Photography by Brian Moody
Some years ago, Rosalyn Boyce’s life catapulted into a downward spiral when she was raped by a man who broke into her Surrey home. In 2014 she met her attacker in prison and offered him her forgiveness.
He broke into my house and found me reading in bed while my two-year-old daughter slept in the next room. What followed was a prolonged attack where I was raped repeatedly in every imaginable way. I was cut and sustained several injuries all over my body. He told me over and over again that he was going to kill me; that I was going to die. I tried to keep up a façade but was so terrified that eventually I began to sob, beg and lose control.
After what seemed like an eternity he stopped abruptly. I later found out that the knife he had been carrying had fallen apart during the attack and this had made him panic and leave.
My attacker was apprehended three weeks later. He turned out to be a serial rapist who had been released from prison for a similar crime six months previously. He pleaded guilty some time later in the Old Bailey criminal court, and was given three life sentences for the attack.
The memory of the attack, and the fear of another, became unbearable, and within weeks we had to move out of our beautiful family home and into a cramped rented flat. I was offered support in the form of Prozac and tranquilisers, and I began drinking a bottle of wine at night just to block things out. I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and reactive depression.
Two months after the attack, I realised with huge disappointment that no-one was going to help me apart from myself. I ditched the medication and embarked upon a long, hard journey of self-discovery. I started to understand that so long as I still harboured feelings of revenge and hatred, I was locking myself in a prison cell in my own mind. Forgiveness seemed to offer freedom. However, I learnt that it was fluid, one day I could begin to forgive him and the next day it was like starting all over again. But I made a decision that the rape was one of the many things that had to be integrated into the person that I am. It was not the be-all and end-all of who I was. I still had my identity. The forgiveness route took vigilance and patience, however on the good days, when the choice to forgive was strong, I felt my peace of mind and well-being returning.
When the perpetrator came up for his second parole hearing in 2014, fear took hold of my life again, and I decided I had to meet him. It was not an easy decision and I came up against a lot of resistance from all sides. However, with talk of his release came the real possibility that he would carry out the threat he made on that night and the only way I could know for certain that he was no longer a danger to me was to look him in the eyes. It took about six months of hard preparation for the meeting to finally happen. For one thing the man who raped me had to agree to see me and this was obviously not an easy decision for him. On the way to the prison I asked the facilitator if there was anything I should know before we went in. He said that the rapist had tried to hang himself five days ago and for that reason the meeting nearly didn’t go ahead.
When he was led into the room I found myself transfixed. I did not recognize the pathetic, hunched man sitting opposite me from the monster who had attacked me that night. There were seven people in the room and he was asked to give his version of events leading up to the attack. He took a long time to speak, then began to describe what had happened. For the first time he looked me in the eye and said, “That’s when I first met the lady sitting here”. Then it was my turn to finally voice the actual harm this man had created, not just to me but to my family and friends, my community, his family and his other victims. He said he was a monster that night, the violence had given him a “buzz” and I had been on the receiving end of all his hatred. He apologized and said that although he’d had years of therapy in prison he did not realise until this day the actual harm he had caused.
I told him that I had chosen to forgive him and that I could not imagine the level of pain he must have been in to inflict that kind of harm on another human being. At this, he broke down and cried and said he could not accept my forgiveness. He said “I’d rather you punched me in the face than forgive me”.
I told him I hoped that he would make different choices from now on and go on to lead a good life with the family who still support him. I asked him to please never create another victim, including himself. I said I had come to negotiate a way forward so that the hurt would stop for everyone, including him.
When the meeting concluded, I thanked him for seeing me then I stood up and left the room. He remained seated. This time I was the one leaving him in a room; the tables had turned.