In the wake of publishing this story in the Atlantic, about how I reached out to the man who raped me on the night before my graduation from college and received an immediate apology, I’ve been inundated with requests from women (and men!) asking if they could read the letter, to use as a template for their own. I want to be extremely cautious about paying heed to my promise to this man to protect his anonymity—he did not ask for anonymity, I offered it—so I went through the letter sentence by sentence and redacted out all names, places, and other identifiers. But if it helps you (or someone else) in your own quest for restorative justice, feel free to steal any words you’d like.
September 18, 2018
You may not remember me from college. We didn't even meet until the night before graduation. But I have never been able to forget that night or you. The memory, over these past 30 years, comes and goes, but it always pays a visit whenever I hear or read stories of sexual assault between acquaintances. As you can imagine, that's pretty much all the time these days, and this latest Kavanaugh hearing is no exception. In fact, it's been the straw that finally broke this aging camel's back. I realized I could not go on with my life until I finally wrote this letter. I'm shaking, even as I type it.
You were extremely drunk that night, so part of me wonders if you have any idea what I'm even talking about, but overcoming the trauma of that night has been the hardest and most painful work of my adult life. Also its leitmotif. Let me state it as simply as possible, for clarity's sake: you forced yourself on me and pushed yourself into me as I kept saying no.
I have never spoken your name publicly, and I never will. I spoke privately to one of my college roommates, [redacted], and to my friend, [redacted], the next morning, after the assault. I didn't even tell the psychologist at Harvard University Health services when I visited her the next day, between graduation and lunch with my family. [redacted] I just needed to speak with someone to ease the pain of it. To talk it through. To figure out what my rights were. To make a plan. What was I supposed to do, I asked, with this act of violation?
I've asked myself that same question nearly every day since.
The point of this letter is not to frighten you or hurt you or shame you or threaten you with exposure, but rather it is, selfishly, the obvious next step in my own battle to heal. If [redacted] holds any accuracy, you have lead a noble life, and I admire what you've done with it. You have [redacted], you have served your country [redacted] honorably, you have married a smart woman, you [redacted], and I'm assuming you've been a good father to your kids as well, should you have them. There's no way on earth I'd want to hurt any of your loved ones, and you have my solemn promise I never will. [redacted.]
I saw you one time after the assault, ironically at a pro-choice march [redacted] maybe a year or so later. I was living in Paris at the time but had been sent by my photo agency back to the States to cover it. You were [redacted], handing out pro-choice leaflets [redacted.] You saw me and gave me a warm hug hello. We spoke briefly about our work. I was so flummoxed, I mumbled something about having to get back to shooting the march and sank back into the crowd, shaking.
A few years ago, as an exercise, I tried to get into your head that night. I might have mangled it. I might have gotten some of it right. But the idea of this intellectual exercise, which I later published in The Nation, was to see the world from your perspective. To try to have empathy.
I don't hate you. I really don't. I don't hate anyone in general, but I want you to know I don't hate you specifically either. I don't even know what I want from you, in writing this letter, other than to relieve myself of this 30-year burden and to let you know that this thing has haunted me ever since. I recently saw this video, and I found it hopeful, the idea of a perpetrator and his victim finding a place of forgiveness, publicly, together. Perhaps we can privately find ours. Or not. It's up to you, and I will respect whatever choice you make.
Tonight is the beginning of Yom Kippur, so I feel particularly bad sending this email today, of all days, as I imagine receiving this letter might be painful for you, and I'm sorry about that. But I just read Brett Kavanaugh's yearbook entry, which someone published online, and it once again triggered all the hurt from that night long ago, and as I sat frozen in front of a blank page that needs to be filled by the end of today for my work, I realized that if I didn't finally write and send this, I would never move forward or forgive myself. In fact, I nearly died last summer, after complications from a trachelectomy, and one of my thoughts as I was bleeding out and drifting into oblivion, my daughter weeping at my bedside, was my cowardice at not speaking up and lack of closure about that night. Will this email provide it? Maybe. Maybe not. But I hope it will at least provide a few stitches of mending.