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When I look into my son’s eyes I see the man who raped me

Catherine, who lives in the UK, became pregnant after being raped by a man she had considered her friend. She explains here why she decided to give birth to the child – and why the hardest thing for her is looking into her son’s eyes.

I was a single parent with two children. I knew him. We had been friends for about two years, we met through a mutual friend and just had a friendship – a normal friendship, nothing more than that.

I’d been quite open with him that I wasn’t looking for a relationship of any sort – I wanted to be on my own – and that I was happy to have a friendship.

I was around at his house. It was almost like a switch flipped. I felt him get too close to me in a way that I just really wasn’t comfortable with and I moved away and I went to push him back and it was very quick and very forceful.

It was totally overpowering and I just froze. I didn’t really fight any more, it was like a freeze as opposed to trying to fight him.

He didn’t say anything, he literally, got up and went out – and actually went out of his house and went out in the car. He didn’t talk to me at all.

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Find out more

  • Catherine spoke to Emma Barnett on BBC Radio 5 live Daily
  • Listen again to the interview on BBC iPlayer

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I walked home. I was injured, I didn’t realise quite how much until afterwards but I think you go almost into auto-pilot. I wanted to get into my own space.

I think if you can physically walk you will, you want to get back to somewhere that feels like your own.

Houses

I’d left my children with a friend who lived next door to me at the time. When I got home the house was empty and my children were asleep next door which was… a relief. I didn’t talk to anyone at all. I just felt I would be judged and people would say I had deliberately put myself in that position, or it was my fault.

I felt that because I knew him, it didn’t really count as rape in the same way as if I had been attacked by someone who was walking down the street. I didn’t tell the police for that reason.

The next day I wanted to ask him why, which probably sounds quite bizarre. He claimed to have had a blackout. He didn’t deny it had happened but he said that he had a blackout and he had no memory of it. But he never said that it wasn’t true.

I didn’t really react, and actually to be honest… I don’t know that I’ve ever fully reacted. I’ve always been focused on the children and I think I turned my focus back on to them.

When Catherine found out she was pregnant, she told the rapist…

I said that I’m pregnant and it’s your baby, expecting him to say, “Well no it isn’t,” not expecting him to acknowledge that it was. He’d never acknowledge the circumstances of the conception, but he’s never ever, ever denied that it’s his child.

I didn’t consider abortion. I knew it was an option, I’m not anti-abortion at all – I think it’s a personal choice. But personally it felt that the act of killing the baby was actually going to make it worse, and that I would find that harder to live with than the difficulties that would be caused by having another child when you weren’t expecting to and you are already looking after two children.

It’s quite selfish actually, I wasn’t thinking of the baby’s life. I wasn’t thinking about it from a moralistic view of not killing a baby. I was thinking of it from the point of view that I knew that it would damage me more and I would find it harder to get though life dealing with not only a rape but then a termination, than I would a rape and then a baby and child.

I didn’t have any family around me. People in the playground were quite judgmental when they realised I was pregnant but knew I was single, and I wasn’t giving any explanation of why I was pregnant.

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Help and advice

Rape Crisis England & Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland, or Nexus NI

The Survivors Trust

NHS: Help after rape and sexual assault

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I did notice people were staring, and I did know that people were talking behind my back. The friend that I lived next door to had children at the same school and would hear various bits being spoken about, and that was really hard because I didn’t want to tell people that I’d been raped. At the same time the other option is a one-night stand or something like that, and I didn’t like to be associated with that either – but that was the better of the two evils. If you like, that was an easier option – to let people believe whatever they wanted.

I also never wanted the child to be pre-judged by anybody, because I didn’t want it to be a label that was attached to him. And if people knew, then potentially that would affect the way that they interacted with him.

I feel the thing that’s made me able to cope with it is I have always protected my son. And if that had ever not been the case I think then that would have been unbearable, because he is the one thing that came out of it that I could turn into a positive.

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Media captionCatherine: “I have absolutely loved him since the moment he was born”

When I first held him the thing that was striking and the thing that’s remained the biggest issue for me personally with him since is that he has absolutely got his father’s eyes. And when I first saw his eyes, that was the only moment that I really had when it was quite chilling and the absolute reality hit.

As he’s grown, those eyes have become even more [like his father’s]. And one of the things that I remember most about the rape – and I don’t think this is uncommon – is the eyes. He has got very, very striking eyes, they both have. They are very distinctive.

I can put my hand on my heart and say I don’t think there was ever any effect on my bond with him due to how he was conceived, certainly not consciously. The only thing I’ve had to tell myself was, that if I caught his eye – and even now if I catch the odd mannerism, because certain mannerisms seem to be hereditary – that it’s not to do with him. If I get a flashback, I react physically, but it’s to do with the reminder, like you might get a trigger.

I have absolutely loved him, since the moment he was born.

Eyes everywhere

He doesn’t really ask about his father. The times it’s come up, and it’s been a challenge, is where at school they’ve done the sort of “my family” project that they all do, and so he’s been asked to take in photographs of his dad, and of course I can’t do that. Those are the times that I’ve had to try and explain it to him.

I’ve only told people in the last few years. It hasn’t been something I’ve spoken about for a very long time. And it’s people that I know, who’ve already got a relationship with my son, so they’re not going to have anything influenced by knowing.

Catherine says she has never regretted keeping her baby…

It’s going to be challenging whatever you do. If you put a child up for adoption the rest of your life will be impacted by that. If you get pregnant and you have a termination then your life’s going to be impacted. And if you choose to give birth to the child then your life is going to be impacted. There’s always going to be damage, immense damage, done. And what’s the way of damage limitation?

That’s about yourself and also about the child. It would have been very wrong had I had this baby and then not been able to cope, and not been able to give him the love and the nurturing and the attachment that he needed. That would have been a second wrong.

It is really lonely at times, it is really hard at times, but the really important thing from my perspective is – the thing that has done the damage is the rape, the positive that’s come out of it is my son.

But then I think whatever of those three options you take, they’re all going to be lonely to a degree, and at least I got something amazing from it, that worked for me. But it worked for me – it wouldn’t work for everybody.

Catherine’s name has been changed to protect her identity

Illustrations by Katie Horwich

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