There is a case in Jane Monckton Smith’s book ‘Control’ where friends and neighbours completely misinterpreted a ‘nice’ guy who actually turned out to be a serial rapist who tried to kill someone who’d never wanted to date him in the first place but was persuaded to by those same friends and neighbours.
“Lara is a young woman in her late twenties. She lives in her own home with two young children. She has a wide circle of friends and her community is small and tight. Chris was part of that community and they both lived in the same area, used the same pubs, and had shared friends. He was very drawn to Lara and began flirting with her and showing that he was interested in a relationship. He was over-attentive and pushy but this just looked like enthusiasm to Lara’s friends. He was a good-looking and friendly guy, but Lara was not interested and resisted his attentions. ‘He just kept on and on.’ Lara explained. ‘It wasn’t that he was creepy or anything, and he was actually quite funny, but I wasn’t interested. He wasn’t my type.’…
‘Everyone knew,’ Lara told me. ‘He told everyone how much he liked me. Everyone thought it was really sweet, and then they all got involved trying to convince me to go out with him. They were saying like: he’s a lovely bloke, you should give it a try, he’s so nice.’
Chris started turning up at Lara’s house with shared friends. He would sit and have coffee and talk to her children. Then he started turning up on his own, just for a chat.
As things went on, and the pressure from everyone grew, and Chris seemed quite nice, Lara agreed to go out with him. ‘We went out a few times and we were seeing each other for a few weeks, but he’s just not my type, so I ended it.’
Chris did not accept that the relationship was over, and even Lara’s friends kept trying to convince her to give it another go. Lara was firm that she did not want to go out with him. Chris called at her house a few times, again just for a chat, and she gently reaffirmed that she did not want to be a couple anymore. He seemed friendly, but Lara was getting concerned that he just would not go away.
‘Everything changed one night when he called at the house really late,’ she recalls. ‘It was dark outside, the kids were in bed and I heard this banging on the door. I saw it was him. I opened the door to tell him to go away, he was making hell of a noise. I had no reason to be particularly fearful and I didn’t want him frightening the children. He pushed past me into the house, and he raped me.’
Everything did indeed change for Lara that evening. She did not scream; she froze. She was terrified that her children would come downstairs. She had few injuries, and she had opened the door to him. Everyone thought he was a lovely bloke. Lara did not think she could go to the police. she did not even think she could tell her friends.
Chris left and she did not see him again for a couple of weeks. But she stopped going to places he might be, she tried to avoid him, and she was now absolutely terrified.
He turned up again one night, banging on Lara’s door. This time she did not open the door but called the police. The police told Chris to move on. He told them it was just that he wanted to see his ex. They seemed to understand, and very quickly the incident was over. But Chris came back after they left, banging on the door again shouting. He did not care about the police; he could easily explain he was a love-struck ex. They might move him on, but nothing more.
‘I was terrified now. I knew he wasn’t going to leave me alone. I knew he didn’t care about the police. I was so worried my kids would be frightened by him. I had to protect them from this – they’re just little’ remembered Lara. ‘Then the phone calls started. He would just keep on and on calling, sometimes hundreds of calls. I worked out that if I answered him and spoke to him, even if it was only briefly, then he would stop for a couple of days. I even worked out the number of times I could ignore the calls before he turned up at the door: it was about nineteen calls. If I answered around then, he wouldn’t come to the door.’
Chris would still sometimes turn up late at night, hammering on the door, demanding to be let in, frightening the children. The police did not always get there quickly.
I have viewed CCTV footage of Chris banging on Lara’s door in the middle of the night, shouting and yelling, even kicking the door. Lara thought that, just like the phone calls, if she opened the door he might go away. This was a high-stakes move for Lara, but the aggression was rising, the contact relentless, and her children needed protecting.
What do you do with someone who isn’t afraid of the police? Someone who can convince the police he is a nice guy? Lara started to comply with his demands in order to buy herself safety.
Very quickly she learned that if she allowed Chris to rape her (and those are her words) then she would buy herself around three weeks’ peace. This was not a man who was under any illusion that Lara wanted his attention. He was a man who was enjoying his power over her.
Lara was trapped in a cycle. She had been letting him into her house and answering his calls. Lara was not a quiet or submissive person, so her friends, and his friends, thought they just had an on/off relationship. The reality was so very different. Lara did manage to keep herself safe through this compliance. But the strain and the fear was taking its toll.
Lara decided to try her luck with the police again. She managed to get a restraining order against Chris. Her friends became very critical of her, accusing her of leading him on. Chris did not take the restraining order well either.
One night when Lara was alone and her children were staying with their father, Chris broke into her house. He dragged her up to her bedroom and shut her in with him. He was absolutely livid. Over the next four hours he beat and raped Lara, broke her ribs, tore open the skin on her face, punctured her lung, pulled out her hair, and strangled her to unconsciousness.
As it started to get light outside Chris decided he was going to change location and take Lara somewhere else. Lara’s intuition told her he intended to kill her, that the beating was over. It was a miracle that during his attempt to get her in his car she as able to run naked across the street and get the attention of a neighbour, who took her in. Lara was taken to hospital and placed in intensive care.
When news broke that Chris had been arrested for the assault on Lara, there was widespread shock – and a somewhat mixed response. Some people were horrified on Lara’s behalf. However, some felt sorry for Chris and claimed that he was just a man who had snapped under unbearable pressure, a victim of his own jealousy and Lara’s mixed signals.
But Lara was being controlled, and in managing her safety in the best way she could, people interpreted that as recklessness. It was the opposite of reckless. In her mind the only to stop Chris was to comply with his demands, and this managed her safety for a while. When she stopped complying is when Chris became more dangerous.
With the injuries he inflicted she should be dead, but a brief break in the chain of events allowed her to escape and a spell in intensive care saved her life. Lara is not here because Chris was finished with beating her that day; she is here because she escaped before he could kill her. There is a big difference. Chris was prosecuted for assault and sentenced to a prison term.
All of was happening in front of people, Chris managed to get compliance, and that compliance did not look like fear; it looked like consent.
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