Rape victim thrown in jail and dragged through court
WHEN Darwin woman Cecelia* woke up and realised someone had raped her while she was unconscious, all she wanted to do was get out of there and go somewhere safe. Instead she ended up in a jail cell, and would then have to spend the next six months in and out of court, reliving the details of her assault.
The charge? One count of disorderly conduct, which the Department of Public Prosecutions chose to pursue despite conceding Cecelia had sworn at transit security guards out of shock and confusion when they came to remove her from a bus at the Casuarina bus exchange in January. Despite agreeing it had happened after she had just been raped in broad daylight while unconscious.
Last Thursday, the 34-year-old Darwin woman finally reached the end of her criminal court case which began when she was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct on the afternoon of January 30 this year.
She pleaded guilty to the charge, and no conviction was recorded and no sentence imposed by the judge.
According to the statement of agreed facts, tendered in court, Cecelia had been drinking with family members near the Casuarina bus exchange in January when she fell unconscious and was raped by an unknown person.
When she woke up and realised what had happened, she tried to flee by getting on a bus, but when she could not find her ticket the bus driver called transit security who came to remove her.
"Once removed she became highly distressed, crying and yelling. She did not want to be touched," the statement said.
Cecelia told the NT News she had lashed out because she felt "violated".
"All of a sudden I was surrounded by all these transit mob, there was about five of them," she said.
"I asked them 'wait now, don't touch me,' because I was a bit jumpy.
"I just felt really disgusted. I wanted to jump on the bus to get away from that area but then I was rough handled by transit. That made me really upset."
She was eventually handcuffed and taken to the watch house. It was then that she told police she had been sexually assaulted.
"I didn't realise until I was in the watch house the next morning. I smelled myself, I stunk of sex - 'oh yeah that's right something happened to me.'"
"I went to the toilet there and I found semen on my pants.
"I told the officer 'I believe I've been sexually assaulted.'"
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When her case was handed to duty lawyer for the Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), Harita Sridhar, the lawyer wrote to the Department of Public Prosecutions asking them to drop the charge given the circumstances of the offending.
To her surprise, they said no.
"Representations were sent to the Director from myself and Mr Woodroofe (principal legal officer at NAAJA) and they were rejected, they could not see it was in the public interest to withdraw this matter," Ms Sridhar told the court on Thursday.
"It's tragic, sickening circumstances that have brought her here today."
Cecelia said she was also shocked to hear the request had been rejected.
"I felt 'oh my goodness' maybe these people want to say I'm a liar,'" she said.
"I will plead guilty for being drunk and disorderly in a public place, but how they handled me and what happened - it was just wrong. They shouldn't have done that."
She said having the matter dragged through court for six months had been incredibly distressing.
"Every time I have to hear what happened, I've just gotta be strong and stand there and listen to it over and over again," she said.
"Listening to somebody else telling you and telling everybody, I've got to be really strong."
Cecelia said the sexual assault of Aboriginal women was very prominent, and that she wanted to speak out about her experience in the hope that other women would follow her lead.
"I don't know how to live with this because that happened in public, it happened in full day. I could have left it but I know I wanted to say something about it," she said.
"Growing up I've been sexually assaulted and abused my whole life. It's just been close the door and nothing happened, nobody don't want to hear about it.
"Today is a good day for me to say something and give other women encouragement to speak out for our generation.
"It's draining (but) I've still got a little bit of strength in me just to carry on."
The Department of Public Prosecutions has been contacted for comment.
*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
*Name has been changed at the survivor's request.
Originally published as Woman speaks out after being prosecuted following sexual assault