One morning six years ago, she woke up in a hotel room with a man she didn’t recognise, who had videoed her. She describes her fight for justice for all women
The Guardian-by Emine Saner- Photograph The Hoxton-Shoreditch
Had a particular event in 2015 not occurred, the government adviser Emily Hunt would be using her skills in research, politics and communications in very different ways. Instead, for almost a year, the 42-year-old has been the voice of sexual assault victims, advising the government in the run-up to its landmark review into the shockingly low number of rape prosecutions. This review offered something fairly surprising: a clear admission of failure – and an apology. Victims of rape, said ministers, “are being failed” and the lack of convictions is something “of which we are deeply ashamed”.
“I’m a firm believer that you can’t change anything unless you admit that something’s gone wrong,” says Hunt. “The apology was the government recognising that something’s gone really badly wrong.” What it means now, she says, is: “We have to do better.”
In May 2015, Hunt woke up cold and naked in a London hotel room with a man she had no recollection of meeting. Her last clear memories were of having lunch at a restaurant with her father, who was visiting from Ireland. Hours later, she woke in that hotel room, locked herself in the bathroom and got in touch with a friend, who alerted the police.
When they arrived, an ambulance had to be called because Hunt was having a severe panic attack. Yet it took more than a year for her to discover more details of what had happened to her. At the time, the man, Christopher Killick, told Hunt nothing had happened, but in his interview he told the police he and Hunt had had consensual sex. CCTV footage emerged showing Hunt stumbling and looking intoxicated – Killick admitted that he thought she might be mentally ill or on drugs (Hunt believed she had been drugged). Just over a year later, Hunt found out that Killick had made a 62-second video of her, unconscious and naked, and had masturbated next to her. The police had known about this from the start.
The morning after the incident, two police officers came to Hunt’s house in London. One told her, she says, that no one would know – a boyfriend, for instance – if she didn’t file a report. “The implication seemed to me that they thought I had made it up because I got ‘caught’ with someone,” she says. It shouldn’t have been a consideration, but Hunt, who was recently divorced and has a daughter, didn’t have a boyfriend. The police wanted to take her phone; when she refused, they wrote down the numbers “of people who they were going to call to check my story out”, even though she wasn’t ready to tell people what she had been through.
In the middle of the previous night, she had tried unsuccessfully to call friends to get someone to bring her fresh clothes, so the police could take hers for evidence. “I later had to explain to them why they had missed calls from me at one o’clock in the morning, which was genuinely horrible. And the police wrote down in their notebooks that I refused to give them my clothes as evidence – but they didn’t offer me anything to wear.” The police considered her “difficult”. “What the police wrote about me was really inappropriate, and also completely described somebody who has just suffered something incredibly traumatic,” Hunt says; it showed how little they understood about trauma.
It was days later that the police told her sex had taken place, she says. “When I started to freak out at them, which I did … I said: ‘I need to be seen and see if there’s any damage. I need to be put on HIV prophylaxis; does he have any STIs? This is my health.’ And the police officer said to me: ‘Oh, you don’t need to worry, they found used condoms on the scene.’ When I started to get angry, she said: ‘We didn’t have to tell you, it’s just a courtesy.’ You didn’t have to tell me that somebody had sex with me?” Her voice rises in anger. She was later seen by a sexual assault referral centre, but by then nearly a week had passed.
Killick was arrested on suspicion of rape, but not charged by the police, who believed there was a lack of evidence. When Hunt found out about the video he had taken, she met the CPS to try to get a prosecution for voyeurism. She says she was told repeatedly there was nothing illegal about taking a video of someone naked, even without their permission, in a situation where there had been “consensual” sex.
This couldn’t be right, thought Hunt, so she set about trying to change the law, meeting with MPs and receiving much cross-party support. She smiles: “It never occurred to me to challenge the CPS. I assumed the CPS could read the law.” A letter from the Attorney General’s Office and another government department arrived “and basically their point was: ‘What you’re describing, though we can’t comment on your specific case, is already illegal.’”
