By the time everyone left, it was 10 in the morning. I had not slept and did not feel tired. In fact I felt rather energetic—and on a mission. The rapist had begun his attacks eight months earlier, scaling walls, lassoing balcony rails, removing skylights, cutting through glass. Women had installed alarm systems and put bars on their windows. They bought Mace and adopted dogs. One friend bolted herself into her bedroom every night and peed in a potty. Everywhere we walked, we were aware he might be observing us. It was a reign of terror. But the rapist hadn't struck for four months and we had begun to feel safe, even complacent. I had to let the town know what had happened. Women needed to become vigilant again. I had been lax. I hadn't locked my upstairs patio door or double locked my front door. If I had, the rape might never have happened.
I asked Caren to post a notice on the town's website. And as weeping friends flooded into my house, I began to believe that if anyone had to be raped, it was good that it was me. The rape was just one more knock in a life of hard knocks. I could handle it. Plus I was a writer. I could write about it; I could be the messenger.
Virtually nothing had been publicized about the crimes in the local English-language paper. So I did an article sharing everything I'd learned from the other victims and the police. "The rapist has a pattern," I wrote. "He rapes women between 50 and 60 who live alone. He stalks them and attacks in their homes between 1 and 2 in the morning. The rapist needs to dominate, to feel powerful. If you fight you enrage him because you have ruined his fantasy, and if you act terrified you titillate him." At the end of the article, I wrote: "The outpouring of love and concern from both foreign and Mexican communities has been heartening and healing. I have always heard that we are all one. I never quite understood it the way I do now. Each time I'd heard how a woman among us had been raped, I felt sick and outraged. Now I am the one who was raped, and am the instrument of suffering. One person is hurt and everyone hurts. This is easy to see because we are a community. But it applies to the whole world. In our community, there is a sick member. That is all that he is."
The article was published exactly one week after the rape. Accompanying the article was the Hail Mary in Spanish. In shops notices appeared in Spanish and English saying that "a courageous sister" was raped and that by praying the Hail Mary she found strength. All over town English-speaking women kept the Hail Mary in Spanish by their beds, they carried it in their bags when they left home, they memorized it, and they prayed it.
People in town were saying that the energy felt different, lighter. People began to believe this man would be caught.
Meanwhile the police informed me that I was at high risk for a return attack. I stayed every night at Caren and Dave's. But during the day, even though it was scary imagining the rapist watching from the field beyond my courtyard walls, I lived in my house. I'd be damned if I'd let him keep me from my home.
Rapists are notoriously hard to catch. But five days after my article appeared, five days after everyone began praying, at 11 in the evening on the corner of my street, carrying a rope with a hook fastened to the end, he was caught.
I didn't have to be strong anymore, and I collapsed. I had no defenses. I cried because I'd been raped. And I cried at the drop of a hat. Strangely, while the rapist was still at large, it had not for one moment occurred to me to leave town. A friend had invited me to her cottage on Lake Huron, which I'd refused. Now I accepted. Walking all over the island, kayaking, skinny-dipping, canoeing, playing Scrabble with her other guests, I began to heal. One evening I wept to my friend. I needed to talk about what had happened, I said, but I felt that no one wanted to hear. She told me to talk as much as I wanted.
And so I did. As I write this article, it has been six months since the attack. It seems much longer. It was disturbing to be a celebrity because I'd been raped. But that has been more than made up for by the people thanking me for writing about it. Or the people who've approached me simply to say, "I'm sorry about what happened to you."
But most important, what happened has strengthened my faith in God and in prayer. When the rapist came into bed, I felt that God had betrayed me. But once I'd remembered to ask for help, I'd received it. Praying had turned despair into faith. And then the whole town prayed with me, and the rapist was caught. I am unutterably grateful that the rapist is behind bars.
I still talk about what happened to me once in a while, the way I might talk about having been caught in a tsunami. Rape has been a plague through all of history. It happens to women everywhere. It happens all the time. So why not admit that it happened to me?
Please, if you are ever raped, think of it as a physical attack that has absolutely nothing to do with sex as a tender act. Shout out loudly and open yourself to the respect due a survivor. You have done nothing to be ashamed of. The rapist has.
Beverly Donofrio is the author of Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary, a children's book from Random House