“I CROWDFUNDED TO PUT THE MAN WHO RAPED ME BE­HIND BARS” The woman who found jus­tice via strangers

Drugged and sex­u­ally as­saulted while on hol­i­day in South Korea, teacher Air­dre Mat­tner, 26, ex­pected the po­lice to help. When they didn’t, she asked 560 com­plete strangers in­stead...

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents -

My phone screen flashed with a no­ti­fi­ca­tion: I had a new Face­book friend re­quest. I didn’t recog­nise the name, and we had no mu­tual con­nec­tions. But as I fo­cused in on the pro­file pic­ture, I felt a shud­der. It was a face I knew. One that I would never for­get. The man want­ing to be my ‘friend’ was the same one who, less than 48 hours ear­lier, had drugged and ab­ducted me, taken me to a seedy mo­tel and raped me, be­fore leav­ing me to wake up naked and alone, try­ing to piece to­gether the hor­rific de­tails of what had hap­pened. I had no idea why he was con­tact­ing me, or even how he knew my full name – only that he was still out there, ap­par­ently so ar­ro­gant that he’d had the nerve to get in touch and taunt me. I must have gone sheet-white, and my hands were shak­ing so badly I had to put the phone down be­side me on the bunk bed I was shar­ing in a hos­tel dorm. A cou­ple of girls close to my age were flut­ter­ing around me, ex­cited for a night out that lay ahead. One spot­ted my ashen face. “Are you OK?” she said. “Yeah, fine,” I replied. “Just make sure you look out for each other tonight, yeah?”

The thought of them head­ing out full of ex­cite­ment, as I had just a few days be­fore, spurred me into ac­tion. I picked up my phone and took a screen shot of his pic­ture and in­for­ma­tion and sent it, straight away, to an email ad­dress I’d been given by the po­lice. He needed to be caught be­fore he did this again – and, at that point at least, I was sure this would help them get him as soon as pos­si­ble.

It was Septem­ber 2015, and I was on hol­i­day – an Aus­tralian in Seoul, South Korea. My then-boyfriend and an­other good friend had been with me, but had both gone back to Ja­pan, where we lived, for work, while I stayed on for a few more days’ ex­plor­ing be­fore join­ing them. I was work­ing as an English teacher and loved it. A friend who knew the city had rec­om­mended an or­gan­ised pub crawl in the Hong­dae dis­trict – fa­mous for its nightlife. A group night out felt like a safe and easy way to ex­pe­ri­ence it, and a fun way to meet new peo­ple.

As we hopped from one neon-lit bar to the next, weav­ing our way through the buzzing streets, I was hav­ing a great time. By our third stop, around mid­night, I’d got talk­ing to a group of friendly fe­male ex-pats who were liv­ing in the city. On my third drink of the night, I could feel a slight tipsi­ness creep­ing in, but I was alert and happy as I laughed and chat­ted with my new com­pan­ions. And then… ev­ery­thing goes blank.

The next thing I was aware of was blink­ing my eyes open, feel­ing dizzy and nau­seous. I was in the back of a taxi. There was a man next to me, but I didn’t recog­nise him from the pub crawl. I started to throw up. I hadn’t drunk that much, I was sure, and even in my state, I knew some­thing was hor­ri­bly wrong.

I pleaded with the taxi driver to help, rum­mag­ing in my bag for my phone to look for the ad­dress of my hos­tel and ask­ing him to take me there. But as I pushed it to­wards the front seat the man next to me snatched it away and told him to ig­nore me. I could hear him telling the driver to go some­where else, some­where I didn’t recog­nise, as I felt my­self slip­ping out of con­scious­ness.

When I came to again I was ly­ing down. I felt ex­tremely dis­ori­en­tated,

but I could tell I was naked and could feel the weight of a man on top of me, pin­ning down my hands on the bed as he forced him­self in­side me. I wrig­gled my body and tried to push him away, but he was too strong.

I must have blacked out yet again, be­cause the next time I opened my eyes, I was alone on a bed. The room was sparse, a dingy ho­tel. Light was stream­ing through the win­dow. Still naked, I could see the white dress I’d had on that night on the floor, ripped. My bloody un­der­wear was nearby, my tam­pon dis­carded on the car­pet.

Ter­ri­fied and un­sure if the man was still around, I pulled on my torn dress, threw the un­der­wear in the bin, grabbed my bag and ran out of the room, re­mem­ber­ing the num­ber as I left. I walked out to find my­self in a nar­row al­ley­way. A neon sign above the door said ‘View Mo­tel.’

