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‘Ghost in the system’: What it’s like when your rapist gets out of prison

A rape victim who has to testify in court twice, because a judge makes a mistake. A young mum who faces a grueling cancer treatment after her smears were misread. A Pasifika care worker in the Far North, battling a pandemic in an undervalued job.

New podcast Tell Me About It takes you behind the scenes of stories by Stuff journalists Kirsty Johnston and Michelle Duff, to hear the voices at the centre of them, in their own words.

Produced by broadcaster Noelle McCarthy, the show is an intimate look at the messy complexity of journalism, feminism and the lives it impacts.

Weekly episodes will run from November 19, with a new first-person story every Friday.

Illustration / Ella Bates-Hermans, Stuff

“S” went through two trials to see her rapist convicted. At one point in her seven-year ordeal, he was released from jail without her knowledge. She describes in her own words how it felt in those months before he was locked up again.

I’m sliding down the seat of my car, sinking as far as I can go before the steering wheel stops me. I feel as though I cannot breathe. I can’t look up. I can’t open the door. I’m in the supermarket car park. It’s been two weeks since he has been released from prison.

My mind has been seeing him in the periphery of my vision. Everywhere.

.............

Thirteen years ago, I’m seated at a small table replete with white tablecloth and flower in vase and there is a very distinct moment when it goes from feeling uncomfortable, to on edge, to pinned underneath him and I can’t move and he’s on top of me.

First I’m struggling to catch my breath, he’s so heavy, he’s so strong, he’s so big, he’s so heavy. I can’t breathe. I can’t stop what he’s doing to me.

I think I’m running, I’m out, my heart's beating so loud I can hear it in my eyeballs. I’m in the car, I’ve made it to the car. Just drive. Just get away.

I feel so ashamed of putting myself into the situation I just don’t want to talk to anyone about it. I can’t. My friend comes to help me and I stay the night at his house. I won’t say what’s happened and in the morning I come home to examine the bruises on my skin from the weight of his shoulder, his knee, his hands. I resolutely decide to not ever think of this man again, or be reminded of him, or talk about him.

….......

My heart is racing, I’m talking to myself in a frantic high speed, berating myself, I think if I wasn’t surrounded by so many people on all sides of me I may have slapped my own cheek. I keep swallowing, far more than I need to, the kind of swallow that proceeds vomiting. Keeping my head down, my breathing slow, I force myself to open my eyes.

The hustle and the bustle, the noises, the trollies, the rain, the raincoats, the hurrying, the car boots slamming, engines revving, even the rustle of keys, of shopping bags. Each movement and sound is crisp and clear and I think my senses have extended to animal-quality levels. It’s too much. I close my eyes again and breathe in long shaky breaths that bring no relief. My hands are twisting in my lap, fingers interlacing and unlacing and rubbing and pulling, sometimes just squeezing into a fist, nails leaving their half moon of a reminder on my skin.

I have no idea how long I’ve been sitting there, the air in the car seems to hang in suspended limbo, separated and nothing to do with the air and the going ons outside.

…........

Six years ago, I’m sitting on my green couch in a little cottage and I’m laughing and I’m pregnant and I read a text from a girlfriend saying ‘that punk’, or something like that; and it’s an article about this man who attacked me, convicted of raping another woman.

My mind flashes up a memory of wind swept sea and beach and bare feet and telling my friend about what happened that night, in amidst the surf and the hazy cloud of intoxication. I kept blinking in the green of the couch and thinking ‘he’d done it before’. He’d done it to this woman, he’d done it to me, who else? I had to come forward. I phoned the police the next day.

My nightmare ride to get justice began.

READ MORE: Journalist Kirsty Johnston reports on S's case

............

