Twenty six years ago my cousin was eighteen and a lovely young woman - bright, funny, full of life. The youngest of four children, she was part of a close knit family of devout Catholics. She'd finished her bacalaureat and she and her older brother decided to go back-packing around North Africa. Lots of French kids did this....well, lots of kids from everywhere did this - Morocco held a fascination for us at that time.
They'd been there just over a week when it happened. They were camping on a beach for the night - just the two of them - and their camp was invaded by four local men. They took her brother off somewhere and came back for her.
They subjected her to a lengthy ordeal of horrific sexual violence that put her in hospital for five weeks. She was gang raped and sexually assaulted in every way possible. It was completely brutal.
Her brother had been knocked unconscious and tied up out of sight but still within earshot. When he came round he heard it all.
It was reported but never investigated.
She'd had plans, my cousin. She had dreams. In a few weeks she was going to university to study. She wanted to become a children's social worker. Those four men destroyed all that.
She went to university, as planned. She did give it a go. She lived alone in a rented room off campus. She didn't go home much and, though her family kept in regular contact with her, she didn't say much. She was changed. They thought she was recovering, albeit slowly. She had a therapist and was on medication for depression and anxiety. They thought she was busy with her studies. They tried to support her. They found out later that she rarely ventured out of her room. It was there that they found her some months later. She had hanged herself.
Reading through her papers her family discovered the emotional torture she'd tried to live with since that night in Morocco. She'd drawn endless, savage pictures of what had happened. She'd written pages and pages, trying to explain her tangled feelings. Her guilt. The shame she felt. The note she left was very simple.
She told her family that she loved them all and that she was so sorry. So sorry because she was no longer a virgin and, therefore, wasn't a good Catholic. That God would now turn his back on her as a sinner. That the only way to stop the anguish she felt was to end her life; even knowing that that would preclude her from Heaven but that didn't matter because she wouldn't be going there anyway. She'd failed everyone and she was ashamed.
They killed her, those four men. They destroyed everything she believed in. They stole her life.
One Moroccan police officer, by way of an attempt at an explanation for the incident, had told her parents that "blonde girls are much prized" so, in his view, it was her fault.
As you've read this far, could you quietly tell her that it wasn't her fault; that men who rape are responsible for what they do; that no shame lies with her. She may hear you.
Her name is Catherine.