Friday 22 March 2019

'I needed to meet my sex attacker to begin healing'

In the wake of a report that recommends victims of sexual assault be able to meet offenders, one woman recounts meeting her attacker

Picture posed by model.
Picture posed by model. Newsdesk Newsdesk

There is one man alive in this world today that I have met only twice in my life - once, when he followed me; violently sexually assaulted me, repeatedly choked me and threatened to kill me - and the other, when we sat on opposite sides of a round table wishing each other a successful future.

On that fateful night, I believed there was a significant chance my life was about to end: for years afterwards I was submerged in the hellish depths of post-traumatic stress disorder.

My desire to speak to this man began even before he was sentenced. The desire I felt to confront him did not diminish; in fact, it grew and became more prevalent in my mind. I pictured running up to him and letting him see how I was, to tell him that I wanted to hear an explanation from his own mouth.

After he was released from prison, I needed something additional to happen.

Slowly, I began to imagine sitting face-to-face with him - this human who had so enormously affected my life and my perception of reality. Could I ever accept that he was a human?

The months before the meeting with my attacker werer a rollercoaster of emotions as he had initially agreed and then retracted his agreement. By sheer luck, this man had another change of heart and agreed to hear more about the restorative justice process. The point for me in meeting him was to seek an end to my suffering, to seek an end to my perpetual state of disempowerment, and to seek closure of all the negativity that had blighted my life for many years.

I wanted to see and experience this man as a human, simply because I knew at a mental level that he was one.

How could I ever stop fearing him if he was this monster? How could I ever let go of my anger, my seething anger for him, if I could not see his humanity?

I had come to the realisation that all the negative feelings I had held for such a long time were completely useless and, in fact, a burden to me.

I began to understand that I could never have the closure that I wanted. I needed to see him as a human to let go of my negativity towards him because I know it is impossible to forgive a monster. I wanted him to see that I was a human. I knew that if he sat opposite me, seeing me in this light, that that would be unavoidable.

In order for me to move on from this event, I needed him to acknowledge that I am not just a representation of something that he hates or that angers him, but a real live person with a past and a future.

I wanted to let this man know how I had experienced his assault of me and the full implications of this event on my life. I wanted him to hear about the fear and shock I felt as he assaulted me.

I needed him to know how confused I was about his rage towards me. I needed him to know that he never succeeded in humiliating me - not for one second.

I wanted him to be aware of how a victim of sexual violence becomes a piece of physical evidence after an assault and how de-humanising that experience is.

And I felt compelled to let this man know how I had made a decision to take the most positive out of this experience: that I had chosen not to be defeated.

To move on, I needed to complete the fragmented picture in my mind. To see the full picture, I needed to ask questions: questions that only this man could answer. Did you intend to kill me? Why did you do it? And why did you do it to me?

Finally, a date was set for the meeting. The preparation work was vital and I was incredibly fortunate to have Dr Marie Keenan from UCD as my invaluable support person.

As I walked into that room, I was met with a sheepish and a very human, awkward half smile. My fear of this man suddenly began to evaporate. As I was given the opportunity to speak, he commented that I was brave. I told him that he was courageous to be able to listen to what I was about to tell him, why it was important to have this meeting now so there can finally be closure.

I did not hold back in telling this man what it felt like to me during the assault. I did not gloss over the aftermath.

I'm not sure whether he understood all of what I said, sometimes he would look down. But I knew he could hear me and that was enough.

In that meeting, which lasted 90 minutes, I was given the opportunity to ask the questions that had been lingering in my mind for all these years.

The moment I stepped outside that room, I couldn't help but smile. I did not explicitly say the words "I forgive you", but it would be fair to say that they were implied.

Before the meeting, the memories of that night equalled emotional pain: fear, dehumanisation and an intense anger and hatred for the offender. Now, when I think back to that night, the memories of it generate a strong feeling of empowerment, fulfilment and genuine compassion for this man.

No amount of therapy could ever have achieved that and l truly wish him all the best in his future life.

For me, restorative justice was about healing, my liberation from this crime. As a victim, I believe it would be difficult to find a more appropriate place in which to use it.

I believe there is a direct correlation between how serious and personal in nature the crime is and the need to use restorative justice. In reality, what could be more personal than sexual violence?

And if I meet him by chance? I can hold my head high, without any fear, because what I lost has now been restored.

Irish Independent

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