MY daughter didn’t tell me when she was raped. I found out only when she could no longer hide the signs of her pregnancy. When I asked her why she hadn’t told me earlier, she replied that she hadn’t wanted ‘to let me down.’
I wept, her mother wept. I held her – I just held her - my incredible, astonishing daughter. She was seventeen years old.
I wept too at the social services office when I went to report it; I wept when I went to speak with her school headteacher. When my boss rang to check on how I was coping I couldn’t speak. No words would come.
In the days after my daughter’s disclosure sleep vanished and time changed shape. Awake or dreaming I experienced an odd and strangely recurring motif - sea crashing on rocks and receding… endlessly. I think I was in shock.
Maybe three days on my entire body began uncontrollably shaking in the kitchen of my home; I clutched a chair to steady me; I thought, I could go down here and never get up again. I choose not to go down.
It was a week before I told any of my brothers or sisters. Like my daughter, I didn’t want to pass on this pain, this terrible burden. I felt so strongly the horror of telling them; I felt so sorry for them having to receive it.
For a little time nothing changed – we attempted to carry on as normal.
So my daughter could sit her exams – so her rapist couldn’t steal those from her too - for a short time she returned to school. However, increasingly self-conscious and still hiding her pregnancy, this did not last long.
On what was to be her final day of school I collected her at lunch to take her to be examined at the regional rape and sexual abuse clinic.
I thought then, and still often think now, of how horrific that is – how other young people finish their high school with parties and selfies – and how my daughter finished hers in the silence of a rape and sexual abuse clinic. It strikes me still as the stuff of nightmares.
Other things, teenage rites of passage, were lost too. My daughter had booked to attend the school leavers’ formal only a couple of weeks later – despite my wife’s best effort to find a dress that would conceal her bump – it couldn’t be managed. She sat at home with us instead.
In fact, this period was literally a time of confinement and concealment. Dressed always in loose fitting clothing, my daughter evinced a terror of leaving the house – of having to meet anyone, of having to explain herself.
No one, beyond immediate family and professionals, was allowed to know. My daughter wanted it that way. How could she explain the pregnancy, the rape; how could she process the decision she would have to make in a few weeks’ time to either keep and love and cherish the child, or give it up for adoption. How could any of us?
So, for her eighteenth we had a family birthday party – all my family came, but none of my daughter’s friends – she wanted it that way. We made as much fun as we could, but, in truth, like so much else at this time, it was a parody of jollity; a show of unity and resilience in the face of the trauma behind and the terror of the decision ahead.
The rest of the story you might think is easy – was the child born healthy, did my daughter keep it? Yes, on both counts. And today she has a wonderful young child, and she is a wonderful young mother. But there has been nothing easy to this. Nothing easy for her.
The police investigation, desultory at first, began properly after the birth. The rapist was a stranger – statements were taken, and the few witnesses available interviewed. Nothing came of it. The rapist remains unknown, though with his DNA in the system it is likely only a matter of time until he is discovered.
Then what? A trial? A rapist becoming aware he is a father? And when? Tomorrow, next year, ten years time? What are the implications? There are no answers to these questions.
I went to see a solicitor. We spent an hour talking, he noted down whatever material facts I could give him, and then spoke honestly and devastatingly. Without CCTV evidence or a confession there is zero chance of a conviction. What am I to make of that?
Last week my daughter and I discussed the verdict of the Belfast rape trial. She said she wondered should she withdraw her charges. I told her that my understanding is that as rape is a statutory crime, she cannot. Then we both gloomily imagined what the outcome of any legal proceedings would be; and we both hoped there would never be any.
My daughter’s story is not the story of the young woman in Belfast. I have no words to say on that matter – but I do know this – rape is not a single event; it is not a happening and a finishing and a moving on. For us, it’s not even about justice or guilt or any of those highfalutin notions that exercise solicitors. The person of the rapist is the least important aspect of it all – we don’t think of him; he is less than nothing.
Rather the experience of rape is a process – it is a devastation followed by a learning to trust again; a learning to celebrate life again; a learning to recover one’s stolen dignity and respect. It is above all a refusal to submit.
And my final thoughts are these: if legal proceedings inhibit rather than reaffirm that recovery, then there is something wrong with the proceedings.
And, if my daughter, after rape, is worried about ‘letting me down’; and if I, as the proudest father there could be, must write this piece anonymously to protect my daughter from being slut shamed, then there is truly something terribly wrong with our society.