An Hour and a Half with a Rapist
by Samantha De Bono

I worked for many years in a category B prison in London, where I worked with criminals, ranging from shop lifters to murderers. There is a pecking order in prison, whereby drug addicts and petty criminals rank lowest, up to murders ranking highest. I think "lowest and highest" is more a view from the inmates' eyes – on the outside, people would probably be more inclined to say "bad to worst", but from a psychological perspective, even criminals are seeking superiority, they just haven't learnt how to achieve it in way that doesn't break the law.

When it comes to sex offenders in prison, they are separated from the general prison population, this is for their own protection, because due to the pecking order, sex offenders are considered the lowest of the low and if left to their own devices on the 'mains', they are likely to get hurt by other prisoners further up the pecking order. Sex offenders are housed in the VPU (vulnerable person's unit) which I have to say, had a quieter, but more uncomfortable atmosphere in comparison to the mains and I'm not sure if it was due to knowing the type of offenses that had been committed by the prisoner's on this wing, but I always felt it had a more predatory and sinister air about it.

My first assessment was a man who was in for raping a woman whilst walking home from a night club. Apparently she had been "up for it" in the club. When I asked him what "up for it" meant, he told me she was "drunk and smiling and talking and laughing" inside the club. Incredible isn't it? I'm sure that would put most women in the category of "up for it" at some point in their lives if this rapist's reckoning had anything to do with it.

Another interesting fact about this rapist's interpretation of the rape, was that not once did he refer to the incident as rape, but kept referring to it as "sex". He said "when we had sex..." , even though I repeatedly stopped him and corrected him by saying "you mean when you raped this woman" and each time he responded irritatedly, as though I was nit-picking.

Back then I was new and naive to the job and thought, probably arrogantly, that I could help someone like this see the error of his ways and want to change his behaviour. At the time I mistook his denial as shame and so took this "man" (I use the term loosely) on as my client. We didn't commit to a specific number of sessions, rather it was clear this would need to be long term work. At the end of our first session together, my client thanked me for "understanding him" to which I replied "I don't understand you, but hopefully we can work towards you understanding why what you did was so wrong". He nodded enthusiastically and went back to his cell. The following session I was glad to see my client waiting outside the interview room, again, my naivety led me to believe he was eager to get started on changing his life, understanding himself and working towards empathy for others. This naive fantasy was short-lived, it had lasted a total of one and a half hours before I noticed to my horror that this man had no intention of working towards respect for others, indeed, quite the opposite, because when I stood up to move my chair, I noticed he had exposed himself through a hole he had made in his tracksuit bottoms.

Then and there after, I cannot remember ever meeting a single rapist who admitted or accepted that he had committed rape. Every one of the men I interviewed, assessed or worked with, talked about having sex with their victim. I'm sure most people know that rape is usually, if not always, about power and control over another person, but the fact that even though they have wielded this over their victim, they still don't own up to what they've done, even after they have been convicted. Sure they'll tell you they are "in for rape" but they repeat that line as though the jury's decision has nothing to do with them at all. They'll tell you about "the incident", "that time", "that sex", "that moment" but never "that rape". All this power and control they supposedly possessed doesn't even give them the guts to admit to the lowly and despicable crime they have committed.

I'm glad that none of them turned to me and said, "Help me please because I'm a monster who is out of control, I rape women and have no respect for them or myself". Why? Because I want to go on hating them. Judgmental? Yes, I'm a counsellor, I know, but I'm also a human being. I did not become a counsellor to work with people who have no conscience after destroying another person's life. My loyalty lies with the women and men whose lives have been devastated by these hideous people. So if a rapist came to me and admitted he had a problem, it would pose an ethical, professional and personal dilemma for me – I know how I think and feel, so I know I would feel torn, I know I would feel empathy and unconditional positive regard whilst also thinking about the brave, strong determined women and men I have worked with and still work with whom have suffered due to the psychopathic actions of such a man. But I've never been handed that dilemma, never been met with that difficult decision because no rapist I have ever come across has ever expressed his concern for his victim or his state of mind.

Whether you are a survivor of rape, a friend or family of somebody who has been raped, please know professional help is available and that there is life after rape!