Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

Surviving Rape - Part Two

A mother’s journey to helping her daughter cope with being raped

Meet Mary a prominent and successful business owner and entrepreneur, now in the retirement phase of her life, looks back on a time when motherhood had to become a means of survival and protection for her daughter, Regan. In the last blog you met a remarkable woman who overcame a horrific rape experience and now reaches out to not only victims, but also to inmates who have been convicted of the very thing that marks her past. Amazing woman. Now meet her equally amazing mother, Mary. In this blog we'll walk through Mary's journey of helping her daughter and how she too had to find healing through the process, from a mother's eyes.

Mary, please share with the readers about when you first found out your daughter was raped?

I sat up in bed and grabbed the telephone at 6:23 a.m. and said, "I'm here." Regan was on the other end of the line absolutely hysterical, "Mom, somebody broke into our apartment, put a knife to my throat and raped me and my roommate!" I asked if she called the police. "He told us he'd come back and kill us if we did!" She then told me she had pounded on the neighbor’s door and called the police from there. I said, "I'm getting in the car and coming right now unless you need me to stay on the phone with you."

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Explain the emotions, thoughts, and feelings that were going on inside of you.

I needed to get to her as soon as possible and I had to drive very safely because if something happened to me, I didn't think she would be able to take anymore. I called my store and told them I would not be in. I called my son on the way to tell him. He took off immediately too.

Driving took forever, although Regan was only two hours away. I didn’t know what to expect or how to deal with it. Celine Dion's song “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic kept playing on the radio and I focused on it the entire drive. It still stops me in my tracks. I knew if things had gone differently I would be going to identify her body.

I had no point of reference for this situation. At the hospital I was with Regan as she was questioned and examined for the rape kit. I told her softly, "It's OK, I'm here." I was absolutely clueless and had no idea what to do! I held her hand and stroked her hair like when she was a child. Her Dad had been doing the same when I got there. I took his spot. Regan wanted me to stay with her for the exam.

She said, "You told me no matter what happens I always have a choice. I chose to do whatever I needed to do to stay alive." I was proud of how she had kept herself, her roommate and the rapist calm… also that she held on to something I had once said. We used a lot of very dark, irreverent humor during this entire process. We silently agreed it was better to laugh than to cry. I heard detail by gruesome detail and willed myself to stay steady. I didn't have the luxury of falling apart. I couldn't fix this like I could when she was little and got hurt.

Regan mentioned the rapist was killed in another attack. Did knowing of his demise bring you any relief?

Yes. It was over. Before he was killed she would see men who might be him and tried to rule them out. She lived in constant fear he was coming back to kill not only her but all those close to her. She couldn't sleep when it was dark. He was a serial rapist and attacked repeatedly which always set her back.

We started the healing process all over again. It was like picking a scab, leaving a rougher, larger scar each time.

We would not have to go through the court process. She didn't have to prove anything. She didn't have to be examined under legal scrutiny. We didn't have to worry what my son might do with the anger he had for that man. The attacker would never be able to hurt anyone again, ever.

My anger came out only when I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was dead.  Eleven months after her rape definitive results from DNA proved he was the perpetrator I swore, ranted and raged like a crazed woman while standing in line reading the newspaper headline with his photo. People backed away from me as venom poured from me.

I can only imagine, with being a mother and having that protective instinct kicking in, how did you help your daughter through the process and yet also attend to your own needs?

I had no knowledge on the subject of rape. I stopped at Barnes and Noble on the way home to research. I looked in the self- help section, nothing was there. I was referred to the “true crime section.” That hit me hard. I bought a stack of books and started reading that night to understand what type of person does this, why they did it and why to her? We found out much later it really didn’t have much to do with her, it was opportunity.

A psychologist friend gave me "Quest for Respect: A Healing Guide for Survivors of Rape" by Linda Braswell. She let me know it was OK to not be angry because I couldn't be mad and concentrate on helping Regan heal at the same time. That was a relief to me. I felt I should be mad and something was wrong with me if I wasn't. I thought I must be a bad mother.

I read and highlighted the Quest book then mailed it to Regan. I got duplicate copies of books and we would talk on the phone and discuss them. She remained at the college the entire time. She never quit college or came home. Regan went to her first Rape Crisis Support Group and called me and exclaimed, “Mom I’m so lucky!” She was, compared to many other women who had been physically and violently harmed or sexually abused by those they trusted who were supposed to love and protect them.

We talked a lot. I always answered the phone no matter what time of day or night. Now when she calls me at odd times she starts with "I'm OK". I still have the apprehension since that morning. She would call in the middle of the night and I would "talk the sun up" because she was afraid of footsteps outside her door. I was always afraid it was real and I would hear her getting killed on the other end of the phone. Around 4:30am the birds would chirp and the sun would start to rise. She was safe again until the next night.

She wanted a gun to protect herself so we went to a shooting range together. I blew away the target. I pictured HIM! Whatever would help her feel in control I was willing to do, I told her to hang the riddled target outside her door to scare anyone off and we laughed about that. She never got a gun, but we talked of the pros and cons and the responsibilities of having one.

