‘You can learn to trust again’ – These words of wisdom from a rape survivor are truly inspiring

‘I want the book to offer hope to people’ – Jennifer Potter. Photographs: David Taylor
8 Nov 2017 @ 4.45 pm
| News

Jennifer Potter was 17 when an older relative invited her on a night out with him and his wife.

After they returned home she went to bed in the spare room. Later that night the relative came in and raped her.

“At the time I was so overwhelmed, ashamed and confused I didn’t want anyone to know so I tried to keep it to myself, only telling two friends,” Jennifer told YorkMix.

“I eventually went to the doctor and broke down. She encouraged me to tell my parents.”

Jennifer didn’t report the rape to police until 20 years after it happened. Now she has published a remarkable book about her experience.

Brave Souls tells of how she went from keeping a ‘shameful secret’ to facing her abuser. But above all it carries a message of hope – that you can be happy again after sexual violence.

‘I decided I must be damaged’

L-R: Samantha Beckett, an independent sexual violence adviser with IDAS, Jennifer and Sarah Hill, CEO of IDAS

“It’s difficult to say exactly how something like this affects you emotionally. It changes as you grow with it,” says Jennifer, 41, from York.

“It certainly affects your sense of self.

“For me on some deeper level I had decided I must be damaged some how and therefore on a more subconscious level stopped believing I deserved good things, I stopped letting love in and I had developed survival strategies that were helpful but not particularly healthy.”

Learning to be OK feeling vulnerable has been a big part of my journey and has enabled me to let love back in, especially in forgiving myself.

The turning point came from an unusual source.

“It was my acupuncturist that supported me in starting to look at my trauma and how it had affected me.

“That led to getting a good therapist who has been amazing in helping me heal the wounds and learning to love me again.”

In September 2012 she walked into a police station to report that she had been raped.

Now, having waived her right to anonymity, Jennifer explains what happened in her own words.

‘I didn’t think that people would believe me’

Lots of support at the Brave Souls launch

Why did you wait so long to report the rape?

At the time it happened to me most victims were not believed. The messages you heard in the press and on TV was that it must have been the victim’s fault.

I didn’t want the public shame. I was already overwhelmed with everything else I was processing, without the interrogation of the police on top. I didn’t believe that people would believe me because I’d been made to believe it was my fault.

What changed your mind?
In 2012 two things happened to change my mind. I was setting up my business and knew I wanted to do something to help others so I needed to be OK with my own journey, and the Jimmy Savile situation exploded.

As horrible as that was it showed me that the world had changed and that there was more support for victims. I also knew I was ready, I was strong enough now.

How was the response from the police and judicial system?
The police were fantastic, they told me they believed me at every stage and were very sensitive throughout.

The judicial system was horrendous.

Nothing can prepare you for the cross examination and although these cases are positioned as a crown case vs the defendant it really does come down to you versus them – your attacker.

How did you feel about the outcome of the trial?
My rapist was found guilty and got a five-year sentence, half in prison and half outside. I think the justice went a long way to helping other people feel better, like my Dad.

For me the court process became a distraction from doing my own healing work with my therapist and added to the ‘stuff’ you end up having to process.

I’m glad and very surprised given the nature of the case that we got a guilty verdict, it’s very rare [only one in three cases get a guilty verdict]. There are a lot of people who never even get near a guilty verdict despite knowing their attacker did what they did.

Letting love back in

From the Brave Souls Facebook page: ‘We thought it might be fun to have some pics of us in the core Brave Souls emotions… love, vulnerability, anger, laughter’
Were you able to form relationships again?
Over time absolutely you can learn to trust again. Although it’s complex and tough sometimes, it’s worth doing the work with the right support.

Learning to be OK feeling vulnerable has been a big part of my journey and has enabled me to let love back in, especially in forgiving myself.

I’m in a relationship with a lovely man now. I don’t have a family of my own but there’s still time.

What’s your response to the Harvey Weinstein revelations and their aftermath?
I think it’s great that people are speaking out and we need to be careful not to go on a witch hunt.

A world where men and women come together to do the right thing, to create a more balanced, healthier respectful world for each other can only be a good thing.

It’s also important that people don’t feel pressured to speak out due to things like #metoo because other people are. You have to feel ready and choose for you, that’s really important. Feeling empowered is key in this process.

A post shared by Jennifer (@jensbravesoul) on

After recent assaults on York women, do you worry about the safety of women in this city?
I worry about the safety of women all over the world not just in York. It’s important people know how to get home safely and take extra precautions. Stay in groups of threes and no walking home alone.

It’s also worth knowing that stranger rape is far less likely than being sexually assaulted by someone you know.

What is your message to other victims?
You absolutely can recover from such an ordeal. Sharing your story with someone is the first step in taking back your power, whether it’s the police a friend or a therapist. Talk to someone who will listen without judgment.

The justice process isn’t for everyone, you have to choose what’s right for you. And please speak out to charities like IDAS, they have so much expertise for victims and their families.

My independent sexual violence adviser was like my Guardian Angel when I was going through the investigation, I wouldn’t have been able to thrive without her.

What are your hopes for the book?
I want the book to offer hope to people. It can feel pretty dark sometimes. And it can feel pretty isolating.

The book is full of resources and guide posts as to where and how to get help.

Although it follows my journey, I hope it will act as a resourceful tool for other victims and their families to start to understand what needs to be in place to help other brave souls to start their own healing.

Brave Souls

After successfully crowdfunding £5,000 for the book, Jennifer published Brave Souls.

The book combines Jennifer’s intimate and brave story with advice and resources to give other women and men who have suffered sexual trauma hope that they can still live the life they want to.

More than 100 copies have been donated to Independent Domestic Abuse Services (IDAS) who supported her through her own court case when she found the courage to speak out.

Working with IDAS, Jennifer has become a spokesperson for victims of sexual abuse. In June she travelled to London to talk to newspaper editors about the impact on the victims of the way sexual crimes are reported.

You can read more and order the book here.

If you have been affected by sexual assault, you can contact police on 101, IDAS on 0300 0110 110, or Bridge House, York’s sexual assault referral centre, on 0330 223 0099