Photo by Leila Black
Madeleine Black is a counsellor and lives in Glasgow. Growing up in London in the late 1970’s she was brutally raped at the age of 13 by two American teenagers. In 2014, having come to terms with how the trauma had shaped her life, she decided to share her story publically for the first time. In her book Unbroken: One Woman’s Journey to Rebuild a Life Shattered by Violence (2017), Madeleine tells her deeply moving and empowering story, as she discovers that life is about how a person chooses to recover from adversity.
When I was 13, in a flat belonging to my friend’s Mother who was away for the weekend, I was attacked by two teenage American students. They held a knife to my throat and tortured and raped me many times over, for about four or five hours. I begged them to stop, but they just kicked me and laughed at me. I remember wishing they would kill me to make it all end.
During the event I became aware of a young Tibetan monk in burgundy robes and an orange shawl by my right hand side. I was also aware that I had floated out of my body and was on top of the wardrobe watching what was happening to me down below. The monk was praying next to my body and telling me I was going to be ok. He covered up my naked body with his orange shawl and calmed me down.
Near to the end one of my attackers urinated on me and out of everything they did, this felt the worse and it was one of the images that haunted me for years to come. Before they left, the most violent of the pair punched me in the chest, held the knife to my throat again and said if I told anyone he would find me and kill me. I believed him.
After that I remember waking up with my friend in the bed next to me. I thought the noise of her bracelets were keys in the door and was worried that my attackers were coming back. I was covered in vomit, excrement and blood.
We then spent the morning tidying up the flat and decided we shouldn’t tell anyone as we weren’t meant to be there and we had been drinking. It was now Sunday morning and we went back to school the next day as if nothing had happened.
I lived in fear that the two young men who had raped me would kill me one day. I felt worthless, totally degraded, and empty. I thought it was all my fault, and most of all I felt so dirty and contaminated. I would spend ages in the bath for many years afterwards scrubbing my skin with cleaning products.
I started to become very promiscuous as I had no self-respect and if a boy approached me I just let him do whatever he wanted because I thought if I resisted he would hurt me. At the same time I started drinking and taking drugs. I also stopped eating as that was the only thing I felt I could control.
It became so painful to be alive that one night I took as many of my Mum’s pills as I could find and ended up in a children’s psychiatric ward where I spent the next eight weeks. During that time no one ever asked if anything had happened to me, even though I was clearly traumatized.
When I was about 16 I told my Mum about the rape by writing down what had happened and leaving it on my pillow before I went to school one day. My parents phoned my friend’s mum but my friend denied it all and said it had never happened like I said. My Dad didn’t believe her and wanted to go to the police, but I begged him not to as I thought it was my fault and that my attackers would come back and kill me. I couldn’t believe what my friend had said.
I have often wondered what happened to my friend who was also with me that night and I have to accept that I honestly don’t know. We had both been drinking heavily too and she was put into another bedroom in the flat. It was the first time I had ever tried alcohol. The only outcomes I can assume are that she was also raped and blocked it out or nothing happened to her and she passed out. When I reflect back to how she reacted when her Mum was called by my parents, either scenario could fit.
I left school at 16 and my parents thought it would be good idea for me to get away, so when I was 17 I went to Israel for a year where I worked on a kibbutz and in a town which is where I met my husband.
I believe meeting him saved my life, as I was on a path of self-destruction when I met him, but he loved me and made me feel worthwhile again. I used to drive him mad by constantly asking him why he loved me. When we talked about starting a family, I always told him I couldn’t or didn’t want children. In my head I thought that giving birth would be like being raped again.
After a while though I decided that I didn’t want my rapists to take that part of my life away and I had to do this to heal myself. My revenge would be leading a good and happy life.
When my eldest daughter was nearly 13, I started to have lots of flashbacks. I had nightmares for about three years which would wake me up and I could feel the presence of the young men in the room and at times could feel their weight on my body. But the monk was always beside me too.
Around this time I was doing a psychotherapy course, and I knew it was now time to talk about what had happened. I realised the only way to stop driving myself insane with all the memories that were flooding in, was to come to terms with the rape and accept it for what it was. After all, I had survived it and it wasn’t happening anymore.
Most of my life, I hated the men who raped me and wished them a slow, painful death. However, as I was working with my therapist, something happened that I never set out to do and that was I chose to forgive them. I used to think that they were evil, but I started to understand that they didn’t come into this world that way. They were born just like me as an innocent baby and then I started to wonder how they knew to be so violent and cruel to another human at such a young age. It made me think they couldn’t have had the best of lives and had witnessed or experienced violence themselves.
I also realised that they wouldn’t know if I felt hate toward them and the only person it was hurting was me. I can honestly say that I have no fear, hate or revenge in my heart towards them anymore. I know that whatever they did to me, they can never touch the real essence of me and who I am. I am very lucky as I rebuilt my life, have a beautiful family and feel so grateful to be alive. I have come to realise that for them to live with the guilt of what they did must be so much harder than for me to live with harm they inflicted on me.