On the main street, I hailed a cab, but as I opened my bag in the back seat, I saw all my money was gone. I was thank­ful to feel my phone still there.

I didn’t know any­one in Seoul, so I called the friend who’d been with me on hol­i­day ear­lier, telling him I was sure I’d been raped and didn’t know what to do. He told me to call the hos­tel, tell them what had hap­pened and ask for their help, so I did. The owner was wait­ing when I ar­rived, and paid the fare be­fore lead­ing me – faint, dizzy and shak­ing – into a pri­vate room to rest. Later that day, she, along with a Korean friend of my boyfriend, took me to the lo­cal hos­pi­tal, which had a po­lice unit at­tached, to re­port the rape.

I spent the next 12 hours be­ing sent back and forth be­tween the hos­pi­tal and the po­lice sta­tion.

Blood and urine sam­ples were taken – they proved I hadn’t drunk enough to pass out like I did. Then two women hoisted my legs into stir­rups and pulled a cur­tain across my body so I could only feel, not see, as they ex­am­ined me and took ev­i­dence – strangers in­vad­ing my body for the sec­ond time in 24 hours.

I spent sev­eral hours giv­ing a state­ment, telling po­lice ev­ery de­tail I could re­mem­ber about that night – from the name of the com­pany who or­gan­ised the pub crawl, to the bars we went to, so they could get CCTV footage. I told them about the peo­ple I was talk­ing to – then what I could re­mem­ber about the man who raped me and the mo­tel I woke up in.

They wanted more de­tails.“How much did you drink that night?” a fe­male of­fi­cer asked.“Why were you out alone?”“How of­ten do you drink per week?”“How do you know for sure you were raped?” They sug­gested my mem­o­ries might be hazy, per­haps un­re­li­able, be­cause I’d been drink­ing. I’d given a very clear de­scrip­tion of my at­tacker, but I felt like I was de­fend­ing my­self.

I was as­signed a trans­la­tor, but the po­lice and hos­pi­tal staff of­ten ig­nored her – and me – in­stead speak­ing among them­selves in Korean. Even if they be­lieved I’d been at­tacked, which it didn’t feel like they did, they barely seemed to care.

Back at the hos­tel, I asked to be moved into a fe­ma­le­only dorm, as I was too afraid to sleep alone. I awoke to my phone lit up with mes­sages of con­cern – and the re­quest from my at­tacker. The fol­low­ing day, I flew back to Ja­pan. I was signed off sick from work, and locked my­self in my room. I was pre­scribed an­tide­pres­sants, sleep­ing tablets and med­i­ca­tion for anx­i­ety. My boyfriend barely left my side, but I felt

“When I came to I could feel the weight of a man on me”

des­per­ate. I strug­gled to sleep and had reg­u­lar panic at­tacks. When I emailed po­lice in South Korea to find out what was hap­pen­ing, I heard noth­ing back.

Frus­trated, I went to the Aus­tralian Em­bassy, giv­ing them power of at­tor­ney to com­mu­ni­cate with South Korean po­lice on my be­half. Al­most a month af­ter I was at­tacked, they fi­nally se­cured the med­i­cal re­port I’d been promised weeks ear­lier.

I read it, stunned. The re­port said I’d lost con­scious­ness af­ter drink­ing heav­ily, that I’d been out at clubs in Hong­dae on my own. There was no record of me be­ing tested for drugs like GHB or Ro­hyp­nol. De­spite the in­tru­sive pro­ce­dures at the hos­pi­tal, they’d also failed to col­lect DNA ev­i­dence from my mouth, nails or hair, and no pho­to­graphs were taken.

Weeks passed with no more news un­til, in Jan­uary 2016, the em­bassy sent an email to say there had been sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ments. For the first time in months, I felt pos­i­tive, cer­tain they would tell me an ar­rest had been made. In­stead, I was told over the phone that po­lice had de­cided to close my case and mark it as un­solved. It was dev­as­tat­ing, es­pe­cially when I felt I’d given so much in­for­ma­tion to go on. I knew who my at­tacker was, and he was still out there.

I re­alised I had to take mat­ters into my own hands. I did some dig­ging my­self – the man who raped me has a re­ally un­usual name and I tracked down an­other Face­book pro­file of his, with all his friends and fam­ily (the one he added me from only had women as ‘friends’). It also listed his job de­scrip­tion: it said he was a com­mu­nity sup­port of­fi­cer in Lon­don, for the Metropoli­tan Po­lice. I felt sick know­ing he was in a po­si­tion of author­ity. I knew I would have to waive my right to anonymity so I could go pub­lic with what had hap­pened, how I’d been treated, and hope it would force the South Korean po­lice to take ac­tion. I also knew, if I was go­ing to pur­sue my case, I’d need a lawyer – which I couldn’t af­ford.