In 2017, Hunt, who is originally from New York, but has lived in the UK for many years, waived her right to anonymity and went public to crowdfund a private prosecution for rape, although she dropped this after being advised by a barrister that the CPS could take over the case and shut it down. At the very least, Hunt knew Killick should have been prosecuted for voyeurism. In 2019, she crowdfunded again to bring a judicial review against the CPS.
“It was only after I went public and started trying to find ways of getting justice that any of my faith in humanity got restored, because so many people reached out; I got lots of messages of support,” she says. “I also heard from people in my life who I had no idea had been through something like what I’ve been through. It really helped me to know that I wasn’t alone in it – because I had felt so alone.”
Nearly a quarter of alleged rapists are named in another sex offence case
Hunt launched the judicial review with the help of the Centre for Women’s Justice. She was allowed to “intervene” in a separate case in which the CPS was prosecuting a man for secretly filming himself having sex with two women who had agreed to have sex with him, but not to be filmed. After this, the CPS accepted that their decision in Hunt’s case had been unlawful. Killick was charged with voyeurism, pleaded guilty and in September 2020 was sentenced to a 30-month community order, ordered to pay £5,000 in compensation to Hunt and a £2,000 fine, and was put on the sex offender register for five years.
Hunt’s resilience, and her hard-won victory after a five-year battle, is hugely impressive, but it has come at a cost. The trauma of what she went through has been compounded by the actions of the police and their flawed investigation, as well as the decisions made by the CPS. In 2016, Hunt was diagnosed with PTSD. “It had been a year of feeling like the whole world was spinning in the wrong direction and not being able to do anything. And feeling …” She pauses. “Just alone, all the time.” She was able to access therapy through the private healthcare that came with her job, but then was made redundant, she believes, as a result of her performance. “I was working at less than 30% of my capacity – I wasn’t OK,” she says.
When the police finally gave Hunt a copy of the toxicology report, it showed no evidence of her having been drugged. But there were mistakes. She says it recorded the timeline of events that night incorrectly, reporting her last memory and the time she suspected she was drugged as up to three hours later. Therefore, she believes the results may not have been accurate. This led to her having a breakdown, she says.
It wasn’t just the flaws in her own tests – it was finding out that Killick had been sober. “I’d always assumed that the police chalked it up to two drunk people being stupid together, as opposed to somebody behaving in an incredibly predatory way,” she says. She also found out that he had been carrying Viagra and a drug believed to be LSD. “It was the moment of realising how much I did not matter to the police.” As with about 10% of rape victims, Hunt attempted suicide.
It can’t help that she does not believe Killick has shown remorse, or even kept a low profile. Last year, he contacted Hunt on Twitter; he is now subject to a restraining order. Then, in May, he stood as an independent candidate in the Hartlepool byelection (in response, a petition was launched to bar sex offenders from becoming MPs).
Hunt will not talk about him, however, saying that she will not allow him to take up any space in her head. She hasn’t seen the video he took of her, nor the CCTV of them together, in which he helps Hunt to her feet after she stumbles. “Having been diagnosed with PTSD, I didn’t want anything to ‘flash back’ on,” she says. “I don’t know him. In my police interview, I had trouble describing him. He’s not anybody I allowed in my life.”
Hunt’s recovery has included fighting to change outcomes for rape cases and to change the way we think about sexual violence. “We need to be having bigger, better conversations. If we can’t talk about it, about its prevalence, how deeply hurtful and impactful it is for many victims in a way that lasts and lasts, then how can I expect us to have the conversations that will hopefully change things?
“For a long time, I felt like I needed something to come out of all of this. It couldn’t just be that this happened to me and shut down so much of my life for so long. I kept thinking: ‘Wouldn’t it be better if the police did that?’ Or: ‘Wouldn’t it be better if the CPS prosecuted rape?’ And then I get to here,” she says of the review and its findings.