Women friends got me through. I learned who I could talk to and who I couldn't. Men were not as helpful; I think they were uncomfortable and took a macho approach. My mother had a head in the sand response at first but eventually came around. In my conversations many women told me they had been raped or escaped situations where they could have been. A man on the airplane shared his wife’s story and we each got a better understanding of repercussions. Rape is much more common than we think… about 1 in 4 women.

How long did it take for you to begin the healing process? 

We started to heal immediately. I don't believe it is something people (yes, men too) ever get over. The calendar date is remembered. There is a "before" and an "after". There are smells, sights, and feelings that are never forgotten. It is all consuming at first, and then, if faced directly, it hopefully becomes something that happened and is woven into the fabric of the person you become. If not, there can be shame and hiding a secret for a lifetime.

She would share dreams of what she would do if she found him. The main theme was always why. Why her and why did he break into her apartment and rape her? Could she have stopped him? (Most likely not.)

She joined a Rape Crises Support Group. It was a lifesaver. She moved out of her apartment and never spent another night in it. Regan moved into a fraternity house because it was the only place she felt safe. They looked out for her. Feeling safe was the top priority and if the fraternity house gave her security then so be it. She knew it happened once and it could, or rather, would happen again. She looked for ways to get out of herself by volunteering. She focused on causes unrelated to rape and being a victim at first, but later she got very involved in sexual assault issues on a state level.

The Rapist struck again in the community and she lost ground. She had studied for finals, but was petrified and couldn't sleep and was too exhausted to take her exams. I told her to give me all of her professor’s names and phone numbers. I called them all and explained the situation. They had no idea that she was the college student on the news. They gave her incompletes to make up... Later I wrote letters to have some of the incompletes dropped. Some professors were wonderful, all were stunned. She came home on break; it was where she felt safe. She never quit school and graduated in 4 years.

There were triggers. A block with butcher knives made her freeze. Sliding glass doors had to be avoided. Noises at night would have her hiding in the closet, phone and hairspray for defense in her hands.

She spoke at Take Back the Night at a university. I had a copy of her speech to take over if she couldn't speak. She choked up. I couldn't help because I was quietly sobbing. The crowd waited in complete silence for her to continue. She said “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, well second hardest…” and the crowd laughed and the tension was broken. Her dad was there. It was the first time he really listened to what happened. I handed him my copy of the speech.

She kept moving forward. I mostly listened and showed up when she needed me, even if it was by phone. I was in it for the long haul.

What were some helpful things you encountered in your healing journey?

Facing things head on and dealing with them.

Having police officers who were compassionate and showed Regan respect.

Talking to Regan openly in person and just hearing her on the other end of the phone.

Having a weird sense of humor that could clear the air and let us laugh.

Studying books on the subject and talking to other people who had been through it.

Having my friends and family members who rallied around me.

Listening without judging or trying to solve things, it wasn’t mine to fix. It just needed to be there.

Watching Regan talk publicly without shame, guilt or drama while gaining strength and confidence. Seeing her worst pain become her strongest purpose.

Learning beyond the personal to understanding the perpetrators and causes of sexual assault and abuse.

Finally… forgiveness and letting life go on.

What were some unhelpful ones?

Comments like, "Isn't she over that yet?" "It wouldn't ever happen to me. I keep my door locked." "I wouldn't tell anyone what happened. What will people think?"

People close to the situation that ignored “the elephant in the room.”

Where are you at now in your life?

A place where I can usually seek to understand before I judge and try to make people’s lives better for knowing me... A woman who uses her experiences to help others figure out their path.

When Regan and her roommate were raped at knifepoint and thought they were going to be killed it was 100% of her identity. Now it is only a small part of who she is. She is not only a victim; she is a survivor and at times a thriver. We are out the other side and beyond the fear and pain. I don’t worry about what she can handle. I can let the phone go to voicemail now.

Often in life the worst hurt transforms into your largest passion. If Regan did not have the experience she had she would not be the person she is. They are woven into her being and into mine by proximity. She as a victim and I as a secondary victim could have chosen to stay victims and be forever afraid and full of hate that would eat us to our souls. But we didn't. We read and found support and became support for others. She educated and spoke in radio spots and on TV and at gatherings.

A few years ago a friend from Regan's Rape Crisis Support asked her to go to a program at Harnett County prison in NC called SOAR. They would be speaking to convicted sexual offenders including rapists explaining what it was like bring a victim of rape. My first reaction was, "Are you out of your ever-loving mind? What are you thinking?" “But if you think it will help then go and tell me what you learn.”

Regan went and there was a definite change about her. These men are in a strenuous program to help them understand what they did and why. The goal is "No More Victims.” She read letters they wrote to her of the effect meeting face-to-face with a victim of sexual assault, a crime they admitted to and were convicted of, had on them. It was profound. It was often the first time they had considered the pain and fear they had put their victims through. She got the answers she could never get from her attacker.

