The technical term is “survivors guilt”. It doesn’t sound especially technical, but I give it full points for accuracy. It could also be called “throw up and cry a lot” because that’s what I did when I heard about the next victim during phone call from an FBI agent who told me that the DNA collected during my rape kit three years earlier had returned a match.
The woman had been brutally raped and beaten to death. I thought back to the hotel housekeeper who found me unconscious in the stairwell, badly beaten and barely clothed. We always believed her presence saved my life — that my rapist never intended to leave me alive.
The FBI agent told me the murdered woman also had red hair — like me. I’m not sure that last detail was one I was supposed to know, but once it was uttered it dangled in the air before me like a key to Pandora’s box. If I opened it, I could potentially drown in a world of pain, in gut-wrenching questions: Did anyone call her their “Strawberry”? Was she around children who would play with her hair and ask her to sing “Part of your world”?
The FBI had not even contacted next of kin yet because she was a university foreign exchange student in Ohio. Would her family be told about me? Would they hate me for not being able to stop him, and for surviving? In that moment, I hated me for not being able to stop him.
I clung to this: There was no record of his DNA when I was attacked, and now there was. I did that. That had to count for something…Didn’t it? Not enough, but something. It helped me to cope.
But then they found the next woman — their third redhead. My life suddenly felt like a poorly scripted made-for-TV movie.
“Find him”, I whispered on the phone. “Just stop him.”
“We’ll get him.” They assured me of this. They didn’t. But he WAS eventually “got.”
Somehow they now had a lead, and DNA evidence to make an arrest. But the rapist was a native American, so I was told that would be a delay because local law enforcement had to work with tribal police to find this man on his reservation, and federal laws applied where they couldn’t just go and make an arrest.
Then I received the call — several states away, the rapist/murderer was stabbed to death by a fellow tribe member whose 13 year old sister had been raped nearly a decade earlier by this monster. Unable to live with the stigma and the pain, she took her life one year after the attack.
In ten years, her brother never gave up seeking justice for his sister. I wish I could shake his hand — not that I support vigilantism, but because my family and I have endured much of the same pain. I can’t ever reach out to him or his family though. My case has been closed and with that ends any connection to the rest of the story. I’ve done an Internet search with the sketchy details I had been given. The FBI won’t provide me anything further.
I don’t know specifically what tribe the rapist was from. I have no idea what tribe my son –who was conceived when I was raped — has blood ties to. I still wonder if I may be able to find out one day. I think it’s information my son will probably want to have.
I also don’t know the real name of my attacker — only the alias he was using at the time. I don’t know the identities of the other victims. I won’t know how many women there were in total, or if cold cases will be solved. I also won’t ever know if this man’s death helps to bring any peace to the families of the two women slain. I won’t know the end to everyone’s story. I only know the end to this chapter of mine.
As far as that goes? Hearing that he was gone, I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding — and three years is a long time to hold your breath. I felt such a weight lift from my chest that I thought I might float away. The relief was dizzying. It still is.
I’m safe. My son is safe. I’ll never have to face my worst nightmare in court or recount, in excruciating detail, everything he did . . . things I’ve learned from my doctors, things I’ve tried so hard to forget.
Equally as important — and this is going to be hard for some people to understand — somehow with him gone and no longer a threat, he becomes someone I can begin to forgive, someone I have to forgive. When he was at large, still tearing apart lives, I justified holding onto anger, and even hatred. That hurts me though. It damages my spirit. I believe God tells us to forgive for several reasons — one being the freedom it gives us. And I want to be set free. So I’m letting that happen. For me. For my family. For my God. I’m letting it happen.
Forgiveness isn’t a “once and done” thing — rarely, if ever. I imagine this is going to be something I’ll need to actively forgive, repeatedly, daily, probably several times a day, for the rest of my life. That’s okay. There is much to be learned in the process.
I guess I’m choosing a path of forgiveness. That’s the only thing that makes my story one of “choice” though. It’s a story about my son — about his life, which is a life he never asked for.
You might wonder, now knowing the depth and breadth of the man’s evil, how it changes the way I feel about my little boy. It doesn’t. My son was never a “rapist’s baby” or a “product of rape.” He’s my child. He’s my husband’s child.. He’s a child of God.
Why should he bear the anger and vitriol intended for his biological “father”? And to the point of death? We hold ourselves up as a great civilized society yet tear apart our most vulnerable and innocent when they’re inconvenient or evoke bad memories.
Some people read my story and want to hold me up as an example of a good person. It’s a kind thought, but I’m not a good person because I kept my baby. I’ve been called amazing…Amazing? Think about that for a moment. I take into consideration the writer’s heart when commenting and I’m blessed by every encouraging word, but I ask you to think about that one. I’m an “amazing woman” because I love my son?! How offended would you be if I applauded you for loving your child? I don’t see my baby any differently than you see yours.
I’m a deeply flawed human being, not too different from most. I became pregnant. I had a child. That’s really all there is to it.
I recently read a comment under one of my articles which simply asked “Why is this a story?” Exactly — it shouldn’t be! In a better world, it wouldn’t be. I’ll keep telling my story until it isn’t.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at Save the 1, and is reprinted here with permission. Jennifer Christie is a wife, mother of 5, pro-life blogger and pro-life speaker for Save the 1.
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