MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 11-Apr-16 16:10:16

Guest post: "Why I tracked down my rapist" (Trigger warning)

Joanna Connors says that although she will never "get over" being raped, going in search of her attacker helped her to let go of some of the fear and self-blame she carried for two decades

Joanna Connors

Author, I Will Find You

Posted on: Mon 11-Apr-16 16:10:16

(8 comments )

Lead photo

"When he raped me, he changed me."

Ten years ago, at the age of 40, I made the decision to find the man who had raped me two decades earlier.

I was on the campus of a small college in Massachusetts with my 16-year-old daughter, Zoe - we were touring colleges so she could decide where she wanted to apply. The student guide stopped at a pole with a glowing blue light and said, quite casually, "If you ever feel threatened, just stop at one of these blue lights around the campus and call. Help will be there in five minutes."

"Five minutes?" I whispered to Zoe. "You could be dead by then."

As Zoe walked on with the group, I stayed at the blue light, having a panic attack. This was followed by what psychologists call disassociation - the sensation of leaving one's body - something I'd first experienced in 1984, at the age of 30, when a stranger on another college campus raped me at knifepoint, and almost killed me.

I realised on that tour with my daughter that though I had told myself I had moved on, and I was fine - I had never truly got over the trauma of my rape. And I decided to do something about it.

I believe the origin of fear is ignorance: we most fear what we don't know or understand. So I decided to find out everything I could about my rapist, and to treat my search like a story I was reporting as a journalist. Doing it this way allowed me the distance and courage to take it on directly.

But first, I told Zoe. It terrified me that she was going to college - as if my daughter was prey. I had to tell her what had happened to me as a kind of magical insurance policy, so it would never happen to her.

After I was raped, I never asked myself, "Why me?" Like a lot of rape survivors – too many of us – I thought I knew the answer to that one. Why me? Because I was stupid. Because I walked into it. Because it was all my fault.


I told her the story I had told so often in the hours and days after the rape: I was working, I was late for an interview, the building was empty, the guy was there, he cut my neck and raped me. I kept the worst details back.

The man who raped me had been caught, tried, convicted and sent to prison. I testified against him, but I didn't know much about him, other than his name and a few facts. It occurred to me, though, that if I were to make a list of the people who had most influenced my life, he would be near the top. When he raped me, he changed me. I had been adventurous, joyful and confident, just embarking on a career in journalism. Now I was a woman whose life was ruled by fear and anxiety, a woman who smothered her children with her worries and felt numb to life.

After I was raped, I never asked myself, "Why me?" Like a lot of rape survivors – too many of us – I thought I knew the answer to that one. Why me? Because I was stupid. Because I walked into it. Because it was all my fault.

But I did wonder, "Why him? What happened in his life that led him to violence and made him a monster?"

My search for my rapist took almost a year. I discovered that he had died in prison a few years earlier, but I tracked down two of his sisters and a brother. They told me harrowing stories of their childhood. They lived in poverty and chaos, with a monster that took the form of a father. He was a pimp, he beat his wife and his sons, and he molested his daughters. All seven of his children grew up addicted to drugs and alcohol. The sons were in and out of prison from the age of 12. The daughters became prostitutes to pay for their drugs, though by the time I met them, they had pulled themselves off the streets and out of their addictions.

These stories made me feel something for my rapist that might surprise others: empathy. He grew up knowing that nobody cared about him.

Of course, this does not make every child grow into a violent monster; his terrible childhood did not let him off the hook for that. But it began to make me think about forgiving him.

I started my search with the hope that by knowing the source of my fears I could become fearless, the way I was when I was 20. At the end, I knew I would never be without fear. I will never "get over" my rape. But I now understand that I might fear less in this world if I stop trying to bury the rape, if I let go of the shame and self-blame that I and most other rape survivors feel, if I am willing to talk about the trauma and listen – really listen – when other women talk.

I realised that this was the other good outcome of my search. I gave other women the strength to talk about their rapes - some for the first time. After I first wrote this story for my newspaper, I cannot tell you how many women confided to me that they too had suffered this trauma and never told anyone. By telling our stories to our friends, our families and our daughters though, we can start changing this culture of shame.

By Joanna Connors

Twitter: @joconnors

gruffaloshmuffalo Tue 12-Apr-16 11:56:46

It was very brave of you to track him down and I'm pleased it helped.

I ran into my abuser years ago and, with the support of my parents, confronted him. If anything, it made it worse for me. I replay the moment in my head and wish for a thousand other outcomes. The one that actually happened is that he denied it happened, I stood there in shock. It was dad who shouted to everyone the man was a paedophile.

I had horrific things happen to me as a child, my brothers did too. None of us have perpetuated the cycle of abuse, whether domestic or sexual. It's made me struggle to feel empathetic with those who had similar upbringings who carried on with the abuse cycle. It's something I struggle with.

Vajazzler Tue 12-Apr-16 12:03:52

I was abused regularly by a neighbour from the ages of 9-12 and never told anyone other than mentioning it briefly to my DH a few years ago.
I have tried to track him down and have managed to message his stepdaughter who he also abused after he stopped abusing me, and her mum, his wife at the time. They have both disassociated themselves from him and have no idea where he is and my efforts to find him have been unsuccessful.
I would like to ask him why he did those things to me, and how he managed to do in such a way that at the time I felt good about what he was doing. He seemed to really care about me, would ask my permission, buy me treats, treat me like a grown up, take me out in his lorry with my mum's permission.
I'd like to see him just one more time.

YouAreMyRain Tue 12-Apr-16 17:06:39

I also think you were very brave to track him down and find out more about him. I'm glad his story ultimately made more sense to you, although I'm sorry that this happened to you.

Gwlondon Tue 12-Apr-16 21:06:12

Thank you for sharing this.

MummyIsMyFavouriteName Tue 12-Apr-16 21:19:17

I'm very lucky that I can't imagine how you must feel. I'm so sorry that these horrendous things happened to all who have posted here (and those who haven't). I hope you can find a way to live your lives in peace and happiness with those who love you.

VoldysGoneMouldy Wed 13-Apr-16 11:29:29

You were very brave to make this decision. I really hope it helps you towards recovery.

I knew both my rapists - neither of them have any such background. I almost wish they did in a a horrible way so I could understand what they did to me.

I don't know anything other than what I remember about the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. Every now and again I have waves of wanting to know, wanting to track them down somehow, but before I can even think logically about how I'd do it, I get too scared, and want to mentally run far away. Whenever I go past the houses where it happened, I feel that fight or flight; get away from the location, or knock on the door. I've got halfway down the drive of one of the houses before. No closer. I know one of the families have moved out, though surely there would be contact details with the new owners. The second family - in the house my abuser from the first family took me to visit - are still there.

Maybe one day I will be as brave as this.

Well done for having the strength you have, for yourself, and for your daughter.

JohnRichter Wed 13-Apr-16 15:13:04

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

AskBasil Wed 13-Apr-16 20:58:11

I heard you on Women's Hour, you were very impressive.

Hope you continue to recover from that dreadful experience,

flowers

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