An Otago woman who is a survivor of "stealthing" says police wouldn't take her case seriously - and two years on says she's been failed by the justice system.
Katharine Cresswell Riol, who goes by Kitty, says she was sexually assaulted in 2019 when a man she was sleeping with removed a condom without her consent, known as stealthing.
Cresswell Riol is telling her story just days after a Wellington man was sentenced to nearly four years' jail in what is believed to be the first conviction for rape after he stealthed someone during sex.
About two years ago the PhD candidate was out with her friends when she met a man in a Dunedin bar.
The pair hit it off, and Cresswell Riol said she invited him to her house where they started having sex, using a condom.
During sex, she noticed the condom had been removed.
Assuming it had fallen off, Cresswell Riol said she asked him to put one back on, to which she alleged he replied "but we were already having sex without one".
This is when she said it dawned on her that the man had taken it off without her knowledge.
She was angry, so they stopped having sex, and Cresswell Riol claimed he told her at the time he was sorry and had never done "that" before.
The next morning, Cresswell Riol started googling what happened and saw that a man had been charged with rape overseas after removing a condom without consent.
"I felt angry but I also felt very uncomfortable because this person was still in my flat, and part of me just wanted to get him out and forget about it and this other part was, I think stronger and was just like no, not this time, this time I want some form of justice."
Later that day she received a text from the man apologising for what happened the night before.
Shortly afterwards Cresswell Riol went to Rape Crisis, where she had pregnancy and STI tests, then she went to the police.
Initially, she claimed, they were not interested in investigating. Even when she brought up a similar Swiss case, she said the detective did not seem convinced.
As well as not wanting to take her case, he told her if she had been a sex worker they may have been able to do "something", she said.
A few days after however, she received a call from the detective who had said they were now willing to take the case.
For more than a year, the researcher had to keep the text message on her phone for the police to use as evidence.
The case was dragged out by the fact the man worked in a different part of the country.
Even when police did manage to interview the man, she said they did not bring up the text message he sent to her apologising.
When she reminded the officer of the messages, the man was interviewed again, but police said he claimed he was simply apologising for his performance the night before.
Throughout this whole process, the woman said she felt like she was the one with the problem and that her case was trivial.
"It was really upsetting because I felt really judged, it felt like he was insinuating that somehow I was at fault."
Cressell Riol made a formal complaint about her treatment, citing concerns about the detective's attitude toward her and derogatory comments she said were made.
"In my first interview, victim-blaming comments were made as to me being too trusting. He commented on the fact that I live alone, asking in the final interview if I still did so."
Later in the document, she noted when she burst into tears at the start of the second interview he commented he thought she was more "rational" than that.
She finished the complaint by saying she felt there was a severe lack of awareness as to how traumatic sexual assault is and how hard it is to deal with the aftermath.
In response to her complaint, the Independent Police Conduct Authority apologised for failing to properly update her during the investigation and acknowledged the officer could have spoken with more empathy.
"Police have discussed your complaint with the officer involved to ensure he understands the concerns you raised," a document seen by the Herald reads.
Following this, senior case resolution officer Tony Gayle said the authority would not take any further action.
In a statement, acting Southern District commander inspector Mike Bowman acknowledged they should have done better during her case.
"We have taken learnings from this investigation and are focused on continuing to improve how we handle allegations of sexual assault."
Cresswell Riol's story is just one of many survivors of sexual assault who have spoken to the Herald about what they say has been a traumatic experience dealing with the reporting process.
A police spokesperson told the Herald they put victims at the centre of their approach, and endeavour to keep victims informed as inquiries progress.
"In all cases of criminal offending these guidelines require police to consider whether the evidence is sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction, and whether a prosecution is required in the public interest."
Victoria University of Wellington's Dr Samantha Keene said research from a Melbourne sexual health clinic indicates one in three women who present at the clinic reported they had experienced stealthing and about one in five men also had.
"We know that sexual violence occurs at abhorrently high rates in our communities, and most sexual violence doesn't conform to the idea of a stranger rape scenario."
In Aotearoa sexual violence cases are notoriously difficult to secure convictions for and the threshold for pressing charges is high.
Keene said in cases like this it could be hard to get a charge as an alleged offender may say there wasn't an explicit conversation about the need for one, or that it just "slipped off".
However, the recent rape conviction after stealthing could help influence this, and Keene said it might encourage more survivors to come forward and report this type of offending.
Beyond the potential physical consequences of the assault like HIV, STIs and unwanted pregnancy, she said the sheer deception of the crime could have lasting psychological effects.
"Stealthing is ultimately removing the power and dignity of the individual, and it constitutes the erasure of that person's bodily autonomy."
The whole process has had an ongoing impact on Cresswell Riol, who still feels she has not had justice in this case.
"The whole system definitely failed me and so many other people."
Sharing her experience isn't easy, but Creswell Riol said she wants to get some closure on the alleged assault, and the system.
"The major thing of doing this report is to raise awareness and also try and take away some of the shame, especially when you're being blamed by police."
Despite what happened to her, she still urges other survivors to come forward and report it if they can.
SEXUAL HARM - DO YOU NEED HELP?
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone contact the Safe to Talk confidential crisis helpline on:
• Text 4334 and they will respond
• Email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Visit https://safetotalk.nz/contact-us/ for an online chat
Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.
If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.