Janis Hillard is a survivor of sexual violence living in California. From ages seven to sixteen she was raped by a relative but suppressed those memories for years until she had a mental breakdown.
I can remember it like it was yesterday: I was driving to work when I suddenly had a flash of memory that I was being raped as a child. Then another, and another. My first thought was that I was actually going insane and that soon my car and I would be in a ditch somewhere because I was hyperventilating so much. Thankfully, I didn’t run off the road and made it safely to work, albeit severely shaken up.
From the ages of seven to sixteen I was raped by a relative. At first it was slight touches that gradually progressed into assaults that became more violent and eventually, sadistic. I was an overweight kid that had no friends and liked to write songs and poetry. He was a charismatic dimple-faced darling that everybody loved.
We were close in age but he was very smart and always seemed to be an adult in my eyes. I watched how he could so easily manipulate his mother and other adults by his natural charm and humour. He was a genius. He was also a psychopath.
When the abuse became more frequent and violent, he would apologize by writing me pages of love letters. He would tell me how beautiful and special I was and that no one would ever take my place. He talked about us someday running away together and getting married.
Then one day it all stopped without any explanation. By that time we were both in high school and living two totally different lives. I still played with dolls, and by the time I graduated had become a severe food addict, weighing a whopping 396 lbs.
He was a star on his school’s basketball team, had a girlfriend, lots of friends and was charming to everyone. When we saw each other at family gatherings or on holidays he’d give me a big hug, then tell me a joke and I’d genuinely laugh.
Fast forward to 2004 – a year after that morning in the car when the memories had flooded back – and I am standing face-to-face with him. It’s ten years since I last saw him and he looks like death warmed over. I had heard through the family grapevine that he’d been in and out of jail since he graduated from high school and had two kids by two different women. His jail stints ranged from domestic violence to gun possession with intent to harm.
Now, on that June afternoon I told him what I’d been going through, about my therapy sessions and why I was going. I told him that I remembered everything he’d ever done to me and that it would never happen again. I also informed him that I wasn’t expecting an apology but I just needed to tell him that his reign of terror had ended. He stayed astonishingly quiet and never interrupted or rebutted anything that I said.
When he finally spoke, he told me that he had absolutely no remorse about what had happened between us and that if he could do what he’d done to me again, he would. I walked right up to his face – as calm as the sun – and told him that he’d never have the chance again as long as he lived on this earth. I then turned and walked to my car and drove away.
When I initially decided to confront him, my only intention was to make him aware of how I felt. I wanted him to know that I knew what he had done, and that I wasn’t going to keep it buried any longer. That was it. No other reason other than to acknowledge the truth. What I hadn’t planned on while driving away that afternoon was the forgiveness I felt, not only for myself but for him as well.
As a rape survivor, I thought that forgiveness meant excusing the person who had blatantly hurt you and absolving them of their bad behaviour. But forgiveness, I’ve decided, is about recognizing the hurt and anger that was heaped upon me and saying, ‘No more’.
Forgiveness is removing the power and control he had over me and replacing my anger and resentment with joy and love, feelings I’d lost so many years ago as a young girl. And if I was willing to forgive my negative emotions then I also had to forgive the person who helped to generate them.
Ever since that day, I’ve felt the power of forgiveness navigate my journey through life. I am a better person now than when I had that first flash of memory and I no longer wake up suicidal or malevolent.