How do we help the Margarets of the world?

When producers with Investigation Discovery called Margaret for an interview, she told them she would feel more comfortable if I was there. I had interviewed Margaret for a story in February 2005, shortly after she was raped and beaten by Brent Brents in her home. He had stalked her for three days, and attacked her as she returned home from a walk. At the time of that first interview, she still had bruises on her face and throat from where he hit and choked her.

Margaret and I talked often while her case wound its way through the court system. During a hearing in Aurora in July 2005, Brents pleaded guilty to Margaret’s attack and also to molesting a little boy.

The day of the hearing, Margaret astounded me when she asked me to deliver a message to Brents for her: “Tell him I forgive him.”

After it all ended, we would call each other from from time to time, and she would update me on her life since the assault. It’s been a constant struggle. I have tried to help Margaret in small ways–by lending an ear, offering encouragement or helping her find resources, such as how to get her dog recognized as an emotional support dog because she needs him to be able to go out in public.

I don’t think most people, unless they are a survivor themselves, ever truly realize how hard it can be to piece one’s life back together after a sexual assault. So here are Margaret’s words that I wrote down before that interview with her a few weeks ago, describing the hell she’s been through and her own personal journey to try to not hate the man who took so much from her:

Now I feel like I should crawl in a hole and hide my face. One advocate told me that she’d been raped at 15. She fussed at me that I should help my husband pack up our things because I didn’t want to stay in the house anymore. One victim advocate told me that the way I looked caused him to attack me–that I was small, vulnerable. I felt like after that it was my fault. She told me, ‘You’re going overboard with this.’ I started crying, ‘I’m sorry, this is the way I feel right now, I can’t help it.’ I felt like I was just a monster, too.

Someone told my husband, ‘What was she thinking taking the RTD (bus)?’ It was my fault for looking dumb and short and small. That I look like a victim.

I’m not feeling bad for the man who tried to kill me but for the little boy who had the same thing that happened to him.

I’m always scared. Always jumpy. I’m treated differently everywhere I go.

I’m not the same person any more.

In my dreams, it’s like I have to save him.  It wasn’t the way he was born. What can a little boy do when his mother and father treat him that way?

I never think that little boy says, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ I’m sure he wasn’t doing that because it made him happy. And he’s still a person. I’m not going to say he’s an animal.

If it was me, I would want people to try to help me or try to listen to me and not look at me like I’m an animal or a monster.

When you hate somebody, it’s always there, torturing you. I’m not about to be judging anybody.

What would I say to other victims? Stay busy. Forgive. Forget. Because if you hate somebody, you’re never gonna get cured, ever. The best thing to do is forgive.

Hating is not hard. If I go on hating the person for what happened to me I will never get over it. I have to forgive in order to forget and move on.

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