Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Tables Are Turned

Last week I told you the story about the actual break-in. That’s only part of the story though—that’s the part of the story where I was assaulted, victimized, left vulnerable.

Six weeks after it happened, the tables were turned and the power was in my hands when I was out in public and saw the rapist—suddenly he was the one that was scared of me.

Did anyone ever listen to Paul Harvey on the radio? My dad did and and I always remembered the tag line at the end of the show—“And now you know the rest of the story.”

While this is not absolutely everything, it’s a pretty good idea of how this story played out. So, for all intents and purposes, here it is . . . the rest of the story.

The Tables Are Turned
The bar I chose to frequent in my senior year of college was a cozy pub about half a block from where we lived. I felt relatively safe in our new apartment and felt certain that the rapist’s promises to come back and kill me were just empty threats.  School was back in session which meant the streets were busy, even at 1:00 am when I’d often be walking back from the pub alone.  I never thought I’d see the rapist again; certainly not here on what felt like part of the campus.  Sometimes the cops would take me for rides in unmarked cars into other parts of the city, the non-college areas.  They’d go slowly past the parks and hang outs, wanting to know if I saw him. To me the rapist was part of that world, the city as opposed to the campus.
In late September some friends I knew back in my freshmen dorm called to check up on me.  They were going to some bars that I usually never went to, did I want to go? Well, there was a reason I never usually went to those particular bars . . . still, I wanted to see them and agreed to go.
We went to the first bar and I began having a good time in spite of myself.  It was good to see old friends and I was surprised to see so many people I knew there.  As a group we decided to go on to another bar, the Knight Club.  I had never been there before and as soon as I walked in I knew why—barely any lights on, loud obnoxious music, wall-to-wall jocks.  Not my type of place.  Apparently it was my old friends’ type of place because they all knew other people there and dispersed throughout the bar.  Some guy started talking to me, so I entertained myself by talking with an accent and pretending to be a Spanish exchange student.  “Your English is really good,” he said. “Want to dance?”
“What the hell,” I thought, “Let’s dance.”  He took my hand and led me to the dance floor. I looked up to make my way through the crowd when I noticed a man that was very out of place in this sea of young college students.  A middle aged man with a scar on his cheek.
His eyes locked on mine for just a moment and then his face disappeared.  I had asked the police what I should do if I ever saw him but I never thought I would. “I have to go call 911,” I said in perfect American English as I left my new friend alone and completely confused on the dance floor. I pushed my way to the pay phone by the door.  “I think the man who raped me this summer is here!” I told the operator.  She asked me where I was and then instructed me to step outside.
It was amazing. It seemed as if a police car pulled up immediately.  Then another and another and another, later I was told it was 9 cars total.  Soon I was surrounded by cops and we were back in the middle of the bar.  The lights were turned on, the music was turned off, the students were stunned. Officers were in the bathrooms, the backrooms, the side alley.  They led me around the bar, asking me specifics about what he looked like and what he was wearing. More than once I was guided to the same unfortunate young man who happened to be the only other black man in the bar. (Young, no scar.) “Is this him?” they asked.  I could see the frustration on his face.  He felt he was being singled out because of his race and unfortunately, he was.  I felt terrible.  “No,” I said again to the police. To him I said, “I’m sorry.”
I was starting to get frustrated myself.  The other students in the bar were starting to complain about the lights and the music.  What was wrong with these people? Couldn’t they see there was some serious problem? I stood up on a barstool to get a better look around the bar.  The bartender told me to get down.  “The motherfucker that raped me this summer was just in your bar,” I said.  I was so pissed; it was obvious I was the one with the police. “Oh,” he said, “stay up there.”
Not that it mattered anyway.  He was gone. I could see in his eyes he knew who I was, but then again how could he not? He had spent an hour and a half raping and threatening me less than two months before.  But now the tables were turned—we were out in public and HE was scared of ME.  He bolted the minute he saw me.
And so the lights went off again and the music came back on.  The officers found their way back out to their cars, armed with a description of the suspect but not much else.   One car stayed and I sat in the back to answer yet more questions, sign yet more papers. I wondered how they ever managed to get anything done when they had to spend so much time filling out forms.  After repeatedly rehashing the evening’s events for them, they eventually they brought me home.
