Medical Records; A Survivor's Story

Medical Records; A Survivor's Story

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With huge thanks to Rape Crisis Scotland we reproduce this harrowing blog which first appeared in their special newsletter looking at the law and rape.   You can read the full newsletter here. 

Rape Crisis Scotland are a charity, and, if you can afford to, please make a donation to support their work.

The image above is from a previous Rape Crisis Scotland campaign. 

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My name is Sarah. I live in the north-east of Scotland. I am a mother. I am a rape survivor.

In May 2011 Adrian Ruddock, was convicted at the High Court in Aberdeen and sentenced to 8 years imprisonment - with an extended sentence of three years - for attacking me.

This is about my journey through the justice system as a survivor of rape - in particular, the way my medical records were obtained and used as evidence to prejudice the jury against me.

In the days that followed my rape, I struggled to cope mentally and emotionally. I didn’t want to deal with it - I couldn’t. The pain, the trauma, it consumed me. This culminated in me attempting to end my life. I slashed my wrists and took around 60 pills that were prescribed for the injuries Ruddock had inflicted upon me. My life was spared. I was admitted to A&E and given life-saving treatment. It was here, in my fragile mental state - still dazed, confused, traumatised, still bleeding from the tears when he ripped me open - that I was given a piece of paper to sign by police officers. It was a consent form for my medical records to be used as evidence. I wasn’t given any legal advice, I wasn’t even offered a choice. It was handed to me and I was to sign it. That was it. I was never told what this information would be used for. I was certainly never told that my rapist’s QC - Ronald Renucci - would broadcast personal information from my childhood in court.

I tried to prepare myself in the months that followed for giving evidence. I made detailed notes - I filled notebooks with everything that could be asked of me in court. I was determined to be prepared for everything and anything. But I placated myself with the belief that legislation would prevent my rapist’s QC from attacking my character. I was wrong. Very wrong. Giving evidence can only be described as re-victimisation and secondary violation. In other words: being raped all over again.

I knew I would have to tell the court in chilling detail precisely how this man violated me, I knew the defence were going to paint me as some scorned temptress, I knew it was going to be difficult. I epitomise the old cliche of ‘asking for it’: I am the perfect imperfect rape victim. I was drunk. I was wearing a short skirt. I knew the man who attacked me. I willingly, albeit under false pretenses, went back to his home. I knew Renucci was going to have a field day. But nothing prepared me - or rather, no one prepared me - for the fact that my previous mental health records were going to be scrutinised in front of a courtroom full of strangers.

While cross examining, or as I prefer - bullying me, Renucci asked something that shocked me. It shocked me more than his accusations that I wanted to be raped and torn open by his client. He asked me if I had ever self-harmed in the past. I was confused. I was angry. I didn’t understand. When I was a young teenager - around 13-years old - I was bullied at high school. I was depressed. I resorted to self-harm to deal with my pain. I had only confided this detail to a school psychologist, maybe my doctor. I hadn’t even told my own mother. But here, at the trial of my rapist - some seven or more years later - this incredibly personal information was broadcast to all - journalists, the jury, the judge, and worst of all, the man who only five months prior had repeatedly raped me. I am sure he could see the colour drain from my face, I am sure everyone could. My heart felt like it had a thousand anchors pulling it to the ground. I wasn’t prepared for this. All those hours of taking notes and I didn’t see this coming. I was completely blindsided.

I looked around, desperate for someone to save me, to help me, to see that this was not right. But it was in vain. I proclaimed something along the lines of, “do I have to answer that!?”. The judge, Lord Bracadale, told me that I did. He told me that only the prosecution were allowed to object to a line of questioning. They didn’t. So there, alone, I had to tell the world that when I was a little, bullied girl I cut myself to deal with the pain. Normally in life when someone is verbally attacking you and your identity and character you can walk away. You can ignore them. You can leave the room. I couldn’t do this. I had to answer my bully’s questions. I had to tell this complete stranger, who was over twice my age, all this personal information. It was around this time I shouted at Renucci - asking him how he could do this to people, how he could ask me these things, how he could sleep at night. Bracadale called for an early lunch. I was so traumatised that I didn’t want to go back into the courtroom. I told staff that I was running away. I was told I had no choice - a warrant for my arrest would be issued otherwise. It sounds cliched, but I truly did feel like I was on trial - I was on trial for being raped. The next day, the newspapers had the latest scoop on the story. On page four of the Press and Journal it was there in black and white:

“She admitted, under cross-examination by defence advocate Ronnie Renucci, that she had previously received treatment for depression and anxiety and had self-harmed before.”

