The story of a rape: A victim's self is stolen from her


Sylvia Hauser, a resident of Charlotte, N.C., was raped in 1989 in the L rural Appalachian mountains. She killed her attacker.

6 She recently wrote a 13-page letter to the editor of the Charlotte F Observer describing her ordeal. The newspaper agreed not to

publish her assailant's name or age, her husband's name and

the location -- even general area -- of the rape. The letter is excerpted here.

SINCE reading that some newspapers are publishing the names of rape victims, I have been able to think of little else.

First, I would like to try to help those who have never experienced rape to gain insight into exactly what a victim's thoughts and feelings are both during and after the rape.

My case resulted in a ruling of justifiable homicide.

I will be as brief as possible in telling about my 3 1/2 -hour ordeal.

Sunday, Jan. 15, 1989, 4:30 a.m.:

I rarely work the midnight shift at the convenience store. My husband realizes I've forgotten my gun and brings it to me at work.

Just after 4 a.m., I am held at gunpoint. At that hour on a Sunday morning, only a few customers come and go. I am told that if I indicate anything is wrong, he will kill me. He does not tell me what his intentions are. I hope he will rob me and go.

Instead he makes me drive my pickup truck out into the middle of nowhere in the rural Appalachian mountains. We go up an old dirt mining road that is no longer in service. During this ride he tells me his first name and tells me in explicit terms what he wants to do to me.

In fact, he does these things. His gun is pointed at my head the whole time. My feelings during the rape are of humiliation, lack of control, anger, degradation and fear -- total terror.

I pray. He tells me to get out of the truck slowly. He leaves no doubt: He intends to shoot me.

My purse is on the floor of the truck, at my feet. I kick it out in front of me, grab it and run to the back of the truck. I have a gun in my purse and this is my first opportunity to get to it. My hope has been that I will not need it, that he will just put me out of the truck and leave. That doesn't happen.

When I stand up at the truck, he shoots at me. I shoot at him. We both miss. We have a gunfight across the width of the truck. He fires several shots at me. We are firing at the same time.

I kill him.


Rape is arriving at the hospital and your husband is already there, crying and illogically feeling guilty because he hasn't protected you. He is angry because a police operator called him and said, "Your wife has been raped, but she's not hurt."

I'm in a small room with a kind-looking, grandfatherly doctor. He softly says to my husband and me, "It's OK to cry, both of you." But by this time I am past tears. I'm numb, which is probably good. If I feel anymore, if I start to cry again, I will go off the deep end.

"Did he ejaculate inside you?" the doctor asks.


"Good. Well, not good, but it makes it easier to get a semen sample."

They comb my body hair for tests to see if any of the rapist's are there. I feel sick. There is blood under my fingernails. They scrape it out into a little plastic bag. A nurse is taking blood. I'm not told why, and I don't ask.

A detective from the sheriff's department comes in. I am told the rapist is the son of a police official.

I recall all the horror stories I've read about the treatment of rape victims by legal authorities. It's OK. The detective speaks softly. You can hear the compassion in his voice.

My husband calls my parents to tell them I've been raped. I tell him to ask them to please stay home; we will come there as soon as possible. I don't want them to come to the hospital. Mother has had one heart attack. Daddy has had a stroke.

I'm a smoker. May I go to the waiting room and have a cigarette?

Going through the door to the waiting room, I come face-to-face with the rapist's mother. We stop and stare at each other. We do not speak, but quick thoughts run through my head. I have taken her son's life.

Mother to mother, I can feel some of her pain. Woman to woman, I believe I detect sympathy in her eyes for my pain. The moment passes; we go on.

My examination is over. The doctor tells me that because I was raped by a drug user, I should have an AIDS test every six months for the next few years.

I have to go to the sheriff's office for questioning and to make a statement. They are keeping my panties and jeans for evidence. What will I wear from the hospital? A paper hospital suit. Good. Let's create some embarrassment to go along with everything else I'm feeling.

May I go home and clean up before going to the sheriff's office?

While I shower and shower and shower, I ask my husband to please burn everything I had on that day, including my shoes and the hated hospital suit.

The sheriff is supportive. He tells my husband and me, "Remember, no matter what anyone else says or does, you are the victim."

I naively wonder what he means.

