Letters: ‘At the Time, I Told No One.’

Readers respond to Deborah Copaken’s story of her own rape in 1988, and her choice to confront the assailant in light of the Kavanaugh allegations.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

My Rapist Apologized

The Kavanaugh allegations led Deborah Copaken to confront the man who assaulted her years ago. After he apologized, she wrote, “30 years of pain and grief fell out of me.”

Kudos to Ms. Copaken for her insightful article, and for having the courage to provide an opportunity both for her catharsis and for her rapist’s personal redemption. He may not have remembered his 30-year-old actions, but by approaching him without anger and recrimination, she allowed for simultaneous forgiveness and contrition.

She is also correct in asserting that a potential Supreme Court justice must be held to a higher standard, and not simply get a pass for a preppie’s “youthful indiscretion.”

Ed Christy
Albuquerque, N.M.

My two roommates in college told me their stories of rape. I escaped rape once when, while walking down the road, a man placed a knife to my throat. I cleverly talked my way out of it, and the clincher was that I had a camera over my shoulder and told him I had already taken his photo. Now imagine this: He was wearing red shorts and had a black ski mask over his head, that’s all, and was next to a busy inner-city street holding me, behind my back, and a knife blade to my neck. The handle was broken off of it. No one stopped, or honked their horn, on that sun-filled day. Yet somehow when I told him I had taken his photo, he let me go and I walked away fast ... only to think I had a camera and quickly opened it up and swung around to take a photo of his back. I did turn that in to the police a few days later, but filed no papers, as there was no name, etc. I just gave them a copy of his photo (they knew him) and I was free to go. I walked home, which was only a few blocks away, then I threw up and passed out, shaking so hard in terror. I was afraid for months until I moved, not only for me but for everyone I lived with at the time.

As Deborah so clearly put it: “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.” The physical abuse not only causes pain and trauma; it affects our soul.

If Kavanaugh did do the abuse but denies it, then he is not fit for the office. If he admits he did it and apologizes, he is. If he did not do the abuse, then perhaps he is qualified. We need people in office who can be vulnerable and honest, be a human who can admit to former experiences but not be limited by them.

We have a culture that is lopsided, and that is why women are now speaking up. We do not wish for our children to be abused like we were.

Carolyn Thompson
Austin, Texas

When I was 19, I went to visit my boyfriend for his birthday weekend. I flew from my college in New England to his, in the Midwest. Although I was glad to see him, it had been several months since we had been together, and I did not want to have intercourse.

After he pinned me to the floor of his room and raped me, I grabbed my things and fled. Luckily, I knew a girl on campus. I knocked on her door in the middle of the night sobbing. I could barely speak and just told her we had had an argument.

The next day, my boyfriend called. I was still crying and told him I was flying home early. He offered to drive me to the airport. Since I knew no one else with a car on this campus, I accepted. On the way to the airport, he asked why I was so upset. I looked at him. “Because you raped me.”

“It happens all the time,” he replied.

“So does getting hit by a truck. That doesn’t make it all right.”

That was in 1973. That was his apology. At the time, I told no one. There was no such thing as “date rape.” There was no one to report to who would have looked past the “he said, she said” and the fact that I had voluntarily gone to visit him.

He went on to finish a Ph.D. and an M.D. He married and had three daughters. I went on to diminished confidence in my own strength and independence. I did not want him to go to jail or to ruin his life, I just wanted him to acknowledge that he had used his size and power to violate my body, and to say that he was sincerely sorry.

It was a different time, but the old “boys will be boys” excuse can no longer stand up in public. It wasn’t valid then. Today, boys and men are learning that their hormones do not entitle them to abuse women’s bodies. If they felt entitled in the past, it is time to turn the light on that behavior and say, at the very least, we won’t excuse it in our public servants.

Shelly Payson
Shelton, Conn.

[Further reading: A Pediatrician Tells His Former Patient: ‘I Am Disappointed in Myself’]

Hallelujah. Thank you for saying it out loud, and I am sorry you carried it for so long. I am nearly 70 and know exactly of what you speak. This problem seems to be as old as humanity. Men have a real problem being honest or, God forbid, vulnerable.

Women and girls are taught the “buddy system” from a very young age for a reason.

Keep talking, never give up. We must teach baby boys (of all ages) how the world works.

We don’t want war, we want a cooperative, productive, loving world for all. But we are going to have to fight for it. We stand together.

