By Naroa Hammerson
I allowed myself to fully grieve when I realised that I do not want my rapist to go to prison.
When I tell people I do not want my rapist to go to prison, they often look at me like I’m naïve. This pisses me off for two reasons. Firstly, it is my rape we are talking about. Other people’s opinions on my lived experience are frustrating to hear when it undermines my ability to reach my own conclusions. Secondly, most rapists aren’t in jail anyway – the incarceration rates are so low that almost every rapist in society is out and about and was possibly behind you in the queue at Tesco today.
From a young age, my understanding of rape was that monsters would drag young thin white women off the street and rape them in alleyways. This, upon educating myself more, turned out to be a sensationalised myth. However, the notion of ‘the big bad wolf who rapes and must be imprisoned as they cannot control themself’ was something I struggled with as a teenager as I was forced to encounter sexual assault and rape. My reality was that it was other girls, acquaintances and strangers in crowded places that assaulted me – not men in white vans at night. My views on rape were shaped by colonial white supremacist views and deeply ingrained internalised misogyny.
Unlearning all of it saved my life.
I would not have been able to even begin to challenge the shame I feel for being raped were it not for the process of unlearning how systems of domination have controlled the way I see the world. The more I unlearn the more I heal.
As I read more about the carceral system’s lack of humanity and capitalism’s prison industrial complex I asked myself the unavoidable question “what the fuck do I do about my rapist?”
I do not want my rapist to go to prison. Put very simply, I do not want my rapist to be dehumanised like he dehumanised me. There is no carceral system (not even the “idolised” Nordic model) that doesn’t dehumanise people. This is because people are born into this world with an innate spiritual connection to nature, community and social life. Being placed in a cage with limited rights and no autonomy violates this connection.
So, I found myself at 17 with the socially cultivated thought that ‘my rapist deserves to rot in jail’ which juxtaposed my passionate belief that no one should be imprisoned. Incarceration severs the body, mind and spirit’s natural state of agency. My mind, body and spirit were severed in many ways when I was raped. The violation of one’s autonomy is one of the greatest tools and products of oppression. I do not want others to experience this. I will not see the justice I deserve by sending him to prison.
I have been taught, since forever, that justice looks like a rapist dying in jail. Grieving, as society would have me believe, looks like going through a difficult court case and eventually saying goodbye to my rapist as he loses his freedom.
As it turned out, my grief would actually look like being more traumatised by the police than my rapist.
It is not easy to heal from rape when society polices your reaction to it. My rape was nowhere near as traumatic as my experience of reporting it to the police. I didn’t want to believe the societal view that when you are raped you are irrevocably damaged. Sometimes, I feel worthless for having experienced it.
I do not want him in jail.
I don’t feel safer with him in jail.
Grieving, over the past two years, has looked like making myself a cup of tea or shopping in the bread aisle at Lidl when my mind reminds me; you were raped. It has looked like me sitting in exams and having picnics with friends when I suddenly get a body memory and feel his hands on me again. It has looked like being radically honest with myself and understanding that I would rather see my rapist in passing than the police officers who were on my case – and this does not mean that being raped wasn’t horrific.
I often feel that my grief had an assigned expiration date that I was never told about. Six months after, it felt awkward to admit that I was still very much struggling. I stopped mentioning that night as much, and it felt like others stopped thinking about it too – even though I still carry the grief to this day. I often wonder whether there will ever be a day when I don’t. One thing I know for sure is that my healing has been bolstered by my ability to humanise the person who hurt me.
It does not serve me to perpetuate the patriarchal notion that men are animalistic and lack control. It does not serve me to perpetuate the capitalist pattern of incarcerating people who are not palatable to society. It does not serve me to have my rapist in prison where he is much more likely to become a victim of violence himself. I do not want to see my rapist as a monster. He is not one. It doesn’t help me when people think that he is. I want to believe that he is capable of growth and change. This does not mean he should have access to me ever again, but it is the simple recognition that he is a multi-faceted person and his violence doesn’t eradicate that. My grief includes knowing that society dehumanises him and others rather than giving them the healing they need.
When I think of my rape, the most painful part was looking into his eyes and knowing that he didn’t recognise me as a fellow human. Of course, the physical assault was awful, but the memory of his eyes looking into mine was what really broke my heart. His brain has been socialised to see me as a mere object; a means for his pleasure; a tool for him to feel powerful. Putting him in an abusive oppressive institution for raping me will not stop him from knowing rape is wrong.
It’s been two years since I was raped. On the anniversary, I eat a blueberry muffin. Not for any particular reason – I just like blueberry muffins.
Sometimes I wonder if he likes them too.