The men, who were about six years older than me, were in a pop band, playing village halls and occasional support slots to bigger bands. They talked about a world I knew nothing of, a glamorous world of recording studios and record contracts. Their faces pouted out of photo- graphs in the local paper. They were local celebrities. They were a gang with catchphrases I didn’t understand, mostly referring to sex acts, and little hand signals that my best friend and I emulated and giggled over in the playground at lunchtime.
That night, I watched them on the stage high above me and when they smiled at me, pointed me out and waved, I felt grown-up and glamorous, and important. I had been seeing one of them, Liam, for three weeks and had met Phil and Simon once or twice. Liam asked me to arrange to stay out the night of the concert. He suggested I lie to my parents and say I was at a girlfriend’s house, so we could “spend the whole night together”. I would have done anything he asked because I had fallen in love with this man who spoke of grown-up things, who said, “I can’t believe you’re only 14, you look so much older” – though the photos I gaze at now tell me that I didn’t. He also told me that he couldn’t believe I was a virgin when I first met him. Couldn’t believe his luck, more like.Advertisement
So I arranged my alibi and went to the concert. I wasn’t plied with champagne but with cheap vodka. I didn’t drink much of it and certainly wasn’t drunk. I was never a teenage drinker. After the concert, the men were on a high, enjoying the attention of their groupies. I waited while they circulated for half an hour and then they came over to me. Liam asked if I had made the arrangement to stay out. I said yes and he shuffled me out of the door quickly, followed by the others.
Liam asked if I would like to stay at Simon’s house where we would “all be together” or go back to the fourth member of the band’s bedsit. (He was also a model and actor and was having a party.) I didn’t understand the hidden meaning. I thought he wanted us to spend the night alone together at Simon’s, so this was what I chose. This is what, he later told me, he took as my consent. Asking me where I wanted to stay was taken as consent to group sex.
The year before, our county had been terrorised by a rapist known as the Fox. Malcolm Fairley broke into houses during the night and raped women at gunpoint in front of their husbands. My father, desperate to protect his family, would stay up all night after barricading the windows. He was determined no rapist would get near us.
I felt safe, with my father watching over me. That was what I thought rape was, a man climbing through your window in the night. I never thought it would happen at a local music festival, the first I had ever attended, after days of begging and pleading with my parents. I didn’t think Liam would spend three weeks getting to know me, before passing me on to his friends.
I was taken to a small modern house. There was a black leather sofa, black ash veneer furniture and Athena pictures of semi-naked women. It was a 1980s bachelor pad, I suppose, though I had never been in one before. I still had a Pierrot duvet cover. The men said they were tired and that we should go to bed. I followed them up the stairs, led by Liam. When we reached the room I looked around, confused. I asked Liam where we would sleep. He said, “We’ll all squeeze in together.”Advertisement
As the other men got into bed I asked Liam if we could sleep downstairs, but Phil was growing impatient and told us to hurry up because he wanted to sleep, and Liam jumped at his command, hurrying me along. I left my shirt and underwear on and got into bed next to the man I had trusted, feeling embarrassed, knowing that I wouldn’t sleep a wink.
The light went out and Liam started touching me. I whispered, no, said it wasn’t right with his friends there, and asked again to go downstairs. But he wasn’t even listening. He had sex with me. I won’t say this was rape, though it was statutory rape because of my age, but I was uncomfortable and uncooperative, hating every second of it. I thought that if I just let him do it, it would be over and I would be able to wait out the long hours until it was safe to go home without arousing my parents’ suspicions. But then the light was on and Phil said, “Can we join in?” And Liam said, “Be my guest.” None of them asked me.
I won’t torture the reader or myself with the details of what they did to me. Suffice to say, I was the victim of a “ramming” – one of their catchphrases. I was raped by Simon and Phil in turn, each with the “assistance” of the other. To this day I can still feel the chill metal of Phil’s nipple-rings pressing against my flesh as I was torn apart in every sense. I often wake from nightmares where I am having the breath squashed out of me, a huge weight pushing down on me and the smell of his aftershave in my nose.
