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Tourist raped by teen during trip to Northern Ireland tells how she has made it her life’s work to support other victims of sex crime

By Cate McCurry

A young American tourist who was raped by a teenager in a Belfast forest has spoken of how she has dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of sexual assault victims.

Former film producer Winnie M Li was raped by a 15-year-old boy while she was hiking in Colin Glen Forest during a business trip to Belfast.

Edward Gerard Connors was convicted of the rape and jailed in 2008.

He first fled to Dublin, but later gave himself up and was sentenced to eight years in prison with two years' probation. He served four years in jail.

Since his release he has appeared in court a number of times for breaching his bail conditions.

At the time of the attack Ms Li was a successful film producer and was attending a conference to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

But her dreams of a flourishing career, relationship and a family vanished after she went on an 11-mile hike.

In an interview with You magazine, she said: "It was a beautiful afternoon and only 20 minutes into my walk I spotted a teenage boy who seemed out of place in the park.

"Unlike other passers-by he wasn't out with a dog or taking a stroll.

"He was standing around with no particular purpose. He was on his own and he approached me."

Connors claimed he was lost and asked for directions.

While Ms Li tried to help him, he would not leave her alone.

"He kept tagging alongside me on my hike, trying to chat, and though I felt uncomfortable, I didn't want to be rude.

"He was so young, I told myself he couldn't be dangerous."

After reaching a remote part of the walk, Ms Li thought he had left the area. Moments later, however, she saw him among some trees behind her.

She continued: "Instinctively, I knew I was in trouble. But by then there was no one else around.

"The boy confronted me - suddenly violent and threatening - demanding sex. It was as if he'd flipped a switch.

"I did all the things you are supposed to do: I shouted for help, I fought back. It only seemed to render him more violent.

"He punched me in the head, he choked me until I couldn't breathe. I realised my best chance of not being killed or seriously injured was let him have what he wanted. It wasn't much of a choice."

The sexual assault lasted 30 minutes and Ms Li suffered 39 separate injuries, but the deepest, she said, was psychological.

Days later the boy was arrested.

In the months following the rape, Miss Li suffered from severe anxiety and depression and was unable to work for two years.

She was diagnosed with

post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression and the effects of the rape ended her career in film.

In autumn 2013, after years of feeling emptiness, she changed her career direction and has dedicated her life to advocating for change in how society handles sexual assault.

"I dream of a day when survivors can speak more openly about their experiences and not be judged," she said.

"There are so many survivors among us and yet society understands so little about the impact rape has on lives."

Through her activism she co-founded The Clear Lines Festival in 2015, which is the UK's first platform dedicated to addressing sexual assault through the arts.

Her novel, Dark Chapter, will be published next month.

"Inspired by my experience and those of other women, it tells the story of a rape from the perspectives of both victim and perpetrator," Ms Li said.

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