Emma Attard: “I Don’t Want To Call Myself A Rape Victim – I Am A Survivor”

We’ve all noticed the increase in rapes and assaults in Malta. As a woman, they’re concerning. Rape can happen to anyone at any time. It’s not fair that we have to live with the fear that someone could inflict violence on us.

But the news doesn’t tell you how it feels to be a rape victim. They don’t tell you the psychological aftermath.

So, I reached out to Emma Attard. I wanted to have a conversation with her.

Emma was raped last April by her caretaker on her own bed. Someone who she thought was there to check-up on her took advantage of her instead. Rape.

I wanted to know more, not just the facts.

I wanted to tell her story.

TRIGGER WARNING: the following contains graphic and emotional content

Why Hasn’t It Been Heard In Court Yet?

The first question I asked Emma was: why hasn’t it been heard in court yet?

She explained that the magistrate asked for several reports that she must check before going forward with the case. The reports include: forensic results, police reports, the rape kit, psychiatric reports, etc.

She added that depending on the results, the magistrate will rule if there are enough results for the case to continue – it’s like determining if Emma’s claim is believable enough or not.

I could tell that Emma was a quiet person but not timid; she had a strong voice and she explained herself well. She held composure and poise yet at the same time, the pain was evident in her tone.

I’m hanging by a thread at the moment not knowing what is going to happen.

“I don’t want to raise my hopes up too high because you are the only one that’s going to be disappointed whatever happens […] Yet the reality is, that in the eyes of the law, I am the victim and I am the one that has to prove what happened.

And although Emma has come to terms with what happened, she is aware that she’s in the very beginning phase of what happened.

“I think the authorities did their part to a certain extent but everyone keeps telling me that we just have to wait […] I can’t continue my life as I am expected to do because the system sucks.”

Knowing how slow Malta’s judiciary system works, Emma’s case will take years until it’s finished. “It’s not fair. I’m trying to start my own life and yet something is holding me back. I am going to get married in six months and eventually have kids and will still have to deal with this case.”

And yet, Emma made it clear that she wants to fight for justice.

“You have to fight for yourself, you have to fight for the truth because no one else will […] and he will fight for his lies so I have to prove that wrong.”

“I Began Shaking Uncontrollably”

I didn’t want to pry into the details of the rape just in case Emma wasn’t comfortable discussing it, yet she openly explained to me that when he raped her, her body froze and it felt like her body was betraying her.

After a few minutes, she said she began shaking uncontrollably and the rapist had to stop because he looked concerned of what was happening.

“I thank my body for that because if my body wasn’t shaking uncontrollably, he would’ve kept going on.”

“When he was on top of me, there was a feeling, I don’t know for sure, but there was this feeling that he knew exactly what he was doing […] There was the scary feeling that I wasn’t his first one.”

“I hope my body preserved enough evidence for the forensics to prove what happened […] I don’t know what I would do if the results show nothing. I don’t want to think about it.”

And now, Emma’s body is part of the crime scene. Emma is aware that her body is evidence.

Picture feeling that way about your own body – that’s what he did to her.

The first thing Emma did after she was raped was called a helpline who convinced her to make a police report. She felt the pressure to report the case “for my own sake but for others’ sake too.”

She explained that when the police came into her home: “they froze there while I was in complete shock […] later, the forensics unit even took away my bedsheets for DNA.”

“You see your safe haven being turned into a crime scene – it’s like watching a movie.”

What Happened At The Hospital

Afterwards, she was taken to the hospital via ambulance. She spoke highly of Victim Support Malta who were supporting her at the hospital and followed up on her case too.

Emma detailed the rape kit and the unexpected things she was asked to do.

“It’s like you’re having to prove your case by using your body to prove yourself. You are literally naked and they take photos of you and they tell you what to do while they’re taking the photos.”

“And yet, I am exposing myself to more people – I have already been used once, but then you have to let others make the most out of your body once again.”

She added that you have to go from one place to another while at the hospital and you’re leaving forensic pieces of you in different places – and you have to be ok with it.

She highlighted that Malta needs a specific ward or building for rape victims to be properly taken care of.

At the time, she was all over the place and so emotionally tired that it felt like she was floating and not able to process what was happening. “It’s like I was a skeleton being experimented with.”

Emma also noted that the workers were trained to conduct the rape kit yet they were not well-prepared to face a rape case.

Part of the rape kit consists of physical evidence such as her panties for forensic testing. It’s these small details that at that time seem so big – because who would have told her that she would be stripped away from her panties and needed to bring extra panties, otherwise you have to walk around the hospital without one?

These are things that you don’t know will happen after you’ve been raped – no one tells you these things and in an ideal world we would not have to know about them but unfortunately we are far away from that.

“The fact that there were other people at the hospital being served – normal life was still going on, and I had to keep going as if everything is normal – but I didn’t feel normal. I didn’t feel safe at the hospital. It was very noisy and busy, and I felt triggered by the slightest sound.” 

“At the time, you don’t know what is the right thing for you or not. So, something gets taken away from you and you’re supposed to be all OK with it because you are doing the right thing for yourself.”

I had to ask if she was concerned knowing that the tests may not be conducted appropriately due to Malta’s lack of efficiency. Emma laughed: “yes, it scares me but I try to believe that that is not the case.”

The People Around Emma

Since Emma and I are Gozitan alike, I had to ask her what were the reactions of her family, friends and relatives. She gave me a big sigh.

