A YORK woman who was raped at the age of 17 has encouraged others to speak out about abuse.

Jennifer Potter, who is now 41, did not report her experience until 20 years after her attack. She has waived her right to anonymity in the hope of inspiring others who are in similar situations to talk to someone about their experience.

In 2012, Jennifer reported the crime to North Yorkshire Police, and an investigation was launched with South Yorkshire Police - where the incident took place - before her attacker was taken to court.

She said: “For me, going to the police was the first step in taking back power and stopping carrying the responsibility that wasn’t mine, or blaming myself.

“It’s not for everyone and there’s no shame in not wanting to do that, because it’s a trauma in itself, so if you’re still healing it might not be the best thing to do at that point. I think it’s really important that people know they get to choose [who they speak to] and shouldn’t feel forced into reporting to the police - other services are available.”

Jennifer said cross examination in court was “horrendous”, but she was well supported by the Independent Domestic Abuse Service, and said “even though I was prepared, it was 100 times worse than I thought it was going to be”.

She said: “I didn’t want to see him. Didn’t want him in my mind or his ridiculous lies in my head. There came a point where I had to remember just to breathe and tell the truth. That was my job. At one point I was thinking I didn’t think I could do it.”

Jennifer, who lives in York, has written and self-published a book – Brave Souls - about her experience, after raising £5,000 through crowd-funding in just two months, and will donate more than 100 copies to IDAS, which supported her through the court case which saw her rapist sentenced to five years in prison.

Jennifer said: “I wanted to write the book I never found, the one that offered hope, insight and wisdom.

“It has a happy yet realistic ending. It guides people towards feeling better about their trauma and not feeling ashamed of it.

“It took me 20 years to find my own path again, to realise that I could feel empowered, and to discover what it takes to heal the wounds that are left after such a trauma.”

Sarah Hill, CEO of IDAS, praised Jennifer’s bravery in speaking about her experience and efforts to help others.

She said: “Jennifer is an inspiration. She has turned a traumatic experience into a story of hope.

“We are proud to have been able to support Jennifer throughout the court process and would appeal to survivors and victims of sexual violence to come forward for the support they need.”

Jennifer urged anyone who had been affected by a similar experience to speak to someone about it, whether their doctor, friends, family or support group or police, but not to be afraid if they did not feel ready.

She said: “It’s okay to not be ready, I wasn’t ready for 20 years. I wish I had therapy sooner, wish someone had made me go when it happened, made me stick at it.

“That’s been the hardest thing. It’s tough looking at yourself in that way and finding a good therapist has been amazing.

“It’s important to remember you never become fixed.

“You become obsessed with trying to fix things but it’s not about getting to that destination - life is full of highs and lows and everything in the middle, and it’s about learning to ride that journey of ups and downs as compassionately as you can.”

Electronic and paperback copies of Brave Souls are available now from Amazon or wearebravesouls.co.uk/shop/jens-book/

lAnyone affected by sexual assault can contact police on 101, IDAS on 0300 0110110, or Bridge House, York’s sexual assault referral centre, on 0330 2230362 (9am to 5pm) or 0330 223 0099 outside office hours.