The Day I Faced My Rapist In Court

The morning I was to read the statement in the courtroom would be the second time that the man who raped me and I were going to be in the same room. But unlike that day, we were in a room open to the public, and I could say what I felt and what I thought.

The assailant had pleaded guilty to the two rapes, so there was no need for the trial. I was given the option of sending my statement or reading it in the courtroom. I decided to read it in person. Four years had passed since the assault, two and a half years to find the rapist, a year before I decided to press charges, and several months to indict him.

I entered at the back of the room, and sat in the second or third row. He entered by the front, on the right, and sat in the first row. He was looking down and I could only see his back. Earlier, the district attorney made sure I wasn't going to shout at him or call him names. She hadn't read the statement I'd written in advance. She sat me at a table in the front of the courtroom. I began to speak, but nobody understood me. M told me to start again, to speak up, and to speak more slowly. I did. The room quieted, and after I finished, there was complete silence:

"In the act of presenting charges, my identity is revealed. I have a name, I am recognized as a subject, a person. This should make my assailant aware that I am a person and of the damage of his violent act upon me. But it also implies that he knows who has presented the charges. I fear I could be attacked again."

Instead of blaming him, I calmly analyzed the damage done by his abuse. I explained how my relationship suffered and eventually ended. How for years I felt like a refugee without a home. How I lost self-confidence and hope. How I was constantly sad and lacked enthusiasm. How I felt unconnected to others and ended up isolating myself. How my perception of life had changed: I no longer looked forward to the future, I didn't enjoy my present and often thought about death. How I continually lived in fear. I wanted the rapist to listen to the effect of his action upon me, and also I wanted the judge to understand that the rape had not used an excess of cruelty and violence. I shared the fears I had for my life, my concern that other women would be raped, and brought up my fears about the length of sentences:

"This crime is not a rational thing. I was held in my own house, forced to be contained, silenced, and raped. He applied cruelty—threatening death and humiliation, making me an object, raped—but no more than was necessary to get what he wanted, not in excess. It was a violent act, because rape is a violent act, but he wasn't aggressive. I do not hate him as a person but I do hate what he did. It is not only that this is illegal, it is that it is also unfair and wrong. But still complexity must remain, and the knowledge that each of us is a person and must be treated as such. Believing in the force of humanity for changing an individual and a world, I express my will of the sentence to have no excess and to be rather short than long."

I understood the legal system as a way of settling matters, of drawing a line and moving forward. I faced the risk that my argument would be misinterpreted as implying I hadn't been raped. But I didn't want to simplify the issues because I was the victim. I wanted to be as fair as if it hadn't happened to me, not to fall into the temptation of excess, now that I had the opportunity to speak. I did it from fear, but also out of fairness. By requesting that the sentence be short rather than long, I may have risked that my attacker would come after me sooner rather than later, while I was very tired of living in fear. When I left the room, I felt as if I was untouchable.

Excerpted from Rape New York by Jana Leo. Available now from Feminist Press. Republished with permission.