When my sister was twenty six, she was attacked by a man with a knife. She escaped by her own determined efforts without physical harm, but the attack changed her future, and set it on a course marred by years of suppressed post-incident trauma. To all intents and purposes, she carried on with life, but a vital part of her got stolen that night. Meanwhile, her attacker went on with his life. Although my sister saw his face, the trauma erased it from her mind, so he avoided arrest. Phew, lucky escape there for him – now he was free to move onto the next thing, and put what he did behind him. To paraphrase the infamous words by Brock Turner’s father at his son’s trial for rape in the USA, why should he let a few minutes of action ruin his life?
J was (and is) a strong woman, and at twenty six was managing the largest cut-price bottle store in Christchurch at the time, with several staff under her. She marched to her own tune, was a risk taker, had her own style, and the words ‘meek’ and ‘compliant’ were used at no time ever to describe her. All during her younger life, she butted heads and locked horns with parental and school authority figures, as they sought to mould her into what a girl should be. Eventually, she spun off on her own trajectory, which, for a while, was wild and directionless. Then, she took charge of herself, and worked her way up into a managerial position. It was hard won, she was good at it, and she had a future.
On the night of the attack, J had been working until 10pm, so arrived later at the Saturday night party we were all at. She even made the decision to take taxis that night, because she knew she was going to be drinking – something we weren’t always very responsible about back then. The party was in a factory down a driveway in an industrial area, but was well lit. Typically, there was a mixture of the usual crowd there, as well as some unknowns. Music, drink, weed, and dancing were well underway by the time J arrived, and she wasted no time getting into it, although she paced herself because she was working the next day. Even though she clocked a guy checking her out – a guy she’d seen hanging around the fringes from time to time at other parties – she wasn’t interested, and like she’d often done, danced on her own in her own world in her own way.
In the early hours of the morning, the party thinned out, and J phoned a taxi from the office in the factory to take her home. She walked down to the end of the rough driveway in her high heels carrying the bag that she had her work clothes in, having brought party clothes to change into, and sat on a low fence to wait for her taxi. She hadn’t been there long before she heard a sound that made her turn around, and she saw a guy walking up behind her. Afterwards, although she could never recall his face, J believed he was someone she knew, because she wasn’t concerned and spoke to him. She asked him if he was leaving the party as well, and invited him to share her taxi, if he wanted, and then turned back to face the road. A split second later, she comprehended that this guy was carrying his shoes in his hand, and for a crazy moment thought that he might have been carrying them because the driveway was rough, and he didn’t want to ruin them. Immediately, J realised that that was ridiculous, the alarm bells went off, and she turned around again as he threw a jacket over her head, and put a knife to her throat.
Because she had twisted around at the last second as the jacket was being thrown over her, it didn’t completely cover her head, and she could still see out of one eye. He made her stand up, and told her to head across the road towards some bushes which lined the paddocks there. For the next few minutes her mind went crystal clear. She felt sure that this was an opportunistic attack, and not planned. As they began crossing the road, J knew with absolute certainty that there was no way she was going into those bushes. This guy had a knife, he was nervous, he knew she had seen him, he was going to rape her – and then what? Would he just run away, and let her go back to get her taxi home? These thoughts were going through her mind as though she was observing them from outside of herself. She took advantage of his nervousness, and pretended to stumble off her high heels. He momentarily loosened the pressure on the knife against her throat and J lurched back, swinging her carry bag at him at the same time. She then flung herself into a backwards roll on the road, onto her feet, planted her heels and bolted back to the party – leaving one high heel embedded in the road, and the other in the driveway.
Only after bursting back into the safe remnants of the party, did she allow herself to lose it. The police were called, but without a positive identification, they couldn’t do anything. They took her statement, gave her sympathy, and then took her home to her flat. Back then, there was no counselling, no follow ups. We all thought she was okay, too, after all, J was a strong woman. Nobody knew about the lingering effects that survivors live with. Nobody knew about the crazy thoughts that plague them – thoughts about deserving what happened. Nobody knew how J had to drink herself to sleep for months afterwards, otherwise she couldn’t shut her eyes and be alone in the dark. Nobody, not even J, really understood how it much it insidiously eroded her confidence in life, and dimmed the light of her future. After all, she got away before anything really bad happened, didn’t she?
Except, she didn’t. Random, senseless, violent attacks don’t just move on after they’re over. The effects stick around and continue eating away at us, often silently and outwardly unobserved. Perpetrators move on, but the consequences of their actions don’t. They erode our best possible futures, prevent full contributions to society (an economic, as well as a personal waste), and also impact on the lives of those close to the victim. There’s no such thing as “just a few minutes of action”.
Many years later, J can see the long, complex, and detrimental effect that attack had on how she lived her life afterwards. Her greatest survivor’s tool at the time was in knowing that she beat the bastard – but he still stole what she could have been. She has no idea of what became of the man she believes attacked her, but knows that if he crosses her path again, and she finally recognises him, he should know that she has a score to settle.