I open the car door, determined. Get out of the car. What are you scared of? Just go do your shopping. Get. Out. Of. The. Car. My breath loses all it’s rhythm, is shaky and spluttery like a jet engine on a boat coming to life. Tears are coming unbidden and unwanted to my eyes, I have a brief moment of being aware of how I must look; door open to the rain, thankfully hiding the fact that I’m weeping, I know I’m gently swaying forward and back, forward and back, hands clasped and never not moving, a hive of activity of twisting fingers and pressing thumbs. I untangle my hands and pull the door shut fast.

I can’t do this.

............

The night she was raped she was 26 and next week she will turn 40. She wants to hide from the world for this landmark birthday.

How can she explain that celebrating when the fate of your mental health is yet to be decided is the least of anything she wishes to do?

…...........

Forward and back, forward and back, blinking away the tears. I turn the ignition and start the car, my forehead leaning in on the steering wheel. I stay like that with the car running for a long, long time.

I don’t get my groceries that week, I can never get out of the car. The ghost of his freedom is blinding me.

Where to get help

  • Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00, click link for local helplines.
  • Victim Support 0800 842 846, text 4334, webchat safetotalk.nz or email support@safetotalk.nz.
  • The Harbour Online support and information for people affected by sexual abuse.
  • Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843
  • Male Survivors Aotearoa Helplines across NZ, click to find out more (males only).
  • If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.
  • If you or someone you know is in a dangerous situation, click the Shielded icon at the bottom of this website to contact Women's Refuge in a safe and anonymous way without it being traced in your browser history. If you're in our app, visit the mobile website here to access Shielded.
No items found.

A rape victim who has to testify in court twice, because a judge makes a mistake. A young mum who faces a grueling cancer treatment after her smears were misread. A Pasifika care worker in the Far North, battling a pandemic in an undervalued job.

New podcast Tell Me About It takes you behind the scenes of stories by Stuff journalists Kirsty Johnston and Michelle Duff, to hear the voices at the centre of them, in their own words.

Produced by broadcaster Noelle McCarthy, the show is an intimate look at the messy complexity of journalism, feminism and the lives it impacts.

Weekly episodes will run from November 19, with a new first-person story every Friday.

Illustration / Ella Bates-Hermans, Stuff

“S” went through two trials to see her rapist convicted. At one point in her seven-year ordeal, he was released from jail without her knowledge. She describes in her own words how it felt in those months before he was locked up again.

I’m sliding down the seat of my car, sinking as far as I can go before the steering wheel stops me. I feel as though I cannot breathe. I can’t look up. I can’t open the door. I’m in the supermarket car park. It’s been two weeks since he has been released from prison.

My mind has been seeing him in the periphery of my vision. Everywhere.

.............

Thirteen years ago, I’m seated at a small table replete with white tablecloth and flower in vase and there is a very distinct moment when it goes from feeling uncomfortable, to on edge, to pinned underneath him and I can’t move and he’s on top of me.

First I’m struggling to catch my breath, he’s so heavy, he’s so strong, he’s so big, he’s so heavy. I can’t breathe. I can’t stop what he’s doing to me.

I think I’m running, I’m out, my heart's beating so loud I can hear it in my eyeballs. I’m in the car, I’ve made it to the car. Just drive. Just get away.

I feel so ashamed of putting myself into the situation I just don’t want to talk to anyone about it. I can’t. My friend comes to help me and I stay the night at his house. I won’t say what’s happened and in the morning I come home to examine the bruises on my skin from the weight of his shoulder, his knee, his hands. I resolutely decide to not ever think of this man again, or be reminded of him, or talk about him.

….......

My heart is racing, I’m talking to myself in a frantic high speed, berating myself, I think if I wasn’t surrounded by so many people on all sides of me I may have slapped my own cheek. I keep swallowing, far more than I need to, the kind of swallow that proceeds vomiting. Keeping my head down, my breathing slow, I force myself to open my eyes.

The hustle and the bustle, the noises, the trollies, the rain, the raincoats, the hurrying, the car boots slamming, engines revving, even the rustle of keys, of shopping bags. Each movement and sound is crisp and clear and I think my senses have extended to animal-quality levels. It’s too much. I close my eyes again and breathe in long shaky breaths that bring no relief. My hands are twisting in my lap, fingers interlacing and unlacing and rubbing and pulling, sometimes just squeezing into a fist, nails leaving their half moon of a reminder on my skin.

