Friday, October 02, 2009

Hunting my rapist, Part 1 (by Suzie)

I was raped 29 years ago, and I got the most comfort from hunting the guy down. I’ve been thinking about that this week, as I read quotes criticizing the pursuit of Roman Polanski. When I read that his victim wanted charges dropped, I thought about how time influenced my own attitude in the opposite direction.

At 21, I didn’t understand that what happened to me was rape. It was 1980, and “date rape” would be coined later that year, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, although the phrase would take a while to catch on.

He was 32, a handsome professional in the mental-health field. How could I have gotten so drunk on a couple of drinks that he had to carry me into his bedroom? I had cried so hard that my body shook; I cried so hard that he finally stopped without coming. What a baby I had been!

I told few people what happened. Apparently, I did write a former college roommate because I still have her response: “That psychologist gives me the creeps! Can’t he be disboarded or something. What a jerkass, taking such advantages!” Her reaction was common at the time: There were creeps and jerks who took advantage of women. But few used the word “rape” if there was no physical force.

I never thought of going to the police. Even now, very few men get convicted of the rape of an acquaintance, especially when there are no injuries. It’s not surprising that prosecutors dropped charges of forcible rape and sodomy, and let Polanski plead guilty to statutory rape in 1978. I doubt he would have been prosecuted if his victim had been 18. After all, if a psychiatrist who examined Polanski could blame a 13-year-old for being provocative, what chance would a woman have in similar circumstances?

Years passed, and I put my “incident” – as the media might call it – out of my mind. I wrote about the issue of date rape, and I felt sad for friends who didn’t consider their rapes to be real rapes for one reason or another.

Eventually, I began to examine my attitude toward my own rape. I had interviewed the man when I was a newspaper intern, and he worked in a hospital psychiatric unit. He asked me out on a date and suggested we meet first at his apartment, where he offered me drinks. If I drink too much, I feel sick to my stomach – not like that night, where I felt good at first, and then distant. Much later, I would experience that feeling again before surgery.

My rapist would have had access to drugs. But what if he didn’t drug me? What if I said yes? I can’t remember what I did or didn’t say. Then the avenging angel on my shoulder reminds me that his unit dealt with people who were impaired by alcohol or drugs, as well as those who were mentally ill. Surely, he would have recognized when a woman was impaired. Surely, he had been trained in the concept of informed consent. If he meant well, why didn’t he stop as soon as I started to cry? When I was still clearly intoxicated, why did he put me in my car and let me drive home to another city? Why did he not call to make sure I got home safely or to see if I was OK?

Because he was a rapist.

I can only imagine what Polanski’s victim thought all these years, as people questioned her honesty. In 2006, when a therapist suggested I come to terms with the rape, I did what any good (former) journalist would do. I decided to investigate.

Next Friday: Let the hunt begin!

ETA: Some people think I'm defending Polanski. I'm not defending him or any rapists. Nor am I under the delusion that the attitudes of the 1970s have disappeared. For those interested in what I've written previously about Polanski, go here and here, and wait for the pages to load.