I thought I was streetwise, and felt safe minutes away from home. But if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone…
By Lauren Ashton, 20, from Ipswich
Pouring glugs of vodka into glasses with my freshly painted nails, I was excited for the night ahead.
‘Make this one a strong one!’ called my friend Tasha from across the room, giggling.
It was a bank holiday weekend and I had been looking forward to our girly night out for weeks.
I had not long turned 18 and was still enjoying the novelty of being able to go out clubbing with my friends – but this night was going to be a big one.
After spending my day picking out the perfect outfit and meticulously straightening my short brown hair, I went to Tasha’s place for a few drinks to get us in the party mood.
‘You look amazing,’ Tasha squealed as I walked through her front door.
‘Thanks,’ I beamed back, ‘You do too! Now, let’s have a drink.’
With the music turned right up, Tasha and I danced around and drank our way through most of a bottle of vodka. We were having the time of our lives.
And when the clock struck 11pm, it was time to head out into town.
‘Hmmmm… Where to tonight then?’ Tasha asked, winking.
I burst into fits of giggles. It wasn’t like there was a lot of choice in Ipswich so we always ended up in the same place, the New York Exchange Bar.
As we walked along the street towards the club, I could hear the music blaring and couldn’t wait to get inside.
‘Come on, this way,’ I said quietly, grabbing hold of Tasha’s arm and squeezing us through the crowd to the front of the queue.
Inside, the place was heaving. Lights flashed as people danced and I could feel the pumping bass in my chest.
‘Let’s get a drink,’ Tasha screamed in my ear, waving her hand around in a drinking mime. I laughed, nodding, and we fought our way to the bar.
We spent the next couple of hours busting moves on the dancefloor and chatting to people outside in the smoking area.
But when it hit 2am, Tasha had partied enough. We left the club but I wasn’t ready to go to bed yet.
‘Come on, let’s go somewhere else,’ I pleaded. Tasha shook her head. ‘Nah, let’s just go back to mine. It’s late and I’m tired,’ she said, walking off towards a taxi rank.
Determined my night wasn’t over yet, I marched around the corner to another club.
‘Sorry love, we’re not letting in any more,’ the burly bouncer said, crossing his arms.
Frustrated, I turned on my heel and stormed off towards home. It was only a 15 minute walk and I’d done it countless times before, I didn’t think twice about it.
I had only been walking for a couple of minutes when a man I’d never met offered me a cigarette. He was tall and broad but looked just like a normal person so I accepted.
‘Thanks,’ I said, taking the cigarette from the packet. Neither of us had a lighter so I walked off, borrowing a flame from a passer-by and continued my journey home.
But a few minutes later I could hear footsteps behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and the man who gave me a cigarette was there behind me, following me.
I quickened my pace, keeping my head down, but suddenly he was standing in front of me.
‘What do you want?’ I asked, defiantly, trying to get past him.
He said nothing, just grabbed me by my wrist and started dragging me around the corner. My head was spinning. I was confused and couldn’t understand what was happening to me.
The stranger pulled me down a dark alleyway and pushed me up against a wall, trying to kiss me.
‘Stop!’ I screamed ‘I’m only 18! Leave me alone.’
He put his hand over my mouth and whispered, ‘It’s ok, it’s ok. I’m only 22.’
I knew he was lying, he looked so much older and his eyes were terrifying. He kept pushing me against the wall, and I kept refusing and struggled to get away but the man wouldn’t take no for an answer.
He snapped, yanked me away from the wall, threw me onto the floor and viciously raped me. I went into a state of complete shock.
I kept trying to push myself up off the floor and get him off me but my hands kept slipping in the mud and the man overpowered me.
After that, I froze. It was like I was paralysed. The attack seemed to go on forever.
All I could think was if I scream, he is going to kill me.
Suddenly, he stopped. He simply got up and fled. Hysterical, I pulled myself up off the floor and desperately looked around for a different way out of the alley from the way he had gone.
I tried climbing over a wall but slipped and fell on the floor again. I lay there for a few minutes, trying to come to terms with what had just happened to me.
Come on Lauren, get up.
Crying, I stumbled upright and ran desperately back out of the alleyway, straight into the arms of a passer-by.
‘I’ve been raped,’ I sobbed, clinging onto the woman.
The kind brunette put her arm around me and alerted the town pastors, who called for the police.
‘Everything’s going to be ok,’ the woman gently said to me, stroking my hair as we waited for the police.
I felt numb as I was taken to the police station to give statements about what had happened and have photos taken of my legs, which were caked in mud.
Nothing felt real.
I was sent home to rest, ready for my intimate examination later that day at a special clinic, then went to stay at my parents’ house.
Clutching a warming cup of tea, I curled up on the sofa and logged into Facebook on my phone, trying to regain some normality.
But seconds later I recoiled in horror as saw my rapist’s face on my screen. It was a blurry image and his head was down but I knew it was him. My blood ran cold.
The police had put out a CCTV appeal to try to catch the man who attacked me and all my friends were sharing it, not knowing I was the victim.
It suddenly hit me what had happened, seeing it all in writing, and I broke down in tears.
The next day, I went down to Cornwall to stay with my biological dad. I didn’t feel safe in my hometown and needed to escape.
It was a peaceful time and I spent my days trying to forget about what happened. A week later, my phone rang. It was a police officer from Ipswich.
‘Lauren, I’ve got some news,’ he said. I froze. ‘Yes?’ I whispered. ‘We’ve got him,’ the officer said, ‘We’ve arrested someone for the attack against you.’
The predator, 40-year-old Ali Shaboot, had been revealed stalking me on CCTV and someone had recognised him from the police appeal and reported him.
He was charged with two counts of rape. The police officer said Shaboot denied the charges but was being remanded in custody. A weight was suddenly lifted from my shoulders.
Knowing my attacker was behind bars, I returned home to Ipswich and tried to get my life back on track.
It wasn’t easy. Every time I tried to leave my house alone I would freak out or break down. My parents were supportive but I couldn’t face telling my friends what had happened to me.
Six months later, in October 2014, Shaboot went on trial and I had to give evidence in court. The monster denied ever meeting me or even being in the area where I was attacked, but DNA evidence proved otherwise. He was found guilty and jailed for eight years.
Justice was served but I feel like I’ve been handed a jail sentence too. I suffer from PTSD, have had frightening flashbacks and I still get anxious going outdoors.
But things are getting better. Just two weeks after my attacker was sentenced, I fell pregnant and now I have my son Lucas to look after. I’m determined to move forward, for him.
I want to warn other women to stay safe. I thought I was streetwise, and felt safe minutes away from home. But if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.