She asked me to go to the program with her. Then I thought I had lost my senses because I went! I had no idea how I would react. We went through security scans and walked through the razor wire covered gates to a room with convicted sexual offender inmates and the SOAR Staff.

Regan told her story and I got to listen to it again. Then I told what it was like seeing my child going through something that tore her sense of safety and dignity from her. We carried on a conversation with them and asked them pointed questions. The two of us were facing down 30 or 40 of them, no bars, just opposite sides of a room. I broke down a few times and had to stop. Anger came in my voice, and memories flooded my mind. You could have heard a pin drop. We had an open dialog and answers.

Regan told them to forgive themselves, move forward and never have another victim. They felt empathy for her and related to me as a mother… they all had had mothers. I told them I would rather be sitting on this side of the room with my daughter than sitting on that side of the room with my son. The men in the room had tears running down their faces. They had regret for what they had done. Regan had come full circle by forgiving the one who had hurt her. She was now at the position to affect change so sexual assault would not be perpetuated.

We understood that the way children are treated has repercussions on how they treat others. Many of these men had been abused and took that anger and power out on women in their lives. Victims can cause more victims, repeating the cycle. You have to have empathy to understand someone else and not hurt them. That had been missing.

It is grueling to go through the process of reliving her rape at the prison. The emotions of these men, of Regan and me run the spectrum from anger and sorrow to tears and laughter. Answering these questions is difficult because memory is a strange thing. It isn't always accurate, but it revives powerful emotions.

I feel Regan is very strong and an exception of a sexual assault victim. She never backed down!

How has this experience impacted your relationship with your daughter?

We have always been close. She listened and asked for advice more when she went to college, little things like how to hard boil eggs. Even when I didn’t think she listened to me she did. We had always been honest with each other. We didn’t have secrets or barriers between us. She made her own decisions and took credit or responsibility for them.

Regan has always been independent and was tenacious when she decided to do something. She is resilient, a problem solver, resourceful and funny. To see her spirit broken with fear scared me. I didn’t know if I would have the wisdom and knowledge to get through this.

Yes, other mothers and daughters get mani’s and pedi’s and go to lunch and shopping. We went to the shooting range and the prison. We have heard each other speak of her rape in front of convicted sexual offenders and strangers and talked very bluntly of its impact and effect on both of us. We have been through a serious event where other mothers and daughters have not tread, so there is a deeper connection because of it.

We have a strange sense of humour that probably connects us more than anything. I think we laugh instead of argue. I’m her mom and she is a grown woman not a child. We know we can count on each other and can deal with life-threatening and life-changing situations. There is power in that knowledge.

If you could share something with the mother of a rape victim what would it be?

Let them know you love them, believe them and it wasn’t their fault. No means no.

Stay as calm as possible, be a person your child can feel safe with and start to gain control. It isn’t going to go away; it has to be worked through. Support them. Be there, listen and don’t minimalize the situation - understand all the facts.

Learn as much as you can about the subject of sexual assault, get help at a Rape Crisis Center or somewhere with accurate and true information. Read “Quest for Respect” and give it to your child.

Be open to where the journey will lead because people will react and heal in different ways.

Don’t let fear, hate and anger get in the way of getting through this and coming out the other side wiser and stronger.

Where Victims Can Go For Help:

It is often difficult for victims of rape to reach out for help. If you or someone you know are a victim of rape or sexual assault please get help.  There are numerous resources that victims can turn to. Online resources can provide victims with access to information 24/7. Here are some helpful online resources for victims of rape:

  1. www.rainn.org - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. RAINN offers a 24/7 toll free hotline number, online chat with a trained volunteer, information on rape crisis centers across the country, statistics, information on how to get help, resources and volunteer opportunities. Again, this is a fantastic website that has helped thousands of victims.
  2. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/help/progdir.htm - This direct link is specifically in regards to the Victims' Crime Compensation Fund. This fund is provided to victims of violent crime. Victims can be reimbursed for hospital stays, sexual assault kit, medications, loss of property, relocation expenses & much more. Victims should log on to this website to find out what they need to do to file for this fund.
  3. www.ncvc.org - Victim assistance, civil litigation, public policy, stalking resource center, etc. This is another good resource that not only helps victims, but can also assist victim advocates and rape centers with trainings and conferences.
  4. www.ncadv.org - National Coalition against Domestic Violence. 24 hour hotline. Resources on safety planning and how to obtain help.
  5. http://www.jfcadvocacy.org - Justice for Children. Resources regarding legal assistance can be found on this site. Justice for Children deals with the topic of abuse of children.
  6. www.1in6.org - A website dedicated to men that have been victims of rape. 
  7. http://www.hopeforhealing.org/hotlines - Where abuse and rape survivors find information          and hope.
  8. http://www.rainn.org/get-help/sexual-assault-and-rape-internation... - International Sexual Assault Resources - Rape crisis centers outside of the United States

Book Referenced:

Braswell, L. (1992). The quest for respect: A healing guide for survivors of rape.Ventura, CA, US: Pathfinder Publishing of California.


Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.


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