In the UK, 12,000 men aged 16-59 are raped every year – figures have risen by a third in the last decade and are, in reality, likely to be higher as many feel unable to report this crime to the police.
Chris Storey was raped by a stranger when he was a teenager and despite the significant fear and trauma he endured, he has always wanted to meet his attacker face-to-face.
He’s now waived his right to anonymity to encourage other men to report sexual assaults and to share how restorative justice has helped him to move on with his life.
Chris, who is now 33, was 17 years old when he was raped by a man following a night out with friends. The offender – in his mid-20s – was a complete stranger who happened to be in the same city-centre taxi queue and who lured him to an alleyway, where he subjected him to a prolonged sexual assault.
“I’d got separated from my friends at the end the night and joined a taxi queue in the centre of town,” said Chris. “It was really busy and, after engaging in conversation with this man, he said there was another rank round the corner that had a shorter queue – I knew which one he meant so I thought ‘great, I’ll get home quicker’,” he said.
“We both started walking in that direction, I remember we were just chatting and the next thing I knew I was pushed to the floor. I heard him say ‘Don’t move or I’ll slit your throat’.
“At that point, I thought I was going to get mugged or beaten up to be honest,” said Chris. “He kept saying over and over again, ‘don’t speak, don’t say a word or I’ll slit your throat’ and then he ordered me to take my trousers down. That’s when I realised it was something else…
“He kept threatening me over and over again to do as he wanted; I can remember my head was screaming to not comply but it’s as if my body was just going to stay and go through it, otherwise I thought I might be killed.
“It was terrifying, and it felt like an absolute eternity,” he said. “He continued threatening me throughout the attack and then, when it was over he started to panic, whilst I stood there in a terrified state. He was pacing up and down, getting more and more panicked, repeating the same threat so much that I actually found myself apologising to him, just so I could calm the situation down and get away.
“I promised him I wouldn’t tell anyone, he said he’d have me killed if I did and that was it – he walked off.”
Chris sat in a doorway for over an hour, too scared to walk through town in case he saw the offender again. To add to his trauma, he eventually made his way back to the taxi rank where he told some people what had just happened and asked for help, only to be mocked by them.
“It was really difficult,” he said. “I remember thinking if that’s the way complete strangers react, what will my friends and family think?
“The attack itself was sickening and the shame I felt is hard to describe. It was just instantaneous shame. He knew he’d done wrong and of course I absolutely knew he had too, but I felt like all my dignity was gone in that moment; I felt like a loser, like I wasn’t a man and that the version of me who I had just been, was now over.”
It was a taxi driver who helped Chris, driving him to the police station where he reported the assault. The offender denied two charges of rape and a third charge of causing someone to engage in sexual activity without consent.
“It was frustrating to have to go through the trial, but despite the stress and trauma, at no point did I cry or break down during cross-examination because I knew I’d done nothing wrong. If you’ve done nothing wrong, it is possible to do that.”
The offender was found guilty by a jury’s unanimous verdict, given a full life term sentence and continued to deny his guilt for the following five years.
Chris has always been keen to have the opportunity to meet and question the offender in person, so when he began to accept responsibility and admit what he’d done whilst in prison, Chris took the offer of restorative justice through community safety charity, Safer Communities.
Funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, the charity’s restorative justice service gives victims the chance to meet or communicate with their offender to explain the real impact of the crime.
“It’s something I always knew I wanted to pursue, said Chris. “I was angry, my family were angry, and I had lots of questions I wanted to ask him. I wanted him to know that he didn’t have the power anymore and he was going to sit there and answer every question I asked,” he said.
“To be fair, if it hadn’t been for the team who handled the restorative justice process, I think it could have ended up with me just venting, which might have made me feel better at the time but where would that have left me?
“They made sure I got my questions answered for the long-term benefit to me and they’d prepared him; he knew it was going to be difficult and, at times, he was sobbing and in such a state, he had to leave the room.
“One of the most important things for me was when we were talking about him knocking me to the ground. He said to me ‘there was nothing you could have done, it was happening’. He told me he’d had me by the throat, I couldn’t have stopped it. It’s what I’d known for years, but there I’d heard it from the horse’s mouth. Later, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me for the first time in years.
“When I asked him if he thought he might have done it again if he wasn’t caught, he said he couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t have because he’d never have believed himself capable of it in the first place and look what he did to me.
“In the moments after the attack, I did consider going straight to a bridge and jumping off, but he’d have won if I’d done that. It would have destroyed my family, there would have been no justice and other men would have been at risk.
“Reporting it was absolutely the right thing to do and yes, it’s been a long journey, but restorative justice has also been the right thing for me. As much as it pains me to say it, I have to give him credit for taking part in it,” he said. “I was and am already moving on with my life, he has to live with what he did for the rest of his.”
Becky Childs – restorative justice service manager at Safer Communities – who played a key role in facilitating the process, said:
“The idea of a victim of sexual violence wanting to communicate with the individual responsible may be a surprising concept to many, who may justifiably fear the risk of causing further harm or distress.
“The well-being, safety and safeguarding of victims wishing to engage in such a process must remain the focus of any restorative process, as should the victim’s right to have their voice heard, to hold the offender accountable for their actions and to have their personal needs met.
“Chris’s story demonstrates the true power of restorative justice in supporting and empowering victims to move forward, regain control and receive an apology or explanation. This was his right, and this is the right of all victims of crime, regardless of the offence.”
In a bid to share how significant reporting the crime and meeting his offender has been for him, Chris met with Steve Turner, PCC for Cleveland: “Restorative justice programmes are often misunderstood by members of the public who think they are just easy options for people who’ve been convicted of an offence. The reality, in the vast majority of cases, is very, very different – as is the positive effect it can have for victims of crime.
“Chris’s’ experience shows just how transformative it can be for a victim. Nothing will ever erase the trauma he suffered but to hear him talk about how much the process has helped him makes me so proud of the fact that our funding can help support him and others who need it”
“He is without doubt one of the bravest and most inspirational people I have ever come across. His desire to use his experience to help others shines through in any conversation as does the mental strength he’s shown to get to this point. He deserves enormous recognition for what he’s done so far as do the team at Safer Communities, who have supported him every step of the way.”