In Nicholas Meikle’s words, like the 17-year-old girl, I “stayed for breakfast”, though I didn’t eat a thing. I watched them stuff their mouths with fried egg sandwiches and waited for them to drive me home. I couldn’t call my parents or go home early, or they would know I had lied and, like many teenagers, I was scared. So I waited and they drove me home. I ran a hot bath and began a ritual that would last for years, scrubbing my flesh in an attempt to get clean. Friends frequently joke about how obsessive-compulsive I am when it comes to cleaning but the truth of this obsession lies in that night.
I have lived with the shame and consequences of their actions for the past 18 years. The emotional repercussions have been enormous. Soon after the attack I attempted suicide but I never told a soul my secret. The men, however, bragged about the “three’s up” as they put it. It wasn’t seen as rape, though. It was seen as me being a slag, a willing participant in group sex even though I was a child with no experience of men like them, and almost no experience of sex. I have suffered from clinical depression, panic attacks, nightmares and many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder ever since.
The physical consequences of that night scarred me, too, and the physical damage I sustained during the attack has had serious health implications for me ever since.
I have dealt with my disgusting secret without therapy or help of any kind, other than the endless support of my husband and family. But now, everywhere I turn, I am faced with the story of a teenage girl who says she was gang raped by a group of men who had wooed her with their celebrity. It is in every paper, on the radio and the television. It isn’t hearing about it through the media that causes my anger, but rather the comments and opinions of others who question what she was doing drinking in those sorts of bar, pursuing those sorts of men, going back to hotel rooms with strangers, and in their judgment of her behaviour, I feel judged – though they know nothing of what happened to me.Advertisement
Teenage girls will always be impressed by older men, particularly those who promise a world of glamour and glitz that is far away from their experience. For some girls it might be a premiership footballer but for others it will just be the lad in her class who everyone fancies, or the singer in a local rock band.
I applaud the 17-year-old’s ability to tell her parents and go to the police. Much of my anger is at myself for my inability to do these things. At the age of 14, I could only see that it was my fault. I lied to my parents, I agreed to go to the house, I didn’t know how to stop the men raping me and so how could I face my family with that amount of shame? I didn’t report the rape until many years later, and even then I decided in the end that I couldn’t go through with it. I had moved away and wanted to forget it had ever happened.
At a book signing, in my hometown, 16 years on, Liam turned up. I had him ejected. Some months later, Phil turned up at a friend’s party just a few minutes from my home. He said hello as if we were old friends. Furious, I confronted him with the truth.
“The thing is Emilia,” he said, “we really liked you. We thought of you as one of the gang.”
But I was never part of their gang. Their gang was about subjecting schoolgirls to humiliating, degrading sexual acts. What these footballers are accused of is nothing new. The frightening part is that this has always happened. It happens in small towns and cities up and down the country, on council estates and in middle-class suburbs. It happens to nice girls and girls who get drunk, in bars and clubs, and it will go on happening until this issue is tackled head on.
I don’t think Phil or Simon believed at the time that they were committing rape. They viewed this type of sex as “normal”. Liam later told me he thought I was participating. “You never said anything,” he said. When confronted with the victim’s perspective they are forced to consider their actions in an entirely different light. I asked Phil to imagine his 14-year-old daughter subjected to an identical situation to mine. Would this be rape? I wanted him to consider me as a person, a child rather than a piece of meat. “Looking at that scenario [the rape],” he said, “I can paint it blacker in my head than probably you can….” I don’t think so, but I do believe that he is now aware that rape isn’t just grabbing a woman in a dark alleyway at knifepoint.
Young men need to be taught that it isn’t rape only when a girl screams and shouts and kicks. There are different types of power and sometimes a woman doesn’t even need to be held down. I didn’t shout or scream or kick. I lay with my eyes shut tight, crying silently while Phil held Simon by the hips and pushed him into me, brutally, shouting “Ram, ram, ram” and laughing. Afterwards, he asked me if I had come.
· All names except the author’s have been changed. Emilia di Girolamo is a writer and award-winning playwright. Her novel Freaky is published by Pulp Books, priced £7.99. Her play Boom Bye Bye, based on these events, is in development.