I have no idea how long I’ve been sitting there, the air in the car seems to hang in suspended limbo, separated and nothing to do with the air and the going ons outside.

…........

Six years ago, I’m sitting on my green couch in a little cottage and I’m laughing and I’m pregnant and I read a text from a girlfriend saying ‘that punk’, or something like that; and it’s an article about this man who attacked me, convicted of raping another woman.

My mind flashes up a memory of wind swept sea and beach and bare feet and telling my friend about what happened that night, in amidst the surf and the hazy cloud of intoxication. I kept blinking in the green of the couch and thinking ‘he’d done it before’. He’d done it to this woman, he’d done it to me, who else? I had to come forward. I phoned the police the next day.

My nightmare ride to get justice began.

READ MORE: Journalist Kirsty Johnston reports on S's case

............

I open the car door, determined. Get out of the car. What are you scared of? Just go do your shopping. Get. Out. Of. The. Car. My breath loses all it’s rhythm, is shaky and spluttery like a jet engine on a boat coming to life. Tears are coming unbidden and unwanted to my eyes, I have a brief moment of being aware of how I must look; door open to the rain, thankfully hiding the fact that I’m weeping, I know I’m gently swaying forward and back, forward and back, hands clasped and never not moving, a hive of activity of twisting fingers and pressing thumbs. I untangle my hands and pull the door shut fast.

I can’t do this.

............

The night she was raped she was 26 and next week she will turn 40. She wants to hide from the world for this landmark birthday.

How can she explain that celebrating when the fate of your mental health is yet to be decided is the least of anything she wishes to do?

…...........

Forward and back, forward and back, blinking away the tears. I turn the ignition and start the car, my forehead leaning in on the steering wheel. I stay like that with the car running for a long, long time.

I don’t get my groceries that week, I can never get out of the car. The ghost of his freedom is blinding me.

Where to get help

  • Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00, click link for local helplines.
  • Victim Support 0800 842 846, text 4334, webchat safetotalk.nz or email support@safetotalk.nz.
  • The Harbour Online support and information for people affected by sexual abuse.
  • Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843
  • Male Survivors Aotearoa Helplines across NZ, click to find out more (males only).
  • If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.
  • If you or someone you know is in a dangerous situation, click the Shielded icon at the bottom of this website to contact Women's Refuge in a safe and anonymous way without it being traced in your browser history. If you're in our app, visit the mobile website here to access Shielded.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

‘Ghost in the system’: What it’s like when your rapist gets out of prison

A rape victim who has to testify in court twice, because a judge makes a mistake. A young mum who faces a grueling cancer treatment after her smears were misread. A Pasifika care worker in the Far North, battling a pandemic in an undervalued job.

New podcast Tell Me About It takes you behind the scenes of stories by Stuff journalists Kirsty Johnston and Michelle Duff, to hear the voices at the centre of them, in their own words.

Produced by broadcaster Noelle McCarthy, the show is an intimate look at the messy complexity of journalism, feminism and the lives it impacts.

Weekly episodes will run from November 19, with a new first-person story every Friday.

Illustration / Ella Bates-Hermans, Stuff

“S” went through two trials to see her rapist convicted. At one point in her seven-year ordeal, he was released from jail without her knowledge. She describes in her own words how it felt in those months before he was locked up again.

I’m sliding down the seat of my car, sinking as far as I can go before the steering wheel stops me. I feel as though I cannot breathe. I can’t look up. I can’t open the door. I’m in the supermarket car park. It’s been two weeks since he has been released from prison.

My mind has been seeing him in the periphery of my vision. Everywhere.

.............

Thirteen years ago, I’m seated at a small table replete with white tablecloth and flower in vase and there is a very distinct moment when it goes from feeling uncomfortable, to on edge, to pinned underneath him and I can’t move and he’s on top of me.

