Published: 00:01, 16 March 2019
A woman who was raped as a teenager is breaking her silence to help raise money for the charity helping her move on from her horrific ordeal.
Bethany Harris is waiving her right to anonymity in the hope speaking out will encourage other victims to seek support through the East Kent Rape Crisis Centre.
The 23-year-old, who lives in Canterbury, was just 16 when she was attacked.
The teenager was so traumatised that three weeks after the harrowing experience, she was admitted to a psychiatric unit for seven weeks as an inpatient.
But to add to her distress, police dropped the case just as she was discharged. Her attacker has never been convicted.
“The case was investigated and dropped due to lack of physical evidence,” said Miss Harris, who admits it has taken considerable strength to speak openly about it.
“Because of the length of time I left it before it was reported – three weeks – any physical evidence had gone.
“It was beyond heartbreaking knowing he got away with it.”
Miss Harris, who works in children’s palliative care, says she ended up blaming herself for what happened.
“It’s common in a lot of people who have been through trauma,” she said.
“It was beyond heartbreaking knowing he got away with it...” - Bethany Harris
“He got away with it and this was a big part of why I blamed myself.
“I became a different person after it happened. I changed, I had to grow up.”
The attacks happened while Miss Harris was living in Sussex, but instead of putting her life on hold, she continued with her plan to move to Canterbury to study at Christ Church University.
She says it was a process of starting again, but admits she buried her head in the sand when it came to dealing with what happened.
After a year living in Canterbury, she finally decided to face the demons that were haunting her and was referred to East Kent Rape Crisis Centre.
The free service, which is based in the city, offers face-to-face counselling to anyone affected by any kind of sexual violence or coercion.
It also has support and crisis phonelines, run by volunteers, which receive about 2,500 calls a year.
“I was given an assessment over the phone and they saw me within a week,” said Miss Harris.
“They offer an initial 12-week course of counselling but this is extended by six weeks each time until they feel like you have done what you can.
“They start right from the very beginning, they don’t just focus on what’s happened.
“They look at everything, your childhood, growing up, and then gently broach the subject.”
She says it took her 12 weeks to even talk about what happened.
“They are so sensitive in the way they approach it.
“For me, it helped take the blame away. They give you the reassurance it wasn’t your fault.
“They are specialists – nothing surprises them so they don’t make you feel awkward.”
“They are so sensitive in the way they approach it..." - Bethany Harris
Miss Harris, who has used the service twice – once in 2014 and again from July last year up until two weeks ago – is so grateful, she is trying to raise £1,000 for the charity by taking part in a 10km run in Stelling Minnis on May 12.
“East Kent Rape Crisis Centre is a very valuable resource and it’s free, but it runs on limited funds,” she said.
“So many people don’t have the money to have counselling or to access a service like that so it’s so important this service is in place.”