Woman who blamed herself for rape jumped from bridge

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The Independent Online

The mother of a student who killed herself nine months after being raped yesterday urged other victims to seek help.

Harriet McCormick, 20, was "vivacious and happy" until she was raped in a car park in Cardiff city centre during a night out with friends, her mother Cheryl told an inquest at the city's coroner's court.

She developed depression and twice took paracetamol overdoses.

She died after throwing herself off a footbridge on to the M4 motorway at Radyr, Cardiff, shortly after midnight on August 26 last year.

Speaking after the inquest, Mrs McCormick said: "Harriet didn't report what happened to her because she blamed herself.

"We feel that if anything that happens to another young girl, please, please seek help straight away. Don't be afraid. Don't blame yourself.

"Talk to people, because people would be there. There is help available. Please, please come forward."

She said she felt particularly strongly about the issue in the light of the recent suicides in the Bridgend area of South Wales, and added: "Everyone needs to talk. Families need to talk together, to help each other out."

Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Coroner Mary Hassell said the death was a "direct consequence" of the rape, and said what happened to Miss McCormick was "extraordinarily sad".

She said the woman, who was due to start a languages degree at Bristol University, was "on the threshold of the rest of her life" but blamed herself for the rape, which was never reported to police.

Miss McCormick's body was found on the hard shoulder of the motorway after a night out with a friend.

Ms Hassell said: "In that moment, she realised once again, and with great force, the impact of this man's terrible crime.

"She was overwhelmed by guilt and she was overwhelmed by distress, and in that moment she took a taxi to the bridge and she threw herself off it."

Mrs McCormick, of Radyr, Cardiff, told the inquest: "She was beautiful on the inside, and she was beautiful on the outside. She was wonderful. She was a happy and vivacious, loving, caring girl."

She said her daughter was in Cardiff city centre for a friend's birthday in November 2006 when she was raped in a car park near the Creation nightclub by a man she had met earlier that night.

Miss McCormick, who had been in fancy dress as a policewoman for the evening, confided in her mother the following day, but did not tell police. The man was described as being tall, with a South Wales valleys accent and brown, messy hair.

In a statement, one of her friends said Miss McCormick told her the pair had ended up in a car park after walking out of the club. She said: "They were talking about sex. She told him numerous times she didn't want sex with him."

The friend said Miss McCormick told her she didn't go to police because she couldn't remember what the man looked like.

Her mother, a nurse, said: "I think she felt dirty. She felt as if she'd been violated, which she had."

She added her daughter felt she had broken the "golden rule" agreed with friends - not to separate from the group on a night out.

Mrs McCormick said: "She was very upset. She felt very vulnerable and found it difficult to cope."

Miss McCormick, who cut her arms and legs after the rape, was referred to a psychiatrist after her first overdose, and was making progress, her mother said.

Shortly before her death, she was preparing for her French and Spanish degree at Bristol University and had bought Fresher's Week tickets, stationery, an academic diary and posters to put up in her room in halls of residence.

The last time she saw her daughter was when she dropped her and a friend off in Cardiff on the Saturday night before her death.

Her body was found by a lorry driver. She died of a blunt head injury, a post-mortem examination found, and is not thought to have been hit by any vehicles.

Mary Hassell, coroner for Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, read an email Miss McCormick had written to Samaritans last May, which her mother had printed after finding it on her computer. In it, she wrote: "I'm finding life really difficult at the moment. It's even a struggle to get out of bed. The first thing I think about is dying, and I'm worried because I want it to happen."

Ms Hassell, who said the young woman "somehow blamed herself for the rape", recorded a verdict saying: "Harriet was raped on 18 November, 2006. On 26 August, 2007, she took her own life as a direct consequence of the deterioration in her formerly excellent mental health because of the rape."

The inquest was told Miss McCormick's own trauma had such an effect on her friends that some also self-harmed after she was sexually assaulted.

Ms Hassell said: "I'm appalled by this, that so many young women could have been so badly injured by the actions - the terrible actions - of one man."

She added: "Harriet somehow blamed herself for the rape. This is one of the most devastating aspects of a rape, that not only can a woman be violated in such a terrible way, but that she can be made to feel it's her fault, and clearly nothing could be further from the truth."

Harriet's father William, a company director, said following the verdict: "I think when people blame themselves, they find it very difficult to let you in. They close the shell around themselves."

Miss McCormick, who enjoyed travelling and wanted to use her language skills in her future career, left a sister, Amanda, and brothers Michael and Richard.