First I’m struggling to catch my breath, he’s so heavy, he’s so strong, he’s so big, he’s so heavy. I can’t breathe. I can’t stop what he’s doing to me.

I think I’m running, I’m out, my heart's beating so loud I can hear it in my eyeballs. I’m in the car, I’ve made it to the car. Just drive. Just get away.

I feel so ashamed of putting myself into the situation I just don’t want to talk to anyone about it. I can’t. My friend comes to help me and I stay the night at his house. I won’t say what’s happened and in the morning I come home to examine the bruises on my skin from the weight of his shoulder, his knee, his hands. I resolutely decide to not ever think of this man again, or be reminded of him, or talk about him.

….......

My heart is racing, I’m talking to myself in a frantic high speed, berating myself, I think if I wasn’t surrounded by so many people on all sides of me I may have slapped my own cheek. I keep swallowing, far more than I need to, the kind of swallow that proceeds vomiting. Keeping my head down, my breathing slow, I force myself to open my eyes.

The hustle and the bustle, the noises, the trollies, the rain, the raincoats, the hurrying, the car boots slamming, engines revving, even the rustle of keys, of shopping bags. Each movement and sound is crisp and clear and I think my senses have extended to animal-quality levels. It’s too much. I close my eyes again and breathe in long shaky breaths that bring no relief. My hands are twisting in my lap, fingers interlacing and unlacing and rubbing and pulling, sometimes just squeezing into a fist, nails leaving their half moon of a reminder on my skin.

I have no idea how long I’ve been sitting there, the air in the car seems to hang in suspended limbo, separated and nothing to do with the air and the going ons outside.

…........

Six years ago, I’m sitting on my green couch in a little cottage and I’m laughing and I’m pregnant and I read a text from a girlfriend saying ‘that punk’, or something like that; and it’s an article about this man who attacked me, convicted of raping another woman.

My mind flashes up a memory of wind swept sea and beach and bare feet and telling my friend about what happened that night, in amidst the surf and the hazy cloud of intoxication. I kept blinking in the green of the couch and thinking ‘he’d done it before’. He’d done it to this woman, he’d done it to me, who else? I had to come forward. I phoned the police the next day.

My nightmare ride to get justice began.

READ MORE: Journalist Kirsty Johnston reports on S's case

............

I open the car door, determined. Get out of the car. What are you scared of? Just go do your shopping. Get. Out. Of. The. Car. My breath loses all it’s rhythm, is shaky and spluttery like a jet engine on a boat coming to life. Tears are coming unbidden and unwanted to my eyes, I have a brief moment of being aware of how I must look; door open to the rain, thankfully hiding the fact that I’m weeping, I know I’m gently swaying forward and back, forward and back, hands clasped and never not moving, a hive of activity of twisting fingers and pressing thumbs. I untangle my hands and pull the door shut fast.

I can’t do this.

............

The night she was raped she was 26 and next week she will turn 40. She wants to hide from the world for this landmark birthday.

How can she explain that celebrating when the fate of your mental health is yet to be decided is the least of anything she wishes to do?

…...........

Forward and back, forward and back, blinking away the tears. I turn the ignition and start the car, my forehead leaning in on the steering wheel. I stay like that with the car running for a long, long time.

I don’t get my groceries that week, I can never get out of the car. The ghost of his freedom is blinding me.

Where to get help

  • Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00, click link for local helplines.
  • Victim Support 0800 842 846, text 4334, webchat safetotalk.nz or email support@safetotalk.nz.
  • The Harbour Online support and information for people affected by sexual abuse.
  • Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843
  • Male Survivors Aotearoa Helplines across NZ, click to find out more (males only).
  • If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.
  • If you or someone you know is in a dangerous situation, click the Shielded icon at the bottom of this website to contact Women's Refuge in a safe and anonymous way without it being traced in your browser history. If you're in our app, visit the mobile website here to access Shielded.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

‘Ghost in the system’: What it’s like when your rapist gets out of prison

A rape victim who has to testify in court twice, because a judge makes a mistake. A young mum who faces a grueling cancer treatment after her smears were misread. A Pasifika care worker in the Far North, battling a pandemic in an undervalued job.