At first, people in Emma’s life couldn’t understand why she was speaking up and taking it publicly and some of them wanted her to forgive or forget given that she will be starting a new life soon as a married person. “But I don’t want to forgive or to forget. Because the second I do, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Hearing that, I knew exactly what Emma was describing. It’s offensive that loved ones should say that to someone who they love who’s just been raped. Rape is violence. This raises the issue of lack of awareness about rape in Malta.

As someone who’s work and opinions have been criticized in the past, I’ve asked myself this question before: Why is speaking up for yourself wrong? In Emma’s case, why is she being judged when it’s not her fault? Why should Emma shut up?

Furthermore, the people around Emma also had to process the rape in their own way even if they didn’t know how to.

“You have to deal with their emotions and you have to be strong for them […] I also have to deal with how my fiancé reacts to this because he has to deal with this in his own way too. Sometimes, I have to be the strong one.”

“There are people who don’t want me to talk about my rape with them because they’re scared. So, that for me is pushback because they can’t understand what happened and I have to understand them instead. They don’t want to have this conversation because there’s a stigma and if I continue shutting my mouth the stigma will live on.”

Knowing Gozitan society, I wasn’t surprised when Emma told me there were people who tried to break her relationship with her fiancé due to the stigma surrounding rape and mental health. Just because you were raped does not mean you’re ‘damaged’ or ‘used parts’; rape does not make you any less human.

What About The Rapist?

I wondered why Emma never gave the rapist’s name to the news – so I asked.

“I want to scream his name to the world. I want to write his name on every wall so everyone can see it.”

“No one sees him. Everyone sees the victim. Nothing will change for the victim.” Whether she likes it or not, what was done is done and Emma will have to live with it.

Before the interview, I planned on holding back from asking difficult questions just in case Emma would feel uncomfortable yet she surprised me – she was more open than I expected. So, I kept digging.

At one point, Emma said she was “angry at everyone”.

I asked her: Why? Who are you angry at?

“I am angry because I have been violated and hurt. Who am I supposed to be angry at? Myself, at the rapist, at the police, at the system? And not knowing who makes me even angrier because you can’t target your anger […] And so that’s why I sketch because I am angry. I don’t draw when I’m happy.”

And our conversation led to her realization that maybe she’s angry because people are trying to help but really, they can’t help the situation. What is done is done.

And I think that realization helped Emma.

Emma’s Sketchings

Art has become Emma’s therapy where she doesn’t have to use words to describe her feelings. She projects her rapist as a black horse with graphic images of rape. “I don’t have to talk – I can be sad and angry on the paper in my sketchbook.”

“If I didn’t have my art, I don’t know how I would have done this. I believe that I am lucky because I have my art.”

“I didn’t know I was going to be exhibiting any of them and that I will be showing them on my Instagram because I don’t post to show them off but it was part of my healing journey, of letting them go in the unknown. In a way trying to find someone that relates to them, to know that I am not alone. And unfortunately, there are people that can relate to them and that is very scary.

Emma’s art is her means of being vocal for herself and with the public.

Her artwork is currently being featured at Valletta Contemporary so don’t miss the opportunity to go check it out till the 12th of November!

Looking Back

I asked Emma what would she tell her past self who had just been raped.

“I think I wouldn’t say anything. I’ll just be with her cause there will be many scary things that will happen right after that night and it will be all overwhelming for her to know that this is only the beginning.” 

“There will be people who won’t believe her and there will be people coming back to her home like the forensic police. And that her home wouldn’t feel like her home anymore and that she would sleep on the carpet for months.”

Finally, I ended my conversation with Emma with one question: do you grieve who you were before the rape?

She nodded sadly.

How Did Our Conversation Made Me Feel

After Emma left, I stayed at the cafe for a moment to process everything. I wasn’t expecting to feel so upset.

What happened to Emma could easily happen to me. To any woman. And that scared me. Because no one is safe. You don’t expect rape – it just happens and that is a huge injustice.

And even though the number of rapes and assaults have increased in Malta lately, the sad part is that there are not enough cases being reported.

When she described what she had to endure at the hospital, I could feel the pain in her voice and I subconsciously pictured myself going through it – the injustice and the violation made me feel horrible.

I even started to cry. Understand that Emma was just sitting there in front of me talking about her rape, looking like just any other human being – but what she went through is something imprinted in her mind like a stamp that won’t peel off. Someone like myself can’t see that stamp – only she can.

Some people think ‘we don’t need feminism anymore’ – why question feminism when it’s not the feminists’ fault that rapes still happen!

I even told Emma: “Don’t ever shut up, Emma. If someone tells you to shut up, tell them to shut up instead.” And I meant it.

Even though I didn’t go through what Emma went through, I still want Emma to keep talking about this and I’m glad that this article could help give her voice more reach.

At one point, Emma said: “I don’t like calling myself a victim, because I am a survivor” and that is a confirmation that Emma is strong.

It takes a lot of strength to process what has happened to you, to learn how to deal with it and to fight for justice even though you can’t change the past.

Before the interview, I had told myself that I did not want to treat Emma as a product or as a victim – I wanted to treat her as a human being.

And I walked towards my car feeling more human than ever – I felt the heaviness of what she had just told me and I can’t thank Emma enough for trusting me with her words and her emotions.

I feel like she educated me and I hope that this article has made people aware of the multiple layers to rape too.

So, this is Emma’s story. It’s not over yet and it should not be swept under the carpet. It needs to be heard. Emma, we’re hearing you.

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