#NotGuilty: Camden sex attack victim Ione Wells and family speak about that ‘nightmare’ night

Ione Wells

Ione Wells - Credit: Archant

A brave student who was violently attacked by a sexual predator while walking home from a night out has written an open letter to her assailant, telling him: “This is a fight you will not win.”

Ione Wells, 20, who lives in Primrose Hill, published an emotional and inspiring 800-word message as part of a campaign to end the culture of blame in attacks on women.

The letter went viral and has seen the Oxford University student receive messages of support from across the world.

The horrific attack was first reported in last week’s Ham&High.

It recalled how Ione was walking home on April 11 from Chalk Farm Tube station.

A 17-year-old boy then put his hand over her mouth – “until I could not breathe” – and she was violently pushed to the ground.

The English student was dragged by her hair, had her face smashed into the pavement, and was kicked repeatedly in the head to stop her screaming.

With her desperate pleas for help resonating through the leafy residential street, the attack was interrupted by neighbours and the assailant ran off.

In her letter, published in full here, Ione praised the power of community and pleaded with her attacker to think about the impact of his actions.

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The teenage attacker, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has since pleaded guilty to sexual assault and will be sentenced on Wednesday.

Today, Ione’s mother spoke to the Ham&High about her harrowing experience of waking up to her daughter’s screams.

Praising her neighbours who stopped the attack, Cindy Wells, 57, said: “That night was the stuff of nightmares. It was just before 1am and I had just dropped off to sleep. I heard screaming but at first I thought it was foxes. It was only when I sat up and started listening that I thought, ‘God, what’s going on?’

“Then I heard another woman’s voice, my neighbour’s, shouting ‘leave her alone’, and I thought something was seriously wrong.

“While dialling 999 I opened the door to see Ione in a complete state with two of my neighbours.

“She was in tears and badly bashed around. I just grabbed her to hug her. I’ve never known anything like it and I just couldn’t stop shaking.

“The rest of my family then rushed downstairs and we were all there, together. Thank god we were all there together. It could have been a whole lot worse.”

Speaking about the letter Ione published, her mother added: “What she’s done is amazing – it’s made something really horrible into something extraordinarily positive. I hope the boy who did it reads what Ione wrote, and I hope it makes him a much better person. I don’t know why he did what he did.

“One of the best things that happened to Ione was that she got a message from someone in India, and she thought if the message of her letter is getting out to India then this is exactly why she wanted to launch the campaign. She spent time working in India for a women’s charity. It’s really important other women feel like she’s speaking up for them.”

Ione’s letter in full:

I cannot address this letter to you, because I do not know your name. I only know that you have just been charged with serious sexual assault and prolonged attack of a violent nature. And I have one question.

When you were caught on CCTV following me through my own neighbourhood from the Tube, when you waited until I was on my own street to approach me, when you clapped your hand around my face until I could not breathe, when you pushed me to my knees until my face bled, when I wrestled with your hand just enough so that I could scream. When you dragged me by my hair, and when you smashed my head against the pavement and told me to stop screaming for help, when my neighbour saw you from her window and shouted at you and you looked her in the eye and carried on kicking me in the back and neck. When you tore my bra in half from the sheer force you grabbed my breast, when you didn’t reach once for my belongings because you wanted my body, when you failed to have my body because all my neighbours and family came out, and you saw them face-to-face. When CCTV caught you running from your attempted assault on me… and then following another woman twenty minutes later from the same tube station before you were arrested on suspicion. When I was in the police station until 5am while you were four floors below me in custody, when I had to hand over my clothes and photographs of the marks and cuts on my naked body to forensic teams – did you ever think of the people in your life?

I don’t know who the people in your life are. I don’t know anything about you. But I do know this: you did not just attack me that night. I am a daughter, I am a friend, I am a girlfriend, I am a pupil, I am a cousin, I am a niece, I am a neighbour, I am the employee who served everyone down the road coffee in the café under the railway. All the people who form those relations to me make up my community, and you assaulted every single one of them. You violated the truth that I will never cease to fight for, and which all of those people represent – that there are infinitely more good people in the world than bad.

This letter is not really for you at all, but for all the victims of attempted or perpetrated serious sexual assault and every member of their communities. I’m sure you remember the 7/7 bombings. I’m also sure you’ll remember how the terrorists did not win, because the whole community of London got back on the Tube the next day. You’ve carried out your attack, but now I’m getting back on my tube.

My community will not feel we are unsafe walking back home after dark. We will get on the last tube home, and we will walk up our streets alone, because we will not ingrain or submit to the idea that we are putting ourselves in danger in doing so. We will continue to come together, like an army, when any member of our community is threatened, and this is a fight you will not win.

Community is a force we all underestimate. We get our papers every day from the same newsagents, we wave to the same woman walking her dog in the park, we sit next to the same commuters each day on the tube. Each individual we know and care about may take up no more than a few seconds of each day, but they make up a huge proportion of our lives. Somebody even once told me that, however unfamiliar they appear, the faces of our dreams are always faces we have seen before. Our community is embedded in our psyche. You, my attacker, have not proved any weakness in me, or my actions, but only demonstrated the solidarity of humanity.

I hope that you do not just think about what you have done. I hope you think about community. Your community – even if you can’t see it around you every day. It is there. It is everywhere. You underestimated mine. Or should I say ours? I could say something along the lines of, ‘Imagine if it had been a member of your community,’ but instead let me say this. There are no boundaries to community; there are only exceptions, and you are one of them.

Cherwell Life is starting a campaign with Ione this term. We are asking for articles under the theme of ‘NOT GUILTY’. We encourage responses considering assault, victim-blaming and community. Whether you have experienced assault, or wish to supply some positive thinking, please do respond, just as Ione has done. We are hoping to create a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and our website, in order to establish a strong force of community overriding misdirected victim characterisation. Submissions to lifestyle@cherwell.org