New podcast Tell Me About It takes you behind the scenes of stories by Stuff journalists Kirsty Johnston and Michelle Duff, to hear the voices at the centre of them, in their own words.

Produced by broadcaster Noelle McCarthy, the show is an intimate look at the messy complexity of journalism, feminism and the lives it impacts.

Weekly episodes will run from November 19, with a new first-person story every Friday.

Illustration / Ella Bates-Hermans, Stuff

“S” went through two trials to see her rapist convicted. At one point in her seven-year ordeal, he was released from jail without her knowledge. She describes in her own words how it felt in those months before he was locked up again.

I’m sliding down the seat of my car, sinking as far as I can go before the steering wheel stops me. I feel as though I cannot breathe. I can’t look up. I can’t open the door. I’m in the supermarket car park. It’s been two weeks since he has been released from prison.

My mind has been seeing him in the periphery of my vision. Everywhere.

.............

Thirteen years ago, I’m seated at a small table replete with white tablecloth and flower in vase and there is a very distinct moment when it goes from feeling uncomfortable, to on edge, to pinned underneath him and I can’t move and he’s on top of me.

First I’m struggling to catch my breath, he’s so heavy, he’s so strong, he’s so big, he’s so heavy. I can’t breathe. I can’t stop what he’s doing to me.

I think I’m running, I’m out, my heart's beating so loud I can hear it in my eyeballs. I’m in the car, I’ve made it to the car. Just drive. Just get away.

I feel so ashamed of putting myself into the situation I just don’t want to talk to anyone about it. I can’t. My friend comes to help me and I stay the night at his house. I won’t say what’s happened and in the morning I come home to examine the bruises on my skin from the weight of his shoulder, his knee, his hands. I resolutely decide to not ever think of this man again, or be reminded of him, or talk about him.

….......

My heart is racing, I’m talking to myself in a frantic high speed, berating myself, I think if I wasn’t surrounded by so many people on all sides of me I may have slapped my own cheek. I keep swallowing, far more than I need to, the kind of swallow that proceeds vomiting. Keeping my head down, my breathing slow, I force myself to open my eyes.

The hustle and the bustle, the noises, the trollies, the rain, the raincoats, the hurrying, the car boots slamming, engines revving, even the rustle of keys, of shopping bags. Each movement and sound is crisp and clear and I think my senses have extended to animal-quality levels. It’s too much. I close my eyes again and breathe in long shaky breaths that bring no relief. My hands are twisting in my lap, fingers interlacing and unlacing and rubbing and pulling, sometimes just squeezing into a fist, nails leaving their half moon of a reminder on my skin.

I have no idea how long I’ve been sitting there, the air in the car seems to hang in suspended limbo, separated and nothing to do with the air and the going ons outside.

…........

Six years ago, I’m sitting on my green couch in a little cottage and I’m laughing and I’m pregnant and I read a text from a girlfriend saying ‘that punk’, or something like that; and it’s an article about this man who attacked me, convicted of raping another woman.

My mind flashes up a memory of wind swept sea and beach and bare feet and telling my friend about what happened that night, in amidst the surf and the hazy cloud of intoxication. I kept blinking in the green of the couch and thinking ‘he’d done it before’. He’d done it to this woman, he’d done it to me, who else? I had to come forward. I phoned the police the next day.

My nightmare ride to get justice began.

READ MORE: Journalist Kirsty Johnston reports on S's case

............

