Northern Ireland

Woman speaks about her rape ordeal in Colin Glen Forest Park in Belfast

Winnie Li was attacked in Colin Glen Forest Par
Image caption Winnie Li was attacked in Colin Glen Forest Park

A young American woman who was raped by a 15-year-old boy in Colin Glen Forest Park in Belfast has been speaking about her ordeal.

Winnie Li had travelled to the city in April 2008 to attend a conference to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the peace process.

She decided to stay on an extra day to go hiking.

"It is obviously a decision I now regret having done," she said.

"Right after the attack I wasn't able to piece together the word rape, I was just like, that was a really weird incident because I was in the middle of this park in the middle of the day.

"I was considering just forgetting about it and continue walking and pretending it never happened but part of me realised, 'I think I need medical attention', so I called a friend and said 'I think I have just been raped'.

"I found a busy road and just waited by the side of the road until the police showed up.

"It was very surreal. The moment I made that phone call to my friend it set in process this whole motion of the police coming, finding me, getting evidence."

Little information

Just over a week after her attack a teenager was charged.

Ms Li said she was given very little information about how the judicial process would work.

"Part of it was maybe that I was living in London at the time and wasn't in Belfast, but for 11 months I was essentially freaking out about having to testify in public about the particulars of my rape and 'was my rapist going to be in the same room as me?'" she said.

"None of these questions were being answered. I was just given a date for when the trial had been scheduled."

Her attacker was later jailed for eight years.

"Once the conviction happened I was able to draw some kind of line under it and say 'ok, I've done what I could do as a rape victim, my attacker is now behind bars'," she said.

"Psychologically that was a huge change for me, just going from victim to survivor status in some ways.

"I can't even comprehend how I would be able to put my life together if I didn't have, to some extent, the satisfaction of that conviction.

"It is shocking to me that so many women don't feel comfortable to report their crime and as a result never get to have anything close to a conviction. That must be a huge terrible secret to be carrying around."

Ms Li said there was still a kind of shame and stigma attached with being a rape victim.

"I've waived my right of anonymity but along with that the assumption that rape victims want their anonymity is tied up with the fact that 'oh they must be living in shame for the rest of their lives'.

Sexual violence

"I just went for a walk in the park on my own, granted it was probably the wrong park, but I don't think I have anything to be shameful about, but a lot of women do even though obviously they never asked to be raped."

She said it was important that politicians and society created a culture where women felt comfortable talking about their experience of sexual violence so "we can get to really address this kind of crime which happens all too often."

"There also needs to be more public funding for rape crisis centres and there could definitely be some kind of more integrated system - a medical system that ties in with the judicial system in terms of supporting rape victims," she said.

Ms Li has written about her experience in an essay which is now coming out in a book called Sushi and Tapas: Stories By and Of Young Women, for the charity Women for Women International.

"You can be 29 years old, ambitious in your career and social life and then something like this completely unexpected can happen to you," she said.

"It turned my life upside down for two or three years.

"I guess what struck me was that something like this did happen to me, it does happen to a lot of women around the world.

"The more I spoke about it the more I realised that a lot of my friends were coming out to me and tell me they had been raped.

"This kind of upheaval happens so frequently with other women and you just never hear about it."

Winnie Li tells her story in the book, Sushi and Tapas: Stories by and of Young Women.

The proceeds go to the charity, Women for Women international.

More on this story