'I had no idea he was filming me': Shocking trend sees women raped, blackmailed with footage

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A growing number of Australian women are being raped and blackmailed with video footage of their attack, and police say women from migrant backgrounds are the main targets.

Note: This article contains graphic details of sexual assault. Readers seeking support can contact the Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence National Help Line​ on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

Twenty-year-old university student Edie tap-dances to clear her mind.

She says it gives her a break from her thoughts.

"It's nice just to get all of my anger out through my feet," she says.

But even dancing can't keep some thoughts at bay.

"I saw flailing limbs, my telling him to get off, and then having my arms pinned down. I played the first 30 seconds and knew exactly what it was. I turned it off and went and vomited in the backyard."

"Always, in the back of your mind, you're constantly wondering if it's ever going to resurface. Even if it resurfaces ten years down the track, it would be like reliving that all over again."

A promising start

Edie met her boyfriend, Michael,* during her first year of university.

They moved in together after three months of dating and were in a relationship for almost two years

"When we first got together, we were hanging out, we went for drives, we went to the beach, we went on a road trip," she says.

“That all changed in about February 2012 – about three, four months into the relationship – when we got into a pretty big car crash. He was fine but I wasn't. I had fractured my C4 vertebrae, cracked my head and cracked my collarbone. I spent a fair chunk of time in hospital and this was when it all started to crumble. He seemed to think I owed him and that he owned me."

As time went on, the relationship became violent.

"Every time it happened he would blame it on his depression, or the fact he hadn't had his prescription refilled, or that I hadn't gone and refilled his meds,” she says.

"His favourite trick was to hit objects very close to me."

This was until one day when the abuse became sexual.

"I saw flailing limbs, my telling him to get off, and then having my arms pinned down. I played the first 30 seconds and knew exactly what it was. I turned it off and went and vomited in the backyard."

"I didn't want to have sex with him. I didn't want to touch him. I didn't want to look at him," she says, "and he didn't like that at all. He decided it was his right to have sex with me and just took it,” she says.

"It was not consensual, it was rape. I remember thinking to myself, If I fight this I'm just going to injure my neck further and get my bones broken and I don't know if I'll survive.

"I had no idea he was filming me. None."

Police say Edie's story is not uncommon.

With the increased availability of cameras and filming technology on smartphones and tablets, a small, but growing number of women have been blackmailed with video footage of their rapes.

While there are no statistics available, SBS has spoken to a handful of women who have been blackmailed with video footage of their rape – many of them from migrant and refugee communities.

Three months after the rape, Edie and Michael had a fight and he was hospitalised after overdosing on antidepressants.

Edie left him. Two weeks later Michael sent her a video recording of the assault.

"He sent it to me on Facebook. It was like, 'If you don't get back together with me, I'm going to release this video'," she says.

"Two days later I got another message saying that if I wanted to keep this quiet, I'd come home."

A week later, Edie's friend was sent a copy of the video on Facebook.

"She sat me down, made a cup of tea and said, 'I'm really sorry to do this to you but I just received this'," Edie recalls.

"What I feared happening was happening – not to the scale I was scared of, because at that point he had sent it to only one person, but I was terrified."

'He was nice, he was friendly'

Arpita* is 20 years old and studying at university.

She comes from a conservative Sikh family originally from India.

When Arpita was 18, she was added by Sunil* on Facebook. She had never met him but they had mutual friends.

They messaged for several weeks before deciding to meet in person.

"The first time I met him was after school," Arpita says. "He was nice, he was friendly, and I thought he was just like everyone else. I felt sorry for him because he was telling me about his family and how they didn't like him and used to beat him. I didn't get along with my family much either, so we had something in common."

"I remember thinking to myself, If I fight this I'm just going to injure my neck further and get my bones broken and I don't know if I'll survive."

As the day progressed, Arpita’s memories became foggy.

"He took me to his house and gave me a drink.  I drank it and I think I felt sleepy and was like, 'Can I go to sleep?' And he was like, 'Yeah, sure.'  When I woke up I was on the floor of his bedroom and my bra was off. I just had my shirt on. I think I said, ‘Where's my mum?’ because I didn't know where I was. He brought me a jug of water and he looked scared."

Arpita says Sunil told her that at one point in the night she had stopped breathing.

Feeling dizzy, she told him she needed to go home and he offered to drive her.

"I still didn't know what was going on," she says. "In my head I didn't put the pieces together. I went home and I had vomit on my hair and on my clothes, so I put my clothes in the washing machine and had a shower."

The next day, Sunil began persistently texting and calling Arpita, hinting that he had made a video recording of some kind.

"He said, 'Oh, you've got something like Kim Kardashian. You can become famous.' I didn't understand what he meant."

Eventually things turned sinister.

"He started blackmailing me and saying if I didn't keep doing it with him he'd show the tape to my parents and my family and everyone else," she says.

For five months Sunil blackmailed Arpita into visiting him, using a video of the rape that he had filmed on his phone.

Detective Senior Constable Keryn Milham, who works for Victoria Police's Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team, was the officer responsible for Arpita's case.

"He would send Arpita the images whenever she showed any resistance towards him," Milham says. "Her main fear was that her family would find out."