I open the car door, determined. Get out of the car. What are you scared of? Just go do your shopping. Get. Out. Of. The. Car. My breath loses all it’s rhythm, is shaky and spluttery like a jet engine on a boat coming to life. Tears are coming unbidden and unwanted to my eyes, I have a brief moment of being aware of how I must look; door open to the rain, thankfully hiding the fact that I’m weeping, I know I’m gently swaying forward and back, forward and back, hands clasped and never not moving, a hive of activity of twisting fingers and pressing thumbs. I untangle my hands and pull the door shut fast.

I can’t do this.

............

The night she was raped she was 26 and next week she will turn 40. She wants to hide from the world for this landmark birthday.

How can she explain that celebrating when the fate of your mental health is yet to be decided is the least of anything she wishes to do?

…...........

Forward and back, forward and back, blinking away the tears. I turn the ignition and start the car, my forehead leaning in on the steering wheel. I stay like that with the car running for a long, long time.

I don’t get my groceries that week, I can never get out of the car. The ghost of his freedom is blinding me.

Where to get help

  • Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00, click link for local helplines.
  • Victim Support 0800 842 846, text 4334, webchat safetotalk.nz or email support@safetotalk.nz.
  • The Harbour Online support and information for people affected by sexual abuse.
  • Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843
  • Male Survivors Aotearoa Helplines across NZ, click to find out more (males only).
  • If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.
  • If you or someone you know is in a dangerous situation, click the Shielded icon at the bottom of this website to contact Women's Refuge in a safe and anonymous way without it being traced in your browser history. If you're in our app, visit the mobile website here to access Shielded.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

A rape victim who has to testify in court twice, because a judge makes a mistake. A young mum who faces a grueling cancer treatment after her smears were misread. A Pasifika care worker in the Far North, battling a pandemic in an undervalued job.

New podcast Tell Me About It takes you behind the scenes of stories by Stuff journalists Kirsty Johnston and Michelle Duff, to hear the voices at the centre of them, in their own words.

Produced by broadcaster Noelle McCarthy, the show is an intimate look at the messy complexity of journalism, feminism and the lives it impacts.

Weekly episodes will run from November 19, with a new first-person story every Friday.

Illustration / Ella Bates-Hermans, Stuff

“S” went through two trials to see her rapist convicted. At one point in her seven-year ordeal, he was released from jail without her knowledge. She describes in her own words how it felt in those months before he was locked up again.

I’m sliding down the seat of my car, sinking as far as I can go before the steering wheel stops me. I feel as though I cannot breathe. I can’t look up. I can’t open the door. I’m in the supermarket car park. It’s been two weeks since he has been released from prison.

My mind has been seeing him in the periphery of my vision. Everywhere.

.............

Thirteen years ago, I’m seated at a small table replete with white tablecloth and flower in vase and there is a very distinct moment when it goes from feeling uncomfortable, to on edge, to pinned underneath him and I can’t move and he’s on top of me.

First I’m struggling to catch my breath, he’s so heavy, he’s so strong, he’s so big, he’s so heavy. I can’t breathe. I can’t stop what he’s doing to me.

I think I’m running, I’m out, my heart's beating so loud I can hear it in my eyeballs. I’m in the car, I’ve made it to the car. Just drive. Just get away.

I feel so ashamed of putting myself into the situation I just don’t want to talk to anyone about it. I can’t. My friend comes to help me and I stay the night at his house. I won’t say what’s happened and in the morning I come home to examine the bruises on my skin from the weight of his shoulder, his knee, his hands. I resolutely decide to not ever think of this man again, or be reminded of him, or talk about him.

….......

My heart is racing, I’m talking to myself in a frantic high speed, berating myself, I think if I wasn’t surrounded by so many people on all sides of me I may have slapped my own cheek. I keep swallowing, far more than I need to, the kind of swallow that proceeds vomiting. Keeping my head down, my breathing slow, I force myself to open my eyes.

The hustle and the bustle, the noises, the trollies, the rain, the raincoats, the hurrying, the car boots slamming, engines revving, even the rustle of keys, of shopping bags. Each movement and sound is crisp and clear and I think my senses have extended to animal-quality levels. It’s too much. I close my eyes again and breathe in long shaky breaths that bring no relief. My hands are twisting in my lap, fingers interlacing and unlacing and rubbing and pulling, sometimes just squeezing into a fist, nails leaving their half moon of a reminder on my skin.

