Victim of rape beats a tactical retreat: Woman who spoke out in public about her ordeal is moving before her attacker is freed. John Arlidge reports

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The Independent Online
IN THE front room the rug that once covered bloodstains has been packed into a tea chest and the mantelpiece is empty. A chip in the wall is the only sign that a violent sexual attack took place.

Judy, the 38-year-old Edinburgh woman who made an impact at the Conservative Party conference last year when she recounted her ordeal at the hands of a 20-year- old bogus priest, is heading for London just weeks before her attacker becomes eligible for parole.

Although she is 'relieved' that she will be out of Edinburgh when John Cronin is released, Judy says that she would rather have stayed. 'After the attack people kept saying: 'How can you remain in that house? You must go.' But to sell up would have been a victory for Cronin. Despite the fear that he might come looking for me, I would have liked to have stayed here until he got out so that he could see for himself that he had not driven me away; that I, not he, had won. But now that my husband is working in the South I had to go.'

After Cronin's life sentence was reduced, on appeal, to six years, Judy gave up the anonymity that sexual assault victims enjoy. 'After he nearly killed me, I felt the Appeal Court judges' decision was an insult. I was so angry I decided to provide the face of a victim - my face - which could be a focus for efforts to secure longer sentences for violent criminals.'

She became an unofficial adviser to the Government and is helping to prepare a new information campaign to help victims of sexual crime. She said: 'It is extraordinary that there is so much advice about things which affect women's lives, from basic health, to family planning, to having a baby and so on. But there is almost no help readily available for the many women who become victims of violent crime.

'By telling women who have been attacked that it is not their fault and advising them how to seek redress, we hope to correct that imbalance, encouraging more women to come forward to report sex crimes.'

Despite lobbying for stiffer sentences, she believes that the system remains too heavily weighted in favour of the defendant. She points to a case last month in which a restaurant owner from Bathgate, who was sentenced to five years for raping a 16- year-old girl, was released on bail, pending appeal, after serving just three weeks.

'Somewhere along the line the courts have lost sight of the rights of the victim. Until more women judges are appointed, and existing judges come into contact with victims of crime as a routine part of their training, the situation will not improve,' she said.

Two years after the attack Judy still wears a personal panic button linked to the local police station and her counselling will continue. Starting a new life will not erase the memories, she says, but she hopes it will speed her recovery. 'You cannot forget what it sounds like when a man smashes a poker over your head, breaking your fingers, shattering your teeth. The smell of the attack lingers on your face and in your hair. Even now the terror is all-consuming.

'But I am determined that he will not win. That I will go on and that the hundreds of women who have written to tell me they have suffered as I have, but that they have been too scared to go to the police, will speak out.'

(Photograph omitted)