The world now knew, not just those in the court room, that I had self harmed as a child. Remember, I hadn’t even told my mother. I had a lot of difficult conversations to have at a time when my sole concern should have been my own wellbeing. At this point, my mental health had deteriorated to a point where I was hospitalised as an inpatient at a psychiatric unit. I had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. But here I was, sitting at the payphone in the hallway of my hospital ward, trying to explain to my mother that I did trust her and that I was sorry I didn’t confide in her when I was younger.

At the time of writing this, it has been 910 days since I gave evidence. I have had a lot of time in the past two and a half years to go over what happened to me. I’ve had a lot of time to think about everything, to put things in perspective, to get answers. But there is one particular question that looms over my head and disturbs me.

Why were my mental health records brought up in court that day? I have a few ideas. None positive. I have deduced that Renucci decided to play on the public’s prejudices regarding mental health, in the hope that someone in the jury falsely believed that because Medical Records: A Survivor’s Story 16 someone had suffered from depression, they were likely to lie about being raped seven years later. He wanted to tarnish me, to question my credibility. Don’t get me wrong, I’m smart enough to know that it’s a defence QC’s job to question a survivor’s credibility and I understand that is their job, but I have yet to see any research of any kind that links depression, anxiety and self-harm to lying about rape. But Renucci knew that the public still has prejudices against people with mental health issues. He knew they still believed myths. He knew there is still, sadly, a massive stigma against those who suffer from ill mental health. So he played that card, he clutched that straw - heck, it was one of the only ones he had.

My rapist was convicted after a majority verdict. I will never know how many of those jurors thought that I was lying. I will never know what their reasons were, but in my mind it’s clear: it’s at least in part because of those medical records. I may be wrong, but that’s truly what I believe. This was, in the prosecution’s eye, a very strong case: I ran away from his home half naked in the snow; immediately after I left people heard me say, “help me, I have been raped”; his neighbour heard my screams; there was blood all over his flat; I had bruises covering my entire body; I had painful vaginal tearing; forensic scientists even showed how my tights had been ripped off, and how much force was used. It was ‘open and shut’. But someone still didn’t believe me.

The government has recognised that the length of woman’s a skirt doesn’t mitigate a rapist’s culpability, they have recognised that a survivor’s past sexual history isn’t relevant, so why isn’t it recognising that a survivor’s mental health shouldn’t be fodder for the defence? My rapist had a lengthy criminal record - including a custodial sentence for carrying a loaded firearm.

The jury was not allowed to hear about that. They weren’t allowed to be told that he used an alias because he was a convicted drug dealer. This was because it could prejudice the jury against him. As soon as he was arrested he had access to legal representation that gave him guidance on everything - what to say in interviews and court, what procedures to consent to, even what to wear in court. I was given no legal advice. I wasn’t afforded the same - any - privileges he was in court regarding my previous character. I was not just a witness or an exhibit in that court room - regardless of how the court viewed me - I was a victim and I was fighting for my life and I was fighting for the lives of other women he may attack if he was not found guilty.

Deep down I know that if Ruddock had merely physically assaulted me, mugged me or committed some other non-sexual crime, then these questions would not have been asked. That’s what kills me: that because his assault involved my vagina, people will find any reason to make me culpable and the court, at present, is allowing that. The court and the government, by allowing medical record evidence to be introduced, are actually endorsing the idea that survivors who are unlucky enough to be blighted by ill mental health are responsible. They are agreeing that women who have suffered from psychiatric issues are liars. You’re breaking my heart. Because I love this country and I have great respect for our justice system, but I can’t support this. I can’t stand by idly while this continues.

My self harm and depression from my childhood had absolutely no bearing on the pain and violation that he inflicted upon me, repeatedly, in the early hours of the 16th of December, 2010. So why was it brought up? Why didn’t the judge or the prosecution intervene? Why Medical Records: A Survivor’s Story 17 did no one help me or say ‘stop’? It keeps me awake at night knowing that women will choose not to report their rape for the fear that their private medical records will be broadcast to the world. It kills me to know that other women are being revictimised in court in this way; that rapists are walking free today because survivors’ irrelevant mental health records are being used to falsely paint them as unstable liars. My experience is not unique: since my assault, I have spoken to countless survivors who have experienced the same thing. It’s not right. It’s not fair. It cannot continue. Something has to change.

Sarah Lauren Scott

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  • commented 2016-03-26 17:40:52 +0000
    It was fear of them using my medical records like this that stopped me from going to court. It really needs to change
  • commented 2016-03-26 12:50:58 +0000
    We’re all so concerned with human rights, and we should be, but those same rights that applied to the defendant should absolutely be applied to the victim. The court system needs an overhaul along with the laws regarding rape.