“I like to joke that my job is to be a thorn in the side of the government, which I definitely do a lot of,” she says, with a wry smile. “It’s to help ministers stay connected to the reality – what happens with these cases and what needs to happen.”
There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape or attempted rape each year in England and Wales. Fewer than 20% of victims report it and only 1.6% of reported cases result in a charge. In the year to December, 1,917 rapists were convicted, a drop of 64% on 2016-17, even though more rapes were reported. This month, a joint report from the CPS and police inspectorates identified a “blame culture”, with the organisations blaming each other for failing victims of rape, along with a too-cautious approach to investigating and prosecuting rape cases, which was described as “defeatism”.
The government has pledged to get prosecutions back to “at least 2016 levels” and improve every stage of the process, from the way victims are treated by the criminal justice system, and the support available to them, to the way allegations of rape are investigated and prosecuted. “Scorecards” measuring implementation of the plans will be published every six months.
I wish I didn’t have to do any of this … But it’s about legacy and the world that my daughter lives in
Hunt is happy that the government review pins down a specific prosecution rate. “We need a first step goal and it’s a goal you can’t swerve, you can’t fake. You can’t argue with a hard number.” Does she get the sense the government is taking rape prosecution seriously? She pauses. “Most of them.” Rape survivors’ organisations and victims’ groups have expressed concern that, without proper funding and will, the proposals and pilots will remain just that.
But Hunt is optimistic about pilot projects – such as Project Bluestone in Avon and Somerset, which shifts the focus of credibility from the victim to the perpetrator. “They found that nearly a quarter of [alleged rapists] are named in another sex offence case,” she says. The researchers found that some suspects were linked to up to 19 sex crimes (and 60.5% were linked to other types of crime). “This goes back to the stuff that I’ve been saying for years – uncaught rapists go on to do it again.” She points to a US study that found that most rapists who were never prosecuted were repeat offenders and would each commit an average of 5.8 rapes. “Every time we don’t prosecute a rapist, we’ve got a better than 50/50 shot that that person will do it again. We need to be bringing a sense of urgency into this, because it’s not just justice for that one victim; it’s to prevent future victims.”
Since Hunt went public with her story, many victims have contacted her. “I’m one person and I have one story. I’ve met all these other people who have completely different starts of the story and they all end in the same way – nothing happens.”
What Hunt would like to see is simply for “rapists to go to jail. I would like it to be that we don’t have to talk about knowing people who have been raped and there was never a chance they were ever going to see justice. I want somebody who’s thinking about whether or not it’s OK to have sex with somebody who is very drunk to go: ‘Maybe that’s a bad idea.’ Because right now, when you prosecute 1.6% of rapes reported to the police, you just don’t have a deterrent.” She would like the CPS to trust “jurors to understand about consent, to understand about rape”.
Hunt will work with the government for the rest of the year, keeping a close eye on the implementation of the review. She has written a book that will come out next year. She is also considering whether to bring another judicial review on the issue of consent in her case.
“I wish I didn’t have to do any of this,” she says. “I would much rather have had my career, my then day-to-day life. But it’s about legacy and the world that my daughter lives in. I think one of the things that’s come out of all this is I have a kid who thinks it’s incredibly normal to go change the world. You don’t like a law? Go change it. And she’s proud of me. She’s absolutely the only thing that kept me here when I got really bad.”
Hunt is moving from her own story to shouldering the stories of those who have contacted her. “It’s about trying to make it better for everyone.” She smiles. “And there’s something really freeing in that.”
- In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support for rape and sexual abuse on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland and 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html.
- In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by emailing [email protected] or [email protected]. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org.
This article was amended on 21 July 2021. Emily Hunt received a letter concerning the legality of non-consensual filming of a naked person from the Attorney General’s Office and another government department, not from the Ministry of Justice, as stated in an earlier version.