SCMP:I hid pain of sexual assault for nine years. Now it's time to stand up - do not be ashamed

Janice was working as a counsellor in Britain when she first met the offender.

“This person was a case client of mine at the time,” she recalls. “I had explained to him that there was no need for us to continue our contact.”

Janice, who asked to be identified only by her first name, recalls the beginning of her worst nightmare. It took place nine years ago.

Having reiterated to the man several times that she could no longer offer him any more counselling, he continued to call, sometimes as often as 60 times a day.

The harassment persisted for months. Yet her employer refused to acknowledge there was a problem.

“What did you do to lead him on?” were her managers’ exact words when she told them what happened. Their response fed her self-doubt. She started questioning herself. Was there something that I did to make this happen, she wondered. Then 25, she was aware of society's perceptions and attitudes towards this kind of situation.

I remember I did everything I physically could to try to call for help, to try to stop him from dragging me inside

“The reason I did not disclose it till it got to a point where it was unmanageable was because I felt as though it would somehow damage my professional credibility and my career.”

The situation escalated to stalking and threatening.

“All along, I still maintained that it was my responsibility to keep a sense of control, mainly because my employer was not willing to offer support.”

Feeling trapped, Janice eventually relented to one of the man's requests to meet up and help him fill in a form he said he was having trouble completing himself.

“I was so worn down, so I agreed in a hope that somehow it would lessen the disruption he was causing.”

She picked a public place during the middle of the day, thinking she was safe. It turned out to be anything but that. Little did Janice know he had plotted out the rest of the night.

“When I got there, of course, there was no form. He claimed he had left it at home and suggested we go back to his place to retrieve it.”

Janice refused, but the man, possessing a strong physique, verbally abused her. She stood firm and insisted she would wait outside his flat on the busy main street.
Eventually he took matters into his own hands, picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder.

“I remember I did everything I physically could to try to call for help, to try to stop him from dragging me inside. I even hung on to lamp posts, but he was very strong. I remember clinging to the edge of the door frame and the door, everything.”

She recalls seeing people along the way but that no one stopped to intervene.

“He locked the front door and kept me there for two days. I don't think I need to explain too much what happened,” she says. “He did what he wanted to do. I was very much fearing for my life at that point."

She chose to suffer in silence, put on a brave face and continued with her life.

In describing her ordeal, Janice returns to the word “numb”.

"A part of me just decided to shut off just to cope.”

However, a phone call from police six months later changed all that. With the knowledge that seven other women had fallen victim and suffered at the hands of the same perpetrator, she decided to file a police report and testify in court.

“I would say the primary response of the people around me was not to talk about it, which added to the feeling of isolation and thoughts about self-blaming,” she says, fighting back tears. “The silence was part of the pain.”

Eventually justice was served. He was jailed for 10 years.

Since her unfortunate encounter, Janice has moved to Hong Kong. But it was not until earlier this year that she decided it was time for her to stand up publicly even under the weight of feeling ashamed.

Her advice for others?

“Do not be ashamed. With light and hope, strength and courage, those who have been hurt can be lifted again.”