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Maureen Gibbon, “My Rapist,” The New York Times Magazine, 29Oct06, p. 82.
As this sad tale touched and helped me understand, I hope it might you as well. The story begins at the bar of a restaurant where the author was waitress when she was just 16. A man in his twenties frequented the bar and would ask her for a date. But let her tell the story.
One night, rather than ignoring him when he flirted with me, I said yes, I’d go out with him. I willingly got into his truck. But instead of taking me on a date, he drove to a lake outside of town and raped me until my skin tore. I don’t mean I was a virgin until that night, I mean that’s how violent it was.
She describes how she washed her clothes, but hesitated to tell her parents—even when her mother suspected something was wrong. She told one teacher, and a counselor surmised what happened. That’s where it was left.
Until many years after she had left home and town, seldom even to visit, she got a copy of the local news.
I opened up a hometown newspaper and found a picture of my rapist on the Engagement page. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. I knew he stayed in the area. But it still shocked me to see his photo. He was marrying a younger woman, one with a child, according to the article.
When I saw his smiling face in the paper, I found it unbelievable that he had gone on to live what appeared to be a normal life, or that he could have won anyone’s heart. But he did. And he was going to be a stepfather. That’s what really got me: He was going to live in a house where a young girl would turn 16 one day. I wondered if, when that happened, he’d think of me.
I doubted it. I, on the other hand, have thought of him nearly every day since.
A predator and a victim were involved in a horrendous event one night. Intuition says the predator should suffer thereafter. But, in fact, it is reversed. Some rapists can apparently go on as if it was just something that happened way back there—maybe after a little too much to drink. It’s unnerving that men can rationalize rape in terms of horniness and a couple of drinks.
Imagine the mind of this man as he sat at the bar all those nights. If forced to discuss his thinking back them, he might say it was just all about sex—which finally bubbled over.
But a woman victim’s experience is altogether different. It’s not about sex, but power—sheer maniacal power—that leaves personhood invaded if not destroyed.
The writer refuses to call this predator by name.
I’ve always called him “my rapist,” mostly because I don’t know what else to call him…. I don’t want to say his name, though, and no word I can come up with conveys what I think or feel, so I just go on calling him “my rapist.”
Courageous enough to share this part of her life, the author tries to make sense of it all as she struggles on with her life. She mentions the advice of a tarot-card reader. The rape has rearranged her psychic furniture, the way she sees her age and development. She deals with the lasting hurt—and the killing rage.
Besides thoughts of violence….
Seeing “my rapists” engagement photo that day… triggered another fantasy. I imagined calling him up and telling him what effect he’d had on my life…. I kept thinking something might be gained by calling him. But as time went by, the idea seemed so filled with drama and tension. In the end, I think I chose not to call my rapist for the simplest of reasons: I didn’t want to talk to him.
The way I think about my rape will probably go on changing. I don’t know if I’ll ever be done with it. It’s always incredible to me when I hear people talk about how forgiveness enables a person to move on.
What I can say is that I’ve stopped reading my hometown newspaper…. But sometimes I still think about how I would have begun the call: I would have used the phrase all old acquaintances use: “Remember me?”
[I suggest going on line to see this entire article from The New York Times.]
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION & DISCUSSION
1. To what extent can you imagine the experience of that night, and life since, for the rapist and the victim? How was this victim’s experience apparently so different from her attacker?
2. How do you see lust and power playing into rape from the predator’s standpoint?
3. Can you imagine how many silent victims and how many undisclosed rapists are out there?
4. What do you see as justice in such instances? What should be done in cases like this?
5. Can you picture any kind of therapy and healing to help those who have been raped?
6. Would “forgive your rapist” ever be the first thing you’d tell a victim? The second or third thing? What must happen before forgiveness is possible, and who decides on the timing of this process?
1. I think we owe this writer thanks for her courage. Personally, I believe in offering a confession/apology for our corporate male guilt—though with no presumption that this will heal the hurt.
2. If one out of four women have been sexually abused or raped (and that appears to be a conservative statistic), what can society do about this phenomenon?
2. A significant number of boys (1 in 7?) have also been abused or raped? Do they have unique issues?
3. How should youth ministry approach this issue (when, how often, and in what manner)? Can you imagine how Jesus would respond and deal with the persons in this story?
Dean Borgman cCYS