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In new book reporter investigates man who raped her

In new book reporter investigates man who raped her

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By Bill Williams

I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her By Joanna Connors 256 pp., $25.00 Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016

Joanna Connors was heading for a meeting at the Case Western Reserve University theater in Cleveland when a stranger offered to help her. She sensed that something was wrong, but, “I could not allow myself to be the white woman who fears black men.”

As they entered the dark theater, the man put a knife to Connors’ throat and threatened to kill her if she did not submit. Over the next hour he repeatedly raped, molested and threatened her. “If I have to go to prison, I’ll miss you,” he tells the terrified victim. “And when I get out, I will find you.”

Convicted of dozens of crimes over the years, David Francis had been released from prison the week before he assaulted Connors, a writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.

This gripping book comes at a time of growing awareness of campus rape. Connors offers a chilling, minute-by-minute account of the rape, as well as the devastating psychological trauma she suffered for years.

She considered suicide, suffered from PTSD, became addicted to pain pills and experienced a mixture of chronic fear, silence and shame.

Connors is a theater critic and after the rape she was terrified to sit in theaters alone or ride in elevators with men.

A common victim reaction to rape is self blame. When she told police what happened, Connors says she left out the most important fact. “It was my fault,” she writes. “My own, stupid, gullible, naïve fault. I was late. I walked into that empty theater. I ignored my own warning light. I practically invited DAVE to rape me.”  Connors was 30 at the time of the rape in 1984.

Police quickly arrested David Francis, who was then sentenced to a long prison term. Decades later, Connors wondered what had become of him, fearing that he might be released at some point. She decided to find him, hence the double meaning of the book’s title.

When she learned that he had died from cancer while incarcerated, she set out, with the backing of her editors, to locate his friends and family members to better understand what led him to rape her. It soon became clear that her assailant had grown up in a culture of poverty, violence, gangs, drugs and guns.

Connors uses her reporting and writing skills to paint a nuanced picture of broken families that tolerated and even fostered violence.

Each year millions of women are raped. Many of the cases go unreported because of the widespread fear, shame and guilt associated with the crime. Men, in particular, should read this book, which serves as an indictment of the rape culture.

“I Will Find You” is timely in view of the recent controversy involving a California judge’s decision not to impose a long prison sentence on a Stanford University student convicted of sexually assaulting a 23-year-old woman behind a dumpster on campus. More than a million people signed a petition to have the judge removed from the bench.

Connors’ extensive reporting first appeared as a story in the Plain Dealer and later was expanded into this book.

One senses that Connors feels compassion for her assailant, who had compiled a long criminal record by the age of 18. “I learned that he had a horrifying childhood, that he learned violence from his father, and that he took that violence and damage with him when he went out into the world at the age of 12.”

She concludes, “I did not deserve what happened to me … and David Francis did not deserve what happened to him.”

 

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