Backpacker’s shipping container rape ‘hell’. Picture: Supplied
Backpacker’s shipping container rape ‘hell’. Picture: Supplied

Backpacker’s shipping container rape ‘hell’

TRIGGER WARNING: This story discusses rape, specifically claims of rape by persons known to the victim. This may trigger some readers. Help numbers are listed at the bottom of the story. 

 

A British backpacker who picked zucchinis to secure an Australian visa has claimed she was raped in the "cramped" and "unbearable" living conditions where farm workers stayed.

Helen Kingwell, 23, had been working at a farm in Bundaberg, Queensland, last year to obtain her second year working-holiday visa when she says she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker in her bed.

The tourist previously had a consensual sexual relationship with her alleged attacker after the pair met in a hostel made of shipping containers where farm workers were housed.

But after discovering he had a girlfriend, she ended things. She claims two weeks later he assaulted her for the first time, and then raped her when she passed out asleep the following night.

Helen Kingwell has spoken out about her experience as a backpacker, claiming she was raped while completing her farm work in July 2019. Picture: Supplied
Helen Kingwell has spoken out about her experience as a backpacker, claiming she was raped while completing her farm work in July 2019. Picture: Supplied

"People need to know the dangers of being trapped inside these farms," Ms Kingwell told news.com.au. "My attacker was my 'friend', but he took advantage of the awful conditions we were living in."

Ms Kingwell's "Australian adventure" began on December 31, when she touched down in Sydney, initially staying with her sister who is a permanent resident.

After working her way up the east coast for six months and having "the time of my life" she headed to Bundaberg on June 3.

"The hostel was made of shipping containers. One large one was split into three rooms and one bathroom shared between 12 people. There was two bunk beds in each room, shared between four people," she explained, adding she shared a room with three men.

Ms Kingwell had been in Bundaberg to complete the necessary farm work to obtain a second year visa. Picture: Supplied
Ms Kingwell had been in Bundaberg to complete the necessary farm work to obtain a second year visa. Picture: Supplied

 

"It was super hot and unbearable, the airflow was just awful. No aircon really, and loads of people just got really sick. You couldn't even stand-up properly inside."

Ms Kingwell was earning $2.80 for each bucket of zucchinis she picked on the farm and paying $180 per week in rent plus $5 transport every day, describing the work as "gruelling".

But she said the experience was only "bearable" because of the amazing friendships she formed, including with the man who she said later attacked her.

"The friendship initially got me through the tough days. We had a little friendship group and we'd all go to the gym together and have a laugh. We were really good friends," she said.

She said she forged a friendship with a co-worker in the hostel which later turned sexual. But ended when discovered he had a girlfriend. Picture: Supplied
She said she forged a friendship with a co-worker in the hostel which later turned sexual. But ended when discovered he had a girlfriend. Picture: Supplied

"Within the first week of knowing him we had a sexual relationship," Ms Kingwell told news.com.au.

"But then I found out he had a girlfriend in Melbourne and I didn't want to be the devil on his shoulder, it's not who I am. As soon as I found out I completely cut it off."

Over the next few weeks, the pair went back to being "friends" and sometimes shared a bed when conditions in their rooms became "too much".

"He hated sleeping on the top bunk in his room, he was always complaining about hitting his head on the ceiling, so he would often share my bottom bunk," she explained.

But one night after watching a movie in bed, Ms Kingwell said she woke to find him "rubbing me aggressively".

"I was facing the wall, he didn't know if I was awake or asleep," she said. "I rolled onto my stomach but he continued and pulled my underwear down."

Ms Kingwell confronted her alleged attacker, telling him he didn't have consent to have sex with her, via text. Picture: Supplied
Ms Kingwell confronted her alleged attacker, telling him he didn't have consent to have sex with her, via text. Picture: Supplied

Frozen with fear, Ms Kingwell said she didn't know what to do - when suddenly the 5am alarm that woke everyone up for work went off and he stopped what he was doing immediately.

"I remember leaving the room really upset and in tears. I tried to work but I was feeling too disgusted," she explained.

Later that day she confronted him.

"I told him I don't want that happening again. He agreed and I walked away feeling empowered," she said.

"But later on, I realised I wasn't okay with what happened. I wanted to forget everything and I drank myself silly at a party that night.

"I got so drunk my friends took me home and put me into bed fully clothed. When I woke up, I was naked with semen inside me."

It was then Ms Kingwell said she "knew in my gut" she had been raped and she confronted her alleged attacker.

The alleged rape ordeal led to Ms Kingwell having a breakdown where she hacked off her hair with toenail scissors. Picture: Supplied
The alleged rape ordeal led to Ms Kingwell having a breakdown where she hacked off her hair with toenail scissors. Picture: Supplied

 

"I asked him why there was semen inside me and he just kept apologising over and over. He was saying, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry'," she said.

"I tried going back to work as I was very confused. I didn't know what to call what had just happened.

"But I text him saying he didn't have consent, and he replied saying 'he would never do anything intentionally to hurt me'."

At this point, Ms Kingwell called a helpline counsellor who she said advised her to wait until she wasn't living with her attacker to report it to police over concerns for her safety.

She said she let the hostel manager know what had occurred, but claims she was told her story was "bad for business".

A few days later, her alleged attacker decided to leave, meaning Ms Kingwell was able to finish her farm work before returning to Sydney in September where she reported what happened to NSW Police.

"I was too ashamed to go to the police immediately," she said.

A NSW police spokesperson told news.com.au detectives had refered the matter to Queensland Police, who confirmed the matter was under investigation.

She credits surviving the experience and staying in Australia to her new boyfriend (pictured) who has supported her. Picture: Supplied
She credits surviving the experience and staying in Australia to her new boyfriend (pictured) who has supported her. Picture: Supplied

Since the alleged attack, Ms Kingwell has met someone else and credits his support for getting her through.

"I had a breakdown afterwards, I went through hell. I hacked off my hair and couldn't cope. Without him I would have gone back to England months ago," she said.

"I'm now having therapy … and am trying to deal with it.

"I hope opening up and warning other females helps prevent this happening to anyone else."

To be eligible for a second working holiday visa, backpackers are required to complete 88 days of specified work in regional Australia while on their first year visa, according to the Department of Home Affairs website.

Continue the conversation @RebekahScanlan | rebekah.scanlan@news.com.au

 

If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence or sexual assault, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

Has this story raised issues for you? Help is available.


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