My Rapist Apologized

The Kavanaugh allegations led me to reach out to the man who had assaulted me decades before.

A river view from Potomac, Maryland
A river view from Potomac, Maryland (Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post / Getty)

On Friday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted that he has “no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.”

Let me tell you what life was like as a girl in Montgomery County, Maryland, in the early 1980s. I am a year older than Christine Blasey Ford and a year younger than Brett Kavanaugh. I grew up in Potomac, Maryland, a few miles from both Holton Arms, Ford’s school, and Georgetown Prep, which Kavanaugh attended, but I went to my local public high school, Churchill. Never mind that any girl who was in high school in Potomac during that era knew, through the whisper network, not to go to a Georgetown Prep party alone. That was a given. What was also a given is that “date rape,” as a term, was in its infancy. Most of us thought getting our bodies groped at a high-school party—or anywhere—was the unfortunate price we paid for having them, not something we would ever go to the police to report.

Even in junior high school, this was true. I have a vivid memory of my friend Marcia having her skirt ripped off her body in the middle of a bar mitzvah dance floor. It had snaps down the middle. I actually heard one boy say, as she was weeping in a corner, trying to refasten her skirt, “I mean, duh. If you’re going to wear snaps on your skirt, what do you think will happen?” I made a mental note: Never wear snaps to a dance party.

Luckily, I survived high school without getting more than ickily groped now and then, but my luck ran out in college. I fell victim to a number of random assaults by strangers, including two robberies at gunpoint, all of which then became fodder for my senior thesis, but I wasn’t actually date raped until the night before my graduation, in June of 1988. Or maybe it was May. I don’t actually remember which month I graduated from college, because it was so long ago, but that does not negate what I do remember—both the rape itself, and what happened in its aftermath. I woke up, put on my cap and gown, and fetched my diploma to the notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” in front of my unsuspecting parents, just like everyone else in my class. Afterward, I posed for photos with my parents and smiled. Then, between our photo session and lunch, I excused myself to take care of what I said was an administrative issue and went straight to University Health Services to report the rape.

I was told by the intake psychologist that I had two choices: I could report the rape to the police; stay in the Boston area for several months, to deal with the trial; hire lawyers to help me through it with money I did not have; and put off beginning my life in Paris, where I’d planned to move for work, while awaiting my turn on the witness stand, where my prior sex life would be put on trial, more than the boy who raped me. Or I could stay silent.

At lunch that day, did I tell my loving parents that I’d been raped the night before? Of course not. That boy had already stolen a valuable piece of my soul. I was not going to allow him to steal my graduation day from us, too. I’d worked hard to reach that day. So had my parents. This was our day, not his.

In fact, I never actually told my parents to their faces. Instead, 13 years after the rape in question, I sent them the manuscript for my first memoir, in which I described the rape, for the first time, in detail, making sure to put an ocean between us while they read. I didn’t want to see the pained expression on my dad’s face or hear my mother crying until they’d had enough time to process it. Several notable critics of the book, after it was published, took it upon themselves either to blame me for my assaults or to ask if I was worried I’d get called a slut.

The fact that Ford did not call the police or tell her loving parents after she escaped this young man’s scary clutches has no bearing on the truth of her story. Plus, let’s keep in mind: She was 15 years old. She couldn’t even drive herself home. That’s one of the images that haunts me—young Chrissy Blasey walking out of that house and facing the rest of her post-traumatic life, on foot.

But there has been an upside to the Kavanaugh circus and Trump’s presidency. For one, it has galvanized women and the men who love us. For another, like so many rape survivors in this country living through this particular moment in history, having to relive our assaults daily—even hourly—with every new allegation of rape, I have been so brought to my knees by this latest allegation that I, too, was inspired to speak out.

Directly. To my rapist.

I wrote him a letter, 30 years after the night in question, reminding him of what he’d done and how hard it has been to overcome.

And do you know what this man did, less than half an hour later? He called me on the phone and said, “Oh, Deb. Oh my god. I’m so sorry. I had no idea. I’m filled with shame.”

We spoke for a long time, maybe 20 minutes. He had no recollection of raping me, just of the party where we’d met. He’d blacked out that night from excessive drinking and soon thereafter entered Alcoholics Anonymous. But that, he said, was no excuse. The fact that he’d done this to me and that I’d been living with the resulting trauma for 30 years was horrifying to him. He was so sorry, he said. He just kept repeating those words, “I’m so sorry,” over and over.

Suddenly, 30 years of pain and grief fell out of me. I cried. And I cried. And I kept crying for the next several hours, as I prepared for Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday of forgiveness. And then, suddenly, I was cleansed. Reborn. The trauma was gone. All because of a belated apology.

My rapist promised to pay it forward, this horrible thing he’d just learned about himself. I have no doubt, judging by the admirable life he’s led, he will. And I will keep my promise to him never to reveal his name.

But you know what? If he were being confirmed for the Supreme Court; if his decision over what would happen to my daughter’s body, should she become inadvertently pregnant, would tip the scales away from Roe; if one of the key aspects of his job as a judge would be to show and to have shown good judgment over the course of his life, you better believe that I, like Ford, would come forward and tell the committee. Even if it meant going into hiding, as she’s had to do. Even if it meant getting death threats, as she’s received.

The life of my daughter is at stake. Her bodily autonomy is at stake. As a mother who grew up being groped at house parties in the ’80s, I want to make sure that whoever is passing judgment on the next generation has, at the very least, judgment to pass.