I have no idea how long I’ve been sitting there, the air in the car seems to hang in suspended limbo, separated and nothing to do with the air and the going ons outside.

…........

Six years ago, I’m sitting on my green couch in a little cottage and I’m laughing and I’m pregnant and I read a text from a girlfriend saying ‘that punk’, or something like that; and it’s an article about this man who attacked me, convicted of raping another woman.

My mind flashes up a memory of wind swept sea and beach and bare feet and telling my friend about what happened that night, in amidst the surf and the hazy cloud of intoxication. I kept blinking in the green of the couch and thinking ‘he’d done it before’. He’d done it to this woman, he’d done it to me, who else? I had to come forward. I phoned the police the next day.

My nightmare ride to get justice began.

READ MORE: Journalist Kirsty Johnston reports on S's case

............

I open the car door, determined. Get out of the car. What are you scared of? Just go do your shopping. Get. Out. Of. The. Car. My breath loses all it’s rhythm, is shaky and spluttery like a jet engine on a boat coming to life. Tears are coming unbidden and unwanted to my eyes, I have a brief moment of being aware of how I must look; door open to the rain, thankfully hiding the fact that I’m weeping, I know I’m gently swaying forward and back, forward and back, hands clasped and never not moving, a hive of activity of twisting fingers and pressing thumbs. I untangle my hands and pull the door shut fast.

I can’t do this.

............

The night she was raped she was 26 and next week she will turn 40. She wants to hide from the world for this landmark birthday.

How can she explain that celebrating when the fate of your mental health is yet to be decided is the least of anything she wishes to do?

…...........

Forward and back, forward and back, blinking away the tears. I turn the ignition and start the car, my forehead leaning in on the steering wheel. I stay like that with the car running for a long, long time.

I don’t get my groceries that week, I can never get out of the car. The ghost of his freedom is blinding me.

Where to get help

  • Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00, click link for local helplines.
  • Victim Support 0800 842 846, text 4334, webchat safetotalk.nz or email support@safetotalk.nz.
  • The Harbour Online support and information for people affected by sexual abuse.
  • Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843
  • Male Survivors Aotearoa Helplines across NZ, click to find out more (males only).
  • If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.
  • If you or someone you know is in a dangerous situation, click the Shielded icon at the bottom of this website to contact Women's Refuge in a safe and anonymous way without it being traced in your browser history. If you're in our app, visit the mobile website here to access Shielded.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

‘Ghost in the system’: What it’s like when your rapist gets out of prison

A rape victim who has to testify in court twice, because a judge makes a mistake. A young mum who faces a grueling cancer treatment after her smears were misread. A Pasifika care worker in the Far North, battling a pandemic in an undervalued job.

New podcast Tell Me About It takes you behind the scenes of stories by Stuff journalists Kirsty Johnston and Michelle Duff, to hear the voices at the centre of them, in their own words.

Produced by broadcaster Noelle McCarthy, the show is an intimate look at the messy complexity of journalism, feminism and the lives it impacts.

Weekly episodes will run from November 19, with a new first-person story every Friday.

Illustration / Ella Bates-Hermans, Stuff

“S” went through two trials to see her rapist convicted. At one point in her seven-year ordeal, he was released from jail without her knowledge. She describes in her own words how it felt in those months before he was locked up again.

I’m sliding down the seat of my car, sinking as far as I can go before the steering wheel stops me. I feel as though I cannot breathe. I can’t look up. I can’t open the door. I’m in the supermarket car park. It’s been two weeks since he has been released from prison.

My mind has been seeing him in the periphery of my vision. Everywhere.

.............

Thirteen years ago, I’m seated at a small table replete with white tablecloth and flower in vase and there is a very distinct moment when it goes from feeling uncomfortable, to on edge, to pinned underneath him and I can’t move and he’s on top of me.