I’d never heard of crowd­fund­ing, but a friend men­tioned it and, six months af­ter my at­tack, in March 2016, I cre­ated a Go­FundMe page on­line. I wrote a long and raw post de­tail­ing ex­actly what had hap­pened to me that night and my ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter­wards. I ex­plained what I hoped to do next – re­turn to Seoul to col­lect my case file be­fore fly­ing to the UK to find a lawyer and pur­sue le­gal ac­tion there. I asked peo­ple to share my story and, if they could, do­nate a small amount to help fund my case.

Friends and fam­ily were bril­liant, and all shared the post, but it only re­ally be­gan to get no­ticed when high-

pro­file Aus­tralian fem­i­nist Cle­men­tine Ford tweeted about it. My story got picked up by news out­lets, first back home in Aus­tralia, then across the world – in­clud­ing BBC on­line. In two weeks, I’d raised around £6,500, and the money kept com­ing in – com­plete strangers were do­nat­ing any­thing from £5 to sev­eral hun­dred.*

Be­sides do­na­tions, I re­ceived dozens of mes­sages of sup­port from peo­ple urg­ing me to stay strong, and en­cour­ag­ing me to keep fight­ing. Then there were the sto­ries like mine – a steady trickle of mes­sages from other women who’d also ex­pe­ri­enced hor­rific sex­ual at­tacks in South Korea and fur­ther abroad, and had felt let down and dis­missed by the po­lice. Read­ing their ac­counts was up­set­ting, but it also strength­ened my re­solve.

Then, a cou­ple of weeks af­ter that, I re­ceived an email out of the blue from the po­lice. They de­nied they’d ever closed the case, even though it was the first time they’d con­tacted me di­rectly in over six months.“We ar­rested two sus­pects,” it read. At­tached to the email were screen grabs of CCTV footage from the night of my at­tack. They were grainy and black and white, but I recog­nised my­self im­me­di­ately. It was the first time I’d been made aware that I’d even been at­tacked by two men. I broke down. I was sit­ting at my desk at work and pushed my­self up, mak­ing my way hazily to the toi­lets, where I threw up over and over again.

I could only com­fort my­self with the knowl­edge that at least they’d made ar­rests. But even that was short-lived – a few days later they re­vealed that it was only one man not two who had been ar­rested – a Nigerian-born man, who was out­side a night­club in Seoul. He wasn’t who I could re­mem­ber, but he was shown in CCTV footage with me. Two months later, he was sen­tenced to two-and-a-half years in jail for ‘semi-forcible sex­ual molestation.’ It was jus­tice – of sorts. It’s the longest sen­tence ever served for that crime – he wasn’t charged with full rape, be­cause po­lice said they couldn’t prove I didn’t con­sent.

The other man in the CCTV footage – the one who con­tacted me on Face­book and is now in Lon­don – has still not been found. I hope I can bring him to ac­count, though with such a botched case, the chances are slim. But I want to do some­thing to stop him from do­ing this again – even if it’s just ex­pos­ing who he is to the world. There’s cur­rently an In­ter­pol in­ves­ti­ga­tion into him, and I am su­ing the po­lice in South Korea for neg­li­gence and mis­con­duct, us­ing the money from my crowd­fund­ing to pay my le­gal fees. But de­spite still hav­ing a long way to go, I see where I have got to now, with one at­tacker jailed, as a suc­cess. I shouldn’t have had to turn to them, but the kind­ness of strangers made it all pos­si­ble, and has given me the strength to keep on fight­ing.

If you’ve been af­fected by any of the is­sues in this piece, go to Rapecri­sis.org. uk. For up­dates on Air­dre’s case, visit Jus­tice­forair­dre.word­press.com. To do­nate, visit Go­fundme.com/jus­tice­forair­dre

FROM TOP: Air­dre and her boyfriend at the time of her at­tack, in Seoul in Septem­ber 2015; in Ja­pan where she had been work­ing as an English teacher

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: Air­dre and her then boyfriend (cen­tre) the day be­fore the at­tack; dressed as an ap­pren­tice geisha in Ja­pan; on Christ­mas Day 2015 forc­ing a smile to send to fam­ily and friends back in Aus­tralia

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