Woman who sued therapist for sexual assault says she ‘wanted justice’

When Ella Janneh was awarded £217,000 in damages in the high court after a civil case against a TV sex therapist she accused of raping her, it was the culmination of an eight-year fight that she said at times almost broke her.

“I don’t think anybody chooses to make the most humiliating experience of their life something to be publicly known for,” she said in an interview with the Guardian, explaining why she continued to pursue justice despite the odds.

“But this shame is not ours, and I want to make this easier for the next person to speak out.”

Despite going to the police the day after the alleged rape, her case was not prosecuted. Two appeals to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) were dismissed and she was denied criminal injuries compensation because police told the awarding body she was “not a credible witness”.

“First and foremost I wanted justice,” said Janneh, now 37. “I wanted to be able to share this story with the world.”

Janneh first saw the therapist, Michael Lousada, in 2011. She had been sexually abused as a child, and had not received proper help to process this. It had left her with depression, as well as suffering panic attacks during consensual sexual activity with partners.

“Because I really did not understand what was happening to me and it was really overwhelming, and I experienced a lot of shame and embarrassment about it, I felt like I needed to get help,” she said.

‘It was really important for me to finally get in that courtroom,’ said Ella Janneh. Photograph: Leigh Day

One day she picked up a copy of the Metro newspaper and read an article about Lousada, in which he said he wanted to bring the services he offered to the NHS. She booked two sessions with him, which was all she could afford at the time, and did not have any concerns arising from those.

In the intervening years before she saw Lousada again, she had more traditional talking therapy. “I was in a really good place psychologically and emotionally,” she said. “I felt very excited about my future. I felt very, very good about the progress I had made.”

However, she was still experiencing panic symptoms during sexual activity, which she found “really difficult to deal with”.

“[As] a woman in my 20s [I] didn’t want to be dealing with having these types of conversations with sexual partners about my sexual abuse,” she said.

And so she began scouring websites for survivors of sexual abuse, and read about “bodywork”, described as “an emerging field that survivors were finding healing in”. She remembered that she had seen Lousada years before and booked another appointment.

Having seen Lousada’s reams of media coverage, she believed he was “this pre-eminent expert in trauma” and paid £750 for the three-hour session in London.

She explained to him how her panic manifested – her hands would close up, she would hyperventilate and struggle to speak. She said Lousada did not explain what she should expect from the session. “There was nothing, there was no communication on his end,” she said.

She did not believe that the session “would involve anything sexual” and thought “he would be treating me in the way a doctor or a therapist would”, she said.

After 30 minutes of talking, Janneh was taken through to a room with a bed, where she said the rape took place.

In documents filed with the high court, Janneh said Lousada told her his penis was “like a laser beam” that could “burn up trauma” and “absorb the trauma”. The court heard Lousada did not wear a condom, which he did not dispute.

Janneh claimed the incident caused her to suffer a panic attack, leaving her unable to communicate and “incapable of providing valid and informed consent”.

In his defence, Lousada admitted penetration occurred but said he repeatedly received “clear verbal consent” from Janneh, although the judge decided that was not the case. The judge said he had “no doubt” Janneh had suffered a “full-blown dissociative panic attack” and that she had “entirely lacked capacity” to consent to what happened.

After she left Lousada’s office, Janneh said she had “started to come to” and phoned her friend while she was on the train, but realised she couldn’t talk about what had happened, and hung up.

“Once I got to the station it had started to filter through what had happened, and I called her and started screaming, at Dalston Kingsland station [in east London], at the top of the platform.

“I just started screaming and then I hung up the phone, and went straight across the road and bought a bottle, and went home and just turned off my phone because I couldn’t talk to anyone.”

She added: “I felt totally and utterly humiliated, more humiliated than when I was a child, because that abuse had been used against me.”

The next morning, she switched her phone back on, and after hardly sleeping, called a sexual assault service as soon as it opened, and said: “I just started screaming again.”

Michael Lousada said in his defence that he ‘was seeking to help Ms Janneh’ and had received ‘clear verbal consent’. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Images/Alamy

The same day, she reported Lousada to the Metropolitan police, which began a rape investigation. Janneh claimed there were failings in how it was carried out, with what she described as poor evidence-gathering and officers repeatedly getting her name wrong.

Following the police investigation, the case was referred to the CPS, but she was told that Lousada would not be prosecuted. In a letter, the agency told her the issues around consent would be too difficult for a jury to understand.

“I absolutely did not feel like justice was done,” she said. “I just couldn’t understand how this was allowed to continue, and I just couldn’t sit with the fact that this was allowed to continue.

“I had wanted to die. That’s how bad I felt, that’s how destroyed I was, I almost lost my mind. I’ve gone in a space that is supposed to be therapeutic and the whole thing was turned on its head.”

She said that after the CPS dropped the case, she fell apart. In the same week she got the final decision letter, she found out she was pregnant. She said she was “so heartbroken about the decision” that she felt she could not continue with the pregnancy: “I was so full of sorrow that I didn’t feel it would be fair to try to raise a child.”

She had a termination, and then: “I began drinking, taking drugs, it was just total annihilation, I had no self-esteem.”

Eventually Janneh found a job in a cafe, and began seeing a therapist. She also applied to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) for criminal injuries compensation, though she said she was rejected “on the grounds that police had given evidence against me … saying that I was a contradictory witness”.

By now it was 2019. Although she had exhausted all criminal avenues, Janneh said, “I couldn’t let it go.” Lousada, she said, was still working as a therapist and appearing in the media.

Janneh had been on a waiting list for support from an independent sexual violence advocate (ISVA), a service guiding people through the criminal justice system. It was only then that she found out that she might be able to bring a civil case. While criminal prosecutions must prove “beyond reasonable doubt”, civil cases could be ruled upon on the balance of probabilities. “It was the first time in this experience that I felt listened to,” she said.

“It was really important for me to finally get in that courtroom, to do what I needed to do. I had worked really hard to get there.

“I put it to the police and CPS to truly justify their decision not to hold this man to account. I couldn’t rely on them, and thousands of other victims couldn’t rely on them … The system is completely inadequate to deal with rape.”

Catriona Rubens, of Leigh Day Solicitors which represented Janneh, said: “In a system where so few reports of rape to the police result in a criminal prosecution, we urgently need to address the legal and cultural silencing of victims and survivors. By standing up and speaking out, Ella has helped to break this silence.”

Lousada, 57, said: “I have told both the police and the court what happened that day, and you will appreciate that I am very disappointed that my evidence has been rejected. I no longer engage in this sort of work and have not done so since the incident in question.

“I was seeking to help Ms Janneh and never intended to cause her any harm. I have always regretted the outcome and the effects on her, and I wish her well for the future.”

A CPS spokesperson said: “We understand the devastating impact rape has on victims, which is why each case is looked at by specialist prosecutors who are committed to bringing perpetrators to justice wherever possible.

“Criminal and civil cases require different standards of proof. In criminal cases we must prove beyond reasonable doubt that an individual is guilty and following a careful review of the evidence in this case, we concluded there was not a realistic prospect of conviction – a decision later supported by two independent reviews.

“We are continuing to improve how every rape case is handled and our suspect-centred approach means we always focus on the behaviour and actions of the suspect, and not the victim.”

The Met police commander Kevin Southworth, who leads on public protection, said: “We strive to deliver the best service we can and take allegations of rape and sexual assault seriously, so it’s concerning whenever we hear that someone feels they have been let down.

“While there is currently no active police investigation, in light of the outcome of the civil proceedings we are reviewing the information we hold and will also consider any new detail that has emerged during the civil case.”

  • Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 500 2222 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html

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