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Jennifer Wheatley-Wolf Headshot

Facing my Rapist

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I never saw the face of the man who raped me on August 21, 1988. It would take 20 years for technology to catch up with the evidence collected and make it possible to finally solve this crime. On January 13, 2010, I saw him for the first time.

If my trial had proceeded in either August or October as it had been previously scheduled, I would not have been ready. I would have testified and gotten through the ordeal, but would not have really purged myself of the darkness that had been left behind that night so many years ago.

One in four women is a victim of rape. Not all of these women have had the opportunity to see justice done. Many of them are unable to stand in front of the accused and say, "What you did to me was not okay." The trauma of rape and the fear of being made to look like their behaviour was the cause of the attack keeps many women from reporting the crime. In order to cast doubt in the eyes of the jury, it becomes the role of the defence attorney to attack the victim's reputation.

Though most states have rape shield laws which prohibit any non-relevant evidence of the victim's sexual history from being used by the defence at trial, rape is reported approximately 31 per cent of the time. Not reporting the crime does nothing to protect the victim or subsequent victims. Only getting the rapist behind bars can do that. With odds in his favour, a rapist continues to terrorize. The National Center for Victims of Crime reports that 126 rapists had perpetrated 907 rapes against 882 separate individuals. The study did not include sexual predatory behaviour including molestation, incest, and child sexual assault.

No one is comfortable talking about rape. Even saying the word is taboo. I was empowered by the outpouring of support before the trial. I began to understand that I was not alone; the picture was much bigger than I could have imagined. I knew it was about facing my demon but I had been too close to understand that there are women all over the world who needed to know they have a voice. I would never have believed it could be mine.

When I learned I would have to testify, I became afraid to be in the same room with my attacker. Although the prospect was unnerving, I eventually realized I was not afraid of him. I was afraid of the memories I had of him. Everyone kept saying, "He can't hurt you; he'll be surrounded by guards; He'll be on his best behavior to impress the judge and jury," and "You'll be great." I would hear the words, but they didn't mean anything to me. What did they know?

He'd hurt me once, he'd threatened my life. I realized my fear of seeing this man again stemmed from whatever internalized fears of the assault I still had. My apprehension was coming from my feelings of powerlessness because of the control I allowed him to have over me for so many years.

I finally realized my attacker had only seen my face for a few minutes 20 years ago while spying on me through the curtains, watching me count my tips and then change into my pajamas. And during the entire assault, he was either behind me or in front of me, pushing my face toward the floor. He didn't know me at all. To him, I was a cowering, scared girl.

That's not who I am.

I was sure the creep expected me to be afraid. He knew what he had done to me that night. He knew how terrified I had been. I am sure he believed I would continue to be gripped by this fear. Creating fear in women made him feel powerful. I could redirect the flow of energy simply by walking into the courtroom with confidence and refusing to fall apart. I was ready because I had finally begun to understand what was meant by, "He can't hurt you." By knowing this, I began to take back what the rapist had stolen from me that night. I was in charge of my fate, and this time he would be powerless.

Check and checkmate.

I was ready to do what had to be done to expose this man and his crimes to the world and in doing so empower all of the women he had terrorized. I was ready to speak out on behalf of all victims of rape who are unwilling or unable to take the stand themselves. I was ready to see, face-to-face, what my boogeyman looked like and to banish him from my nightmares.

This blog has been adapted from a book co-written with Chief Investigator David H. Cordle titled One Voice Raised: A Triumph Over Rape.