First I’m struggling to catch my breath, he’s so heavy, he’s so strong, he’s so big, he’s so heavy. I can’t breathe. I can’t stop what he’s doing to me.

I think I’m running, I’m out, my heart's beating so loud I can hear it in my eyeballs. I’m in the car, I’ve made it to the car. Just drive. Just get away.

I feel so ashamed of putting myself into the situation I just don’t want to talk to anyone about it. I can’t. My friend comes to help me and I stay the night at his house. I won’t say what’s happened and in the morning I come home to examine the bruises on my skin from the weight of his shoulder, his knee, his hands. I resolutely decide to not ever think of this man again, or be reminded of him, or talk about him.

….......

My heart is racing, I’m talking to myself in a frantic high speed, berating myself, I think if I wasn’t surrounded by so many people on all sides of me I may have slapped my own cheek. I keep swallowing, far more than I need to, the kind of swallow that proceeds vomiting. Keeping my head down, my breathing slow, I force myself to open my eyes.

The hustle and the bustle, the noises, the trollies, the rain, the raincoats, the hurrying, the car boots slamming, engines revving, even the rustle of keys, of shopping bags. Each movement and sound is crisp and clear and I think my senses have extended to animal-quality levels. It’s too much. I close my eyes again and breathe in long shaky breaths that bring no relief. My hands are twisting in my lap, fingers interlacing and unlacing and rubbing and pulling, sometimes just squeezing into a fist, nails leaving their half moon of a reminder on my skin.

I have no idea how long I’ve been sitting there, the air in the car seems to hang in suspended limbo, separated and nothing to do with the air and the going ons outside.

…........

Six years ago, I’m sitting on my green couch in a little cottage and I’m laughing and I’m pregnant and I read a text from a girlfriend saying ‘that punk’, or something like that; and it’s an article about this man who attacked me, convicted of raping another woman.

My mind flashes up a memory of wind swept sea and beach and bare feet and telling my friend about what happened that night, in amidst the surf and the hazy cloud of intoxication. I kept blinking in the green of the couch and thinking ‘he’d done it before’. He’d done it to this woman, he’d done it to me, who else? I had to come forward. I phoned the police the next day.

My nightmare ride to get justice began.

READ MORE: Journalist Kirsty Johnston reports on S's case

............

I open the car door, determined. Get out of the car. What are you scared of? Just go do your shopping. Get. Out. Of. The. Car. My breath loses all it’s rhythm, is shaky and spluttery like a jet engine on a boat coming to life. Tears are coming unbidden and unwanted to my eyes, I have a brief moment of being aware of how I must look; door open to the rain, thankfully hiding the fact that I’m weeping, I know I’m gently swaying forward and back, forward and back, hands clasped and never not moving, a hive of activity of twisting fingers and pressing thumbs. I untangle my hands and pull the door shut fast.

I can’t do this.

............

The night she was raped she was 26 and next week she will turn 40. She wants to hide from the world for this landmark birthday.

How can she explain that celebrating when the fate of your mental health is yet to be decided is the least of anything she wishes to do?

…...........

Forward and back, forward and back, blinking away the tears. I turn the ignition and start the car, my forehead leaning in on the steering wheel. I stay like that with the car running for a long, long time.

I don’t get my groceries that week, I can never get out of the car. The ghost of his freedom is blinding me.

Where to get help

  • Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00, click link for local helplines.
  • Victim Support 0800 842 846, text 4334, webchat safetotalk.nz or email support@safetotalk.nz.
  • The Harbour Online support and information for people affected by sexual abuse.
  • Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843
  • Male Survivors Aotearoa Helplines across NZ, click to find out more (males only).
  • If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.
  • If you or someone you know is in a dangerous situation, click the Shielded icon at the bottom of this website to contact Women's Refuge in a safe and anonymous way without it being traced in your browser history. If you're in our app, visit the mobile website here to access Shielded.
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