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 this, 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 of 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.
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 who assaulted me – not men in white vans at night. My views on rape were shaped by colonial white supremacy 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. 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.
At 17, I found myself with the socially cultivated thought that ‘my rapist deserves to rot in jail’
which contradicted my passionate belief that no one should be imprisoned. Incarceration
severs the mind, body and spirit’s natural state of agency. My mind, body and spirit were
severed in many ways when I was raped. Violating people’s autonomy is one of the greatest
tools and products of oppression and domination. 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. As it turned out,
seeking that “justice” resulted in me being more traumatised by the police than my rapist.
It is not easy to heal from rape when society controls your reaction to it. My rape was
nowhere near as traumatic as my experience of reporting it to the police. Four months of
filing a complaint against the officers who laughed at my report left me wishing I had never
contacted them. The police’s treatment of me echoed the rest of society’s neglect and stigma. I didn’t want to believe the societal view that when you are raped you are irrevocably damaged, but sometimes I feel worthless for having experienced it.
I do not want him in jail.
I would not 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 assigned to 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. I often wonder whether there will ever be a day when I don’t think about him. One thing I know for sure is that my healing has been helped by my ability to humanise the person who hurt me.
It does not serve me to believe 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 teach him that 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.