This is one of those rare pieces of long form journalism that tells so much through one traumatic event: a woman reporter’s rape. Joanna Conners, a reporter covering the theater, is raped in a deserted theater by a young African-American young man. The rapist died of cancer while locked up for the crime many years ago. After more than two decades, Joanna shares her story and in the process takes us on a journey to find out who her rapist is and finally putting the story behind her by sharing it with the world.
Rape is a powerful taboo, even more potent in this age of so-called technological enlightenment because its continued existence in modern society taunts our notions of civility and reveals certain humans to be driven by primal rage against nothing and everything. Victims are forced to face all their inner fears now dragged out into the open or spend hopeless attempts to rationalize what went on. We can all walk in the dark as long as we can pretend that everything is alright until something bad happens. Like any disaster, the crime itself may only be minutes, infinitely long minutes, that play out consequences across the span of a victim’s life.
The act of rape forces Joanna to experience some of the same pain the rapist and his dysfunctional family faced all their lives: the rapist’s sisters all go through prostitution, rape and drug addiction at one point. Was the rapist a young black man whose potential was smothered by a racist society and abusive childhood? We’ll never know the answer to that since the rapist grew up committing crimes, never holding a regular job.
The most amazing thing about this piece is Joanna’s honesty in telling the story, to reveal how repressed thoughts of seeming racist by not trusting a young stranger simply because he was African-American made her ignore warning lights had she been in the same situation with someone white or how her notions of feminism or feminist empowerment made her less attuned to guard her personal safety.
Ironically, it’s the rapist’s last victim that gives voice to the plight he lived. Another young black man locked up, who comes from an abusive family, grows up in poverty, lives a life of crime, and finally gets put away, only to die from cancer. Poverty and dysfunctional families drive a vicious cycle where many members of the victim’s extended family continue to repeat a history of crime across many generations. However, would a redistribution of wealth be the only thing needed to break the chain of violence shackling the modern inhabitants of America’s inner cities?