A rape victim has taken the brave decision to speak out about her horrendous assault at the hands of “a remorseless” attacker in a bid to persuade others not to suffer in silence.

Due to her courage and determination the 64-year-old mother and grandmother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has seen the man who raped her placed behind bars for seven years.

But despite her own bravery ‘Sheila’ – who she has asked to be known as - is adamant she would never have made it to this day if it had not been for the support she gleaned from police, health and legal professionals along the way.

“I would probably have died, I wouldn’t have been able to survive the trauma,” she said.

“The first day after the attack I couldn’t speak to anybody, the second day I couldn’t speak to anybody, the third day I thought I would die if I spoke to anyone and I thought I would die if I didn’t.”

Sheila was raped at a party in August 2010. Despite the brutality of the attack she found the courage to speak to a friend who had heard about Norfolk’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) – aptly named The Harbour Centre.

The centre was not due to officially open for five more weeks so she was advised to attend the Peterborough SARC.

"I don’t know how those poor women who don’t tell cope, because it is with you for life. I have closure now and I’m happy now.”

Sheila, rape victim

Harbour Centre manager Diana Baxter, who took that first phone call, said: “I remember the day I took the call. I had just been to a meeting and I picked up the call from a lady who said she had got a friend who had been raped.

“Because of the research I had been doing in the work up to the opening of the SARC in Norfolk I had visited the SARC in Peterborough and had met the team and seen the facilities so I asked them if they could help us out.

“It was a crucial point because if I had not passed Sheila on to Peterborough she may never have had the courage to come back to us.”

Sheila underwent a lengthy medical examination.

Speaking of that day Sheila said; “I went into a room, I had never seen anything like it before, it was all sealed up. I was seen by a police doctor and had 30 different swabs taken.

It was absolutely exhausting. It took ages, it was a very long process, around 5 or 6 hours long.

“I hadn’t washed my clothes because I couldn’t bear to touch them. They were just in a heap in my bedroom.

“It was a brand new top and beautiful shoes and I would never see them again…but it doesn’t matter.

“I never felt any pressure to go to the police. I was completely reassured that they could keep my evidence for a number of years.

“I met a lovely lady who put what happened to me into perspective to help me understand the severity of the attack. It was a double shock.”

“But I was so relieved, I couldn’t believe such people existed.”

Only one day after visiting the Peterborough SARC Sheila, who lives in the Breckland area of Norfolk, found the courage to walk into Bethel Street Police Station in Norwich to officially report the rape to the police.

“I just walked into the police station,” she added.

“I said I wanted to report a rape. The person at the station went and got somebody else and I made a statement.

“I thought it wouldn’t do any good to keep quiet, he would get away with it. A lot of rape cases don’t go to court and those that do, only a small percentage get a conviction at the end of it.

“But I had to do it for the sake of my family and my partner. This man could not be allowed to get away with it.”

Diana and her team at the Harbour Centre then not only supported Sheila through her emotional turmoil but also through the judicial process.

“I had never seen the inside of a court room but I was taken to see Norwich Crown Court so that I could familiarize myself,” she said.

“When I went there I saw a witness giving evidence via a video link. It made me really think about things and I thought that if I gave evidence behind a screen rather than on a monitor the jury would see me as a real person.

“I was never alone, there was always someone with me, I was always being looked after. “The court room was emptied when I went in and when I went out so nobody could see me.”

Sheila had to listen to her statement twice in court as the first jury had to be dismissed.

“It all felt so unreal, I was just swept along with it all,” she added.

“I kept thinking that the CPS wouldn’t have gone ahead if there hadn’t been enough evidence.

“It was all so relevant, even down to the drawing I had made on the day I reported what happened to me – that was even shown in court. Every little detail counted. The video evidence, everything, it just all came together.”

Sheila’s 45-year-old attacker was found guilty of rape and two sexual assault charges and was sentenced in January 2012 to seven years in jail. He was also placed on the sex offender register indefinitely.

Speaking at the sentencing the Judge said the offenders had “shown no remorse".

Sheila added: “When you think of rape you think it is just physical. What people don’t realise is that it is also about what they say to you.

“When I told my family what happened they just broke down, they cried and cried and cried but they have been a major help.”

Commenting on the sentence, she added: “I broke down and cried with relief. The policeman called me at home. I didn’t go to court that day, I didn’t think it would serve any purpose.

“I was surprised at the severity of the sentence but I feel happy now.

“I don’t know how those poor women who don’t tell cope, because it is with you for life. I have closure now and I’m happy now.”

Sheila continues to have therapy to help her cope with the impact of the ordeal but said she would be forever grateful to those who have, and continue to help her, through the painful process.

“I don’t like to think of myself as a victim, but I was,” she added.

“I don’t see myself as brave or amazing. I think the people who are brave or amazing are the people who have supported me through this, such as Diana.”

Sheila, who was also closely supported by one of the SARC’s Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVA), has a simple message to other victims.

“Please don’t suffer. The support I was given was amazing. Everybody needs to know what is out there, what support is available.

“I never felt that I didn’t know what was going on, or who was dealing with me.”

She added: “I have asked friends what they would do if their best friend said she had been raped – who would they turn to and they didn’t know. I really hope they do now.”

Sheila was the first person Diana helped.

“Sheila was my first, she was the reality. She was the reason we had set up the SARC,” Diana said.

“One of the biggest advantages you have with the SARC is that it gives people a chance to think about what they want to do and not feel they are under any pressure to go to the police.

“We want to encourage people to come forward so that they can have that support in place straight away.

“Even if they don’t want to report it to the police they can have the crucial medical examination should they change their minds at a later date.

“People take time to process things. It is about giving people that time.

“Rape can affect anyone, any age, any sex, any religion and culture – there are no boundaries. It is about getting that message across to victims or to potential victims that they do not need to suffer in silence. It is about ensuring friends and family know where to go and who to turn to if someone is brave enough to open up. And it is about getting the message across to offenders or would-be offenders that victims will be heard.”

Look what you did

Watch the short film supporting victims of rape and sexual assault