In rape, it's always a death

Poor Danny Chavis.

Last week, in a Wake County courtroom, Chavis pleaded guilty to a 1994 attack on Jeanie Friar. High on crack, Chavis grabbed Friar, forcing her to perform oral sex on him then standing by while his friend raped her.

Chavis, finally sentenced last week to 40 years in prison, had dodged the police for a dozen years, living a sweet life up in Richmond.

But poor Chavis.

Living the middle class American dream on the lam was tough.

"I heard [Friar] say that it's been a nightmare for her for so many years," Chavis said in court. "I've also been living that same nightmare."

As if I cared.

I don't.

Chavis apparently gave up drugs and alcohol, found religion, remarried and became a model stepfather and citizen. He wants credit for being a decent human being following the attack.

I'm sorry. I'm fresh out of credit. Friar is, too.

See, while poor Chavis was mowing the lawn and attending PTA meetings, Friar experienced what virtually every rape victim in the world has experienced -- the cleaving of her life into two distinct time periods: Before the rape.

And after.

In many ways, the crime Chavis and his buddy committed that night in 1994 was tantamount to murder. They killed off the person Friar used to be: outgoing, full of energy, pursuing an education, working hard.

They left a person damaged and broken -- yet one who is also stronger and more resourceful.

Alice Sebold, best-selling author of "The Lovely Bones," described this phenomenon in a memoir about her own rape experience in college and the subsequent pursuit of justice. Sebold titled the memoir "Lucky" because so many people told her how fortunate she was not to have been murdered as well as raped.

Funny, she didn't feel so lucky.

But Sebold did emerge from the attack with a sharper eye and greater passion for the written word.

As Sebold put it in an interview last year with a London newspaper: "My life was over; my life had just begun."

For those of us who have survived sexual assault, that is the strangest duality. The world becomes a clearer place. More frightening, perhaps, but more real.

Following such a profound violation, you can no longer drift through life pretending that power doesn't matter, that gender doesn't count.

Three months after the 1994 attack, Friar took her two sons and moved to another state.

She wanted to start a new life . But she couldn't escape the person she had become. The person created by the attack.

For seven years, Friar said, she was afraid to step outside her door.

But Friar is one tough cookie. Last week, she confronted Chavis in court. And though this newspaper does not normally identify victims of sexual assault, Friar was adamant her name be used in the account of Chavis' plea.

"I didn't do anything wrong," she said.

Slowly but surely over the years, Friar created a new life for herself.

Of course, Chavis also moved away and created a new life. I pity his wife and stepchildren; they are his victims, too.

For Danny Chavis, I have no sympathy.

But finally, like Friar's, his life is cleaved in two -- as it always should have been: Before prison.

And after.