolar disorder worsened. I began to self-harm, clawing at my skin to rid myself of the dirty feeling he’d left. I couldn’t focus, as thoughts of him invaded my mind as I tried to revise. I had wild mood swings, catatonic one moment, angry and destructive the next. I failed my exams. Twice. After almost kicking me out, the medical school decided to allow me to stay as long as I took a year out and repeated my first year. I was devastated. My world, already falling apart, was decimated. In my year out, I tried and failed to hold down a job. I ended up having to leave London and return to Ipswich where I remained listless and unfocused. By now, (heavily medicated) my mood had improved but a nagging feeling remained. Not a day went by where I didn’t think about it. I was cripplingly ashamed that the chill, fun-loving, crazy-sexcapade-having image of myself that I’d carefully curated had fallen down round my ears. I was a failure. I was tainted and no man would ever be able to love me. However, I kept myself together well enough to pass an occupational health interview and was allowed to return to university.
I moved back into halls. I found myself living with a woman (who is now editor of this very journal) whose commitment to women’s rights is so passionate it’s slightly scary. During a late night conversation in my room, I told her my story. Shocked and angry, she convinced me to contact student support at UCL. I had a meeting with a student support tutor (who shall remain nameless as I still see her) who was the definition of unhelpful. “Don’t bother with the police, they won’t believe you”, she said off-handedly. “I can’t do anything about it, you’ll have to have a meeting with Dr Will Coppola and tell him.” Terrified at the prospect of having to tell my story to a man, I left in tears. Determined to prove her wrong, and desperate for some sort of action, my friend and I went to Kentish Town Police Station. The police officer at the front desk, on loan from Hell probably, was about as unsympathetic as a person can be. If my friend hadn’t been with me I would have walked out there and then. After a few stern words from my friend to a senior member of staff I was taken into a room where I spoke to another officer. After telling him my story, we left and a few days later I was invited back to a different police station to meet with Officer Sara Hey. She began our meeting by stating that she “wasn’t sure whether [I’d] actually been raped, or whether it was just sexual assault”. After recounting my story for what felt like the hundredth time she announced that it was rape but the second time wasn’t sexual assault. “Even though I’d said no several times“, I asked, holding back tears? “Oh did you? Then yeah you were sexually assaulted. Sorry, I wasn’t listening properly”. She then reeled off a list of reasons why my case was weak but assured me that I could continue the investigation, you know, if I was really desperate to. Defeated, I told her “no” and walked out. She texted me a few days later to tell me that they were bringing my rapist in for questioning, as a formality. I begged her not to, afraid that what had happened would get out. “Sorry”, she replied, “we already spoke to him”. She reiterated that no charges were being brought. Miserable, I resigned myself to the fact that he would receive no consequences. Then, after a meeting with the amazing student mediator Ruth Seddell, I spoke to Dr Coppola, MBBS Divisional Head.
He opened our meeting by apologising. “I am so sorry this happened to you”. I wanted to hug him. Someone was apologising to me. (Maybe this wasn’t my fault after all.) “It is unacceptable that this has happened”, he stated with such feeling that I was moved to tears. He gently encouraged me to give him my rapist’s name. I did. He vowed to, at the very least, bring him in for an uncomfortable meeting and to try and bring him up for a so-called “fitness to practice” assessment in front of the GMC. If I’m lucky, he’ll be unable to practice medicine for life. But, after all my experiences…I am not hopeful that this will happen.
So I emailed my friend, editor at The Amnesty. “I’ve been toying around with an idea for an article” I typed, “It’s for selfish reasons, think I’m still looking for closure and want to do a giant fuck you to the whole shame culture around sexual assault”. Because it’s the shame that really got me. The shame at being “weak”. The shame at “allowing” this to happen. The shame at the idea that I could be told “that wasn’t really rape, you’re just a slut”. When planning a series on sexual assault, the women’s division head at The Amnesty stated that submissions of people’s real life experiences would be anonymous. Which, of course, is understandable. No one wants to be known as “that person who was raped”. The shame and stigma that is attached to that designation is almost unbearable. But fuck it. I’m not ashamed anymore. I’m a fucking survivor and I don’t care who knows it. If I write this, and one person feels even slightly better for knowing that someone else feels what they feel too then it’s worth being stigmatised. If you’re a survivor know that this stranger loves you. That this stranger cares about your struggle and is here to fight it with you. That this stranger wants her rapist to read this and feel even a small proportion of the shame she felt. That this stranger hopes that by reading this, her rapist will stop. Stop hurting people, stop shaming girls, stop holding power over her. I’m tired of being a good little quiet victim. I’m tired of RUMS rape culture. I’m tired of some UCL medical school staff providing a safe haven for rapists. I’m just so fucking tired. So I decided not to be anonymous. To show my face and to show him I’m not afraid. Not anymore.
At my 22nd birthday party, once again in floods of tears, a friend told me something that stuck with me. “This will make you a better doctor. When someone comes in to see you and they tell you they’ve been raped, you’ll know what to say, you might be the only one that can help them. Maybe this was just a price you had to pay in order to save a life later down the line.” I hold on to that. That some good might come from this is all I could ever want. I’ve had to learn how to trust again. Now I’ve put that trust in a man who makes me happier than I ever thought I could be. I am determined to have a happy ending.
If you’ve been sexually assaulted please tell someone. Tell your friend, tell your doctor, tell the police. And if they’re not supportive complain until they are. You are not alone. Me, and thousands of people like me, we’re here for you. You are never alone.
The Women’s section at The Amnesty will be publishing stories of people who have been sexually assaulted at UCL. Read them. Get angry. Get motivated. Fight rape culture wherever you see it. We need your support. Please give it.
What to do if you’re sexually assaulted:
Call the police on 999 if you’re still in danger or on 111 if you are not
Go to your doctor
Contact Rape Crisis on 0808 802 9999 or visit their website www.rapecrisis.org
If you are a UCL student, contact student support via www.ucl.ac.uk/current-students/support/ssw-blog/0000-student-life/sexual-violence-support