A woman who was allegedly raped by a carer in her home three months ago says she cannot move on with her life as court proceedings have not yet begun.

Emma Attard, 23, claims she was raped three weeks after being discharged from Mount Carmel Hospital by a man who was caring for her there. The man has been suspended from working at the hospital pending investigations.

Attard, who suffers from borderline personality disorder, was first admitted to Mount Carmel after going through a rough patch. That is where she met the alleged abuser.

Emma Attard speaks about her experience. Video: Karl Andrew Micallef

“At the time I didn’t see any red flags, but everyone is wiser after the fact. He was the first person I opened up to at the hospital. I told him about my past, my sufferings.”

She says he added her on social media and when she refused to divulge her address, he guilt-tripped her into feeling she was refusing help and that his job was to help people.

Attard explained that she had had follow-up visits from health care professionals, but this was the first time a carer dropped by on their own initiative to treat wounds on her leg.

She recalls being put to bed and waking up to him raping her. The sexual assault left her shocked because she knew the alleged aggressor worked with vulnerable people.

She called 179 sometime later.

“They convinced me to speak to the police," she said. "I did not want to call the police as I was not prepared for the whole process of court proceedings.

“I was afraid the police would not be understanding and they will not believe me – it was my word against his. However, they were very professional.”

'The swabs, police statement was overwhelming'

Attard went to Mater Dei Hospital where she was first introduced to Victim Support Malta (VSM).

“The process – the swabs, the police statement – was too overwhelming. Thank God there was someone from VSM with me who understood the process and what I was going through.

“It helped a lot: I felt less lonely. There is stigma, but you come to realise that that’s all it is: stigma. I could not remain a victim: when I asked for help, I was no longer a victim as people supported me to overcome the trauma and regain my life,” she said.

Her next challenge was going back home, where the alleged abuse took place, and informing those around her of what had happened, including her partner, fearing blame would unintentionally be shifted on her.

Her partner immediately crossed over from Gozo and helped her remove the bedsheets and wash them.

“We slept on a carpet on the floor. He was there. Even though he had his own questions and anger, he understood I was still processing the fact, so the questions waited. When they came, it was the most difficult conversation we have ever had.”

Attard says she is not the same person she was before, and colleagues and friends started asking questions.

“At hospital I had learnt that the only thing standing between me, and support was communication. So, I opened up to them.

“My mum was the last person I spoke to. It took me three months and was immensely difficult: your mum is the one who is there for you and the one who loves you the most. It was painful sharing with her what I went through. I didn’t want to hurt her.”

‘I want to close this chapter’

Attard initially shared her experience on social media anonymously uploading artwork to express the ordeal.

She decided to waive her anonymity when she felt justice was being delayed as court proceedings had not yet kicked off.

“There is nothing else I can do except for waiting for the case to start in court. It is killing me from the inside.

“I know there will be a time when I have to reopen the book, relive the trauma and start from step one. There is no closure for now.”

The health authorities confirmed the police are investigating the allegations and until they are concluded, the employee has been suspended from working at Mount Carmel Hospital.

“Mental health services reiterate their zero-tolerance policy for any form of abuse and insists that the patient–carer professional relationship must be respected at all times,” a spokesperson said.

Asked to clarify when the alleged aggressor was suspended, the spokesperson said he was suspended as soon as the health authorities were informed of the allegation.

District and vice-squad police investigations and a magisterial inquiry are currently ongoing.

Increase in calls for support

The number of alleged sex abuse victims supported by VSM is increasing year on year, but it is not clear whether this is the result of increasing abuse cases or more people reaching out.

A total of 17 people were supported in 2014, when VSM first started offering this service. This increased to 82 new clients in 2021 and 60 new clients between January and July 20 this year.

In all, there are currently over 100 alleged victims of sexual abuse receiving support.

Kyra Borg, who heads CVSA and CORE services at Victim Support Malta told Times of Malta that in a society where sex education remains limited, the discussion about sexual abuse is even more limited.

How to help a survivor

“The best thing you can do is sit down, listen and be present for the person. Don’t worry about being lost for words. Don’t be judgmental, ask them how they are, how they are experiencing it and stay with what they are saying,” Borg says.

“Ask them if they need any practical things and ask how you can support. Ask, don’t assume what the person needs. Do not deviate from the conversation and talk about something else, this will increase their feeling of shame. They might think: ‘I opened up to you and you cannot take it, so this must be something I should hide."

Reach out to Victim Support Malta on 2122 8333 or info@victimsupport.org.mt

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