They brought me home to a quiet apartment.  K was up in the living room but everyone else was asleep.  I couldn’t help myself--as soon as I walked in the door, I lost it. I was completely hysterical, like I had never been before.  I screamed—really screeched—I cried, I threw things; I woke R with my yelling.  I couldn’t believe that I really saw him and then HE GOT AWAY!
I yelled and cried and yelled some more.  I told them about the contempt I felt for the ignorant jerks at the bar that couldn’t stop their mad pursuit of trying to pick someone up for the welfare of another human being.  I also told them things I didn’t mean to; things I didn’t want to admit I thought of, told them I thought about dying.  Not necessarily about committing suicide, but that if I had happened to die I wouldn’t have even cared.
They listened to me and let me scream.  They gave me tissues and glasses of water.  They ducked when I threw things.  When I finally settled down, K said she’d sleep in my bed with me; I wanted her to. But before we could get comfortable, the doorbell rang.  We cautiously went down the stairs together to find the same two police officers that had driven me home thirty minutes before.  They said they had caught someone who matched the description I had given them.  They wanted me to identify him, stressed that I had to be positive.  K came with me in the police car and held my hand in the backseat.  I sat near the window and when we turned onto Hamilton Street, we slowed to a stop.  There, on the corner, some other officers were holding him and shining a flashlight into his face.  I was crying when I said, “It’s him, it’s him. Oh it’s him….”
They brought us back to the police station.  This time the mood was much more upbeat than the last time I was there.  They were telling me about the man they had just captured with my help. They told me his name and that he had a list of prior sexual assaults.  He matched the description I had given them right down to the fanny pack.  The night that he was arrested it was packed with a screwdriver and a razor blade.  Who knows what he had been planning on doing that night . . . most likely he wanted to follow another young woman home from the bar and rape her, too.
It was tremendously satisfying to know that I was instrumental in his capture.  The fact that I may have saved another woman from being raped made it even more so.  When I woke up the next morning, I felt so rested and relieved.  I intrinsically understood the expression “a weight has been lifted off of me.” I swear walking was easier that day; it was more like floating.  Even breathing seemed easier.  I felt so free and I was so proud of myself.  I was my own hero.
The judge set the bail at $150,000 for the “alleged” rapist (I hated seeing the word "alleged" in the newspaper, I knew for certain he did it). They were sure he would enter a guilty plea but he stalled.  The first time he was supposed to enter his plea he changed his mind and said he was going to get a lawyer. Then we had to wait for a new date.
Two months later I went before a grand jury, at the prosecutor’s suggestion. That way if the defendant entered a not guilty plea, we would be already for trial. K and my parents accompanied me to the courthouse. Testifying before the grand jury was easy enough, essentially the prosecutor read the initial police report bit by bit and asked me if each part was true.  The grand jury decided there was enough evidence for a trial. At that point, though, it no longer mattered as the suspect finally did enter a guilty plea.  Now there would be no trial, just a sentencing.
A woman from the prosecutor’s office called me and asked me to prepare a statement for the judge so he could see how my life had changed since the rape. It had been more than a year; my book of journal entries had grown thick.  How was I supposed to summarize in a paragraph? How was I supposed to tell a stranger how I had changed? A stranger wouldn’t know how I was before the rape—a strong person who had decided early in life that being afraid was a waste of time . . . an independent person who felt like she was capable of anything.
So how was I after the rape? I was still strong, stronger even.  But I had never been afraid before but now I knew fear intimately.  I have been handicapped by fear.  I have lain in bed, having to go to the bathroom but too afraid to move.  Too afraid to go back to sleep, too afraid to turn on the light, too afraid to call someone for help.  And how does a person accustomed to being self-reliant call upon someone else for help? How was I supposed to fit all that in a paragraph?
“Don’t,” K said, “Give him your book.  Now is your chance to speak.”  So I did.  I made a photocopy of the book and dropped it off for the judge.  I wondered if he would take the time to really look at it.  A few months later I found out.
