'It's been two-and-a-half decades since I was raped and I still think about it every day. It's something I remember as clearly as if it happened yesterday and I know I'll never get over it.
I was just 17 when it happened. I'd finished work and, although it was midnight, I walked the short route home along a main road, as I'd done so many times before.
But as I approached my front door, I couldn't find my keys in my handbag. Thinking I must have dropped them, I began to retrace my steps. As I searched the ground, a car pulled up beside me.
I saw three guys, two of whom I recognised as friends of friends. They were known as local hard men but they'd seemed quite friendly when I'd met them before.
"Are you OK?" one asked. As I explained, they all leapt out to join the search. But I still couldn't find them.
"Let's go to yours and we'll see if there's a way we can get you inside," one of them offered. Grateful, I clambered into the back of the car.
But a few minutes later, we drove past my flat. "We've just got to go somewhere first," the driver explained, smiling.
Unease fluttered inside me. "I'll wait for you here," I said, when we pulled up outside a house. But they insisted I come in. By now, they weren't smiling.
The house was empty, with junk mail strewn by the front door. One of them, the driver, pushed me into a room with a mattress lying on the floor.
"Please, I want to go home," I begged. He yelled at me to shut up, threw me onto the mattress and, pulling up my skirt, he raped me. When he was finished, his friend came in and did the same, while the man I didn't recognise stayed in the other room.
When the second attack was over, they told me to get out. Crying, I collapsed on the road as they got into their car and drove off. I'd been a virgin until that night.
Shortly afterwards, a woman came to my aid.
I told her what had happened and she took me to the police station. But that was far from the end of my ordeal. Knowing my rapists' reputation in the local town, I was too terrified to press charges. Instead, I fell apart.
I went from one bad relationship to another. I was beaten up and one "boyfriend" even tried to turn me into a prostitute. I took an overdose and, when that didn't work, tried to slash my wrists.
Things got slightly better three years later when I fell pregnant. I adored my baby with a love I'd never experienced before. But even that wasn't enough to free me from my memories.
I broke up with the father of my child because I always kept him at arms' length.
I found having sex difficult and talking about my feelings even harder. Although he understood, no relationship can work like that.
It's been 25 years and I still have nightmares. But I'm about to start counselling which I really hope will help.
I'm also volunteering with a local charity to help young girls who have been raped – they like talking to me because I know exactly what they're going through. But I really wish I didn't.'
* Names have been changed to protect anonymity
For confidential advice and support, contact: Rape Crisis on 0808 802 9999 and rapecrisis.org.uk or HOPE on 01723 381811 and hopesurvivors.org.uk.
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