‘Treat rape victims like heroes’: the survivor changing voyeurism laws

Emily Hunt felt powerless after CPS failed to charge man who filmed her naked and asleep. Now she advises UK government on sexual assault

In the days and weeks after she woke up in a bed with a man she didn’t know, with no recollection of how she had got there, Emily Hunt lived a nightmare she couldn’t wake up from.

A police rape investigation left her feeling traumatised, a CPS decision not to charge the man she had woken next to left her feeling powerless.

Eight years on, she has helped change the law on voyeurism and is a government adviser on rape, and in a book out this week she has a message for other survivors: this is not your fault.

We Need To Talk comes as urgent questions about how the justice system in England and Wales treats rape victims and rapists after the conviction of the serial rapist David Carrick, and Hunt says conversation has to get louder.

“I want victims to know that they are not alone,” says the research and data expert. “And I want them to know it’s not their fault. The rape was not their fault, and the system failing is not their fault.”

Hunt’s journey has been extraordinary, and punctuated by trauma. Police took her in a state of distress from the hotel room after she woke up at 10.30pm that night in May 2015. The man told Hunt nothing had happened, but told the police they had consensual sex.

He was sober, but CCTV footage showed Hunt was intoxicated and he told police he thought she might be mentally ill or on drugs. He was carrying drugs, which he said were LSD and Viagra, but which were not tested. He was arrested, but the CPS decided there was insufficient evidence to charge.

“I was treated like somebody who was asking for too much when I was asking for a bare minimum,” she says. “It never occurred to me that I could be let down the way I was.”

A year later she learned that he had taken a video of her unconscious and naked, and masturbated next to her. When she asked the CPS why they hadn’t prosecuted the man for voyeurism, they said it was not illegal to film someone naked without their consent.

That could have been the end of it. Instead, Hunt, who is originally from New York, set about trying to change the law. In 2019, she crowdfunded and with the help of the Centre for Women’s Justice, was allowed to “intervene” in the judicial review of a separate case.

The CPS accepted that their decision in Hunt’s case had been unlawful. He was charged with voyeurism, pleaded guilty and in September 2020 was sentenced to a 30-month community order.

Then, at the beginning of 2021, she became an independent adviser to the government’s rape review – its response to a cataclysmic drop in rape prosecutions. She was part of a successful push to introduce a round-the-clock sexual abuse helpline and has been a champion of Operation Soteria Bluestone, which has lifted the lid on failures and pushes an Al Capone, suspect-focused approach to catching rapists. There is some evidence of improvement – figures published on Thursday show that rape convictions in the last quarter are up 41% from record lows in the same quarter in 2019.

Hunt is now calling for a national conversation about the prevalence of rape, a wider understanding of the trauma it causes, and a busting of the rape myths that keep suvivors silent and rapists walking free.

“If you are in a train carriage and you look around, 25% of the women on that train will have experienced sexual assault, and half of them will suffer from PTSD,” she says. “Of course, it’s horrible. Of course, we don’t want to look at it. But this is happening to the women around you, and if nobody’s ever told you about their experience, that’s on you, not on them.”

Instead of expecting flawless victims who react in predictable ways, she argues that everyone in society – not just police, prosecutors and judges – should be aware of rape myths and the impact of trauma.

And instead of victims feeling as if they are under investigation, they should be thanked for coming forward. “Given the repeat nature of offending, any report that could lead to prosecution and conviction is potentially helping somebody else down the line,” she says. “When rape victims come forward and report to the police, they should be treated like heroes.”

• In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support for rape and sexual abuse on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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