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Real People, Real Stories: A Transforming Journey

Restorative processes offer many benefits for victims and offenders. In this article, a survivor of a violent rape shares her experiences of release and healing through victim offender mediation.

It was January ’05 when my sister mentioned that she met someone who was involved with Victim’s Voices Heard – a severe violence mediation program for victims of violent crimes.  I was a victim of rape when I was nineteen years old so I was interested.  After talking with the director of the program, I decided that this was something I needed to do. 

My hopes were to have a venue to process feelings I had completely buried for 24 years.  At the time of the rape, I was just grateful to be alive, and I went back to college, moved on with my life and never dealt with my trauma.  Now I found I needed answers to a seemingly endless number of questions. I also wanted to tell my offender that I forgave him.

The five months of soul searching work, (journaling, identifying, and feeling the intense feelings I buried) was laborious, painful and eventually healing - or should I say transforming.

At one point last Spring I asked to see a current picture of my offender because I never knew for sure if I had seen his face that night.  When I looked at the picture, I threw it on the coffee table as terror and disgust flew through me.  It was the face of “the monster that had lurked in my closet” for 24 years.  At that moment I never wanted to see him again.  Eventually I peeked at the picture again and detected a glimmer of light deep in his eyes.

Four months into the process my offender - L.P. - and I exchanged a letter to “break the ice” before our possible summer meeting.  As I read his letter, tears flowed, tears of joy. In a simple way he wrote that he wanted to meet me to say he was sincerely sorry for his vicious actions.  He was remorseful and said he deserved everything that he got.  He wanted me to do what I needed to do for myself.  Somehow in spite of him not having had a visit from anyone in society in his 15 years in prison, he had come to understand the damage that he had done.

On a hot summer day in July, my husband and I arrived at the prison. We were both apprehensive and excited. There had been many times in the previous weeks when I thought this meeting would not happen.  Some days I wondered whether I really did forgive him?  Would it be honest to tell him so?  Could I trust him enough to let him see me again?

L.P. walked into the sterile visiting room dressed in his whites.  He moved slowly and quietly; he looked big.  I will always remember how intimidated I felt when our eyes first met.  This was not what I expected. 

The meeting that day was good.  A lot was accomplished even though it was kind of awkward. I asked, and he answered, about half of my questions and I had the chance to tell him that I forgave him.  I even had the opportunity to share the gospel story of the Lost Sheep with him.  In the end he made a brief but sincere apology.  When we left that day after the three hour meeting, I felt very happy but also sort of confused.  For some reason it seemed that he did not genuinely want to be there.  But as he prepared for our meeting he had given every impression that he did want to do this.

We couldn’t understand it until a week later when we learned that L.P. was seriously ill during our meeting and that he was admitted to the hospital the very next day.   So I requested a second meeting to complete what I/we had started.

On September 8th I was given that chance.  Less nervous this time, I finished asking all of my questions and hearing every answer.  This time I also shared my true feelings of deep pain and struggle that his crime caused me.  I felt an obligation to do that so he would hear from me – his victim - the reality of what such a violation does to a woman.  He listened and cried.  He heard me and validated my feelings.  He understood.  We even laughed a couple of times.  Our meeting could not have gone any better.

Now it is four months later.  I feel like a butterfly that has emerged from her cocoon after 24 years of captivity.  I sleep less and have more energy. I laugh and smile more easily; I am a lot less fearful.  I have more peace of mind and less false guilt. And I no longer second guess everything I do.  The power and control that were taken from me twenty-four years ago have been returned by the man who stole them.  I don’t know if anyone else sees the changes, but I do and my husband does.   

Currently my husband and I are exchanging letters with L.P. on a regular basis.  He has no family or friends.  We are happy to know him and support him.  It is a comfort to me because the more I know him the less I fear him. And as the mediator told me the first day that we met, once a person has been a victim of a violent crime, the offender and victim are always connected, because that person changed your life forever.

L.P. is discovering God and His love for him.  His New Year’s resolution is to learn more about God and read the Bible more.  He says a weight has been lifted from his shoulders and “this has been an experience of pure good.”  He has ridded himself “of a lot of guilt that he carried for 24 years.”  He feels “a sense of peace that he has not felt for a very long time.”

I still have moments of doubt and fear so I am proceeding cautiously and seeking God’s guidance.

24 years ago, while I was being attacked, I prayed for and with a violent, beastly young man, who tried to kill me.  Although he has no memory of it, he prayed a deliverance prayer before he left.  Now after many years and prayers that he would come to know Christ’s love for him, God has given me the tremendous privilege to water the seed that the Holy Spirit planted on Easter Eve years ago.  I am humbled to be called a daughter of so awesome a God.  I am in awe of His Greatness!

The author's name has been withheld at her request.

March 2006

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