This is the single, unanswered question that has followed me since the night I was raped.
It is the question that was screaming through my mind as it was happening, and as I was thinking how I could get away whilst minimising harm to myself.
It is a question that will never be answered and, because of that, I believe it will haunt me – to varying extents – for the rest of my life. In asking myself ‘Why?’, I know that I am seeking an explanation for something that doesn’t deserve one. Rape is something that does not subscribe to reason or justification. No one can explain away rape, which is why the key defence for those accused is that it was rough, consensual sex.
I’ve had a number of people ask me, over the last few weeks, what I think of my rapist. The truth is, that I try very hard not to think of him. I think much more about what was done to me and the impact of that on me, but so far as is possible, I try not to think about the man responsible. It is difficult for me to cogently explain why this is so, but at its core, it is out of self-protection. The fact is, if I think about the man who raped me, it causes acutely painful memories to surface – and not always negative ones. It is hard for me to think about him because it’s not just details of the rape that come to my mind. In fact, as I sit here typing this and reflecting today, it’s the ‘good memories’ of him that are more painful than the ones linked directly to his abuse of me.
I don’t have a problem talking about or recounting the details of my rape. But my rapist? That’s hard, because I had known him for years. I know he’s a human being, know things about him. What he likes, what he doesn’t like. What he reads and watches etc. So, if I think about him, I have to think about all of the person I knew, not just the rapist he became. It brings me into an awful head-on collision with the knowledge that I wasn’t just violently raped, but that the perpetrator was someone I liked very much. It wasn’t some faceless stranger in an alleyway, who I could identify just as my rapist, but a someone I knew quite well. That is one of most challenging things to process; it makes the question ‘Why?’ harder to consider.
There have been some very dark days, where I’ve sat wishing that it hadn’t been someone I knew. I would sit thinking that if rape was something I had to deal with, then fine, but why couldn’t it be a stranger? This wasn’t (or isn’t) any attempt to undermine cases of stranger rape, in the slightest, but in the midst of processing my own trauma, it seemed to me that victims of those sorts of attacks wouldn’t be haunted in quite the same way by the question of ‘Why? the motive of a crazed opportunistic attack by a man you’ve never met before is easier – in some ways – to explain that one by someone you’ve known for years.
If it were a stranger, I wouldn’t keep searching for an explanation because I can’t handle the fact I seriously misjudged his character. I am still looking for the best in him, even after all that he has done because it was my own poor judgement that led him being in my home that night. I desperately, desperately want to find some sort of answer that could tell me that I didn’t get it so wrong but that it was just a misunderstanding or something. I know it wasn’t, of course I do, but I’d give anything to rid myself of the knowledge I am certainly responsible for him entering my home and giving him the opportunity to rape me. I know I am not to blame for what he chose to do, but knowing I could have prevented what happened by deciding not to let him in that night? That is an awful thing to have to accept.
Of course, I’m sure there are other psychological obstacles attached to stranger rape cases that I wouldn’t necessarily confront as part of my own experience. I would never seek to suggest that dealing with stranger rape is easier – in fact, I’m sure it’s not – but I did wish for a long time, that I hadn’t known my attacker because I really thought that if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be quite so obsessed with trying to get an answer as to ‘Why?’ he did what he did to a woman he’d taken a lot of time to get to know.
I know now that I will never get an answer as to why he behaves as he did that night. The only person who can answer it is my rapist. For him to do that, he will need to admit what he did to me and recognise how wrong it was. I doubt very much that will happen. I know that, even if the case had reached court and he’d been found guilty, I wouldn’t necessarily have received an explanation as to his behaviour because he’d still never have accepted what he’d done. The lack of answers, and – I really hate this word – ‘closure’ leaves a raw wound that I don’t think will ever heal.
This, I think, is one of the major flaws in how rape and sexual assault cases are handled in our justice system: there is little provision made to ensure offenders realise what they have done to their victims. Until that occurs, sex offenders will forever be a danger to others. Such a failure to acknowledge their behaviour also invariably blocks any genuine rehabilitation attempts. Sex offenders who cannot see what they are, and what they have done, cannot be rehabilitated.
Hot on the back of that question about what I think of my rapist, is what I’d do or say if I saw him again. There’s always a sense of surprise when I say that I hope I do. I want him to see that in spite of his best attempts, I’m still here. The failure to go trial denied me that chance to face him again. Confront him with the truth.
After the charge decision was announced, my SOIT officer asked me what I’d like to do in regards to providing evidence in court. Would I like a screen so that I couldn’t see him? Would I like to do it via video link? I said no to both, that I wanted to face him and that I wanted him to see the truth of what he’d done to me; in the hope, it might cause him to have some sort of attack of conscience. Despite it all, I still see him as a human being. Flawed, and capable of truly monstrous behaviour, but human.
There was never any element of fear of him regards to court proceedings: this was a man who’d already done the worst thing he could do to me, short of killing me, so there was nothing more to be scared of. The fear was restricted to the night it happened, not the aftermath. I know this is an unusual perspective, and that many survivors are terrified at the thought of seeing their attackers again. Not me – I want him to know I am not scared of him and never will be. My fear, in part, allowed him to do what he did to me that night because I was too scared and shocked to properly defend myself. I don’t want to give him any sense of power over me. That power is all mine now.
How would I react, if I saw him again? Honestly, I don’t know. At the moment, I think I’d just catch his eye and walk away. I’ve run potential conversations through my head again and again. The worst nightmares I’ve had post-attack are ones where I dream that he’s apologising to me. There is still a part of me that wants him to apologise one day. Pursuing the case as far as I have, was all about trying to get him to recognise he’d done wrong. At the end of the day, I would have much preferred an apology from him than a criminal trial. I’m not sure I’d have seen it to trial if he’d shown he was genuinely sorry for what he’d done. That said, he absolutely deserved to be put on trial for it.
If he’d acknowledged that what he’d done wasn’t consensual, it would have been better than a hellish week in a courtroom. It would also, I think, have produced a better lasting outcome. If he accepted responsibility for what he did to me, it might encourage him not to re-offend. It could be more effective than a prison sentence where he’d almost certainly have spent the entire time claiming innocence. Do I hope that one day, he’ll offer up a real apology to me? Yes, and I would like to believe he’d at least try to give an answer as to ‘Why?’ as well.
Perhaps I’m trying to see too much human in a monster?