Celeste Trave

The piece “My Rapist Apologized” is exceptionally moving. It powerfully educated us readers on so many things—the sense of entitlement that men felt toward women’s bodies; the penitence of the rapist; his alcoholic fog and complete unawareness for 30 years that he had harmed the writer; the numerous factors that kept her from pursuing justice; and how helpless a 15-year-old might feel after an attempted assault. I wanted to share the piece widely, but one thing stopped me: the writer’s concern about Roe v. Wade precedent changing if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed.

By ending with her concerns about abortion, the writer diluted the wisdom in the rest of her piece and the (implied) focus on whether Brett Kavanaugh treated Christine Blasey Ford in a way that should preclude his confirmation.

Joan Phelan
Lincoln, Neb.

Ms. Copaken’s article recounting her rape and her recently received apology was both sad and uplifting. I do not want Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, and I believe Dr. Ford. However, Copaken’s claim that she would never reveal the name of her college-age rapist unless that rapist were going to be on the Supreme Court and could overturn Roe suggests that her decision to come forward would not be because she believed a rapist should not be on the Supreme Court, but rather that a rapist who holds contrary views to hers should not be on the Supreme Court. This is understandable, but negates the meme that rapists need not apply. She clearly states that if he would “tip the scales against Roe,” that is his disqualification. She praises the excellent life her rapist has lived since that college rape, as far as she knows. And she seems to write that he has no memory of the act due to alcohol and she accepts that as an honest answer. So I ask Ms. Copaken: If your college rapist were firmly pro-choice and had been nominated by a Democratic president, would you be supporting him and staying silent about his lack of “good judgment over the course of his life”?

Paul Chirlin
Lady Lake, Fla.

Ms. Copaken provides the well-needed perspective of how “date rape” (and even forcible rape) were treated by police and society as a whole 30 and 40 years ago and why, therefore, so many women did not report rape even to their families.

So why report Kavanaugh’s acts of long ago now? Ms. Copaken brilliantly answers that, too: If Kavanaugh is to serve on the highest court in the land and pass judgment on such matters and related issues (or, for that matter, any other), he should be, if not beyond reproach, at least not so flawed as alleged.

In also providing the offender’s perspective, guilt, apology and transformation, Ms. Copaken shows how healing, salvation, and redemption are possible.

Excellent article. Thank you.

Mitch Wagner
San Diego, Calif.

I have been shaken by the details and conversations around the Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford case. It was as if someone removed a bandage of unhealed scar, and I was brought right back to the memories of my harasser.

Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your openness.

Your letter makes me feel hopeful that full healing can be found at some point.

Rosemarie Bernal
Denton, Texas

Deborah Copaken replies:

I’ve been overwhelmed with the response to this article, so thank you to these letter writers for chiming in as well. My inbox has been stuffed with letters and tweets and messages and DMs from men and women alike, looking to make their own amends and/or seek their own apologies for similar crimes. Many have asked to read the letter I sent, to use as a template for their own, so I put it up on my author blog here. Feel free to steal whatever you want if #YouToo.

The letters from men who have been assaulted have been the most haunting, in many ways, as many of them do not feel as free to talk about their own assaults as we women are now doing, thanks to #MeToo. But I have faith that the conversation is shifting away from blaming the victim, of any gender, to asking perpetrators to take responsibility for their actions. And yes, that includes Brett Kavanaugh. You know that Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth”? Those lyrics keep playing in my head. “There’s something happening here / What it is ain’t exactly clear.” We, as a society, are at a moment of inflection. And that moment of inflection is, at its root, about women claiming bodily autonomy. Ironic, considering that it has been triggered by a president who once bragged of grabbing women’s vaginas and was accused of rape himself by his ex-wife (who later rescinded her allegation).

To Paul Chirlin, I say this: I do not look at Roe from a partisan standpoint, and I would not speak up or name him should the man who assaulted me ascend to the Supreme Court. I would, in fact, cheer him on. I already know his record on such issues, and he has been pro-woman ever since he got sober. This is not about Democrats versus Republicans. Roe, like rape, is about women’s bodies and what we choose to do with them. There’s an excellent documentary on Netflix right now called Reversing Roe. I urge you to watch it. It traces the historical journey that legal abortion has taken from being first embraced and championed by none other than Republican Ronald Reagan himself to becoming what it is now, a partisan wedge in our divided dialogue about female autonomy. Moreover, the man who raped me, unlike Kavanaugh, did the decent thing and apologized—profusely!—for an event of which he has no memory. That, to me, says everything about his character as an adult I’d ever want to know.