It was Valentine’s Day of 1997. K was studying in Ireland and wouldn’t be able to attend the sentencing.  It was a miserable morning.  The sky was black and the rain wouldn’t stop. I was waiting for my mother and my sister J to get to my apartment so we could go to the courthouse together.  It was getting very late and they hadn’t appeared, so I was forced to leave without them.  Where could they be? I walked to the courthouse alone and let my tears mix with the raindrops on my cheeks.
As I was going through the metal detector, I could see J running towards the building.  I was so happy to see her. They had been late because some of the roads were flooded.  I didn’t even care why they were late, I was just so happy they were there. We went up to the courtroom together.  The prosecutor met us in the hallway and began prepping me on what was going to happen. She told me that the judge had read my book and felt no sympathy towards the defendant. She asked me if I was going to want to speak.  I wasn’t sure so she said she would look to me during the sentencing and I could decide then.
We went into the courtroom and sat down. I was anonymous in the crowd of family members and court reporters. The rapist was brought in.  I could see my book on the judge’s bench and occasionally he looked at it.  I was so glad I had given it to him.  Now if only the rapist could see it and began to understand the consequences of his actions.
The rapist was given a chance to speak.  He addressed me by name, which really surprised me because my identity should have been protected from him.  When he said my name, my mother gasped, “How dare he!” and began to cry into her hands.  I wanted to comfort her but I couldn’t.  I needed to hear what he had to say.  He said he was sorry and that he only meant to rob me but when he saw me lying there naked he “couldn’t help” himself.  He also said that life in jail was hard.  Like I cared.
Then there was another surprise--his Mother was there and got up to make a statement! She rambled quite a bit.  First she said something about the time her son was 14 and they sent him to the juvenile detention center and later admitted he wasn’t really at fault.  I think she was trying to argue that he was always mistakenly accused, but it was a weak argument.  Then she said that she had sent all of her children to college and her daughter told her how it is with all those girls always throwing themselves at the men.  I got pretty upset at this point and apparently the judge did, too, because he cut her off, asking, “Do you know what your son did?”
“I know what he’s accused of,” she replied.
“No,” the judge said, “what your son did and what he plead guilty to.  He attacked someone.  He broke into her home and attacked her.  Now sit down.”
She sat.  The prosecutor looked at me and I nodded.  I stood up and walked to the front of the courtroom.  I think some of the other people there were surprised, they had no idea I was sitting among them.  I stood about ten feet away from the rapist, looked him in the eye and began to speak. “I’m really glad you’re sorry,” I said.  “That’s really nice and all but I don’t think you have any idea what you really did.  You have no idea how this has affected me, my family and my friends.  I mean, did you know that my little 8-year-old friend had to learn what ‘rape’ means because of you? Did you know that all I’ve ever wanted was to have a family of my own and now I doubt that I’d ever be able to spend the night alone with my children?”
I don’t remember what else I said but it felt so good to look right at him and speak my mind.  I was so proud of myself for remaining calm and strong.  I like to remember it the way it was described in the newspaper the next day: “It was the first time she confronted her assailant, but if she was angry, she didn’t show it.”  
 It was true. I wasn’t angry. I was calm and I was proud. I walked out of the courtroom with my head up, the rapist was taken out in handcuffs. He had been sentenced to twenty years in prison. The prosecutor sought me out before I left. She said that the judge wanted to know if it would be okay to give his copy of my book to the rapist. He must have been reading my mind; that is exactly what I wanted. I doubted that the rapist would be receiving the proper counseling in jail; maybe my book could help him to understand the consequences of his actions.  I wanted him to realize that his one night of crime has affected me and my entire family and will do so for the rest of our lives.
For years the title of this book was “My name is Rape Victim.” I was never really comfortable with it, though.  I flipped through my original journals and this phrase caught my eye: “I know I will emerge victorious" and I realized: my name is not Rape Victim; my name is Victorious. Why is Victory mine? Is it because my attacker is in prison? Well, that certainly helps.  But many rapists are in jail while their victims remain imprisoned by fear. I am victorious because I refuse to live in constant fear. I am victorious because I have someone to hate and I don’t hate him. I am victorious because I am not living in silence.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a beautiful retelling of a terrible story.

    P.S. Who rapes someone with a fannypack on?