One of the victims in the Enniskillen Royal Grammar School ‘upskirting’ case has spoken exclusively to the Impartial Reporter about her ordeal.

There is a point in this hour-long conversation where she questions whether it is right for her to speak out. She knows what some people will think. She knows that some people will say that she “should let it go”. She knows that some people believe what happened to her was little more than a “schoolboy prank”. She heard that phrase time and again in court.

There are also points during the hour-long conversation where her vulnerability comes to the surface. Where her trauma becomes apparent. When the toll of the two-and-a-half-year ordeal is visible.

But, there are other points where her determination is clear. Where her strength is obvious. And where her passion to make a real difference for other women and girls shines through.

Rachel (not her real name) was one of two women who were victims in the recent up-skirting trial at Fermanagh Magistrates Court. The case found Timothy Boomer guilty of five counts of outraging public decency for making video recordings up the skirts of two of his teachers while a pupil at Portora Royal School. Five recordings, taken on three separate days, were found on a USB pen belonging to Timothy Boomer in November 2016, when the school had changed its name to Enniskillen Royal Grammar.

But this story is not about Timothy Boomer. This story is about two women who were told that what happened to them “wasn’t too bad”. This story is about two women whose workplace went from a “place of joy to a place of paranoia and fear”. It is about the fight of two women who had to take the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to judicial review to overturn an original decision not to prosecute. Two women who were told in letters that if an attempt to prosecute was made “the judge would dismiss the case”. The PPS was wrong.

But mostly this story is about a conversation that society needs to have with itself and the fact that two women have spent two and a half years justifying to people that they are indeed victims.

And that is where it should start; not at the beginning but rather at the end. And the perception some in society still have about up-skirting.

“Nobody should have to justify their victimhood. Nobody,” Rachel says.

She is asked why she thinks there is ambiguity in people’s minds? Why is there not universal condemnation? Why have people said to her “boys will be boys” and it was a “harmless act”?

“I have thought about that. I mean if you take the phone out of the equation, if it was a hand up a skirt then there would be an acceptance from everyone that it is a sexual assault. That type of assault is instant, it is felt. In terms of what has happened to us there has been a struggle to recognise this as a sexual assault. But that is what it has felt like to me, that is how my body has reacted to it,” Rachel explained.

In November 2016 the victims became aware that a memory stick, with video recordings taken up their skirts, had been found. They were also aware that these had been viewed by two members of staff at the school and the police. Yet it took 18 months for the victims to be shown the videos. In the interim time they had been assured that the content was “not too bad”.

“When I saw the videos I was horrified. I had been told that “they were not too bad” and that “I had been wearing tights at the time”, and things like that. But the videos were much worse than I could have possibly imagined, I was not wearing tights. It didn’t change how I felt, the harm had still been done. But had I seen them earlier it would have made me question the authorities more and the decisions that they made, and it also would have given me more evidence to back up the extent of the violation that I felt,” Rachel said.

Throughout the whole ordeal Rachel continued to teach. For 18 months she worked in the school while the person who filmed up her skirt remained a pupil. She continued because she is was determined that the education of others would not suffer. She did it because she loved her job. But it had a devastating effect on her.

“When he decided to take upskirt photos and videos of me he changed me from his teacher to an object for his own use. In that moment, his desires were more important than my right to privacy, dignity and respect,” Rachel explained.

“The sense of violation is overwhelming. My trust has been totally shattered. I walk down the corridor at school and sometimes have to repress the urge to be physically sick, when I see a pupil and think; has he seen pictures up my skirt too? I am traumatised, and it has had a profound effect on my body.”

An excerpt from Rachel’s victim impact statement shows the extent of the effect it has had on her life:

“I had no control over what he did. As a result, I feel powerless. This has kick started the ‘fight or flight or freeze’ response in me, swinging between heart racing, crying, shaking uncontrollably, to bouts of anger. His act of violation has given me nightmares, insomnia, has left a ringing in my ears, and made it difficult to connect with the people and things I love. It has made me withdraw from family and friends, colleagues and social situations, leaving me feeling paranoid and vulnerable, questioning my sense of self on every level. There is not one aspect of my life that this has not impacted.”

It has frustrated Rachel that there has been a narrative throughout the case, as is evidenced by the defence barrister’s argument that is documented in the final judgement, that what occurred was tantamount to a “schoolboy prank”.

“It was not,” Rachel states.

“I was glad with what the judge said when he delivered his verdict. He said that ‘given the deplorable nature of the defendant’s acts’ that there were those in his peer group who would have been outraged. And I know this to be true, I know there are boys of that age who would have been disgusted by it all,”

Rachel believes that society needs to realise that in no way can this type of behaviour be excused or treated with an indifference:

“This is not normal or acceptable behaviour. The ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘childish prank’ narrative needs to be debunked, challenged and the act seen for what it is in terms of the real and lasting harm it has on the victims.”

Currently there is no specific law in Northern Ireland for up-skirting. There is in England and Wales and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland have launched a consultation to change the law here. But Rachel also feels that along with law change there needs to be a change in mindset from both the police and the PPS.

“The law needs to change so the authorities know how to categorise this offence and take it seriously from the start. The legal process is not victim led and that is a problem. We had to fight to get this case taken. We were told that it would not stand up in court, yet it has. We had our teachers union supporting us, others do not have that support. The court verdict for us was a vindication for our fight for justice.

“But what’s really important and what kept us going all the time was it wasn’t just about our fight for justice. The guilty verdict in our case, protects all women and girls from this type of offence. It was for every woman and girl to have the expectation to go into their work place with the right to dignity and respect.”