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Apr 14 2009

Dart Award Winner

Beyond Rape: A Survivor's Story

A bold, groundbreaking, piece of journalism in which Joanna Connors turns her reportorial skills on her own sexual assault. Originally published in The Plain Dealer of Cleveland in May, 2008.

On Oct. 27, 1984, a headline on Page 14A in The Plain Dealer read: "Disgusted judge gives repeat offender 30 years for rape."

The story followed standard newspaper protocol: In it, the victim was anonymous.

In this version, the victim has a name. I am Joanna Connors, and I am telling the story I kept private for 23 years. I'm doing it for all of the others who have survived sexual assault in silence, ashamed and afraid to tell their stories.

Dear Reader,

Almost every six minutes, a woman reports being raped in the United States, according to the most recent figures from the FBI. That added up to more than 90,000 women who were raped in 2006 -- a number that experts consider a gross undercount.

We'll never know for certain how many women were raped in 1984, but one of them was Plain Dealer reporter Joanna Connors, who was then our theater critic. She was attacked on a deserted stage at Eldred Theater, on the campus of Case Western Reserve University.

Today, Joanna will tell you a story she kept quiet about for more than 20 years: her chance encounter with a dangerous felon on parole; the nightmare of the trial; her subsequent years of coping and denial; and, finally, her search to find the man who raped her so she could try, at last, to move on from an incident that changed and scarred her life.

Her story is powerful, and hard to read. The language is raw, the acts described are brutal. Her struggle -- over the rape itself and the complex racial issues it raised -- is intense. Some of you might find even this sanitized version violates your expectation of acceptable content for The Plain Dealer. Some of you might be upset or angry. Some of you might not want to read this story.

We have decided to publish Joanna's story, in the stark way in which she wrote it, because it airs important truths about a violent epidemic that undermines the lives of individual women and of our society as a whole.

We risk offending some readers in the hope that Joanna's story will help other sexual-assault victims grapple with their own trauma and misdirected self-blame, and find ways to heal. For everyone else, we hope reading this story will shed light on the reality of the lasting impact of rape, break the silence, lift the stigma and promote greater understanding throughout our community.

Her story is in a special section of today's newspaper. Please let us know what you think. You can write us at survivor@plaind.com or call us at 216-999-5433.

Thank you for reading,

Susan Goldberg

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Joanna Connors

  • Joanna Connors specializes in narrative features for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.  She came to the paper in 1983 to be the theater critic, and has been the paper’s Arts and Entertainment Editor, the film critic and a columnist.

Lisa DeJong

  • Lisa DeJong has been a staff photographer for The Plain Dealer of Clevaland since 2007. She was previously on staff at the Flint Journal and Muskegon Chronicle in Michigan and the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.  DeJong was named Photographer of the Year in the Ohio News Photographers Association competition in 2009, and was runner-up in 2008.

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