It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for one woman the festive period comes with a reminder of something incredibly traumatic.
Cara Hernon, a marketing professional from London was sexually assaulted on Christmas Eve eight years ago.
The 29-year-old has spent years not wanting to discuss the awful night and blaming herself, but now she’s finally ready to talk about it.
She said: “I was sexually assaulted the night before Christmas. I spent a number of years blaming myself – If I had turned left instead of right, had I left earlier, not lost my friend or drunk less alcohol – would this not have happened?
“Regardless of my choices, this man made a choice to violate me without my consent. It was an experience that traumatised me for a long time.
“It wasn’t something I could comprehend talking about at the time and my only thought was that I did not want to ruin Christmas. But the next day I barely moved from pain.”
As if she wasn’t already struggling enough, Cara also had to consider other possible impacts of the sexual assault, such as STIs or pregnancy, all while juggling family commitments.
However, finding medical help proved especially challenging for the young woman.
“Whilst the ordeal was something I wanted to block out entirely, I was forced to consider the possibility of becoming pregnant or that I might have contracted an STI, but for the next 72 hours, my GP was closed, my local pharmacies were closed, the local sexual health clinic was closed.
“I did manage to find a pharmacy open and get the emergency contraceptive pill but had to travel several miles.”
Getting access to sexual health services during the holidays can prove tough for many people.
In light of this, Dr Stephanie Ooi from London’s MyHealthcare Clinic has shared her advice for people seeking emergency help over Christmas.
She said: “GPs and sexual health clinics are often closed over the Christmas bank holidays, which can put added stress on those that need immediate access to sexual health services.
“This is often the case for people seeking emergency contraception or those who have been sexually assaulted and need professional help. People who experience symptoms such as penile discharge, pain on passing urine, abnormal vaginal discharge or unscheduled bleeding should also seek early medical advice.
“I recommend ringing 111 for advice or attending your local walk-in centre if your need is urgent. In some cases you may also be able to seek advice regarding emergency contraception from your local sexual health clinic or pharmacy. However, if you are involved in any form of assault, please seek help immediately by contacting the Police.”
“However, it is important not to panic if you have reason to believe that you may have been exposed to an STI over the holidays. Whilst you may be anxious to get an answer as soon as possible, it is important to note that in many cases testing cannot occur immediately as it can take two to four weeks for some STIs to become detectable. In cases such as these you can schedule an appointment when normal services resume between Boxing Day and New Year.”
The expert added: “If you are worried that you might have a STI and aren’t able to access a sexual health clinic, then it is best to abstain from any sexual contact until you are able to have testing done.”