Sexual assault victim: ‘I wanted to be able to forgive him. I wanted to let go and have closure’

Rachel is one of the 10% of sexual assault victims who saw her assailant caught and sentenced. But she still wanted to see him face to face, writes Cormac O’Keeffe

Meeting her attacker had a “profound” effect on Rachel, “liberating” and “empowering” at the same time.

The victim of a stranger sexual attack, an ordeal lasting for almost an hour, Rachel said she was left “deeply affected and traumatised”.

Speaking on the Sean O’Rourke Show on RTÉ, she said: “I did fear he was going to kill me. I thought I escaped the situation rather than it ending. I feared, had things gone on, I’d end up dead.”

She described herself as “fortunate” in that her attacker was caught, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced.

Despite that, she felt “compelled” to meet him face to face.

“I wanted to meet him in human form. At the time, I couldn’t bring myself to believe he was a human being, behaving that way. I wasn’t perceived as human, just a figure for him to destroy.”

She contacted psychotherapist and restorative justice practitioner Marie Keenan and, through her, a restorative justice meeting was set up between Rachel and the offender.

She described seeing her attacker, someone who behaved “monstrously” towards her, sitting in the room “like a normal man” as “astonishing and very profound”.

Rachel said she had a long list of things to say to him: “What it was like to be me during his assault of me, I wanted to tell him about the aftermath of what occurred, I wanted to hear what he had to say.”

She said she also had questions that had been stuck in her mind: “Why did you do it, why did you do it to me, to make sense out of something so irrational, so completely random.”

She said he gave an explanation: “He told me his circumstances in life might have led him to that. He was very honest, even if I don’t accept it as a valid excuse, which I don’t. At the same time, to see where he was coming from helped solidify the chaos and confusion there before.”

She said she did get “some form of apology”, but stressed she hadn’t set out with that aim in mind.

“To me, forgiveness was the core point of why I was doing it. I personally wanted to be able to forgive him. I wanted to let go and have closure.”

Rachel said a huge part of it was “self-empowerment”. She said the criminal justice system was not about the victim, but about penalising the offender.

She said restorative justice — bringing together of victims and offenders in a structured and supported format — was a way for victims to empower themselves.

“It exceeded my expectations. In my general life, I’ve very much moved on. I go from one end of the week to the other without thinking about it once. At some level that was not possible before, because I couldn’t fully let go.” She said it has transformed what was an extremely bad memory.

“If I’m to think about that night, I now automatically think about that meeting. It’s empowering. I don’t hold any ill will towards him any more and that is liberating.”

Ms Keenan, who is also a lecturer in social policy at University College Dublin, was her support person at the meeting.

She said the meeting was about Rachel “changing her memory card”, as she didn’t want to go on with “hatred in her heart”.

She said that 90% of victims don’t get any justice through the criminal courts process and that restorative justice can be of benefit to them.

Ms Keenan has called on Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to set up an official three-year restorative pilot project.

National 24-Hour Rape Crisis Helpline: 1800 778888; Crime Victims Helpline: Freephone 116006; facingforward.ie

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