In 2009, Helen Stockford was brutally raped in her home in Bristol, England, by the boyfriend of Stockford’s next-door neighbor and friend. Her five-hour ordeal and the following years as a survivor of a violent assault are honestly and compellingly told in this true-crime story.
The book opens with a picture of Helen Stockford’s busy family life and her friendship with her neighbor Cathy Smith. Stockford supports Cathy when Mark Shirley, Cathy’s boyfriend, is in prison, supposedly for driving drunk. One day after the couple has split up, Shirley breaks into Stockford’s home. He rapes her at knife-point several times and, as he abuses her, talks about previously murdering a woman called Mary. Stockford survives because Shirley is interrupted, and the chapters that follow describe the months and years after the crime occurs.
The book’s most moving parts focus on Helen and Richard Stockford’s struggles to keep their family together. Stockford is unable to stay alone at home and, as a result, Richard loses his job. Financial worries multiply. Stockford struggles to do simple things like take her young son to the park, shop with her girls or be close to her much-loved husband. Shocked when Shirley receives a mere nine-year sentence, despite a previous murder and rape conviction, Stockford waives her right to anonymity to become an activist for victim’s rights.
It’s impossible not to be touched by the couple’s resilience and the author’s inner strength in the face of a terrible ordeal. Stockford’s story is highly inspirational. Unfortunately, the text is marred by many distracting technical errors that make reading this narrative challenging: spelling mistakes (“no” for “know,” “dosia” for “dossier,” etc.), misused quotation marks and other punctuation and grammar errors. A thorough copyedit would greatly enhance the story’s accessibility.
Still, this is a moving tale that offers unvarnished insight into the trauma caused by sexual violence. Those who persist despite reading challenges will find that Stockford’s honest voice shines throughout.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.