'He raped me with his t-shirt round my neck' - survivor tells how too much time had passed for her rapist to be charged

The YEP speaks to Claire Ashwell as part of a series of interviews with survivors of rape

Monday, 6th January 2020, 8:05 am
Updated Monday, 6th January 2020, 9:57 am

Single mum Claire Ashwell was 19 when she was raped by a man in Leeds in 2003.

Now 38 and living in South Elmsall, Claire has waived her legal right to anonymity to describe how she was unable to report the crime until several years later, but the perpetrator was never charged.

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Claire Ashwell was raped in 2003. She has waived her right to anonymity to speak out about the shockingly-low prosecutions rates. Picture: Simon Hulme

The mum-of-two was attacked with a t-shirt tied around her neck.

Lasting trauma left Claire unable to process and report what happened to her until 15 years later, at which point witnesses were unable to help police further the investigation so he could be charged.

"In 2017, I had a full on meltdown", she said.

"It took me a long time to process it, but I realised I needed to report it to the police properly. It took a lot of guts to pick up the phone."

Claire Ashwell was raped in 2003. She has waived her right to anonymity to speak out about the shockingly-low prosecutions rates. Picture: Simon Hulme

Rewind 14 years, Claire was subjected to the attack after a night out.

The man attacked her while tying a t-shirt around her neck so she couldn't escape.

Due to both her shock, and fear, Claire was only able to report the physical aspect of the attack to police at the time.

She later requested access to the report filed following the initial call to police that night.

Claire Ashwell was raped in 2003. She has waived her right to anonymity to speak out about the shockingly-low prosecutions rates. Picture: Simon Hulme

"They said there was no sign of assault", Claire explained. "My eyes had been bloodshot and I had been in a state. How can you just let him go and say that?"

It wasn't until 2017 she managed to come to terms with what happened and picked up the phone, telling the call handler, ‘I was raped 14 years ago’.

She gave a full statement, a video interview and the names and details of two potential witnesses.

"One of the witnesses [police] messaged on Facebook", Claire said.

Claire Ashwell was raped in 2003. She has waived her right to anonymity to speak out about the shockingly-low prosecutions rates. Picture: Simon Hulme

"They told police they either didn't want to get involved, or couldn't remember. It had been a long time ago."

A few weeks later, Claire was doing her shopping when she got a call from the detective investigating the allegation.

"I was standing there in Asda when they told me they wouldn't be taking it any further because it had been too long.

"He had denied it, and it would be my word against his.

"Since then I have been having counselling", Claire added.

"I was never offered anything in the way of victim support. I do feel I was very unsupported and not safeguarded.

"Some days I don't want to leave the house or even open the curtains."

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said: "This report was thoroughly and appropriately investigated but could not progressed to a prosecution stage due to evidential difficulties."

A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Sexual offences are some of the most complex cases we prosecute and we train our prosecutors to understand victim vulnerabilities and the impact of rape, as well as consent, myths and stereotypes.

"The growing gap between the number of rapes recorded, and the number of cases going to court is a cause of concern for all of us in the criminal justice system. We consider every case referred to us by the police and the CPS will seek to charge and robustly prosecute whenever our legal test is met.

“Victims have the right to ask for a review of their case by another prosecutor, independent of the original decision-maker, and this is another way we can make sure we are fair and transparent in what we do."