Rachel Alkallay October 3, 2005
Montreal – Christine Johnson* stepped out of the suburban mall and into a nightmare. On a warm September evening eight years ago, two men, one pointing a knife into her back, grabbed her, forced her into a nearby bus shelter, and, while one threatened her with the knife, watched as his partner raped her, as cars whizzed by and pedestrians strolled unknowingly across the street.
When he was finished, his partner said, “Now it’s my turn to have fun,” and proceeded to anally rape her on the cement floor of the shelter.
Johnson’s life has not been the same since. A strikingly attractive former model, she gained 75 pounds, stopped wearing make-up and let herself go. Her life falling apart, she finally sought help from psychologist Martin Veilleux, who specializes in treating victims of trauma. Veilleux referred her to a personal safety expert George Manoli.
A nine-year veteran of the Montreal police force during the day, Manoli, 39, holds a Black Belt 4th Dan in Japanese Karate and is the author of three manuals on how to avoid becoming a victim. He became interested in rape re-enactment sessions while teaching his hands-on assault prevention courses for women and noted a student’s shaking, hysterical reaction as he began acting out an assault.
Manoli realized that victims of assault formed a unique group, and designed a course that dealt specifically with assault and its aftermath. He molds each course to the rape victim’s story. ‘’It has to be individually tailored,’’ explains Manoli. Sessions are about three hours long, and most survivors require three to four sessions to get through.
The course covers why the assault victim’s are chosen, the attack and the aftermath. “Knowledge gives us power,” says Manoli. ‘’Knowing the options of what she could have done gives the survivor confidence that she will not be a victim again.’’ It also lessens the survivor’s guilt. ‘’Why did you let it happen ? Did you fight ? Did you scream ?’’ – can be crippling questions when asked by misguided friends.
The rape re-enactment sessions produce a great deal of tears and trauma for the victims in the initial stages, but ultimately help the rape victim in overcoming her fears. Sessions proceed slowly, with the survivor recounting the rape in painful detail, often amidst much crying and several breaks to calm down. The next step involves reviewing assertiveness training responses and self-defense moves, including fending off both verbal and physical assaults.
Progressive sessions re-enact the actual rape scenario, from the first encounter with the rapist to remembering the words, the gestures, the sounds and smells associated with the rape. The woman is encouraged to wear similar clothing, and Manoli re-creates the same physical atmosphere as much as possible.
‘’The survivor will recall details as we repeat the process,’’ says Manoli. He wears protective gear during the sessions and encourages women to kick, scream, bite and ‘’get angry’’.
Christine Johnson required 15 hours’ worth of sessions to re-live and work through the trauma. By the end of the sessions, Johnson, 45, says she ‘’would know what to do today in the same situation. I would never let them take me anywhere else.’’
Other forms of sexual assault which don’t end in intercourse can be equally brutalizing. One woman, a nurse, came to Manoli, traumatized because a hospital patient had assaulted her. She screamed and fought back ; co-workers rushed to her aid. But the women’s sense of victimization increased when hospital administrators refused to do anything about the incident and discouraged her from reporting it to the police.
Johnson’s case was unusual in that she did not know her attackers. Seventy percent of rape victims, like the nurse, are acquainted to some degree with the rapist.
An unfortunate by-product of rape is the number of broken marriages and relationships. Women who have been raped can have a variety of problems in relating to men, both emotionally and sexually ; the woman can withdraw from her partner, or flare up in anger for no apparent reason.
The partner doesn’t know how to deal with these changes ; many men can’t get over the idea that their woman has been touched by another man, says Manoli. ‘’The boyfriend often calls me between sessions, worried about what is happening with his girlfriend.’’ He encourages husbands/boyfriends to be there during the sessions to fully understand what the women is going through.
He also advises that, in the aftermath of rape, the victim talk about what happened, both to the police and friends who will be supportive, understanding and non-judgmental of what happened to her. Relationships rarely survive these changes, adds Manoli ruefully.
He encourages women to take these sessions in conjunction with treatment by a psychologist, preferably one who specializes in trauma. Johnson’s psychologist, Martin Veilleux, has dealt with several rape victims, and notes that ‘’Frequently, a patient will come to me as a result of another trauma – a bank robbery, a mugging – and the rape will surface during our sessions.’’
The victim often denies the trauma of the event, adds Veilleux, believing that she can get through this alone. If she tries to resolve it herself, another (traumatic) event will make her even more fragile.
He sees the after-effects of women who haven’t dealt with the rape in its aftermath. ‘’It becomes more difficult after years pass. Certain chapters in life will crystallize into her character. Sexual problems are common when a new partner comes on the scene.’’ The longer treatment is postponed, the more deeply rooted the problems may become. Manoli has treated survivors raped as recently as two months ago to one who was raped over 19 years ago.
‘’If a women is strong enough to come and take my course, I consider her a rape survivor,’’ says Manoli.
In addition to rape re-enactment courses, Manoli gives hands-on courses in street smart assault prevention for women and teens, date rape prevention for single women, street-proofing courses for children and anti-bullying courses for those who are constantly picked on.
George Manoli can be reached at (514) 328-4683 or firstname.lastname@example.org
* The name has been changed with the approval of Christine Johnson.