We find the sheriff has thoughtfully assigned a female deputy to take my statement. They are making this as painless as possible for me. For this we are extremely grateful. The statement is made. The questions are asked and answered. I am free to leave.

Rape is walking in your parents' door and your dad -- emotionally and spiritually the strongest man you have ever known -- is sitting at his kitchen table crying.

My husband and I go home and go to bed. We hold each other tight and we cry.

The next day it starts.

Even though the media do not release my name, it is not a real big town. By evening, it seems like everyone knows what happened -- where, when and the people involved.

Because of who the father is, it is a Big Story in a little town. Daily for the next two or three weeks, there is something in the newspaper about it. My friends, family and acquaintances offer sympathy -- but not once do any of them ask me a question about what happened during the rape. If I volunteer information, that's fine. If I don't, that's OK, too.

Here are the two worst questions I am asked. And they are asked by people I know by sight only:

"How many times did he rape you?" "What, exactly, did he do to you?" I never tell my husband I am being asked that last question for fear of what he would do.

The rapist's father is on the TV news several times. Also, on the street, I hear he is trying to convince anyone who will listen that I took his son out to the woods and raped him.

I should go to the media and tell them my side of the story. But at the time your story is on everyone's mind, it is too soon to open up to strangers. I am still too fragile, too vulnerable.

Six weeks after the rape, we decide to move. Also six weeks after the rape, I have not menstruated. Am I pregnant? What if I am? Abortion, for me, is not an option. The baby would come from my egg, but would I be able to love it?

The pregnancy test is negative. Thank you, God.

Forty-eight days after the rape, we move. It had been my goal from 1977 to 1987 to get back to the mountains, the woods. Mostly I wanted to be near my parents. They were getting older, and I wanted one of their kids to be near them. I wanted me to be near them.

Now, 20 short months later, it's over. I can't live there anymore. My parents can't move. Do you suppose any rapist realizes how many lives he affects?


Me -- before January 15, 1989:

I was happy and outgoing. I was self-assured and confident. I was happy with my life. I was married to a great guy. I loved where I was living. I liked my job. I had fun in my spare time. I visited my parents regularly -- something I hadn't been able to do in 11 years.

I read a lot. I shopped. I bowled. I shopped. I played bingo. I shopped. I took long walks in the woods with my dogs.

Me -- March 1989 to the present:

Until June of 1989, my husband doesn't work. He stays home with me. Outside the house, we are never out of each other's sight. I think I'm doing fine, handling it quite well.

My husband returns to work. I am alone. I haven't been alone since it happened.

I find myself sitting erect in a chair. I am clenching the arms of the chair so hard my knuckles are white, my fingers and arms are stiff and sore. Every few minutes it feels as though the bottom of my stomach is falling out. Flip flop. Flip flop.

I am like this every day. I can't leave the house alone. I can hardly function in the house. I do necessary things automatically. I can't watch TV. I pace. I try to read. I read each page three or four times and then only rarely do I know what I've read. I don't live anymore, I exist. I need help.

The psychologist puts a name to it. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Apparently, the symptoms can be many. I am afraid of strangers, especially men.

After having been raped, love-making with my husband is nonexistent for months. This is a man I have loved and cherished and with whom I have had a wonderful physical relationship for 13 years.

Rape is being afraid to try to look good. I was confident enough to wear platinum blond hair. Most of the time now my hair is drab yellow with dark roots. I don't wear makeup anymore. When I am out I don't look anyone in the eyes. They might look at me. I don't want to be noticed.

Rape is getting so depressed you only get out of bed to go to the bathroom. You are not sleeping. You're just lying there, curled up in a tight little ball with a knot in your stomach and a lump in your throat, reliving your worst nightmare.


Well-meaning people tell me, "It will take time." That time is going by too slowly -- yet time is flying by, and I am wasting my prime.

Having said all this, I am getting stronger. Writing this letter tells me that -- it is something I could not have done a couple of months ago. My rapist had total control of my life for three hours and 25 minutes. He has had partial control for almost 2 1/2 years. That control is slowly getting weaker, and I will get my life back.

That man stole me from me. He ripped my personality out of me -- who I was -- the same as if he had ripped out my heart.

My appeal to the media is to please give the rape victim a choice as to whether or not to publish her name, or at the very least some time to heal.

Don't add to her loss.

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