Woman who was allegedly raped as a teenager calls for change after ‘terrible’ court case

A woman who claims she was raped by an older man as a teenager has called for changes to the court process after finding the experience of going to court traumatic.

Isobel Goatcher claims a man in his 60s attacked her in 2016 when she was 16 after a party at her parents’ house. The jury reached no verdict.

Prosecutors pushed ahead with a retrial that was scheduled for July, but Goatcher has now withdrawn from the case because she says she cannot bear to endure another “terrible” trial.

Goatcher, who testified in court, said she felt as if defense counsel’s cross-examination portrayed her as a “sex-mad bitch” who was stalking the man. The first question he reportedly asked her was, “You were a lively 16-year-old, weren’t you?”

“I don’t hate his lawyer for what he said to me. He was just doing his job. The point is there should be much stricter rules about what they can ask and how they ask it,” Goatcher told the Guardian.

She is now 23 and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. She said part of her wants to push the retrial forward. “But I didn’t know how I could physically do it again,” she says.

Goatcher says she doesn’t want to discourage others from reporting their accounts to the police, but instead speaks out and sacrifices her anonymity because she wants to raise awareness of the legal process.

The marketing coordinator says she is “mourning” after withdrawing from the case, meaning the man was found not guilty. She says: “I’m really sad that I had to make this decision and that I felt like this was the only way for me to move on.

“It’s really sad that the system is the way it is and that the court cases are so traumatic that I was willing to drop the case. I was willing to withdraw support because I knew I didn’t want to do that to myself again. I feel broken and torn.

“In a way, I feel weak because I didn’t go ahead with a second try. But I know it’s not my fault, it’s the system’s fault. The system should not be so traumatic.”

Goatcher says she woke up in 2016 and found the man on her. She says she told her best friend what happened that same day, and told her mother and boyfriend a year later. She began counseling in 2019 and says she told her therapist in her first session that she had been raped.

In July 2020, she filed a complaint with the police. The man was charged in April 2022 and the case took another seven months to go to court.

Goatcher says the delays impacted her mental health. “It felt like years,” she says. “It was really tough because I felt massively out of control. I felt like I was being examined. I had to sign waivers so they would have my medical records. They went straight back to my elementary school and got records from them, although that was when I was 16.

“It just felt so intrusive and so centered on me. He was interviewed once and other than that I felt like it was all about me and how credible I was.”

Goatcher says she felt unprepared for the trial and claims she was only told about the possibility of a jury execution three days before it opened. UCL’s Prof Cheryl Thomas published a study last month that found less than 1% of rape cases between 2007 and 2021 ended in a jury.

Goatcher says she felt unsupported during the trial after meeting prosecutors’ attorney 45 minutes before cross-examination.

She says: “My close family and friends were [prosecution] Witnesses in the trial so I couldn’t really rely on their support because I wasn’t allowed to speak to them. So it was pretty isolating and scary. The fear I felt in the two weeks leading up to the trial was terrible. I had to take beta blockers because I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”

She is “heartbroken” that the case ended in a hung jury, but hopes speaking out can help bring something positive out of her experience. “I need to talk about what happened, others should know what the process is like because it’s not fit for purpose. And it’s never going to change if people don’t talk about it,” she says.

“The people I want to reach are the ones who can make these policies and change the system.”

Goatcher says she “recognizes that cases like this are complex and take time to investigate, but waiting nearly two years to find out if the case goes to trial is two years of hell.”

She adds: “And then when you come to court, you suffer a whole new trauma of being interrogated by a lawyer where nothing seems off-limits, no aspect of your life too personal to question. These are the things that need to change to make the process easier and less traumatizing.”

A CPS spokesman said: “In this case, the CPS charged the suspect within 10 weeks of receiving the full evidence file from the police. We were also able to assist the complainant by allowing her to pre-record some of her statements and she had the opportunity to testify live behind a screen.

“After a hung jury, we requested a retrial, but she declined further involvement. We considered going ahead without the complainant testifying live again, using her pre-recorded video interview. However, since she had previously testified in person, this would not have been possible, so we closed the case. We are working hard with the police to increase the number of rape cases that go to court.”

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