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Sexual abuse: 'My boyfriend assaulted me and filmed it as I slept'

By Rachael McMenemy
BBC News

image copyrightCambridgeshire Constabulary
image captionMatthew Wood was jailed for sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend in her sleep

Emma was with her boyfriend for several years but it was not until they broke up that she discovered he had been sexually assaulting her and filming it as she slept. She has partially waived her anonymity to tell her story.

It was as she lay in bed one July night that Emma (not her real name) first realised something was wrong.

Having split up with boyfriend Matthew Wood three months earlier, she had been sleeping in the spare room of their shared flat.

Looking up at the window above her bedroom door, she spotted what looked like a small box.

Unable to shake her sense of unease, she confronted her ex-boyfriend.

"I told him I thought he was filming me on a phone camera through the window," she recalls.

"He said 'That's ridiculous.' He said he 'wasn't making indecent images'. I thought that was bizarre he used that phrase.

"He was trying to convince me it hadn't happened. He was completely denying it.

"I said to him 'I know what you've done. It's wrong, it's vulgar. I don't know who you think you are.'

"Your trust in someone is just shattered after that."

Emma tried to put the episode behind her and move on, but eventually went looking for proof.

image copyrightCambridgeshire Constabulary
image captionWood would hold the camera while he assaulted his former partner

Hidden in a drawer, she found a cube-shaped camera so small she almost missed it. Without the means to read its micro-SD card, she put it back until she could find a way to access the footage.

When she went to find it again, it was gone. She searched for days and was just about ready to give up when she found it hidden under Wood's pillow.

Having borrowed a card reader, she was horrified to discover not one, but 29 videos, all graphic and disturbing, some of them made before she and Wood broke up.

They included one of her and Wood having sex, made without her knowledge; films of her in the shower, and of Wood sexually assaulting her while she slept.

"Every time I thought it couldn't get worse, I found something worse," she says.

"When I first realised, I felt like my life was over. I felt like I'd never be the same person again."

Terrified for her safety, Emma quickly packed her things. Wood came home but "seemed nonplussed" to find her moving out. She did not confront him about her discovery and went to the police.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionEmma first began to suspect she was being filmed as she lay in bed in the spare room of the flat she shared with Wood

When arrested, Wood told officers he had made the videos because he had been "sexually frustrated" after his sex life with Emma had dwindled.

In June, Wood, then 32, was jailed for two years and eight months at Cambridge Crown Court and made subject to an indefinite sexual harm prevention order, having admitted eight counts of sexual assault and seven of voyeurism.

Even months after the case, Emma says: "In many ways, it doesn't really feel like it happened to me".

She has agreed to tell her story with her name changed in the hope that it will encourage other people worried about the behaviour and actions of a partner to come forward and raise their concerns.

How to get help

If you have been affected by sexual abuse or violence, a list of organisations offering help and support is available at BBC Action Line.

When she first met Wood they immediately hit it off.

He was known, she says, as a "very charming and nice person... the last person you think would do something like that."

But within weeks of moving in together, the couple drifted apart. She says he stopped showing an interest in her, often ignoring her to play video games for hours on end.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionIn one video Wood filmed Emma while she was in the shower

They eventually broke up and, with just a short time left on their tenancy, Emma moved into the spare room.

When she uncovered the abuse, which had been happening over at least 10 months, she was completely shocked.

"He didn't seem interested in me at all, so it was even more surprising he was interested in me, but not in a way I hoped," she says.

"During the day, when I was present and conscious, he didn't seem very interested in me at all. At night-time, it was almost an obsession."

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Looking back, she now remembers multiple occasions where she woke up in discomfort or jolted awake.

Back then she would dismiss it as "just one of those things". Now she knows it was actually a consequence of the abuse she had not realised was happening.

"There were times when I'd feel a discomfort when I woke up but I didn't dwell on it, because never in a million years would I have thought that was the reason why… I didn't think any more of it.

"This is only given significance now. You think you'd notice if it happened to you. And I guess I did, but didn't realise it. I had no context.

"There are a couple times I remember waking up, a bit like when you feel like you're falling in a dream. I thought I'd woken up because he'd moved.

"But in one video, I'm asleep and he thinks I'm waking up and he really quickly whips to face the other way and I wake up… I hadn't even remembered until I saw the video and it triggered the memory."

'A violation of trust'

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionAt first, Wood denied committing the offences but later pleaded guilty

Det Con Sean Clery of Cambridgeshire Police, one of the investigating officers in the case, says: "What was striking in this investigation was that there was such clear evidence of the offences.

"It can be challenging to articulate the less obvious elements of abuse when the victim was, to a certain extent, unaware of the offences being committed against her."

He says the prolonged effect, causing Emma to change her habits in her own home, was also striking.

"The defendant was in a position of trust that he violated over a sustained period, and when finally caught out by the victim, he denied it.

"The wider consequences of the abuse are impossible to understate for the victim, who felt she had no other option but to leave the town she had been building a home and a career in, leaving behind what had been a shared group of friends she felt unable to be a part of while the investigation progressed to court, and then sentencing."

Her bravery in coming forward has been commended by the force, which has urged anyone who suspects they have been a victim of any sexual offence, to contact police.

Det Con Clery says: "It's vital to know it's not your fault, and that we have a dedicated team of officers who can support you through this difficult time."

Such cases are not uncommon, according to Rape Crisis England and Wales. Nearly a quarter of people who contact them report having experienced sexual violence from a partner or ex-partner. .

"Image-based sexual abuse, such as taking non-consensual photos or videos, is also a growing phenomenon, with increasing numbers of survivors coming forward, naming this form of sexual violence for what it is," says Dr C Quinn, chief executive.

The few times she ever said anything, Wood would tell Emma she was imagining things or that he had been helping her with something. Now Emma sees that as typical gaslighting behaviour.

"His explanations always seemed more likely. It makes you doubt yourself. There were times you felt mad, especially when I was searching through the house [for the camera].

"You end up feeling, despite being a victim, that you're upsetting them… he tried to make me feel like the bad guy. Unfortunately for him, I had proof."

Emma says she thinks back to when Wood would come to talk to her while she was showering and, given the deterioration in their relationship, believes she was "probably just grateful he was showing any attention - it was like getting a reward."

One of the "creepiest" things, she says, was how Wood covertly held the tiny camera.

"It was so small you couldn't see it. It's so brazen that he's holding the camera."

image captionMatthew Wood was sentenced at Cambridge Crown Court in June

Prosecutors said Wood's actions took "significant planning" and were "an abuse of trust".

Mark Shelley, mitigating, argued for a suspended sentence, especially in light of the pandemic.

The court heard he was of previous good character and expressed "genuine sorrow" at his actions.

Emma says, to date, this is the only apology she has ever received from from Wood.

Sentencing, Judge David Farrell told Wood his behaviour was for his "own perverted sexual gratification", adding: "You would have known full well she was unable to consent to what you were doing."

Emma admits that at first she doubted whether a crime had been committed. Was it really illegal to film someone in your own home?

"I found myself Googling it at the time... I thought, 'Surely, it's got to be a crime.' No-one would think that's OK but I also thought… 'He hadn't broken into the house; he wasn't going out of his way.'

"I knew there were rules abut filming people in public spaces but I didn't know about your own house.

"A lot of people don't think it's maybe a crime, and I think a lot of people might think, 'Well, what's the harm? But especially in this day and age, you don't know where images have gone. And I don't know if I want to."

If you have been affected by sexual abuse or violence, a list of organisations offering help and support is available at BBC Action Line.

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Related Topics

  • Sexual violence
  • Cambridge

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