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'I am a survivor': Young mother on devastating impact of rape - and how she hopes to help others

Emily Cullum, who hopes to volunteer for the Norfolk and Suffolk Victim Care service. Photo: Lauren Cope

Emily Cullum, who hopes to volunteer for the Norfolk and Suffolk Victim Care service. Photo: Lauren Cope

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A young mother who felt unable to leave her house after being raped in Norwich has spoken out about the devastating impact it had on her life - and her journey to a new start.

Five years ago, Emily Cullum, now 25, was raped in a Norwich alleyway by a man she did not know.

The ordeal, which later saw her attacker handed an indeterminate prison sentence, left her feeling trapped in her home, unable to talk about what had happened and devoid of hope for the future.

Now, she has waived her anonymity to speak out about her experience to raise awareness of the help available for victims of crime, and to show others in her position that a new start is possible.

But Miss Cullum, a mother-of-one, said coming to terms with her attack was not easy.

"At first, I decided to shut myself off and tried to act like it never happened, and that life was carrying on as normal," she said. "That's what I wanted. I just used to carry on as normal.

"But as time went on it got harder and harder to do that, and I couldn't keep everything in. I needed to deal with it.

"I thought 'I don't need the help', 'I can keep going'. When somebody tried to bring it up I wouldn't talk, I'd shut down."

Miss Cullum opened up at the Norfolk and Suffolk Victim Care service in Norwich, which supports victims of crime and is part of the national Victim Support service.

After the attack she was referred onto the service, but, determined to move on alone, initially refused its offer of help.

She later changed her mind, reconnected and started regular meetings at its Silver Road offices.

"They seemed like they genuinely cared for me," she said, "made me a cup of tea and made me feel very welcome.

"It helped me. It was having that impartial person to talk to - talking to family I could see it was hurting them."

But even with support, it was not an easy journey. She struggled with fears that the rapist would return to harm her or her daughter, worsened when, after being sentenced, he told her he would "see you later" in court.

"That stuck in my head," she said. "I feared he would come after me and my daughter. It played with my emotions a lot."

During the hardest times, Miss Cullum, who lives in Norwich, barely left her house in two years.

"I went backwards," she said, "I had more anxiety. I felt bad as a mother, I couldn't take my daughter out. I had insomnia. Whatever I did didn't help."

Gradually, she took steps towards a new chapter, building her confidence and self-esteem.

"Since then, I have moved on from that and have more confidence, and feel able to be socially accepted," she said.

"I look forward to things, I enjoy days out with my daughter more than I thought possible.

"I can speak about it now and feel proud of myself, because I felt ashamed before. I am a survivor.

"I was worried what everyone would think about me, but they treated me exactly the same as they had before and that helped so much."

Despite her reclaimed confidence, she said it was still difficult to go out alone, but that it was key to force herself to do so.

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She said her attacker's sentence had made her fight to see him convicted worth it, and encouraged others to speak up - and seek the support that is out there.

"I feel very grateful that I have stopped that person being able to do the same thing to someone else," she said. "I know he's in the right place."

She said she is now hoping to work with the service to support others and share her experience as a victim of crime.

Miss Cullum spoke as Norfolk police and crime commissioner Lorne Green met staff and volunteers at the service.

A collaboration between Mr Green and his Suffolk counterpart Tim Passmore, the service receives £650,000 funding per year divided between the two.

Mr Green described Miss Cullum as a hero and a survivor.

"Thank the heavens for organisations addressing victim care and helping vulnerable people rediscover the personal dignity and self-esteem that others have so cruelly taken from them," he said.

"I am committed while I am in office, until next May, to do what I can to support victims of crime."

How does it work?

Victims of crime can be referred onto the service by a range of agencies - including police and schools - and can self-refer.

From April to June this year, the service in Norfolk and Suffolk received 11,000 referrals, a 9pc increase on the same period last year.

In Norfolk, the figure was 6,848.

Its volunteers and staff help people with both emotional support and practical help, and can advocate on behalf of victims with other agencies.

Richard Otterway, its contract and operations manager, said: "The first thing we offer is emotional support, so they can talk about how the crime has made them feel and put in place coping strategies to help them.

"We can also advocate on their behalf - it can be quite difficult to get hold of the officer who is investigating their case. That can add to the stress of the crime. What we do is take that off a victim's plate."

Even if a victim initially refuses help, they can return at any point down the line, and will deal with only one person while they are receiving support.

But take-up is low - Mr Otterway said of the 11,000 referrals, just 800 - 7pc - took up the offer of support.

He said the service, which is not part of the police force, urged people who felt they would benefit from help to get in touch.

- For more information, click here.

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