Throughout her ordeal Arpita kept trying to convince Sunil to delete the tape.

"He said I had to keep meeting him, keep having sex with him, marry him as well," she says. "Those were the conditions. I thought people would hate me and judge me and say it was my fault."

One day, after Arpita stopped answering his calls, Sunil got violent and attacked her car.

Arpita told a friend, who took her to a police station where they filed a report.

Detective Senior Constable Keryn Milham remembers meeting Arpita.

"The recording was the first thing mentioned. That was her primary concern, that there was a recording and it could get out there," she says.

"I find the fact the rape has been recorded is important to the victims because there's still a stigma around sexual assaults and they don't want anyone else to know about it. And the fact it's recorded, that's a big worry for them. The video clearly showed the young woman with various parts of her clothing removed, and her being sexually assaulted. What it didn't show was the face of the offender."

After Arpita filed a report, police questioned Sunil at his house and charged him with rape and assault.

Later that night Sunil went to Arpita's house.

"I heard the doorbell and went to look through the window and I saw him. I told my mum, ‘Don't open the door, keep it locked, don't talk to him.’ And then I went to my room, locked the door and called the police."

"My parents started talking to him through the window. He was saying sorry and to let him go. He said he was leaving the country tomorrow and wouldn’t come back.

"They didn't know what was going on. My mum came into my room and asked me what happened and I told her.

"The video clearly showed the young woman with various parts of her clothing removed, and her being sexually assaulted. What it didn't show was the face of the offender."

"She was angry. She started talking about how when I was a child I had a breathing problem. She said, 'It would have been better if you'd stopped breathing', stuff like that. I felt bad. I felt I shouldn't have told her or anyone."

Arpita’s father was also angry.

"He said all girls just want to have sex with guys."

Blackmail

Sunil, who was in Australia on a bridging visa, was arrested and jailed after continuing to harass Arpita.

Detective Senior Constable Milham says blackmail of rape victims is often motivated by a desire to force the woman to remain in the relationship.

"They may want to marry them in the future. In this particular case he wanted to obtain a visa to live permanently in Australia," she says.

"I've never had the man blackmailing the woman for money or anything like that. It’s always been to do with keeping a relationship with the woman against her wishes."

Edie says she struggled to tell the police about what happened to her.

"I was pretty dubious about going to the police at first because of the way victims of sexual assault tend to be treated within a criminal justice setting"” she says. "[However], I ended up showing them the whole video and explaining that I wasn't living in the house anymore and was effectively being stalked by my ex.

"It was probably the first time somebody had said to me, 'It sounds like you are describing familial abuse.'"

Police filed a restraining order against Michael and he never tried to contact her again.

The video of her rape has not resurfaced, although the police didn't force Michael to delete it.

Edie didn’t pursue rape charges against Michael.

"I didn't want to have to go through the trauma again and again, having to recount it to numerous people, having my story picked apart and probably for nothing at the end," she says.

Sunil was charged and convicted on two counts of rape and one of common-law assault. He was sentenced to six years in jail, and will be immediately deported to India after he finishes his sentence.

Arpita's relationship with her family has deteriorated following the blackmail.

"In our culture, girls can't make friends with guys and it's pretty much their fault if something bad happens," she says.

Detective Senior Constable Milham says Arpita's family continued to blame her, even during the six-month court case that proved Sunil's guilt.

"She was terrified because her parents came to court. To their credit, they were there in support of her, but at the same time they were annoyed  about how this could happen. Why was she involved in such an offence? I had a bit of a chat with them to try and make them realise she wasn't the one at fault."

A growing problem

Police say rape followed by blackmail is still a relatively rare combination, and no official statistics have been recorded.

But Detective Senior Constable Milham says the sex-crimes unit has seen enough cases to know it's a growing problem.

"Occasionally we get people reporting it straight away but it can take weeks, months. I'd hate to think how many cases are out there that we don't know about," she says.

"Unfortunately, we can only deal with the ones we're told about. In certain communities the fault is often placed on the woman, so she’s concerned about reporting incident to the police."

Edie is now a women's officer at her university, helping other women who have been blackmailed after a rape.

"In our culture, girls can't make friends with guys and it's pretty much their fault if something bad happens."

"There have been four this year and I shudder to think how many others I don't know about," she says.

Edie says Arpita's story is not uncommon, with many women from migrant communities targeted.

"I've also seen a disturbing number of cases of international students being raped and blackmailed," she says.

"We had one student who was dating a guy and didn't want to have sex for cultural reasons. The man raped her,  filmed it and threatened to release the tape to her family and her community unless she gave him the money she was earning from her illegal cash-in-hand job.

"I can talk to any women's officer at any campus in Australia and she will have the exact same stories. It's everywhere."

Edie's hoping to change that.

"I was robbed of myself and my ability to engage with the world around me for a good year and a half. I can't go back and change that so I have to use this experience to try and help others."

Arpita is now trying to slowly rebuild her life, and while the memories of her rape still haunt her, she's determined to move forward.

"He told me he was going to win, I was going to get married to him and he was going to ruin my life.

"He was wrong."

*Some names have been changed.

* Readers seeking support can contact the Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence National Help Line​ on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

@NSelvaratnam

Source SBS

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