A Woman Traveller’s Worst Nightmare: What I Did To Overcome It

Claire McFarlane

T/dropcap]his is the story of how trauma motivated a rape survivor to heal.

Many of us have heard of the danger that sometimes comes with travelling. We see it in the news, our loved ones remind us to take care of ourselves and be aware of our surroundings before going off into our adventure. But the thing with terror is that it has no specific time or place; it could happen anywhere and whenever it pleases. Claire McFarlane experienced it first-hand.

Claire swapped her medical degree to fulfil her dreams of being an artist in Paris. There was something about the city that inspired her, and so she went to see it for herself while being enrolled in a Fine Arts school while working part-time at a bar.

On one night, she had closed up after a double shift and headed for a taxi but a man had intercepted her path. What followed was brutal violence, strangulation, and rape. She realised at that moment the more she fought back, the more he’d beat her – so much so she had lost consciousness. And when she woke, she felt like she was being dragged up a staircase.

Her attacker was prepared, he had a mace, a gun, and a knife. She went into survival mode. She remembered a story that she was told in high school about escaping a dangerous situation, and so she began to converse with her attacker.

She made up stories in hopes of humanizing herself, and although it didn’t stop the assault from happening, Claire believes it’s what kept her alive.

No one deserves to start their day as a rape victim survivor. It’s not something we’re prepared for, or should ever have to be, but Claire pulled herself up to seek medical help. Despite the horror stories she had heard about how the French authorities processed rape cases, she believed it was the best thing to do for herself at the time, except she was met by a doctor who looked identical to her attacker. She was horrified.

And the trauma continued. She faced victim-blaming from the people who were meant to help her, plus she was in a foreign country. She was far away from people she knew and she had to pay for all the fees for her case. She stayed on for three months to follow up on her medical injuries but returned to Australia shortly after.
It was a lot to process and to deal with. Claire dove into work and went into denial, she didn’t allow herself to heal properly, she said. And just three weeks away from her 10-year mark on the tragic incident, she received a call from the police asking if she could be in Paris within 48 hours to do a lineup.

The assaulter had reoffended and there was a DNA match. She was living in Switzerland when she got the call, so she managed to make it in time and identified him immediately. But seeing him triggered her PTSD, and understandably so.

In France, rape is not seen as a crime against the state; if the victim doesn’t prosecute, the attacker walks free. In other words, if Claire wanted justice, she needed to pay for it; and she did. Justice for Claire cost her more than USD40,000.

He was sentenced to jail but less than two years after that was released on parole. News that no rape survivor wants to hear. The difficult and expensive battle forced her to hit rock bottom. She tried to juggle a stressful job and the rape trauma at once but it took a toll on her; everything was breaking apart inside despite her remarkably strong front.

She knew she needed to find a way to heal but she didn’t have money for traditional counselling, and so she turned to self-help books, spirituality, and running. These were the tools that helped her and motivated her to start her own initiative to end sexual violence called Footsteps to Inspire. She’s in a better place now and is able to speak about what happened more openly. She chose how she would react to trauma, and how to use it to help others, and you can watch it in the video below.

Watch her set below entitled A Woman Traveller’s Worst Nightmare: What I Did to Overcome it here:

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Writes occasionally, drinks wine frequently, and prays that Chris Evans is her soulmate every day.