A BELFAST woman raped while on holiday in Europe has told how she felt “abandoned” after reporting the horror attack.
Alicia Perry (44) said she was left stranded in Macedonia for 10 days, unable to access medical help and forced to face hours of gruelling police questioning after reporting the serious sexual assault.
The well-known model and equal rights campaigner was violently attacked by a man she met on a night out last October in the capital Skopje.
The assault was so brutal she was left with bite marks over her face and body.
She has bravely chosen to waive her right to anonymity to warn others of her experience, telling the Sunday World: “The real nightmare began after the rape was over.”
She has also called on the British embassy to put in place better procedures to support UK sex attack victims abroad.
In an emotional interview, Alicia revealed how six months after making an official police complaint, her attacker is still walking the streets.
“I gave the police everything – his picture, chewing gum left at the scene and his telephone number.
“He was arrested and released,” she said. “How can you take a rapist off the street and let him out again to potentially attack someone else?”
Her nightmare began last October when she and pal flew out to the Balkan country.
“I’d booked a dental holiday. I was getting some work done and it was quite intense and invasive, so a friend came out with me and we tried to make the best of any free time I had.
“We found this lovely Irish bar where we made lots of friends. On the second night I met an Albanian man and we hit it off. “He was absolutely gorgeous and was a real gentleman. He paid me lots of compliments. We swapped numbers and continued to text the whole time I was there.”
Towards the end of the holiday, Alicia was left in the city on her own after her pal returned to Northern Ireland.
“I was due to fly out to Turkey for a photoshoot on Thursday, October 22, so instead of going home and flying back, I booked my flights to go direct from Macedonia.
“I’d felt so safe there and had met so many lovely people that I thought I’d be okay on my own and was staying in an Air BnB apartment which had plenty of privacy.
“On my last night I contacted the man I’d been chatting to and asked him if he’d like to come over. “He didn’t believe that I was still there, as originally I was supposed to fly back with my friend to Belfast.
“So he asked me to send him pictures proving that I was in the apartment. I realised later this was to make sure that I was on my own. “We exchanged some flirty texts and I was really looking forward to seeing him. He just seemed like a beautiful person.” It was after 9pm when the man arrived.
“I’d asked him to bring over some drinks but he arrived without anything. He said a friend was bringing them over with food, which I thought was nice.
“So we had a wee kiss and things started to get hot and heavy. Then he bit my lip. I pulled away, told him that it hurt and also that I had fillers in so he had to be careful. “I moved to the other side of the table we were both sitting at.
“I got up and went to the toilet and came back again and then threw me onto the bed.
“He pinned me to the bed and had his hand around my throat.” It was then that Alicia was subjected to a violent sexual assault, the details of which are too disturbing to print. “It was very savage,” she said. “It only lasted about a minute but he managed to leave bite marks on my lip, my chest. There were bruises on my legs, my knees. I felt like my body locked.
“And when it was over he got up and walked straight back out. He never said one word.” Alicia added: “I lay there and sobbed on the bed. I was so sore and bleeding.
“I grabbed my phone, I don’t even know what was going through my head, I was just in shock. He was the last one I was talking to and I noticed that he had blocked me on WhatsApp.
“In the middle of it all, and I don’t know what was going through my head, but I decided to text him. He had me blocked on WhatsApp but not normal text. I wrote: ‘Karma will get you for what you done to me’.
I just kept saying to myself, ‘what the f*** just happened?’ “I rang my friend who had been with me here in Macedonia and told her what happened. “She said, Alicia, you’ve been raped. She told me to take as many pictures as possible and any clothes I had on to put them safely in a bag. I noticed he’d also left a piece of chewing gum in the apartment. I asked her to ring the domestic violence and sexual assault helpline back home to get advice.
“They told her to make sure that any evidence I had there was safe. “My head was spinning and I was in complete shock. I remember looking at the clock and it was 11.30pm and then the next it was three in the morning.
The next day friends in Macedonia rallied around the 44-year-old.
“I was broken. There was no way I could go to Turkey. I was due to fly out at 4pm on the Thursday but I was bloodied and bruised. “Eventually I decided to go to police.”
Alicia reported the rape on Friday, October 23.
“In the middle of it all I actually ran back to the apartment because I felt I wasn’t strong enough to go through with it. “The police sent officers round to bring me back – they said ‘this is very serious. You need to continue to speak to us’.” Alicia wasn’t allowed a friend or legal representative into the interview room with her.
“I had to repeat the story a number of times to different people, including a lady from the government who was alerted to my case. It was exhausting. “Then they took my passport. I was frightened.”
She added: “I flew out on a British passport because it was going to take too long to get an Irish one. “I tried to explain to them that I was Irish and they just didn’t understand. They said they needed to take my passport and I still don’t really understand why. “I contacted the Irish embassy but I was told because I was out there on a British passport, the British embassy had to look after me. “When I spoke to them they said that police had no authority to take my passport and that I must get it back off them.” For hours Alicia was questioned about the attack and the contents of her phone, including messages back and forth to her attacker, were scrutinised. Over the course of the next 10 days she was repeatedly questioned and was also taken to the country’s Forensic Institute, where she underwent an invasive examination.
“They took pictures of me from head to toe,” she said. “It was only then I realised how badly bruised I was.” She was also interviewed by the local prosecutor. “That was intimidating. I was asked about the flirty messages on my phone and my contact before hand. “She treated me as if I was in the dock.” Alicia said this process, along with what she called a lack of proper support from the British embassy, “retraumatised” her.
“A week after I’d been raped I was still there on my own. I had ran out of medication used for my mental health and was refused help to find a doctor. “Throughout the police questioning and the forensic examination, I still did not get offered medical help.” With no money to return home, Alicia had to ask the British embassy for help. “It took ten days to get a flight home,” she said. “How can the embassy allow a rape victim to stay in a foreign country on their own for that length of time with no support? “They let me down a bucketful.”
Since returning home she has only had one email about her case.
“That was in December and I was told a man had been arrested and released, and that the results from the forensic examination had not even been sent to the prosecutor’s office in Macedonia. “Since then I have heard nothing. I feel like I have been treated very badly and that after I flew out they haven’t bothered really with the case. “But the fact of the matter is that there is an absolute animal, a rapist, walking the streets. How is this allowed to happen?” Since the horror attack, Alicia, an author who has spoken at Stormont a range of issues, has hit rock bottom. “I started having flashbacks and nightmares. I then started to self-harm and I planned to take my own life. “But six months on I think I have turned a corner and although I am far from being healed, I’m stronger now to speak out because I do not want anyone else to go through what I went through. “I want to warn women to be extra careful. I didn’t see any danger and I was violently raped. “The physical scars are healed but emotionally and mentally that will take quite a bit of time. I just hope my story helps other people.”
A Foreign and Commonwealth spokesperson said it was in regular contact with Ms Perry and provided consular support, adding that its first priority was her welfare.
She added: “We take any reports of rape and sexual assault abroad extremely seriously, and always offer private, in-person support as quickly as possible. “We also partner with the Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis Centre and fund their live online support service so people can access UK-based trauma support from anywhere in the world.”