Forgiving my rapist, on restorative justice at Tulane



Content Warning: Please be advised that this article contains content related to sexual assault and rape.

It was a Thursday night. I was not planning on going out at all, rather, I had assignments to catch up on and was coming down with a cold. But convinced by my friends, I went out. We started out at a pregame in Wall, drunkenly danced through the dorm hallways and into the courtyard. Our mission was a fun night at the Boot and while we intended to return home together, late into the night, all my friends would have made it back and I would be naked behind a backyard shed of a random Uptown house.

In the second semester of my freshman year, I was raped by the first friend I ever made at Tulane. Let’s call him Henry. We met after sitting next to each other during orientation. From then on, we would run into each other on weekend nights out, slip away behind some large oak trees or towering frat houses’ fences or white backyard sheds, steal a kiss, passionately making out until our friends beckoned us back to them. It became a playful routine we could rely on when serendipitously finding each other while partying.

Except this one Thursday night was completely different. Henry was drunker than I had ever seen him. And the drunker he was, the more flirtatious and persistent he was, too. I found him outside The Boot early in the night. He grabbed me by the hand. We darted through backyards of houses around campus, running around excitedly, like kids on a playground, and, in the moment, I found it all incredibly romantic. 

But the mood shifted dramatically as soon as he took me behind a shed of an Uptown house. I will never forget the chipped white paint peeling down its back wall, revealing the dark wooden underbelly that was never meant to be seen at all. A virgin, I lost many things behind the shed that night. 

I know myself to be a strong and resilient person, and so, when I fought back, I thought I could defeat him. With each punch I threw at him, I believed I could knock him out of his drunkenness, restore him to the kind and charming person I had known for months. Instead, Henry threw fists back at me. I was paralyzed as blood spilled down from my nose and leaked into the inside of my cheeks. 

I rushed back to my dorm as quickly as I could. A few close friends held me as I cried myself to sleep that night. And within the next week, I was sitting quietly in front of a CAPS counselor after several concerns reports had been filed about me. 

The air sat still in the room. I was completely speechless. I desperately wanted to leave, but by the powers of university policy, I was commanded to listen as the CAPS counselor talked through the different courses of action I could take. I left that chilling room as soon she had finished, not having said a word about what happened to me. 

When I returned to my friends, they consistently checked in on me, making it a point to tell me that Henry was the scum of the earth. They would sit around and antagonize him, hurling the dirtiest and cruelest insults. People would speak about him as if he wasn’t human. As the days passed by, I, too, struggled to humanize him. Everyone around me pushed for me to report him, initiate a conduct process and have him expelled from the university for justice.

This bore down heavily on my conscience. I grappled with the burden of ruining someone’s entire future. From one end, I understood actions to have consequences. I told myself that no one made Henry rape me but him. Why should I ever look to humanize someone who could commit such an animalistic act?

But I also sat deeply with empathetic thoughts. In every memory that I saw him pushing me against that shed, I also saw him two weeks prior when he was telling me about his passions and goals. I couldn’t help but recall the night he whispered Kanye West lyrics into my ears as he softly kissed my cheeks. 

I failed to find any answers to why he did it. Was he inherently an evil person? I questioned if this was some dark wooden underbelly to him that was never meant to be seen at all. And by reporting him to the university, what would become of this dark interior? Would it just be covered with a layer of white paint, a layer which would only chip and peel away in months’ time?

Something was stolen from me, that much I knew, but every single day, I wrestled with how I would take that back for me. I began to see Henry around campus, and it was obvious he had no idea what had happened. I shrunk down to a shell of myself in his presence. I knew I was losing part of myself every time that I saw him. 

It wasn’t until two Fridays ago when I went to a “Fridays at Newcomb” talk on restorative justice that I realized what I needed out of my rapist. David Karp lectured about a mechanism of justice which enabled the victim to come to the consensus of their own justice. Hearing this, I immediately understood the racial implications of victims choosing their offenders’ punishments. However, I was drawn to what this could have meant for me and Henry.

I needed to sit down with Henry and a mediator. If I could have done that, I would have told him everything he had stolen from me behind the shed that night. I wanted him to watch me cry. The same way that he froze 40 minutes of my Thursday night and forever etched into my brain a theft of my security was the same way I wanted to freeze 40 minutes of his time and forever etch into his brain the impact his rape had on me. I wanted him to apologize to every single one of my friends who held me while I cried that night. I wanted him to listen as each of them told him I was never the same after being raped by him. 

And after all that, I wanted him to get better. I wanted a future where he would be able to achieve all the passions and goals he had told me about. I wanted him to be able to change his life to become the person of his dreams. Ultimately, I wanted to forgive him, and, ultimately, I did. 

Late into my sophomore year, I found out that Henry had been expelled after being connected to a series of sexual assaults at Tulane. I think about him now: if he goes day to day living with this dark, evil interior, painted over with a white layer of systematic punishment. When he grows up, will that paint just chip away, revealing again the evil that hurt so many people?

And then I wonder, what would restorative justice at Tulane have looked like? Instead of covering up Henry’s wooden underbelly with expulsion and punishment, would there have been a way for me, the victim, to paint him with my own brush, my own color? 

Maybe there would have been a way for me to build a whole new shed of a man, one that knew its weaknesses, built itself up from them and used each day to stop others from becoming the vile man he once was. The justice that I needed began with restoring my power and, on the condition of my rapist’s improvement to society, ended with a forgiveness of an evil to which he would never return. 

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